Can you tell me about your business?
My wife Robynne and I have a small orchard growing KiwiBerries, a type of kiwifruit that's smaller in size. It's a niche market - they're not well known in New Zealand, and most of our product is exported, mainly to the US and China.
We started the business in 2008 and in the early days I did a lot of the work on the orchard myself, bringing in contractors to do the more heavy and specialist work. Now the orchard is viable, though, we manage the orchard and get local contractors in to work the property. Robynne still works full time, but also works in the orchard when needed and when she can.
You started developing the business at age 58. Why did you want to set up a business at that stage in your life?
I'd worked in the corporate world all my life as an accountant and then later as a business consultant with the business systems software company SAP, working in Europe and the US. But the corporate world in the US around 9/11 became very political and insecure. Robynne and I met in the US, but she's a Kiwi, so when I was offered a one-year contract with SAP New Zealand we thought this would give us the chance to leave the corporate world and develop a business of our own. After working at SAP here, I was offered other work with two small companies. In the latter business I was the general manager and reported to the business owner, which really propelled me to create my own business.
We started looking for coastal properties with about three acres of land in the Bay of Plenty. We stumbled across Opotiki by accident, but thought it was ideal because it was a small town but still had all the facilities, businesses and transport networks we needed to start our own business. The architect who designed our house actually grew KiwiBerries in Te Puke and he suggested we might use our land for that. We wanted a business that was fairly easy to run, and that didn't need a lot of sales and marketing effort because we knew this was where a lot of businesses lose cash fast. KiwiBerries seemed to fit.
We invested some of my savings into developing the business, with Robynne still working full time to manage the day-to-day cashflow. The business plan was we'd produce enough revenue in year five to give me an income when I retire and allow Robynne to reduce her workload. We got there in year six!
We're now looking to grow the business further, working on a project with Cogito Food and Beverages in Albany to see if there's a viable market for drying surplus KiwiBerries, and Robynne is developing a bed and breakfast business. We like to keep busy.
What have been some of the challenges you've encountered setting up a business at this stage in your lives?
The biggest problem setting up a business like this at 58 is your health. Arthritic shoulders in particular are a problem when working with overhead vines, but now the business is viable it's become less of a problem because there's less physical work required. Our children have all left home and moved away from the area, too, so we don't have family close by to call on for help.
Other problems we faced came down to lack of horticultural knowledge - things like learning about wind damage to the crop, pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers and spray residues - but that wasn't really an age issue. So we've gone to lots of meetings and courses, and spoken to other local growers as well as horticultural suppliers and advisors.
Another challenge, despite all our financial experience, is managing cashflow. Luckily we had a great personal bank manager who gave us flexibility for cashflow management. With no experience of New Zealand tax law, we also found we've needed the services of a good local accountant.
How about some of the benefits of being a laterpreneur?
One of the great benefits is you can semi-retire from the politics of the workplace, hopefully with a golden handshake and start working for yourself.
Another benefit is having work/life balance and flexibility. During the picking season we work from 6am to 10pm every day, but outside of that time most of the deadlines are gone. We now have the flexibility to take holidays when we want and I can manage my personal time better to do things like play bowls. Now we're also using all the skills and experience we have gained in the corporate world to benefit ourselves. It means we can look at problems in our own business and see how we can solve them in the best financial and practical ways.
But I think the greatest benefit is more psychological. Waking up in the morning and looking out over the viable business we've developed makes us feel pretty satisfied and proud. The views in the Bay of Plenty look pretty good to!