International high-flyer Claudia Batten is in a reflective frame of mind when we speak.

The US-based Kiwi entrepreneur, who last year became the youngest winner of the Supreme Award at the World Class New Zealand Awards, has recently returned to her Colorado home from a trip to Zambia.

Batten, 39, travelled with the charity World Bicycle Relief which provides specially designed and locally assembled bicycles, and mechanics to service them, to business people, healthcare workers and students throughout rural Africa.

Its motto? This is not a bike: it's an engine for economic and cultural empowerment.


As Batten says, it's about seeing things differently and being an agent for change - something which has characterised her own career.

In her twenties she switched from commercial law and moved from Wellington to New York where she helped co-found two groundbreaking digital businesses: Massive Inc, later sold to Microsoft for a reported US$200-$400 million, and Victor & Spoils, the first advertising agency built on the principles of crowd-sourcing.

Despite her success, her trip to Africa has left her in awe of the work WBR does, as well as theresilience of the Zambian people, who remain cheerful in the face of daily challenges.

"It's a hard thing to realise how great the issues are and think about the impact you can have. But it's made me feel that the more I can succeed, the more I can support these types of causes."

It's apt that Batten is feeling contemplative. We're talking about "lightbulb moments" - when a flash of clarity or insight leads one to make changes which have enduring and positive impacts on one's career.

She describes these as a coming to the fore of intuitive knowledge where you experience a mindset change in the way you think or are approaching a situation and,because of it, you have to alter the approach you're taking.

Batten believes these moments are grounded in the accumulation of personal experience and knowledge that makes you the person you are.

"Everything we have done - from where we grew up, what our parents did, where we went to school and what our first job was - becomes the foundation for a world view.


"It's composite knowledge and then, from time to time, you see or hear something and it sparks something that you have to act on.

"You might not be able to put it into words because it might not make any logical sense. But you know in your whole being, body and mind, that it's the right thing to do.

It's not always wise to go looking for external validation, because many people might look at you like you're crazy because it's something that is unique to you.

"People talk about the importance of original ideas, and we can certainly push ourselves to plan and try to come up with these.

"But true original thinking comes from this buildup of knowledge and the odds are no one else is coming to the same conclusions as you.

"It means stepping out into a sometimes very uncomfortable place and taking a risk."
It's often about starting small while thinking big and being willing to defy limits, she says.

This, along with stepping away from the tried-and-true and taking risks, has been a hallmark of her career.

Not surprisingly, a number of her lightbulb moments have led to major changes.

The first came early when, having graduated from Victoria University of Wellington in 1998 with degrees in law (honours) and commerce, she faced a head v heart decision.

Describing herself as a "makeup junkie", she toyed with the idea of becoming a makeup artist and launching her own range.

"But I had this great law degree and [law firm] Russell McVeagh offered me a job so I followed the more linear path."

She did so for four years, specialising in contract, intellectual property and technology law - all the time becoming "digitally obsessed" and deciding that was where her future lay.

In 2002 the former Samuel Marsden Collegiate student moved to New York with no fixed plan in mind but was unable to find work.

Instead she joined two new associates to form Massive Inc, which developed pioneering software to download advertising into online video games.

The 2006 sale to Microsoft was the result of four years of tireless work - in the early days without pay - where Batten did everything from contract work and business development to fundraising, publicity and promotions, not to mention learning a lot about video gaming and associated technology.

She has been quoted as saying she might not be the smartest person in the room, but she'll be the hardest working.

Batten stayed for three more years as director of partner development but then left New York to follow her heart, marrying artist Mark Castator and moving to Colorado.

She won't reveal her cut from the sale of Massive Inc, but no doubt could have retired quite comfortably.

She chose to seek a new project and co-founded Victors & Spoils in 2009. It became the world's first advertising agency to use the creative contributions from suppliers around the world for clients including Coca Cola, Unilever, General Mills and Harley Davidson.

After two years V&S was majority acquired by French holding company Havas Worldwide. Batten was to stay on, and admits to having dreams of attending head office meetings in Paris, but then came another lightbulb moment.

"I literally woke up one morning and my heart wasn't in it anymore."

Her choices have taken her from the linear and safe. She follows what she calls the "squiggly line" where one has to be prepared to move forwards but accept there may be times when one goes sideways and even backwards.

Batten reckons the squiggly line is more realistic for today's rapidly changing and technology-enriched world.

"I don't think any creative person should expect linear progression. A potential failure can't be seen as a dead-end or something we should necessarily be devastated about.

It's about thinking about why something didn't work and figuring out what to do next."
Raised by a father in management and a mother in real estate, business is almost part of Batten's DNA.

She's working on a number of projects, including Broadli (with partners Ale Lariu and Mary Abraham) which aims to redefine how we use digital connectivity to power networking.

She's also executive chairperson of Star86. com, a virtual world harnessing creative play to help develop children's resilience and self-confidence.

Using technology like Skype, Batten can participate regularly on boards, advisory groups and as a very active mentor to budding entrepreneurs around the world.

She mentors around 30-40 people regularly and says it helps to inspire her as much as she is able to help them.

She is heartened that many companies are encouraging more women into the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professions, and says it's important to ensure young women have strong role models like the ones she had.

While Batten lives in the US, she remains a strong supporter of the NZ startup scene, is a regular speaker on the future of marketing, the impact of connectivity, and on building businesses of the future.

She's on the board of business incubator The Icehouse.

"We're in a very powerful position in New Zealand, but we risk losing that if we don't harness the power of digital connectivity," she says. "Exploring this potential will keep us relevant and increase prosperity."

Being based offshore means she can act more effectively as anambassador for New Zealand - and that's been recognised by a number of organisations.

In 2013 she earned a Distinguished Alumni Award from Victoria University in recognition of her commitment to the country and her achievements in tech.

Last year she became the youngest recipient of the prestigious World Class NZ Supreme Award in recognition for her achievements and her work inspiring our entrepreneurial eco-system.

The awards were set up by Kea (Kiwi Expatriates Association) NZ in 2003.

Batten told the awards dinner that building strong networks has been critical to her success: "I made a choice early in mycareer to deviate from the linear and safe to instead follow what I call the 'squiggly path' to an uncertain future.

Great networks are what have allowed me to take that path with great success.

"It is through the connectedness and influence of networks ... that I can help influence other New Zealanders and make a contribution from anywhere in the world."