What is the spark that lights the entrepreneurial fire?
In the early 2000s, Lisa Bentley was a young Kiwi nanny working in London, and while out with her charges at playgrounds she would often get approached by parents wanting to hire an Antipodean nanny. Those experiences prompted a flash of entrepreneurial inspiration.
"It was then that a friend and I decided there was a market for an agency specialising in providing New Zealand and Australian nannies to British parents, so at age 23 we launched our business," she explains.
Bentley moved back to New Zealand in 2007, launching the KiwiOz Nannies brand in Auckland, then selling her share in the UK business and taking full ownership of the Kiwi operation. Today her company has 12 staff, more than 200 children involved in its Hop Skip Learn home education and care programme, and more than 7,000 nannies on its database.
Bentley's one of a number of successful women entrepreneurs taking part in the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women leadership programme that's running this week, and I've taken the chance to interview a handful of participants about how they started on their entrepreneurial journeys, the highs and lows they've faced along the way, and what they think makes a successful entrepreneur.
Hospitality entrepreneur Mimi Gilmour - who is the founder and creative director of Burger Burger, and a founder and former co-owner of the Mexico group of restaurants - reckons she's always wanted to have her own businesses.
"My parents went to great efforts to instill a very solid work ethic in my sister and I," says Gilmour, "and most importantly I love the freedom to be creative and create new experiences for people. I'm also not very good at being told what to do by other people, so perhaps this contributed a little bit too! Both of my parents have had entrepreneurial endeavours and I think that's why I always felt I had the ability and capacity to do so too."
So what makes a successful entrepreneur?
You need to learn to roll with the punches and find personal strategies to overcome and sometimes detach yourself from disappointments. You need to be able to begin again each day with the same enthusiasm, optimism and determination.
Gilmour says it's important to gather good people around you, and to keep learning - especially from your mistakes.
"I think the most common misconception is that making mistakes is a bad thing, whereas I actually think my mistakes are what have made me today," she says. "I think my key strengths as an entrepreneur are that I'm fearless, and therefore I'm ambitious. Thanks to my parents' encouragement I know how to work hard and I love working with talented, hard working, honest people to make great things happen. I also thrive in chaos!"
Dil Khosa is the operations manager at Parrot Analytics, which has developed technology that captures and analyses TV and film content demand to give insights into demand for content and predict future content performance.
Few women put their hands up for such roles in technology companies, says Khosa, but she was compelled to do so to grow as a tech entrepreneur.
"I wanted to put myself on a path that I knew would be challenging and at times uncomfortable," she says, "but I knew I'd also have the opportunity to learn fast and share successes with a great team of talented people."
Resilience is key to success, she says, especially in startups where the pace of change is unrelenting and many ventures fail.
"You need to learn to roll with the punches and find personal strategies to overcome and sometimes detach yourself from disappointments. You need to be able to begin again each day with the same enthusiasm, optimism and determination," she says. "You also need to be able to inspire others to believe in the purpose as much as you do."
Chloe Van Dyke, a founder of Nelson-based beverage firm Chia, also emphasises the importance of being adaptable and creative, because things in business don't always go to plan. Staying true to your core values is another touchstone for Van Dyke, as is staying positive.
"Because you spend most of your day being a problem solver you will often feel like all you have are problems," she says. "You don't have time to acknowledge when things go right because you're too busy focusing on the next problem. I think in order to stay sane you have to be able to keep the positivity up and try and acknowledge when things go right."
Van Dyke first trialled Chia in Nelson, and says she's found her local community the best place to look for support.
"New Zealanders aren't very good at asking for help; we often struggle away with a problem that our neighbour would know the answer to," she says. "The same applies to business - learning and sharing knowledge has been an essential part of the growth of Chia."
The women entrepreneurs interviewed cited a diverse range of support networks they tap into, from individuals like parents, business advisors, directors and investors, to organised networks like the women entrepreneur-focused Co. of Women.
Madeleine Colombie, who's part of the family behind the Paneton French bakery business, says she gains inspiration from a range of sources.
"My most important role models are my parents for starting such an amazing, innovative business that's grown into something significant. And for bringing to New Zealand a taste of what my grandfather - who had a little pastry shop in France - used to do," she says.
"Also being part of the French community in a business sense - I'm on the board of the French New Zealand Chamber of Commerce - has helped me meet new people from all walks of life who have really opened my eyes."
Lisa Bentley, KiwiOz Nannies
Lisa Bentley is the owner of KiwiOz Nannies, which has 12 staff and more than 200 children involved in its home education and care programme Hop Skip Learn, and more than 7,000 nannies on its books.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
I've always had an interest in childcare and early education. I did a lot of babysitting as a teenager and while studying at university, and I think that reinforced my belief that children feel happiest and safest when they're cared for in their own homes.
I did a Bachelor of Science degree at Canterbury University, then travelled to the US and UK, and began working as a nanny in London as a way to earn money before getting a 'serious' job.
While in playgrounds with my charges, parents looking to employ a nanny - particularly an Antipodean one - would often approach me. It was then that a friend and I decided there was a market for an agency specialising in providing New Zealand and Australian nannies to British parents, so at age 23 we launched our business.
In 2007, I moved back to New Zealand to open a branch of KiwiOz in Auckland. After launching the business here I sold my share in the UK business and took on full ownership of the New Zealand company. In 2010 I also registered the business with the Ministry of Education to launch the in-home education programme Hop Skip Learn, and the future plan is to become a nationwide provider of home-based education for preschoolers.
What have been the main factors that have influenced the company's growth over the years?
The company has taken some slow and steady years to get to the size it is now, and over the years our staff numbers have grown then shrunk to fit with market trends. We experienced growth with the business before 2010, but when the GFC hit I had just tried to launch the business in Hong Kong. Bankers all over the world lost their bonuses around this time, which often paid for their nanny's salary, so it was a very tricky time to own the business.
It was at that time I also looked into becoming licensed with the Ministry of Education in New Zealand to branch into providing an early childhood education programme in the child's home while being cared for by a nanny. It's a decision that's changed the business from being a straight nanny recruitment agency to also being an early childhood education provider.
What have been the biggest challenges for you in terms of growing your business?
I had no training or experience in business when I launched the company. I had lots of determination and big ideas, but I had to learn skills like accounting, marketing and management. I'm a big believer in self-improvement, and am always looking for new courses and training programmes I can do to become a better business leader.
From the beginning, I was adamant I didn't want to relinquish any shares in the business or to take out any loans. I was only 23 and straight out of university when the business launched, meaning I had limited capital, so growth in those early years was necessarily gradual. This was an obstacle, but I feel that ultimately it's been beneficial for the business in that my vision has never been compromised.
Personally, too, it was difficult trying to establish a company when my peers had the financial security of salaries. I worked part-time in the early years of KiwiOz in London, funnelling all my money back into establishing the business, meaning that I had to say no to lots of the activities friends were doing.
In recent years the growth of the business has presented different kinds of obstacles; I've had to learn to become a motivational leader, and learn more about financial management. I've also had children in the last few years - I now have a two-year-old and a five-month-old - and establishing a work-life balance while pushing the development of KiwiOz has been a challenge, but one I really love.
What role have networks played in growing your business?
In recent years I've really looked into business networks for experience and learning. I'm now involved with Co. of Women here in Auckland, which has provided amazing support and access to women who own and run substantial businesses.
I'm also part of the CQ network - a group of business owners and CEOs of nationwide companies. This group meets three times a year and the varied skills and experiences of its members have helped a lot with my business growth over the past two years.
But because KiwiOz is my first business, I've identified a gap in my advisory network in terms of exposure to people who have grown successful nationwide businesses and sold them within a 15-year timeframe. So this year I want to find three people to form an advisory board for KiwiOz.
What characteristics do you think make a successful entrepreneur?
Drive, determination and the ability to think quickly when things don't go to plan - which can be on a daily basis!
I also think you should employ people who will do a better job than you. Now that I'm balancing the business with having a husband and children I do have limited hours I can work, so my team around me is everything.