Founder of two thriving start-ups tells Holly Ryan he's up for a new challenge.

Entrepreneur, multimillionaire, internet mogul, party animal ... Seeby Woodhouse has already been given many labels, but at 40, he is now focused on finding the next big thing.

Born in Palmerston North in 1976, Woodhouse moved with his parents, Helen Woodhouse and Nigel Best, to Auckland's North Shore when he was 4. His parents were both librarians, but also dabbled in the sharemarket in the 1980s.

Woodhouse's early childhood was largely spent reading and doing the three paper rounds he had before and after school. In 1987, when he was 11, the market crashed and his parents lost most of their savings.


"The 80s were the wild west really," Woodhouse says. "There's a saying, when your plumber starts getting into the sharemarket, it's a good time to get out, and I guess my parents were the plumbers."

His mother and father had invested in a business which was supposedly backed by gold in a safe, but when it turned out the gold didn't exist, the company collapsed and the stock became worthless.

"We went from almost having a home paid off to being in a pretty dire financial situation. That's what got me thinking: I never want to be like this - my parents are so smart, but they've lost a lot so I need to be even smarter. So at 11 years old, I got this thing about being a businessperson."

He began reading any business books he could get his hands on, including Forbes magazine's listing of the 400 richest people in the world and how they made their money.

After high school, he attended the University of Auckland and started a Bachelor's degree in electrical and electronic engineering, but after failing his second year, decided to look at other opportunities.

Woodhouse says he soon realised the opportunities in telecommunications and, like many Kiwi success stories, at age 19 started his own company - what would become Orcon - in his bedroom in 1997, with $100 and his parents' computer.

"I had heard about the internet, and that it was apparently doubling in size every few months in the USA, which I figured would make it a great opportunity."

The rest of Orcon's story is history. Over 10 years it grew to become the fourth largest internet service provider in New Zealand, without any external funding or borrowing and 60,000 customers.


The company collected a swag of awards including Best ISP, HiGrowth company of the year, North Shore Business of the year, and 4th fastest growing company in New Zealand with revenue above $10 million.

When he sold the company to state-owned Kordia in 2007, Woodhouse netted a cool $24.3m, and with a three-year restraint of trade, he took to property, going "a bit nuts" and spending $18m on houses in three weeks.

But with millions in the bank and a glitzy property portfolio, Woodhouse says he was stuck.

"I was actually quite depressed after I sold Orcon because I had all this money but didn't have any purpose and my whole identity was tied up with Orcon," he says.

"At that time it was all I had done. All my friends were businesspeople so they'd say, 'what are you doing now' and I'd be like, I'm retired, playing Playstation in my big house."

Having worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day for 10 years, Woodhouse says he sacrificed his 20s to get to where he was.

Seeby Woodhouse's early childhood was largely spent reading and doing paper runs. Photo / Doug Sherring
Seeby Woodhouse's early childhood was largely spent reading and doing paper runs. Photo / Doug Sherring

"It was like falling into a work daydream at 19 and then waking up at 29 and losing 10 years of my life. So when I retired, I started exercising and doing different things, took the holidays I hadn't had. I was like a 19-year-old 30-year-old, but I don't regret it.

"I wasn't trying to relive my childhood but I didn't want to miss out on my 20s and all the things people do in their 20s."

For six years, Woodhouse lived the party life - a permanent fixture in the social pages and around town - usually at Crow Bar, the Auckland bar he owned.

In 2011, aged 35, he says the timing was right to launch his next internet firm, Voyager. Telecom was being broken up into Chorus and Telecom and it created a new environment.

"I realised I could get in for cheap, and people were starting to talk about the cloud, so I saw the adoption thing was going to come and that Voyager could ride that wave, and instead of internet connections, it would be future tech type of stuff, so not just your vanilla ISP."

The company now has about 15,000 broadband customers and hosts 20 per cent of New Zealand domain names.

Its offices are typical of a tech start-up. One wall is covered in chalk artwork, created by one of the team.

An AirBoard and Segway sit next to Woodhouse's desk, an indoor putting green on the other side, and a corner of the office is dedicated to a TV and Playstation. Artwork from Woodhouse's $10m mansion, bought after the Orcon sale, is dotted around. That includes a lifesize model of a horse.

The company has about 90 staff and, like his first venture, Woodhouse's second internet business has scooped several awards, as well as acquiring a few companies along the way.

Most notably, Voyager won the Deloitte Fast 50 in 2014, with revenue growth of 1374 per cent for the year.

Today, his involvement in the ISP has dropped. Though he is still the owner, Woodhouse is more focused on himself. Last year, he says, he only spent 10 days or so working, and says he is lucky to have a fantastic team behind him.

After separating from his wife Geraldine Burnett two years ago after a year of marriage, Woodhouse took time out to travel the world, read and take photographs. He spent a lot of that time in Los Angeles, where he has a house, and in India.

In November last year, while he was in New Delhi, he contracted a respiratory infection which resulted in half his face being paralysed for several months. The infection also left him deaf, and he has not regained hearing in his left ear.

He has a few regrets. He considered investing in Apple shares at the point when Steve Jobs was turning the company around - but didn't go ahead. And Xero chief executive Rod Drury offered him the chance to buy a quarter of the business for $1m when it was starting out, but Woodhouse had just lost some money so he decided against taking up the offer. And he missed the Bitcoin boom too.

But, says Woodhouse, "whenever anything happens in your life, it's easy to go, 'oh why did this happen to me' and at the time I didn't see [bad experiences] as a blessing, but everything that happened to me was a blessing that forged me into [who] I am so I have to appreciate all those things".

As well as his upcoming business and property seminars with friend Kenyon Clarke and an interest in the field of artificial intelligence, Woodhouse is still looking for the next big thing - he just hasn't found it yet.

Seeby Woodhouse
Age: 40
Born: Palmerston North, grew up on Auckland's North Shore
Hobbies: Reading, photography, travel and meditation
Last book read: Originals by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg
Favourite holiday destination: Aruba (Dutch Antilles, Caribbean)
Best decision ever: Dropping out of uni and starting my own company young