The Herald recently profiled the 40 most powerful people on the NZ technology scene. Now here's a look at the up-and-comers who are gaining in influence. The lineup (in alphabetical order) is my own, but thanks to my sounding panel - Bill Bennett, Paul Brislen, Peter Griffin, Kirkpatrick Mariner and Sarah Putt.
Timely cofounder and CEO, remote-working evangelist
TradeMe alumnus Ryan Baker hauled in millions from Movac and other local investors after founding Timely earlier this decade. From Dunedin, the startup carved out a global niche in appointment-booking software, which is today used by around 12,000 hair salons, personal trainers and other small business customers around the world. Along the way, Baker has also become something of an influencer in the way we work. In its early days, the CEO and his handful of cohorts worked from their homes - not unusual for a bootstrapped startup. But the difference with Timely is that Baker stuck with the remote-working setup even as his staff swelled to more than 90, with Slack used as the primary communications tool to keep everyone on the same page as new hires have been added in Wellington, Auckland, Melbourne and the UK.
Fears about staff playing with cats or raiding the fridge appeared unfounded - at least if Timely's ongoing rapid growth is anything to go by. So how many hours do his remote staff work? Baker says he's only focused on outcomes, not timesheets. "If you're doing unwork this week, it's better that you do as little of it as possible. Doing 70 hours of it isn't hustle, it's a shambles," he wrote in his widely-shared post slating "Unwork" - or mindless hours mistaken for productivity.
Three years ago, Aucklander Campbell Brown was running Online Republic, a site that offered online car and camper van rentals and cruise ship bookings. But the company had difficulty predicting demand. It was constantly caught out by public events or, more particularly, when several public events happened at once, especially around holidays. Brown was amazed to discover that while there were lots of forecasting tools that mined historic data, there was no global player who aggregated all public events in one, easy to access service. So after Online Republic was flicked off to Webjet (for a tidy $85m) he founded PredictHQ to do just that. He quickly signed marquee customers, including Uber, and Domino's - which turn fuelled a US$10m Series A funding round mid-year from a group of heavyweight Silicon Valley VCs. Today, 80 staff - and a ton of AI - track more than 20 million events in more than 30,000 cities. Brown says he's shooting for $100m annual revenue in the medium term. His longer-term target is $1b. As with all promising startups, it helps that Brown has created an entirely new market.
On one level, Alex Fala sounds like a bread-head. He recently told the Herald he expects Vend to hit a $1 billion valuation within five years. The Auckland-based maker of cloud point-of-sale software (think of an iPad replacing a cash register) already has a private equity valuation of more than $150m, and backers including Peter Thiel and Sam Morgan on its books. Vend already has around 300 staff and Fala says he's on the hunt for 125 more - and that his company can fund the extra hires without any need for new capital. Regardless, there's IPO buzz. Vend might not need their cash, but investors want in on a company that's looking like the new Xero. So it's obvious Fala - a one-time consultant at the hard nosed McKinsey & Co - has management and financial chops. But Vend has also developed a reputation as a family-friendly place to work. Before he began a corporate career, Fala was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where his thesis was "Saving the Samoan Culture: Sustainability of Gift-giving Traditions in the New Zealand Samoan Community." He is also a member of the Conscious Capitalism NZ group (whose mantra is "business has the power to change our world for the better as well as improve its bank balance") and on social media and as an event speaker often highlights Maori and Pasifika success stories in IT.
National Cyber Security Centre Director, GCSB Cyber Security Director
No pressure. In an era when online threats are rising from hostile governments, organised crime, thrill seekers and anarchists, Lisa Fong heads the National Cyber Security Centre, a unit of the GCSB whose mission "is to help New Zealand's most significant public and private sector organisations to protect their information systems from advanced cyber-borne threats" that could hit critical infrastructure, see top exporter's IP secrets spilled or otherwise harm our economy. Fong - who finished in the top 1 per cent of her year as she gained an LLB at Auckland then a Master of Laws from the New York University School of Law as a Vanderbilt Scholar - is also on the GCSB's senior leadership team as the spook outfit's Cyber Security Director. That's some responsibility, given the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013 makes the spy agency responsible for approving or blocking any phone company or ISP's network improvements (think Huawei being blocked from Spark's 5G upgrade) and - in an era of creeping encryption - making sure that all networks carry interceptable data. Next on her agenda: working with ISPs on a system to develop the capability to "proactively detect potential incidents before they occur;" as developments like the internet of things (everyday gadgets from smart fridges to security cameras with often poorly-secured internet connectivity) offer as many new vulnerabilities as opportunities. Fong - who graduated in 2003 - has already served briefly as acting GCSB head in 2016 before current director-general Andrew Hampton arrived in his post. One day she could sit in the big chair full-time.
PledgeMe, which has become a mainstay of the crowdfunded equity scene over the past couple of years, came about in part from Anna Guenther's masters thesis at Otago University, and seeing the success Kickstarter was having in the US. "I was doing my Master in Entrepreneurship and the thesis was to do everything but launch a business; like do the business plan, feasibility and analysis, and I was just really interested in crowdfunding," she says. A timely regulatory change mid-decade saw the Financial Markets Authority license PledgeMe as one of NZ's first wave of crowdfunded equity platforms.. To date, PledgeMe has raised more than $40m, over half of that over the past 24 months as it has expanded across the Tasman. In 2016, Guenther became one of the leaders of the ginger group Women Who Get Shit Done and has been an outspoken about the lack of diversity on the NZ tech, and lobbied to get more women into technology, and more women into governance roles. Notably, she shamed the Hi-Tech Awards on social media in 2018 for claiming to "Celebrate Diversity" while having only one female speaker out of 16. The event picked up its game the following year, but it still seems to be one where Guenther sometimes encounters the blunter end of male chauvinism on the nz tech scene. She told the Herald that she attended the Hi-Tech Awards before last as a guest of a sponsor. "I remember a guy approached us and complimented the man I was with on bringing such a 'hot date'. He didn't think that maybe I ran a tech company."
RocketWerkz CEO, unlimited leave advocate
Oamaru kid Dean Hall cut his teeth on the primitive, arcade-style games offered by Amiga 500 and Commodore 64 computers before a five year stint in the Air Force, followed by a spell at Wellington game developer Sidhe Interactive, then signed up with the Army for two years - including survival training in Brunei under an exchange agreement. He then headed to Europe, where he blended his enlisted and gaming experience to create a zombie shoot 'em up game called DayZ - which started as a "mod" for another game, ARMA2 but went on to earn a reported $100m. Hall then returned to New Zealand in 2015, where he founded his own game development studio, Rocketwerkz - which employs 50 people in Dunedin. Following an injection of capital from Chinese gaming giant Tencent (which now owns 36 per cent of his company), Hall is opening a second studio in Auckland to create a big-budget survival game. He's looking for 60 staff for his Auckland waterfront operation, and hopes to have a full complement in a marquee waterfront location by the end of 2020 (he currently has 30 in temporary Albert St digs). Hall made headlines a couple of years back when he offered all staff unlimited leave - with a stipulation of a four-week minimum. How did that work out? It turned out not to be one of his hits. Today, the policy only applies to senior staff. Juniors need more structure, Hall said.
Ohmio R&D head
Mohammed Hikmet and his young family escaped war-torn Iraq for New Zealand in 1991. It wasn't all roses: the one-time pizza delivery boy was told his tertiary qualifications weren't recognised here so he had to work three part-time jobs as he but himself through university all over again. Hikmet then started a computer repair business before seeing an opportunity for electronic signs and co-founding HMI Technologies - maker of those ubiquitous solar-powered signs that display your speed in real-time, or tell you to slow down because you're near a school (or just hoofing it above 50km). In 2017, HMI spun-off its Ohmio unit which, in something of a change of tack, is developing self-driving electric vehicles - with instructions sent via 5G and lidar sensors to avoid unexpected obstructions. The public face and research and development brains behind Ohmio is Mohammed Hikmet's son Mahmood Hikmet - who gained an engineering PhD from Auckland University. If you're familiar with Spark's 5G ads, you'll have seen one of Ohmio's smaller vehicles (pictured above) beetling around Auckland's Britomart. Ohmio also has also had two of its larger self-driving people-movers piloted at Christchurch Airport, and has an MoU with a South Korean smart city developer for 150 more - which will be manufactured in Heshan after Ohmio inked a US$20million joint-venture deal with the Chinese city after failing to find a local backer.Hikmet sees the JV producing thousands of Ohmios a year within five-years.
A six-year-old Danny Ing and his family arrived in NZ the late 1970s as refugees, having earlier escaped war-torn Vietnam as boat people. His parents opened a takeaway shop in Te Puke, and Ing worked there part time to save for his first computer, a Commodore 64. Computers remained Ing's passion and at age 27 he set up his own web design company. It morphed into CIN7 (for Connected Inventory), which helps retailers sell set of goods through both a bricks and mortar store and multiple online sales channels. Business really started to boom in 2017 when Amazon set up shop across the Tasman, and local retailers needed a hand negotiating its systems. But by this year half of CIN7's new business - managed by 150 staff, all in Auckland - was coming out of North America. Ing went looking for a US partner to help manage his company's hyper-growth. A broker ended up introducing him to the Colorado-based venture capital outfit Rubicon Technology Partners, who ended up taking a majority stake in a deal closed in October. Ing won't say how much money changed hands, but it was above the $100m threshold that triggers Overseas Investment Office scrutiny (the agency approved the deal). Now all eyes on are Ing's next move.
Dexibit CEO, founder
A typically busy November saw Dexibit founder Angie Judge pick up an Inspiring Women Leaders gong at NZ Trade & Enterprise's New Zealand International Business Awards 2019 (shared with the Organic Initiative's Helen Robinson and take the stage in front of an audience of 500 for the PCW Herald Talks event "How to be a tech revolutionary." Judge founded Dexibit, an analytics company that provides data to museums and other cultural institutions, from the UK's National Gallery to Motat, using AI analyse how visitors behave today and to predict future trends. Judge is an advocate for more women in technology in the media and in her public speaking, but also lead by example. Half her company's staff spread across Auckland, Washington and London are female, represented in all business units including data science, and engineering. And Dexibit's board is 60 percent women. That's a change from her early career with various Big Tech multinationals were Judge said, "I had the same experience of often finding myself the only woman in the room, or one of two in a large group. I am just determined to make sure we don't have that kind of environment for Dexibit."
Flowingly founder, MK1 Ventures director
Jon Kalaugher has developed something of a golden touch with his investments in software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups through his MK1 Ventures vehicle. The entrepreneur was an early backer of cloud success stories including AskNicely, Joyous, Plexure and PushPay. Along the way he founded IT services outfit Securecom in 2002, then sold it in 2009 before founding Naverisk to create workflow automation software for managed service providers and IT professionals. He described it as a classic case of needing a service, finding nothing, then creating it himself. After Naverisk was bought by Texan company ECI in 2015 for US$15m, Kalaugher founded his third startup, Flowingly, which creates workflow automation software - but for every aspect of a company, not just the IT department. Through the funds he's generated from previous wins, Kalaugher was able to fund Flowingly himself as it bagged a major Fortune 100 customer in Europe. Along the way, he also bought back Naverisk at mates-rates after a rapid shuffle of owners saw ECI change direction. Now, Kalaugher is in the process of raising $23m for Flowingly, and on the eye-out for more SaaS startups to invest in.
Finistere Ventures partner
One time Parininihi ki Waitotara Trust deputy chairman and NZTE regional director Arama Kukutai is now a partner at venture capital company Finistere Ventures, which has offices in Silicon Valley, San Diego and Ireland. Finistere invests worldwide, but one of its specialities has been backing New Zealand agrifood and agritech startups including medical cannabis BioLumic. Earlier this year, Finistere set up a satellite office at The Factory in Palmerston North, and lead a $13m funding round for Christchurch-based food and beverage player Invert Robotics and Kukutai is open to pitches in the sector as Finistere invests US$200m from its latest fund, a big chunk of which he'd like to invest in NZ. During a visit home for field days, the now San Diego-based Kukutai says as well as injecting its own Finistere capital, his international networks allow him to hook up Kiwi startups with multinationals such as Yamaha Motors (who co-invested in Invert Robotics) and Bayer (who supported Finistere's $6.3m investment in BioLumic).
Young Ly, AJ Bertenshaw, Steve West
Serato CEO; founders
"When you say you work for Serato, everyone thinks you work for a cafe - because it's an unknown brand in New Zealand," says the company's chief executive Young Ly. But while you might not have heard of the DJ software company, fans like Kayne West and Eminem have turned it in to a music industry mainstay. Serato's 150 staff, spread over four floors of an Auckland office building have a global lock on their niche, earning the company tens of millions per year. Ly was the father of Grabaseat during his time as innovation manager at Air NZ. Today he's the driving force behind Serato's relentless growth. Co-founders AJ Bertenshaw and Steve West are still directors, but these days spending most of their time on new projects. Bertenshaw is an investor in TicketFairy, an online service for selling tickets and organising events that hopes to take on the likes of Ticketmaster and Ticketek, while West is backing ChargeNet, which is in the process of building a nationwide network of EV chargers.
Over the past decade, Edwina Mistry been involved in efforts to encourage high school students, especially female and Maori and Pasifika students in South Auckland, into the technology industry through programmes including JHack, YTech, Code Camp, DigiGirlz and ShadowTech, roping in industry partners such as Datacom and Microsoft to bolster her efforts. She has been on NZQA panels for ICT curriculum design for both school and tertiary and she currently serves as executive director of industry group NZTech's TechWomen project. The long-time Manukau Institute of Technology industry engagement manager has recently left academia behind to found her own company, CreateOps who want to take their next step in life, change career direction or develop leadership skills. Through her work she is very keen to bridge the gender gap and be inclusive by educating men and women to encourage and empower women to consider careers in technology
Executive Director AI Forum NZ
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is set to play a huge role in technology over the next decade, and as head of the AI Forum - an NGO setup up to balance the interests of innovators, end-users, investor groups, regulators, researchers, educators, entrepreneurs - Emma Naji is set to play a key role in its local development. In the UK in 2009, Naji co-founded one of the first commercial drone operations, The Aerial Academy (now called DroneTraining), providing footage and training for the likes of the BBC, Channel 4, UK Police, award-winning ITV documentaries and the film industry. While building startups Intela AI and Farrago.ai in Wellington, it quickly became apparent that systemically NZ Inc. didn't have enough general awareness of AI and the few further along the adoption curve weren't receiving balanced advice. To help tackle these issues, she created the AI Advisory; her second Wellington startup providing agnostic consultancy, guidance and strategy around AI adoption. Now as executive director of AI Forum NZ, an umbrella group for the fast-growing artificial intelligence industry as it grapples with the regulatory and ethical issues inherent in the Rise of the Machines, she will help shape how AI affects New Zealand as a whole. Recent initiatives included a majorreport into AI's impact on the finance sector and an upcoming conference and hackathon.
Icehouse Ventures CEO, Tahua Ventures managing partner
With long-time doyen Andy Hamilton moving on, Robbie Paul has become the brightest star in the Icehouse universe of business incubation and investing. Paul is also a founding investor and managing partner in Icehouse spin-off Tahua Ventures, which has put money into a number of promising startups including Parrot Analytics (which tracks social media chatter and other non-traditional metrics to gauge the popularity of TV series in the post-ratings streaming era), Chicken-free Chicken maker Sunfed and Halter, a startup that makes a smart-collar to herd cows using audio signals controlled via a smartphone app. Earlier this year, Paul oversaw an Icehouse restructure that saw a crew of new partners - FNZC, Sir Stephen Tindall's investment company K1W1 and KiwiSaver provider Simplicity - between them they have committed $3 million to help establish Icehouse Ventures, which took over the previous startup activities of the Icehouse incubator as part of a restructure. Simplicity also committed to investing up to $100m of KiwiSaver funds over the next 10 years into funds managed by Icehouse Ventures that go into high growth businesses looking for expansion capital beyond early seed funding.
CEO and cofounder, RedShield
2019 has been a year when Aussie VC funds like Blackbird and AirTree have swooped in to buy large chunks of Kiwi startups. But, when RedShield CEO, co-founder and major shareholder Andy Prow went looking for new capital this year, the Wellingtonian was able to find a new local backer, Pencarrow as he raised $14m at $64m valuation in September. RedShield earlier raised $6.2m in a Series A round in 2016. Although he has fresh buzz - one member of our panel described him as "the next Rod Drury" - this is not Prow's first time at the rodeo. He founded Aura Information Security, then sold to Kordia in 2015 for $10m). His latest venture makes what it calls "shielding" software to protect an organisation from a wide array of online nasties. Like a number of other entrepreneurs on this list, Prow says he has no interest in the consumer or small business markets, which are catered too with freebies. Instead, RedShield provides a service for companies facing complex threats - which means most of its customers are large organisations such as healthcare providers, energy companies and government agencies with customised solutions (which he pitches as his point of difference against "the generic giants). NZ only has a limited amount of suitable targets, so Prow sees most growth coming from offshore - but he has pledged to keep R&D in Auckland and his home base of Wellington.
Raygun co-founder, local hiring trendsetter
Task began his entrepreneurial career at Palmerston North Boys' High School in the 1990s, where he sold software on floppy disks for $5 a pop, and schooled himself on computers, in part, through reading NZ PC World magazine (which analysts say was a guaranteed route to the top). After a spell working for Rod Drury's Xero, Trask co-founded his own business, now known after its product, Raygun. "Raygun is like putting a black box flight recorder into your software," Trask says. His company's software records crashes and bugs, then reports backs back to software maker on its customer experience. Raygun took off in the US and Trask has spent a lot of time living in Seattle, where it has an office and around a third of its 30 staff. But whereas many but more and more boots on the ground in North America, around a year ago, Trask committed $15m to hiring 70 staff in Wellington as he doubled-down on his commitment to Silicon-Welly. "There's a challenge for talent everywhere in the world right now. It's not specific to Wellington," he says. The New Zealand lifestyle is easy to sell, and the internet has eliminated the tyranny of distance, Trask maintains.
Aaron Ward & John Ballinger
"Net promoter score" or NPS is perhaps the trendiest business metric of 2019. It's derived from taking the number of positive mentions a company gets from customers, then taking away the number of negative mentions for a net score ranging somewhere from -100 to 100. Aaron Ward and John Ballinger didn't event NPS, but after huddling in a Ponsonby garden shed, they did release the first app, AskNicely, designed to make it easy to calculate a person or business's NPS through real-time customer satisfaction survey data. AskNicely also aims to help companies improve their satisfaction ratings, with a "conversational" rather than "interrogating" series of quick questions. Earlier this year, AskNicely raised $15m from backers in the US, Australia and Sir Stephen Tindall's K1W1 fund at home. Today, Ballinger leads the startup's product and engineering teams (numbering around 50) Auckland while Ward has relocated to head a sales team of around 35 in Portland in the US Northwest. Ward says the setup mirrors PushPay, which during formative years saw founders Chris Heaslip and Eliot Crowther divide their attention between Auckland and Seattle respectively. The next milestone: turning a profit, which Ward expects in 2020.
Grinding Gear Games managing director
Chris Wilson rules the world from his modest office beside a West Auckland Pak'nSave - or at least a virtual world. The self-effacing Westie runs Grinding Gear Games, whose sole title, the role playing game Path of Exile, has some 2 million players worldwide. Wilson was playing another RPG a decade ago when chatting to a player who was logged on from Sweden: Erik Olofsson. The pair fantasised about creating their own fantasy world. But unlike most such chats, it didn't stop at mere fancy. Olofsson — a designer — actually jumped on a plane and flew down to New Zealand to collaborate with Wilson, who was wiling away his post-university years on a series of contract-programming jobs. A 2012 kickstarter campaign raised US$200,000 to develop Path of Exile. A US$2.5m round followed in 2013 as enthusiastic fans shelled out to back the game on the crowdfunding site.
Grinding Gear Games had grown to 114 staff by May last year when China's Tencent took a majority holding for an undisclosed sum beyond the $100m threshold that triggers Overseas Investment Office involvement. Wilson, who had a 43 per cent holding ahead of the Tencent deal, says he still owns a minority stake and, more importantly, negotiated to keep operations in NZ. In fact, his first order of business after revealing the Chinese investment was to hire another 15 staff - putting Grinding Gear Games neck-and-neck with another Tencent holding (Rocketwerkz) as NZ's largest game developer.
Google NZ public policy & government affairs manager
It's been a year of political, PR and legal challenges for Google, from ongoing debate around profit-shifting to its on-again-off-again relationship controversial online ticket seller Viagogo to it inadvertently emailing the suppressed name of Grace Millane's alleged killer in December, then again making it accessible within a click after he was convicted last month. In July, Justice Minister Andrew Little said Google was "flipping the bird" at New Zealand laws by breaking suppression orders in the high-profile murder case and then doing nothing about it.
So the heat has been on. But unlike in Australia, where Google has been caught in a number of measures cracking down on Big Tech, on this side of the Tasman there's been a lot of bark by the Crown without much bite. That's in part a testament to the skills of Google's Wellington-based senior manager for public policy and government affairs Ross Young. The ex-Commerce Commission senior legal counsel has one of the toughest jobs in tech and he's been prosecuting it well, helping to persuade our government to take a more pragmatic, globally-focused approach than the big stick being used in Canberra. Next challenge: addressing the Deputy PM's assertion that Google and Facebook are suffocating media.