A Waikato technologist, David Hallett, who with his business partner, established a Silicon Valley level company in the Waikato, is a finalist in the New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards, in the IBM Most Inspiring Individual Award category with the winner to be announced on May 24.

Other finalists in the category include Rocket Lab chief executive and technology officer Peter Beck, Xero managing director Craig Hudson, and Spark managing director Simon Moutter.

Mr Hallett, along with his business partner Jeremy Hughes, founded software specialist Company-X in Hamilton in 2012, and started their vision to push the Waikato to the front of the world's biggest IT sectors, and rival Silicon Valley in the United States.

Company-X was ranked inside the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 Asia Pacific, a ranking of the 500 fastest growing technology companies in Asia Pacific.

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Deloitte named Company-X the fastest growing technology company in the Central North Island in 2018.

Clients of Company-X include the NZ Police, where the company helped with the calibration of the police's speed cameras, and radars.

The speed testing devices are complex in number, type and technology. They include laser guns, radar, speed cameras and static speed test sites, passive and evidential breathalysers, and weighing scales.

Company-X solved this by centralising and fully automating all required tasks and data-points with software purpose-designed and built for the calibration laboratories.

This removed manual processes and made it easy to monitor and track calibration data like location and status.

The company also helped Auckland International College, by designing and building a web-based system to connect to web cameras at the school. It integrates with the timetables and other data in the existing student management system.

This enables overseas parents to log in over the web and find out what class their son or daughter is in at any time. It can connect the parent to the feed from that classroom's web camera.

Company-X directors David Hallett (top), and Jeremy Hughes. Photo / Stephen Barker
Company-X directors David Hallett (top), and Jeremy Hughes. Photo / Stephen Barker

For the two directors, it was a "romantic" process when starting the company, as Mr Hughes first began seeking a business partner for his new venture, moving from one business relationship to the next to find his perfect match.

"I went looking for someone to join forces with and I found someone, and we did a DISC profile together," Mr Hughes said.

"One of the things they offer when you have two people is to put those two people against each other and see where the overlaps are, and the problem with this guy is that everything he didn't like doing, was everything that I did not like doing."

"My advisor looked at it and went Jeremy that is going to change nothing, because you are both going to avoid those things."

Mr Hughes then attended a business function one night, and spotted David Hallett who he had known for a few years.

"I spoke to him after an industry event and just asked what he was doing. He was working at Mighty River Power, and I asked what did you want to do and he said he wanted to do sales.

"We did another DISC profile and he loved doing all the stuff I hated doing, which was perfect. Business partners are a bit like a marriage"

Mr Hallett said that his wife Raewyn often calls his relationship with Mr Hughes better than his marriage.

"In fact it is better than a marriage if you have the right partner.

"My wife keeps telling me that Jeremy is a better partner than she is — he actually cares about what you think," Mr Hallett said.

The two set about brainstorming under the banner of Company-X, both of them focused on bringing something new to the company, and not repeating their past.

"If you always do what you have always done you will always get what you've always got, so we asked what was going to be different, what was going to be the X-factor," Mr Hallett said.

The duo chose the Waikato as their base of operations because it was their home, and since have had people from Silicon Valley praising them for their achievements here.

"We are huge fans of the Waikato, why not the Waikato?

"We have the best people, with the best lifestyle. One of our core principles is that 'there is always a way' so why can't we be better than anyone else in the world. We have proven that we have done it," Mr Hughes said.

Company-X focuses on following its three Is; Innovation, Integration and In-sourcing.

"Innovation is about creating new stuff. People come to us with ideas and we work around their idea or concept, and work with them to make something new.

"Innovation is our big gig," Mr Hallett said.

"Integration is our second one. People come to us with problems and we will work with them to solve them."

"Integration is cool because once you solve those problems then you enable those companies to improve with what you have done."

"The third is in-sourcing. People will come to us with an idea but say they have a gap in their team and we will give them people with the knowledge to bring up them up to speed."

Company-X has worked on numerous projects around New Zealand, including helping NZTA with the Waikato Expressway.

The company developed the innovation award-winning One Network Road Classification Performance Measures Reporting Tool for the NZ Transport Agency.

The Performance Measures Reporting Tool led to the creation of the world's first national roading database.

Company-X also takes an approach to hire senior staffers who are at the top of their fields, while offering opportunities to university graduates locally as well, with the directors naming the University of Waikato one of the top in the world when it comes to IT.

"We actually have people in Silicon Valley coming to us and saying you have the best people for this."

As if something out of sci-fi shows, Star Trek and Stargate Universe, the company makes its applicants take part in an exam that has yet to be beaten.

"We expect people to fail them, and then we can see the areas they failed in and see how good they are at the problems they solved," Mr Hughes said.

"No one has ever succeeded the test."

"The pass mark is 70 per cent, but if they get less than that and they show us how they are doing it then we also take them on."

The company is now looking to expand its resources as they continue the push to become one of New Zealand's leading IT companies.

Our growing IT sector
In 2018 the Hamilton technology sector was the top growth region in New Zealand with 16.3 per cent growth. Revenue growth was by $119 million to total $0.854 billion. North Auckland was a close second at 16.1 per cent growth. Revenue grew $154 million to $1.111 billion. Otago came third with 13.1$ growth. Revenue grew $48 million to $0.410 billion.
In 2017 Hamilton's technology sector saw a 21.7 per cent revenue increase, the highest percentage growth of any of the regions. In 2017 Hamilton grew at nearly twice the rate of the South Island region which came second with 11.8 per cent growth. The Wellington region grew by 10.5 per cent, Central region by 5.7 per cent and Auckland region by 5 per cent.