Latest winner of business awards grows from new way of making a donation to church.

When Chris Heaslip and Eliot Crowther got to know each other at their Mount Eden Life Church in 2011, they shared a frustration with the ancient - even non-existent - technology the church used to ask for funds.

"I had a phone, I had eftpos, I wanted to give to good causes like a special appeal or a new roof, but who carries cash? By the time you'd got home, you'd forgotten about it," recalls Heaslip. "It was easier to buy a tune from iTunes while you were sat in your car at the lights. People are able to be generous if they are given the chance."

Their solution, Pushpay, is now on track to earn a US$100 million by the end of this financial year, reaching break even. It is listed on the New Zealand and Australian Stock Exchanges.

Neither of the pair was software engineers - Crowther, who left the business earlier this year, had a sales background, Heaslip in finance and accounting - so they kept their day jobs for a year while they sought funding and paid an engineer to develop the software.

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"We had hundreds of rejections," recalls Heaslip. "People asked 'what do you know about data risks, start up security' and so we put our own money in and bootstrapped the first year. A year later we took the prototype back to our church."

Pushpay's donor management system, including finance tools and a custom community app, targets not just the faith sector, but also other not-for-profit and education providers in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

From the beginning the company focused on removing barriers to generosity (their mobile Fastpay™, for example, requires only two taps and five seconds to make a payment).

Heaslip, whose philosophy is guided by his post-uni reading of Rich Dad, Poor Dad (which focuses first on what you can learn and the money will follow) took the plunge to move full-time to America at the start of 2013.

The market is unmatched: over half the population attend one of over 340,000 churches, donating US$127 billion. But no technology existed to make it easy for the 150m attendees to give. Selling in from New Zealand was not an option: they tried but quickly tired of a sales team starting work at 4am.




Click here to view Central winners and ceremony photos.


Now some 100 engineers are based in New Zealand, while the Seattle office (Heaslip reckons it's the closest city in culture and climate to friendly, green New Zealand - right down to the regular rainfall) houses over 100 salespeople and 250 staff. Customers range from 14 of the top 20 biggest churches (the largest has 50,000 weekly attendees and hundreds of million dollars in donations) to a tiny community in Los Angeles that has grown from 40 people to over 2000 in their time with Pushpay.

Many of the church communities run food banks, homeless shelters, education services and more, but Pushpay quickly realised that, while they were there to help raise funds, they could also help pastors and volunteers run their operations better.

"We want to share our best of breed in marketing, in technology, and Pushpay allows us to speak to churches and non-profits about how to run, how to hire and fire people, how to be excellent at what they do," says Heaslip. "They're not good at tough conversations, but if they get it wrong, then someone goes un-fed or doesn't get the help they need."

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The company now runs innovation conferences - the last one hosted over 600 pastors from 32 states, marketing guru Seth Godin was the keynote speaker - and regular blogs talk to the mission of a modern church, social media and all (Instagram is key).

"Our staff is passionate about helping social good," says Heaslip. "It's different from working for a company that is just making money."

This year, while it has picked up a slew of international business and innovation awards, the company honours its Kiwi roots, proudly accepting the Supreme Award in [this week's] Westpac Auckland Business Awards for the Central region.

In Seattle, conference rooms are named after New Zealand innovators like Kate Shepperd, Lorde, Earnest Rutherford, Whina Cooper.

In New Zealand they are determined to be part of a growing innovation and technology community that can be brought international. Audrey Cheng, director of products, says that the company sees itself as encouraging and inspiring other companies to come alongside and make the global stage.

Both she and director of engineering (and hire number five) Alex Henderson see a massive amount of talent and innovation and world class businesses in the entries this year in the awards.

Heaslip concurs. "It's an honour to be recognised here, both for the dedication and expertise our team brings. But when we look at other finalists, like Vend and DHL we see what they are doing is phenomenal.

"Recognising New Zealand business is great, but we then need great business to help grow the country," he says. "Callaghan [the Crown innovation agency] has been great, it allows us to keep jobs in New Zealand and invest in research and development here. New Zealand has some really great tech business, and these awards help to retain them here and recognise them."