Do Kiwis have a certain je ne sais quoi with regard to Startup Weekends – or is that wishful thinking?


Having been lucky enough to be around a couple of startup things in the past few weeks – I’ll take the opportunity to reflect.

The first occasion was a Skype interview at Wellington’s Creative HQ with George Smith, the founder of Glass Jar, an app that helps make group payments (such as in a flat) easier. Glass Jar was one of Lightning Lab’s accelerator graduates from last year.

They successfully pitched at LL’s Demo Day, and then relocated the USA.

George and his teammates spent three months doing the meet and greet with would-be investors in America, and then were accepted into Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley seed investment accelerator.

One of the interesting comments from George was that investors didn’t think much of the Glass Jar idea for the USA (flatmates over there have a completely different way of looking after shared bills).

But they did like the Kiwi team, and it was this that was backed at Y Combinator – which could be likened to being a Lightning Lab on steroids, where the participants are more worldly in a business-sense than some of the participants you see in New Zealand.

Nick Churchouse, the head of customer engagement at CreativeHQ made a passing comment that he quite often hears, and hears of this comment from USA investors. Mind you, given the courage it would take to relocate yourself to the States to pursue an unknown future, and given the can do attitude these coders, designers and entrepreneurs would display, it shouldn’t surprise us.

It is perhaps related to the apocryphal stories you sometimes hear of New Zealanders (often engineers), leading teams in overseas locations. For example, my brother leads the ground team of the International Space Station and helps look after oxygen, waste and water. (Like me, he’s a Southland farm boy by upbringing, with no engineering training as such, but with the ability to keep a team of brainiacs on task with a minimum of fuss).

Then again, all countries, all peoples are going to feel they’re special in this way.

However, as we continue the Startup Weekend business training exercises, our designers, developers and puller-togethers’ ability to work together could be viewed as a specific Kiwi trait, something that should be encouraged, a way to move beyond our sometimes too-self-effacing attitude.

Or perhaps that’s trying to put a gloss on something that can only happen by luck and circumstance.

What does anyone else think?

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About sticknz

sticK is by Peter Kerr, a writer for hire. I have a broad science and technology background and interest, with an original degree in agricultural science. My writing speciality is making the complex understandable. I am available for outside consultancy work, and for general discussions of converting a good idea into something positive
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2 Responses to Do Kiwis have a certain je ne sais quoi with regard to Startup Weekends – or is that wishful thinking?

  1. Tony Brenton-Rule says:

    Thanks for the question Peter. Yes, luck and circumstance have a role, but they probably visit many of us from time to time. If so, then how come it seems that some people get all the luck? Maybe their luck is because they’re better at taking advantage of circumstances. That may require positional flexibility – no ties, free to relocate, good health etc., but I think it also benefits from education; adaptability, an eye for opportunity, willingness to take a chance, appetite for risk and so on.

    Do Kiwis who have these characteristics succeed in other countries, like your brother? Yes, more than NZ’s numerical population suggests we should. But we may also have to overcome national characteristics that appear to be holding us back.

    Tony Alexander (BNZ) did some good work on these in 2011 http://tonyalexander.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Our-Deficiencies-Summarised.pdf Some of this draws on excellent thinking by a NZer, Tony Smale. He points out that metrics that suggest how well NZ should perform consistently rank us highly for innovativeness and entrepreneurship. Yet our actual performance metrics generally rate us very poorly. It’s a NZ economic paradox that defies conventional analysis.

    There’s a link to Tony Smale’s thinking here. http://forte-management.co.nz/resource?terms=nz%20science Click through to his 2013 paper in the NZ Science Review, page 62. It’s worth reading.

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