Take yourself back ten years and ask ‘what were the leading Kiwi software firms at the time?’ You might struggle to find an immediate answer. Xero was only six years old. Pushpay had only just been born and the rest of the list provides slim pickings. But since then we’ve seen an absolute boom with software businesses popping up everywhere. And, while that’s amazing – it also creates some challenges, especially around who new startups turn to for advice and guidance.
The tech sector in New Zealand has grown at a massive pace in recent years. In 2019, it employed 114,450 people on our shores and despite a few difficult, COVID impacted years, that number will only grow.
However, compared to other global technology powerhouses, like San Francisco, London or Tel Aviv, our software sector is still very young. That means the industry is still finding its way without the institutional experience you might find overseas, where there is a much larger pool of industry veterans around who can provide consultancy and guidance to help new startups navigate the first few years and break through in global markets.
Raising the tide through shared stories
In an effort to share our knowledge, and the knowledge of our successful SaaS partners, we organise a regular catch-up for New Zealand’s best SaaS providers. The aim of the event is to have the people behind our local tech success stories share their experiences, their challenges, wins and what they have learnt along the way. If we all learn together, then we all get better together.
The second of these events was held recently over lunch at the Park Hyatt on Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour. The key speaker was Phil Thomson, co-founder and co-CEO of Auror, a Retail Crime Intelligence platform that started with just four stores in 2014.
As Phil and his team revealed, one of the biggest challenges they faced was when they made the bold decision to re-platform their software solution after only a couple of years in business.
“Like most startups, building software quickly to incorporate customer feedback and new ideas meant that things get bolted on to the side and after awhile it looks like Frankenstein’s monster” says Phil. “ We knew it would restrict our ability to scale into new markets and achieve our product vision.”
The co-founders organised a sit-down with the Board and they decided the best way to move forward was to rebuild their whole platform from the ground up and take advantage of the new Platform as a Service offering on Microsoft Azure. It was a big call, which they knew would mean that customer acquisition and revenue growth would stagnate for nearly 18 months.
The decision paid off. From those first four stores, Auror has now grown to serve more than 10,000 in less than a decade.
The other major issue Phil discussed was the skills shortage. It’s no secret that industries around the country are struggling to find staff equipped with the right skills for highly technical roles, and the tech sector is battling this as much as any. Phil and his team have been looking locally and internationally to bring in talent, and recently brought in a Microsoft MVP from the UK under the critical worker visa exemption. However, it’s an ongoing challenge and every tech company seems to be hiring at the moment.
To ensure it has enough people with the right skills, the sector needs to connect and continue to build networks. “That will mean looking overseas to bring in new talent, working with government to create a better pathway for tech expertise, as well as investing in training for the next generation of tech professionals” says Phil. Coordinating as an industry will help to grow the overall talent pool so New Zealand tech companies aren’t overfishing the same group of people.
As Ross Turner, an international customer manager at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, said at the event, “The rate at which New Zealand’s tech sector is growing is staggering. If we want to make the most of the opportunity we have at hand, then we’ve got to provide our young SaaS businesses with the help and support they need to be successful.”
That’s exactly the aim of the Microsoft SaaS Partner event series. Making sure the next generation of tech companies coming out of New Zealand have a chance to collaborate and benefit from each other’s experience, to receive the support as they need to solve problems and find new opportunities. A wave of massive growth is coming as the country comes into its own as a tech hub, with a brand-new hyperscale datacenter region set to add even more power. By paddling together in the same waka, we’ll be best placed to negotiate any riptides and ride that wave to success.