Dynamic Duo's growing business
Kendra Ross and Jackie Hatchwell talk to Heather Wright about passion, failure and re-evaluating life and business.
Kendra Ross is direct. Duo’s initial attempt at replicating its Kiwi success in Australia nearly 10 years ago, didn’t work. It cost them heavily financially, made them vulnerable here in New Zealand and ultimately needed to be re-evaluated.
“We sunk a huge amount of capital into Australia to get established. What we found is that Australia is not New Zealand,” says Ross, Duo co-founder and director.
“We speak the same language and are both part of the Commonwealth, but we are worlds apart in so many aspects, from being state-based to having so many different rules and so much red tape.
“We naively thought we could pick up our business model and drop it into Australia and be fine.”
It was, she admits, something they had been warned about. The global financial crisis would further exacerbate issues.
Believing they needed a big presence in the Australian market, Duo, which had been operating in New Zealand for around 10 years at the time, invested heavily in setting up in Australia.
“What we found was that, in reality, you can do it all remotely from New Zealand. You don’t have to have Australian premises and masses of staff over there. It can be done by phone and email.
“And you know, no one was put out that the phones were being answered by Kiwis.”
Australia was also ‘a very different beast’ around trust, morals and ethics. “The further up the chain you go, the nicer people are. But down the bottom, everyone is in it for themselves.
“Australia was a very valuable lesson for us, and we grew up very quickly,” Ross says.
Today, Duo has a ‘lovely successful business’ in Australia – with just one full-time staffer on the ground there and the entire backend run from New Zealand.
“It’s growing and doing very nicely with little touch from us.
“We are an online distribution business over there.”
The Australian issues haven’t dented Duo’s enthusiasm for expansion. The company is making a move into professional services soon, and Jackie Hatchwell, co-founder and director, teases that there are plenty of exciting plans for the year ahead.
“We initially built a lifestyle business, but things have changed now and we’ve got some cool and exciting things coming,” Hatchwell says.
Like many, Hatchwell and Ross both ‘fell’ into tech.
Hatchwell left school at 15. “I got my School C results on my birthday. I failed every subject. I think I got 7% in typing, then I went on to win the Wellington typing competition,” she adds.
It would be the typing that ultimately got Hatchwell involved in technology, when she ended up working at Shell Oil as PA for seven IT managers.
“They used me to pilot new hardware and software.”
Part of the reason: her fast typing skills.
Even today, she admits she wasn’t that passionate about technology.
“But because it was ever changing, with new machines, new software, email, the internet… It was an exciting industry, never dull, there was always something new coming up.
“That’s what I enjoyed, not necessarily the technology so much.
“I fell into a position that allowed me to grow.”
Ross too, says she fell into the industry. Having finished university, she got a marketing support role at Epson Printers.
It was her entry into the IT world, and she ‘adored’ the change and pace, the constant evolution of products and the industry itself.
Bright lights briefly beckoned when she was given an opportunity to go into television. She resigned from her role in technology – only to be quickly talked back into a new role in IT, with various roles at distributors and vendors following.
The pair would ultimately end up working at Melco, Ross as a product manager, Hatchwell as sales manager for the OEM division.
Hatchwell says she was doing ‘really well’ as sales manager, but had just had a baby.
It was in the days when leaving work at 5pm prompted comments of being a ‘part-time worker’.
“I had a feeding baby to look after. He was six weeks old. I didn’t have a lot to lose and my passion had always been to run my own business.”
It was a passion shared by Ross and together the pair formed Duo, incorporated in 1995 and beginning trading in 1996. To this day it’s a standing joke that Hatchwell dates the company from incorporation, while Ross chooses to date it from the day it began trading, leading to a one year difference in the age of the company, depending on who you talk to.
Duo initially focused on proprietary memory products, with SimplePlus Technology as their first agency, and carved out a solid niche. But the memory market would crash around the same time as the start of the GFC. Prices plummeted and people weren’t upgrading. “We had all our eggs in one basket,” says Hatchwell. “And that was time to re-evaluate. Because you know, when things are going well, you do get complacent. We were profitable, our lifestyle was good.”
Says Ross of the time: “We had to make some hard decisions about staff and structure and we did.”
The company diversified. “Government customers that we were talking to were telling us they had to move to encryption, so we looked for encryption vendors and found IronKey. It was a new company with a disruptive technology and we picked up the ANZ distribution rights and very quickly made it the standard for government in ANZ,” Ross says.
The deal gave Duo – and Ross in particular – a taste for the security market.
Ross’ passion for security ultimately saw her establish the 1stTuesday Security Network in New Zealand, after failing to find any similar groups which would enable her to learn about security. Started eight years ago with just 10 attendees for the first few months, the networking and educational event has now grown to between 60-80 people each month, with major vendors supporting the events.
Last year the Information Security Awards for New Zealand were launched with the inaugural awards due to be held this year.
While Ross’ passion for security is obvious, Hatchwell is, well, passionate about people being passionate about what they do. It’s an attribute that she believes is key for success, and something she clearly is herself.
“If you have the right attitude and credentials, the commonsense, motivation and passion – that’s what we look for.
“It’s your attitude and aptitude that makes you successful – regardless of gender,” she says. “You have to be happy or you’ll burn out.”
In fact, Hatchwell’s enthusiasm for her job is such that just three weeks after having a major heart attack last August, she returned to work, despite her doctor’s lack of enthusiasm for her to do so.
“I was five minutes from death. They used the paddles on me. Things fell into perspective after that.
“But I only took three weeks off because work does not stress me, it’s what I enjoy doing, it keeps me grounded.
“I was extremely happy to come back to work.”
Despite the speedy return to work, Hatchwell admits that the heart attack has changed her perspective on things – and has seen her reduce her work hours to a standard business day with emails in the evening.
“And there are days when I don’t turn the phone on, or I have it on silent and don’t check email.
“I’m not a control freak, even though I may come across like that sometimes. You have to learn to put things aside.
“People put so much emphasis on work because that’s where they have their goals. But at the end of the day, you have to learn to take time out.”
Reconnecting with her children, aged 20 and 16, has also been part of the ‘re-evaluation’ of life, and with a ‘surprise package’ of a grandchild last year (‘life throws you curve balls at times!’ Hatchwell says), Wednesday’s are now devoted to baby minding.
“I don’t have any regrets. I wouldn’t have changed anything.”
“It’s important to keep perspective,” adds Ross. “Business and jobs are exciting, but it’s life and family life that’s more important.”
Ross too, is happy to use the ‘do not disturb’ option with phones in the evening and mornings. “I can always escalate a call if needed, but I find more often than not, it’s not actually as important as people think.”
Both say throughout Duo’s 20 years – and four children between them – they’ve always been able to take time out to attend kids’ sports days or kapa haka and other important family occasions.
“And I didn’t feel guilty,” says Hatchwell.
In fact, the pair actively encouraged a family environment at work.
“By us doing it, the rest of the staff feel they can do it as well,” says Ross.
And somehow, you get the feeling, that just adds to the passion the pair feel for their business.