Our seven key tips for becoming an ICT millionaire
What is it about successful entrepreneurs? One minute they seem to be eating two-minute noodles and the next they’re sitting in helicopters, flying off to watch the A1GP and dining in fine style. How do they evolve from being businessmen (and women) into serial entrepreneurs?
1. Brain power
This doesn’t mean having a string of letters after your name. Graham Hart, New Zealand’s richest man, left school at 16 to work at a panel beating firm, before returning to education 16 years later completing an MBA at Otago University. Orcon’s Seeby Woodhouse dropped out of university to take advantage of the rapidly-evolving PC and internet market, using the skills he had learned on the Young Enterprise Programme at school to build up his business.
New Zealand’s favourite serial entrepreneur, Rod Drury, (founder and CEO of Aftermail, acquired by Quest Software in January 2006) has a simple philosophy on business: “it’s a sport – like a big game. You need to make it fun – so it’s the first thing you want to do when you get out of bed.” Having passion for your business gives you stamina for the long hours needed. Passion for business is what drove Woodhouse to dedicate two years of his life clocking up over 100 working hours each week, landing him in hospital suffering dehydration and exhaustion at one point. “For the first two years, it was just me. I answered the phone, looked after the accounts, went out to deal with the customers, and business just grew exponentially. I ended up sleeping under my office desk in a sleeping bag, just so I could get everything done.” Ten years later, Woodhouse has a much healthier work/life balance, with regular overseas holidays and 50-hour weeks being normal. He even fits in a swim at Takapuna Beach when the weather’s right.
3. Have the right mindset
Serial entrepreneurs are big picture visionaries who can go against trends and still get results. They’re agile – so if something isn’t working, they can respond quickly to market changes and adapt. According to Dunedin’s UPSTART incubator CEO Dr. Norman Evans, “entrepreneurs understand uncertainty and the mechanisms of change, and live with it. Businessmen focus on the goal line, are more process-driven and methodical.”
“When I was working for Ernst & Young, I was probably their worst employee” Drury muses “because I found it a huge struggle to do ‘normal’ work. They did teach me intellectual rigour and ethics, but working as an auditor just wasn’t for me. An entrepreneur is always thinking about moving the company forward.”
4. Business brain
But not just the entrepreneur’s. This is where building up a team comes into play.
According to Andy Hamilton, CEO of The ICEHOUSE, “to be successful every entrepreneur needs to surround themselves with good people. Strong experiential skills and the ability to take the entrepreneur’s vision and create a stable platform to roll out the business is a key function. You know, most people fail not because of vision or passion, they fail because they are doing something they have never done before and they don’t surround themselves with people who have been there and done it who can provide the wisdom when ‘it hits the fan’.”
Drury counts himself lucky to have found good partners to work with. “They were the ‘yin’ to my ‘yang’, so to speak” he says “and with each of the companies, I worked with different people – like Tony Stewart at Intergen, and then Alistair Grigg and now with Hamish Edwards – each had skills to complement mine.”
Woodhouse may have started Orcon on his own but he relied upon Mark Mackay for his technical expertise and as the business developed and grew, they added more people with skills to complement theirs – to the point where Orcon is now New Zealand’s 4th biggest ISP and the largest ISP owned solely by New Zealanders.
This includes the ability to set goals and achieve them. At school, Drury wrote down that he wanted to be an “international businessman paid to fly around the world and do business.” During a five-countries-in-five-days speaking engagement last year, it clicked that he’d achieved that goal. When he envisioned a world-class product with Aftermail, he received peer approval and recognition when it won the Best Exchange Product at TechEd 2006 in Boston.
Woodhouse sets his goals slightly differently. His goal to double the company’s size each year directly impacts how much time he can take off for personal travel. When he hits his goal, he plans his next itinerary. His last trip took him away for three months, exploring China and Africa, so he’s doing ok.
Many of the top businesses started up over the past five years weren’t even dreamed of 10 years ago. Markets are moving at break-neck speed and the opportunities and diverse offerings now on tap are simply mind-blowing.
Gone is the “greed is good” mantra of the 80s, replaced with collaboration and communication. Each of the serial entrepreneurs has large networks of people built up over the years, many of whom they’d helped with a referral to a job, listening to an idea pitch or had helped them along their journey. As Drury says “you have to ‘pay it forward’ because it’s the right thing to do. If you can help someone out now then at some point the pendulum will swing back towards you. It’s good karma.”
“We have many successful entrepreneurs who mentor companies in The ICEHOUSE,” says Hamilton “being a sounding board and even giving them a strategically-placed kick when they need it. Some also invest in the companies, either directly or through The ICE Angels network.”
So is this “serial entrepreneur” lark just for the young? Not according to Drury “An entrepreneur isn’t necessarily a businessman” he says “but there are certainly businessmen out there who have honed their skills over the years in multi-national companies and now have the time and experience to lead entrepreneurial companies.”
Long-established companies can also develop an entrepreneurial streak. Dunedin-based fine blanking manufacturer DC Ross has always invested in research and development for the company, moving from building chocolate moulds in the early 1900s to manufacturing world-class automotive parts today. Their reputation for building engineering prototypes has extended to the field of nanotechnology, proving you can teach an old dog new tricks.
So you’re sitting there thinking “I’ve got what it takes – I know I’m an entrepreneur to my roots – what can I do to build on what I have?”
In a bid to assist potential entrepreneurs, The University of Otago created a Master of Entrepreneurship degree in 2004. The 15-month-long programme is aimed at people setting up their own ventures, attending intensive three-day modules every six weeks (so you don’t need to live in Dunedin full-time).
CEO of fledgling start-up Straylight Studios (www.straylight-studios.com), Timothy Nixon graduated from the first course in 2005, and credits it with giving him the extra boost he needed to get his business focused on becoming a world-class 3-D website company.
Straylight Studios started out in 2004 as a group of four gaming-mad friends keen to develop a computer game for Playstation or XBOX, but ended up creating something even more exciting (alongside the computer games). By mid-2007 the company will have a staff of 20 people – a mix of computer programmers, creative designers and sales and admin staff.
“One of the classes was based on an Excel spreadsheet” says Nixon “and I learned so much about building and running a business in that one class, it was amazing. I was the one out of our group of friends who enjoyed the management process and setting up systems, so the Master of Entrepreneurship was invaluable in helping us focus on where we wanted to be.” Already one of their software platforms has spun out into another start-up company “The Street” to focus on a niche online shopping market.
Finding your niche
Chris Anderson’s book “The Long Tail” highlights how the world economy is fragmenting into niches – and how entrepreneurs can focus their business on one specific target market and still make money.
Globally speaking, New Zealand is a tiny market. If you want to hit the big time (and earn the big bucks), you need to have scale – which means pitching to an international market. There’s no point in being all things to all people – targeting a specific niche is the way to go – and doing the job well. Using resources like New Zealand Trade & Enterprise and the Ministry of Economic Development makes good economic sense – they have the global networks to introduce you to a new market and can provide sensible advice to get you there.
Becoming a serial entrepreneur in New Zealand is entirely possible – so grab your idea and go for it!