How to Read a Book a Week

“I hope you’re not reading non-fiction books word-for-word like they’re fiction books, Listen, you don’t need to read these books. You need to understand them.” ~ Michael Jimenez

I read a lot.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than a good book. Even better if they have a bibliography.

A few years back I came across an HBR article by Peter Bregman. It had the following gems of reading wisdom that he inherited from his history professor. Even though most of my reading is now books in digital formats, these tips have made a huge difference in how I consume non-fiction. I hope they help you too.

Fiction demands that we enter a world of the author’s making. Non-fiction makes a point and asks us to learn from it.

Professor Jimenez’s advice on reading non-fiction:

  1. Start with the author. Who wrote the book? Read his or her bio. If you can find a brief interview or article online about the author, read that quickly. It will give you a sense of the person’s bias and perspective.
  2. Read the title, the subtitle, the front flap, and the table of contents. What’s the big-picture argument of the book? How is that argument laid out? By now, you could probably describe the main idea of the book to someone who hasn’t read it.
  3. Read the introduction and the conclusion. The author makes their case in the opening and closing argument of the book. Read these two sections word for word but quickly. You already have a general sense of where the author is going, and these sections will tell you how they plan to get there (introduction) and what they hope you got out of it (conclusion).
  4. Read/skim each chapter. Read the title and anywhere from the first few paragraphs to the first few pages of the chapter to figure out how the author is using this chapter and where it fits into the argument of the book. Then skim through the headings and subheadings (if there are any) to get a feel for the flow. Read the first sentence of each paragraph and the last. If you get the meaning, move on. Otherwise, you may want to read the whole paragraph. Once you’ve gotten an understanding of the chapter, you may be able to skim over whole pages, as the argument may be clear to you and also may repeat itself.
  5. End with the table of contents again. Once you’ve finished the book, return to the table of contents and summarise it in your head. Take a few moments to relive the flow of the book, the arguments you considered, the stories you remember, the journey you went on with the author.

Take notes.

Notes on an Unconference

‘What we do in life echoes in eternity’ ~ Russell Crowe’s Scriptwriter (with help from Marcus Aurelius)

Ewing Marion Kauffman came from a small farm in Missouri. He started out as a salesman for a pharmaceutical company and sold so much he eventually made more money in commissions than the company president did. The president in good ego bruised fashion promptly restricted Kauffman’s commissions and sales areas. This was not how Kauffman thought things should be done so he started his own pharmaceutical company that upon exit created over 300 millionaires.

He established the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation with the intent to help people change their lives. His thinking was that education and people building enterprises are the most effective ways people have to realise their potential.

Jonathan Ortmans as longtime advisor to the Kauffman Foundation got them to put their money behind the Global Entrepreneurship Week. Which was so successful with literally tens of millions of participants that the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) evolved out of this event.

Marwan Jamal got involved with GEN back in 2016 in Saudi Arabia helping it get established in the Kingdom. He then moved to New Zealand and did it again, officially launching Global Entrepreneurship Network NZ (GEN NZ) as an independent chapter in 2019 while taking on his PhD research on entrepreneurial mindset development.

This introduction is about as circuitous as my drive from Auckland to Wellington but it leads us to the GEN NZ Unconference and Workshops, held at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University this week.

Having never attended an Unconference it took me a while to understand that the agenda is set and driven by the attendees, not the organisers. The goal being to create healthier local ecosystems and help people unleash ideas and turn them into new ventures.

Warning: when you have over a hundred deeply committed participants from the length and breadth of New Zealand. Covering everything from grassroots outreach to government treasury fund allocation policy to assessment tools for entrepreneurial capital, get prepared for some serious agenda whiplash.

An emergent property of roaming through a conference with over twelve workshops and twenty discussion groups is that in order to survive you start leaning on each other to get the compressed versions of the things you missed out on. Before you know it “each other” is the primary learning vector. There is this wonderful inversion of relative importance that went from topics being primary to people being primary.

It also seems that pounding peoples brains with an ungodly volumes of ideas and viewpoints it starts to crack apart pre-conceptions as to what entrepreneurial ecology actually is. And what it potentially can be. It was the norm to see people completely lost in the rapid-fire fog of ideas and grinning as if they had just had a big belly rub.

There was a lot of focus on…

  • Broader national collaborations. Not in the sense of one body to rule them all but in the sense of what things can we do collectively, to support the efforts of things done locally.
  • The need to change perceptions of entrepreneurship in broader society.
  • Exposing all New Zealander’s to entrepreneurial thinking much earlier in their educations.

The most common reply to the question of “What did you get out of the event?” was “I’m still trying to process it all.” A large part of the GEN NZ Unconference was about distilling the attendees inputs into a vision and roadmap for getting there.

Expect to see this vision and roadmap with concrete actions coming to an area near you soon. There were rumblings of at least one nationwide event to come.

Much thanks to the organisers, support team, presenters and attendees for a marvellous event.

Global Entrepreneurship Network New Zealand

Global Entrepreneurship Network

You can stop reading here. But please don’t stop the doing. What we do in life does echo in the lives around us.


For the curious, a random selection of personal notes from the last few days…

  • Suse Reynolds likes kicking things off with the energy and enthusiasm of a perpetual 18 year old who enjoys the use of exclamation marks at the end of sentences!
  • She also likes audacious goals, let’s not accept anything less than a few 200 million dollar exits!
  • I’m taking bets that she will actually make this happen!
  • Great to see so many from MBIE.
  • Great to see MBIE supporting Ron Clink and Nathan Berg’s work on putting objective measures around mindset, skills and networks (Entrepreneurial Capital) and the tools to assess it Entrepreneurial Capital Assessment Tool (ECAT).
  • Extra points to Nathan for the term “stick-to-it-is-ness”.
  • Sad to not see more government departments.
  • Intrapreneurship is picking up steam as an accepted and important part of larger organisations. 
  • Extra points to Travis Cornwall who did a zen level summarising of a mind bending post modernist “lets define the meaning of this word session” with a simple raising of hands.
  • Marian Johnson is casually adept at lobbing thought bombs into crowds.
  • Paul Spence and I find great joy in watching deft thought lobbing.
  • NZ Entrepreneur Magazine made an active appearance and is driven by a wonderful power couple.
  • Must make a return visit to Wanaka.
  • Secret handshakes are still a thing amongst the younger generation.
  • Dan Khan might still be the younger generation.
  • Startups should have a much better understanding of the do’s and don’ts of insurance and underwriting.
  • Must talk more to Edmund Barker and Adeline Giacometti.
  • Dave Moskovitz is still the master of naches (the joy you get from seeing others succeed).
  • Colart Miles can navigate any grouping of people and ideas and still manage to find common ground. And he does it on the fly.
  • Heenal Patel would make a great PA to GEN NZ.
  • Songyi Lee has gone next level and built an entire commune of services.
  • Deep Southern New Zealand has a deep love of Vietnamese cuisine.
  • Wellington does good food.
  • Louise Evans, Rachel Butler and Angus Pauley all had unsettling things to say about MLM marketing schemes in the South.
  • Lilia Alexander is still making people look good at the pointy end of an SLR lens.
  • Casey Davies-Bell can and does hold impromptu street-side startup sessions to give hope to the homeless. Is a gracious host. Just don’t ask him about his RoM mechanics in the back squat. Much thanks.
  • Marwan Jamal can and does find great Turkish coffees no matter how late at night. Is a gracious host. Just don’t ask him how the PhD is going. Much thanks.
  • What is happening in North and Central North Island New Zealand? Big gaps in representation.
  • What can we learn from the powerhouses of Tauranga and Taranaki?
  • How do we cultivate more Pascale Hyboud-Peron’s, Katherine Blaney’s, Pauli Sosa’s? Are cloning tools available?
  • Trent Mankelow is on the money spotlighting wellness.
  • I most definitely should not be driving in the afternoons.
  • Thibault Vandermosten shows just how useful improv can be.
  • Yuri Anisimov is way more technical than his exterior suggests.
  • Where were Lingy Au, Rob Vickery, Tip Piumsomboon?
  • Ryan Walker moving from Wellington to Auckland, will probably reignite inter-city rivalries.
  • Jenny Douche wisely advises if you are applying for a Callaghan grant do NOT apply through their website.
  • Do get assistance from people at the Regional Economic Development bodies (they have the experience to navigate the application process) or people like Julian So (Hamilton based). It will save you a lot of time.
  • Grants for things like Freedom to Operate searches can be particularly valuable for startups. You don’t want to be impinging on registered IP if you can help it and a FtO search will reveal this.
  • How long will it take Tony Henderson-Newport and I to establish the Mentors, Coaches and Mates Association?
  • So many interesting people and ideas. Need more road trips.
  • NZ highway patrol are my friends.
  • 1,400kms AKL – WLG – AKL.
  • 👋🏻

Beyond Study

Skillsme had their inaugural meetup for Self-Taught Coders yesterday.

The basic idea behind Skillsme is that they are creating “an online community designed to help budding developers grow their coding skills by completing practical projects and receiving endorsements from industry leaders. Skillsme also serves as a talent pool for recruiters – an easy, more effective alternative to sifting through CVs.”

They want to bridge that gap between study and employment.

I met the founders when they had just started. Zifeng Liang, Jiahao Jiang and Bernard Leong have done a lot in a year. Including multiple revisions of their platform and winning the Gen Z start-up ventures competition.

Their first Self-Taught Coders meetup was a networking event with enough pizza to feed Parnell. Plus a panel discussion on the skills programmers in general and self-taught coders in particular need to get a shot in industry.

The erudite panelists were Eithne Sweeney from Wires Uncrossed, Julian Lambert from Potentia Recruitment and Eric Jiang from Kiwibank. The master of ceremonies role was handled with aplomb by Joyce Wong from Niesh.

A quick recap of (some of) the points that came up from the panelists:

  • Soft skills are just as important as coding ability. You will be weighed not just on your coding skills and need to be able to communicate well within a team as well as across teams.
  • Presentation of yourself and your abilities needs to stand out from the crowd (pay money for good templates).
  • Not everyone reads a cover letter but it still helps to write one.
  • How do you best stand out from the crowd? HELP the crowd. Look for ways to demonstrate you analytical thinking, complex problem-solving, creativity, originality and initiative.
  • Get involved in community (it doesn’t have to be the coding community), help others, give presentations, teach others, contribute code, contribute solutions, contribute your viewpoints (respectfully). All are great ways to develop those interpersonal skills and gain recognition which is something recruiters pay attention to.
  • Getting a job IS a job. You have to do the grind of applying for lots of roles. The old sales adage of 100 calls leads to 10 meetings which leads to 1 sale applies here.
  • Don’t see being self-taught as a disadvantage. Many coding skills are gained through experience and by definition much of programming is self-taught.
  • The big areas with growing demand in the next few years; Data Analysis, Code Testing, Python, Machine Learning, Data Compliance.


Self-Taught Coders Meetup

Wires Uncrossed




Notes on VC’s and Capitalisation Tables

Somehow “Future Proofing your Capital Raise” got into my calendar and I’m not entirely sure how. Never remiss in guzzling festive beers and blue cheese, I decided to go have a look.

It was a Venture Capital Christmas Panel put on by the good folks at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. Set on the 6th floor of NZTE’s Quay Street offices with a panoramic view of the downtown Auckland waterfront.

The speakers were given an assortment of Christmas themed sunglasses to wear and equity themed questions to answer.

The panel consisted of Nina Le Lierve (Enterprise Angels), Rob Vickery (Hillfarrance), and David Beard (Movac). All are active investors in New Zealand startups. All have huge amounts of in the trenches experience. All were speakers with a lot empathy for the people and businesses they serve. I do hope NZTE rounds them up again for another panel.

The focus of the panel was on how you manage your startups equity or what I like to call the life and fast times of a Cap Table.

The following are my notes based on the answers they gave. All mistakes, omissions and odd grammatical structures are mine.

Festive Sunglasses

Cap Tables

A Capitalisation Table being the record of note on who owns what in your company. It usually includes details on such wonders as common equity shares, preferred equity shares, warrants, and convertible equity.

A basic Capitalisation Table lists out each type of equity ownership capital, the individual investors, and the share prices. A more complex table may also include details on potential new funding sources, mergers and acquisitions, public offerings, or other more esoteric transactions.

A Capitalisation Table is a tool that is a valuable way of guiding and aligning ownership, recruitment and retention schemes.

Side-note. Most likely not kept in the Cap Table but Rob Vickery made reference to one company that kept a record on the performance of each of their VC’s (in regards to how much activity on behalf of the company they had contributed). Clever.

It’s a good idea to start keeping a Cap Table from the outset of any business. It can help keep the shareholders’ equity portion of your balance sheet crystal clear and it will be referred to more and more often as your business grows.

There are proponents of getting startups to breakeven as early as possible with the least amount of capital but that doesn’t mean you won’t need to raise money. 

The Software as a Service (SaaS) business model, is the primary business model in today’s startup world. You pay programmers to create software, and you pay more money to sales and marketing to get customers. The aim being to create a future stream of steady cash.

High upfront costs, and then a stable stream of payments later.

With this kind of capital requirement and in particular, capital timing, you are most likely going to need some help in the front end via…

  • Bootstrapping – using your own money
  • Loans – borrowing
  • Equity – exchanging investors money for shares of your business

You may have enough capital on hand to bootstrap, you might have enough collateral or credit with a bank or friends to get a loan. Or you might have to start pitching your idea and exchanging part ownership in your business for cash.

Naming Conventions

Rob Vickery noted that there are generally accepted naming conventions for the different stages of funding and it helps of you have an understanding of these stages. Though there is a confusing overlap of actual achievements and players involved at each stage.

Pre-Seed Funding: The bootstrapping stage where you have an idea you’re exploring and building your first rough minimum lovable product versions, looking for market fit. This is where you lean on your own money or as the adage goes money from the three “F’s” (friends, family and fools).

Seed Funding: The product development stage is usually where you actually have some kind of product and looking for market traction. You could be starting to hire around here and this is also when not only the three “F’s” but Angel Investors and possibly some VC’s start to play.

Series A Funding: The business model is in place, you have your early team and you are starting to refine and scale your products. Some Angel Investors are here but this is generally your first round with VC’s getting involved.

Series B, C, D etc Funding: You’re into scaling and building out a bigger and better team, further rounds of VC investment are injected to boost the speed at which you are moving.

These are sometimes called bridging rounds depending on where you are in growth and path to exit.

IPO: Stock market listing, the public tips in its money, early investors get to have drinks and fast cars all round.

NB: Enterprise Angels has a Capital Strategy template containing a useful exercise. 

Update: Hillfarrance has stepped up with some very nice templates and resources

Now that we have our naming out of the way we can get to some of the lessons Startup funding life likes to throw at us. Like finding investors to start with.

Finding the dosh

Google is your friend. LinkedIn is your friend. NZTE is your friend.

Do your research. Reach out to connect on LinkedIn but don’t pitch over LinkedIn. You will be ignored.

Find the investors websites, look up their email addresses. Email your pitch. Investors have a workflow and email is part of it. Remember the best investors are seeing thousands of pitches. No matter how convenient it is for you, they don’t want pitches thrown at them randomly on social media.

Stop and think about this for a moment. You’re sitting on a pile of cash that you literally have to spend at some point but you’re getting hundreds of pitches. What would you want to see and how would you want to see it?

  • Maybe a clearly formatted, well thought out, spell checked, single page document that doesn’t make you wade through footnotes to figure out what the business is?
  • Perhaps a succinct description of the problem being addressed, who’s problem it is and the size of the market?
  • A short punchy explanation of how they are addressing that problem followed with a summary of what makes the solution unique in the market place?
  • A quick description of who the team is, with a sentence or two about why they are suited to addressing this problem?
  • A clear call to action… do they need money? how much (what range)? Maybe a quick explaination of what they would do with the money? Do they need connections? What kind? Which industry? Looking for advice? What area exactly?
  • Rounded off with full contact details, a note on how and when is easiest to reach them
  • Finished with a nice thank you?

Is that something you would like to see in your inbox? Something that makes it easy for you to reply to?

NB: Again Enterprise Angels has your back with a very nice template.

Update: Hillfarrance has stepped up with some very nice templates and resources

Don’t be afraid to knock twice. Good investors are busy, a polite follow up after a reasonable amount time is ok.

While searching for investors NZTE is also a good starting point. Simon Ansley, NZTE’s Auckland based Investment Director spoke up. All of the above points regarding a sharp one pager also apply when sending them an inquiry. They have a list of investors they can scan through and match you up with. If it’s overseas investors you are looking for they can throw the ball to Terry Allen their Investment Director for North America.

Relationship Goals

Once you have got your investors attention and you’re communicating now is the time to be transparent. Be confident, be honest. Contrary to popular belief they’re in the business to help. Transparency works both ways.

Sure you are looking for money but there are other factors that are just as important if not more so. Nina Le Lierve raised this point and all the panelists agreed you are looking for alignment. Once you take the money you’ll be working together for a long time. Think ten years, maybe longer. This is not a short-term relationship.

Does the investor offer connections or industry experience? Will they open doors? Are they in it for the same duration as you are? Are they easy to get along with? Do they understand the problem? Have they got some key insights? Are they proactive? Speak to other founders they have invested in. All these aspects and more contribute to the overall relationship and again that relationship is going to be a long one. So take your time doing *your* due diligence. 

Speaking of which they will be doing their own due diligence. Prep your partners, your staff and your clients. Investors will and are going to talk to them candidly. Don’t let them get caught by surprise.

They will also be looking at your Cap Table. Or at least a summary of one. Now is not the time for you to find out it’s the proverbial hot mess. Get some legal advice when setting up your Cap Table but please don’t put the lawyer into the table in exchange for services.

Things like a hundred shares split across twenty five founders, friends and family or a random non-dilution clause snuck in by a cheeky pre-seed investor can be a royal pain to tidy up.

Equity Leakage

You want to do your best to avoid Equity Leakage. Dishing out more equity than you need to or in unproductive ways, causes problems.

No one enjoys ownership fights. Figure out how you are going to divorce before you get married when splitting shares amongst founders. It’s easier when there is no real money involved.

David Beard suggested having a mechanism or clause in place so that the equity of founders who walk away from the business gets returned to the common pool or something similar. It’s all too common for partners to get sick of the slog or take better offers of work, and walk away holding large chunks of equity. This is dispiriting to the partners that stick it out and not something any investor wants to see in a Cap Table.

With some forethought, some study and a little advice you can avoid these things.

Over-subscriptions. If things are going well sometimes a funding round will become oversubscribed where there’s more buyers than there is equity on offer. While this is generally considered a good thing it can have complications. You can increase the price of the equity but you don’t want a “down round” if you have to raise funding again. You might want new investors onboard at a reasonable price without giving up too much equity to do so. All of these considerations need to be kept in balance.

An experienced VC can help you work your way through these issues.

The general consensus was, don’t take more money than you need. Too much money at the wrong time can be just as problematic as not enough. Too much money can make companies sloppy. Stay a little hungry.

If you are using equity to attract or retain talent via Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOP’s) learn about vesting and cliffs.

Think about giving everyone in the company something. It’s not leakage if done right and aligns the team towards the same goal. For example (hypothetical numbers here) reissue 10 million shares and dish out parcels of 10,000 shares. It’s a bit of an optical illusion but 10,000 shares looks better than 0.1%. If you really hit it big those 10,000 shares will be a nice package.

A good Cap Table also allows employees to understand what their payout would be and for you to understand what the value of your common stock is after each round of financing.

In the USA at least. Investors like to see founders holding a substantial amount of equity usually in the 70 percent bracket to ensure they have plenty of skin in the game. The last thing they want to see is a founder tired of their ninety hour weeks and getting scooped up with a big corp seven figure salary offer and walking.

I’m pretty sure there was more but I was four beers in and enjoying a very good conversation with the interesting people behind the Blinder startup and the Punakaiki Fund.

I would like to thank the people at NZTE and all the panelists for an entertaining and informative evening.


Sauntering through a Startup Weekend in Wellington in 2020

Not everyone wants to be, or even should be an entrepreneur. But everyone should experience the process at least once.

Some Startup Weekend History

Startup Weekend was founded in Boulder, Colorado by an extreme minimalist and vagabond, Andrew Hyde, in July 2007. Coming from outside the tech world he saw how the hardest thing was to make a start.

He came up with a weekend. Start on Friday, pitch your idea, form a team, and be challenged to launch a working startup by Sunday.

He wanted everyone to know that the entrepreneurial path is not luck, that if you want to create your own future you can.

“People wanting to do what they want to do and making that a reality.”

In 2015 Startup Weekend was acquired and became part of the Techstars collection of startup programs. As of 2020 Startup Weekend’s have been held over 2900 times in 150 countries with over 190,000 participants. Not bad for a vagabond.

Even though Startup Weekend has become a global phenomenon it still holds true to its original ethos of being open to everyone, lots of ideas, lots of energy, lots of fun, and lots of pizza.

New Zealand History

I’m blurry on the exact genealogy of Startup Weekend in New Zealand. I was lucky enough to participate in the recent Wellington Startup Weekend. Which had representatives of every generation of facilitators from the earliest Dave Moskovitz, Dave Clearwater, Dan Khan and Lingy Au to the latest in Georgia McConnon, Lilia Alexander, Michaela Hing, Brandon Kwong, Travis Cornwall, Casey Davies-Bell and Ryan Walker.

There is actually a bit of a renaissance of Startup Weekend happening in New Zealand being driven by old and new hands.

The more competent the team, the more it disappears. There is a similar effect in technology, the better it works the less we notice it. The Wellington team came together and ran things as if they had access to alien technology.

Well setup, well catered, well laid out and well explained. Loads of fun.

The Experience

Wellington and Dunedin could be sister cities. But Wellington has the waterfront flavour of a low-rise Hong Kong with its mixture of old and new architecture. Startup Weekend Wellington was held at Victoria Universities “Orauariki Wellington School of Business and Government.” With picture perfect views of the Beehive across the street.

The complete list of facilitators and mentors stretched to over two dozen people, that worked with over seventy participants. All up one hundred people gathered on a Friday night and the crowd warmed up with a raucous session of paper, scissors, rock.

Forty brave people, with urging from friends and crowd, stood up to call out their ideas.

Everyone proceeded to vote with their feet and twelve teams were successfully formed… Caturdays, Connect, Drop, Flatmaaate, Food Stories, GEM (Greener Events Metrics), Hobby Swap, Mental-Match, Mohua, Sixth Official, Teafly and Weave Talent.

Idea Wall

Teams then morphed, changed names, team members, ideas and target markets as the weekend progressed. They spent the next two days furiously identifying markets, validating ideas, and crafting minimum lovable products. All the while sharpening and polishing their pitches.

Every team and every individual experiences a multitude of lessons compressed into a very short period of time. The pressure and the emotion can run high. Thankfully this weekend didn’t have anyone tossing their toys (it happens).

A small sampling of the some of the lessons and insights that occurred over the weekend…

Holding too tight. One participant said it was their second Startup Weekend. The first one they didn’t make it past the Friday night. Not enough people had chosen their idea to form a team and they had taken it to heart and walked.

This time not only did they loosen their grip but managed to form a team and let another member do the final pitch. That is some serious coming to terms with ones ego versus doing what’s required to get an idea moving.

Because our name. One team started with a name and that name had bound them to an understanding of who they were and what they were doing. They pounded against that trap all weekend. Until they realised it was just a name and what they were, was something completely different. It was like they had been uncorked and with only a few hours left they produced a beautiful pitch.

Bias. We are all biased to some extent or other. It’s how we act upon our bias that counts. That’s the point. One team had confronted this more than most and wanted to change it.

They started with an idea for education and moved forward to understanding there is real value in having different cultural, mental and physical views. If they’re accepted and applied with the right intent they can be a huge boon to companies.

Having powerfully different and divergent views incorporated into a team can reveal problems and solutions that no workshop of the like-minded ever will.

In a complex and increasingly diverse world this team wants to provide the talent that has the diversity to help companies navigate these biases positively.

Invert the paradigm inadvertently. Mental health is a major issue everywhere. What can we expect of a soft bundle with billions of wires and trillions of connections. Things get mixed up. One team was heavily focused on the people at risk and wanted to speed up their access to help. Delays can be disastrous.

In the process they started to look at things horizontally across the country and the idea to do some load balancing across vertical silos of counselling popped up. This led to an insight that helping the counsellors would help more. They flipped their target market.

Novelty and the obvious. Stating the obvious, is a novelty in itself sometimes, and we often laugh when someone does it. But just as often there is a truth in the obvious that we avoid approaching but is powerful when we do.

At least two teams produced the obvious, made us laugh, and made us all ask “why didn’t we think of that?!”

Stuck. Without fail every team got stuck somewhere. An idea, the market, a team member, team dynamics, an implementation, the message, the permutations are endless. Every team seemed surprised that they had got stuck, and every mentor smiled.

Working through the stuck is what starting up is all about.

Opposite inputs. A subset of stuck, every team had to wrestle with the opposites. Team members, markets or mentors (or a combination of all three) giving opposing inputs. Teams had to absorb and decide which input was best suited to their goal at that given point in time. This was fun to watch.

Sorting out the threads

The Pitch

Having negotiated their way through team building, cold calling, active (constructive) criticism, little sleep, much frustration. The pressure comes to a peak for the big pitch on Sunday night.

This isn’t a thirty second “hey this is my idea” this is the full blown five minutes in an auditorium, in front of a hundred of your peers, your friends, your mentors and the judges. This is pedal to metal and it’s the first time for most to ever publicly speak. Pressure!

And we are blown away!

Not a person in the theatre wanted anyone to do anything less than their level best. Hearts were pounding, breaths were held.

Absolutely every single speaker and team rose to the occasion and took it head on. Pitch after pitch (with some rather thunderous applause) was nailed.

You know you’re hitting home when the judges are asking for feature requests.

No one envied the judges Veronica Harwood-Stevenson, John Holt and Stephen Cummins task of trying to sift so many wonderful teams and ideas into some kind of hierarchy. In the end they had to add in a fourth place and a couple of (very well deserved) rising stars to get things in order.

Much applause, quite a few tears of joy, huge amounts of relief and (for those inclined) a very long night of celebration ensued.

The Community

If the teams think it’s hard work, wait until they try organising and facilitating one of these events. It’s a large organisational slog that begins months before, peaks for an intense 54 hours and then whiplashes into the event windup. Why would you want to do all that work of facilitating instead of just participating?

In his beautifully laconic way Dave Moskovitz summed it up with a single word “Naches.”

A Hebrew word, it’s the complete opposite of schadenfreude.

Naches is the joy you get from seeing others succeed.

It’s this kind of joy that attracts the right kind of people and why those people are such powerful community builders.

The Team

Startup Weekends are in marketing speak “the top of the funnel” they’re often peoples first exposure to startup entrepreneurialism and they send ripples throughout the community. They are fabulous, they compress a lot of genuine project based learning into a very short amount of time.

Never underestimate the power of community builders riding on a wave of naches.

A great place to find out when the next Startup Weekend will be happening is to subscribe to the Startup Digest NZ newsletter (follow the link).

Absolutely do make the effort to get along to your next Startup Weekend.


Startup Weekend International

Andrew Hyde


Startup Weekend Wellington

Startup Digest New Zealand




  • A massive thanks to Travis, Claire, Casey and Henna for putting up with me and putting me up.
  • Kieth Shering has the best job title.
  • Shannon Wray has the best housing solution.
  • Mandy Simpson takes her coffee very seriously and it was much appreciated that she wouldn’t accept any lowering of standards.
  • Marwan Jamal is working on his PhD so let’s all ask him when will it be finished? (note: don’t ask someone when their PhD will be finished).
  • Don’t pick a fight with Georgia McConnon, you won’t win. She was seen carrying the entire weekends kitchen supplies in one hand while talking on the phone with the other.
  • Michaela Hing is most likely to become CEO of ANZ, before she does a reverse takeover of HSBC.
  • Don’t get between Lilia Alexander and her camera. She will make you look wonderful.
  • Travis Cornwall should be considering TV.
  • Casey Davies-Bell should have bought his puppy along.
  • Ryan Walker should be in comedy.
  • Lingy Au is the only person who can run an entire Startup Weekend in Germany with only one word of German.
  • Brandon Kwong, you will be missed.
  • Never play paper, scissors, rock with Katherine Blaney.
  • Be very careful slipping out to lunch with Dan Khan.
  • Be very very careful celebrating with all of the above afterwards (5:00am finishes are harsh).
  • A big shout out to the companies and organisations that sponsor these events. Wellington was sponsored by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Raygun, Angel HQ, Storypark, Sharesies, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ Entrepreneur Magazine, Coffee Supreme and SkinnyFizz.
  • Apologies for any omissions. I didn’t take the notes I should have.


Postscript: After writing the above I got to wondering (I’m probably showing my ignorance so correct me if I’m missing something). What happens after? These weekends create some genuinely good teams and ideas, where do they go next?

Are they being followed up on?

Are there channels that are readily available to provide ongoing assistance?

Are there other entry level activities that run throughout the year that provide the same kinds of learning and mentoring?

Would something like this fit into a high school curriculum?

If you have some ideas or answers on any of the above, let me know.

Notes on the South Island Startup Ecosystem

New Zealanders in general don’t think of New Zealand as a “techie” place but as the following notes will show New Zealand is a tech powerhouse. It just doesn’t know it yet.

This misperception will erode over time in face of the obvious abundance of talent and the increasing attention being paid to what will eventually be the largest segment of our economy. A segment with the potential to both augment and dwarf tourism and agriculture. 

Originally I had planned to catchup with some friends in Rangiora and Dunedin and made a modest request for information on what’s happening in the Startup scene down in the Southern half of New Zealand. The response was truly off-the-hook with many thousands of views and generous comments loaded with long lists of names to checkout (see the footnotes at the end).

I decided a road trip was in order to connect with as much of the “scene” as time would allow. I also made a commitment (doh!) that I would write up what I saw. Thus the notes below. Edit: I think I have now spent more time writing than I did driving.

The route became Christchurch, Nelson, Franz Joseph, Wanaka, Queenstown, Invercargill, Bluff, Dunedin, Oamaru then back to Christchurch and Rangiora, a short sojourn of 2,647km. Thank you unlimited kilometer rental cars.

Tech is a “suitcase word” that encompasses much more than just software and the South Island proved that in spades. The ecosystem is both broad and deep, with the people, the talent, the education, the aptitude and the attitude covering a huge range of activities.

All mistakes and omissions are mine, I welcome any corrections.

I am extraordinarily grateful for the time given and kindness shown to me by everyone.


Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn

Canterbury Plains


Ministry of Awesome (MoA) – Te Ōhaka

You can’t go anywhere in the Canterbury entrepreneurial community without hearing the names Ministry of Awesome or Marian Johnson being mentioned.


Founded in 2013 and moved to its current address on the ARA Campus in 2018, the MoA is hitting it’s stride with its regular schedule of events ranging from Coffee and Jam (Christchurch’s longest running lunch for budding and established entrepreneurs), ARA Activator 20 minute mentoring sessions, Startup Breakfast Club with free flowing coffee and conversation, and a wide variety of other Ecosystem Events.

Marian Johnson the Chief Awesome Officer of MoA was regularly described to me as “a breath of fresh air”, “a bundle of energy” or just “awesome.” I got a few minutes with Marian as she was running between meetings and she was all of that as well as humorously insightful.

A native of Georgia, USA, with a background in marketing that had been transplanted to Christchurch pre-earthquake she lightheartedly threw out the following nuggets…

The earthquakes scared off those who were risk averse, afraid of chaos and uncertainty but awakened and attracted those who are willing to embrace it, there are opportunities in chaos.

New Zealand’s secret immigration scheme is to send Kiwi’s out on their OE and bring back select partners to places where they are forced to evolve to thrive, in her case there was no way she could continue her career in Christchurch so it was matter of building a new career that eventually involved helping others build theirs.

MoA works together with ChristchurchNZ, Ara Institute of Canterbury, University of Canterbury, corporates, students, and startups to create a startup hub that is dense with entrepreneurs.

“We’re engineering the serendipity that propagates a rich startup pipeline.”


From the community building and outreach activities MoA filters for startups that are 4x people or less, have less than NZD $100k in funding, have a global outlook and aim to scale. MoA takes no stake in the startups that successfully apply.

Successful applicants are bought into Te Ōhaka (the Nest) which has the capacity to incubate up to 20 teams with bespoke assistance. Primarily aimed at helping them getting market validation and pitch ready for investors. They are reviewed every three months and made to fly (when ready) to make room for the next startup.

Jacob Varghese is the Incubation Manager with an Investment Banking background. Jacob likes the pointy end of business and is well aware of the “Ra-ra-ra happy bias” of incubators so it’s his mission to approach Te Ōhaka as a place that emphasises building the custom curriculums for each startup that best gets them real traction in real markets.

He also noted that MoA is working hard to foster relationships between “impending founders”, new founders and existing companies. Getting some real feedback and co-operation between these groups is an important part in putting long term foundations underneath the entrepreneurial community.

Aside from financial involvement Jacob noted that one of the most important contributions established companies can offer the startup community are real problems. Problems they have but don’t have the time, resources or ability to deal with. He sees this as one way of addressing the tendency of solutions being created without a real problem to solve.

Jeffrey Ling spent many years in the Taiwan startup scene and a large part of his role in MoA is helping local startups think about, see and connect with some of the fastest growing markets in the global economy with his deep network in the APAC region.

MoA has many more staff and mentors of the same caliber that I unfortunately didn’t have the time to meet.

I would strongly advise that if you’re in the region, get yourself along to one of their regular events or drop into their office and say hello. 

University of Canterbury’s Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE)

UCE is housed on the 6th floor of the Rehua Building and is possibly one of the tallest buildings in Christchurch with some great views across the city. I didn’t get a chance to chat with Rachel Wright who is the managing director of UCE but I did get to talk with the inimitable Mads Moller.

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Mads Moller is a friendly debonair Danishman with a serious resume of sales, marketing and startup experience that extends from Europe, through Silicon Valley to New Zealand. Mads network is extensive and he kindly connected me to several Canterbury startup organisations.

He’s also lead advisor and programme lead for Growth in the Thinclab and is excited by what’s happening in Canterbury at the moment.

New Zealand is starting to realise it has what it takes to be a tech powerhouse, rich with people who have the right aptitude and the cultural DNA for thinking of outside of the box solutions.

Under the wing of University of Canterbury’s Business School is the Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) which encompasses The Hatchery and Thinclab. The UCE is an intersection point for students, entrepreneurs and the wider business community where real world business risks and experiences are supported and encouraged.

The Hatchery is an incubator program for students that provides hot-desking, coaching and mentoring.

Thinclab access is not restricted or limited to UC students, in fact so far nearly all of the Thinclab participants have been from outside the University. Thinclab is part of the global network of related Thinclabs and Callaghans Founder Incubators and as such provides a broad ranging network of pathways to industry experts, investors and partnerships. Thinclab runs three main programmes; Sprint, Investment Ready and Growth.

Most applicants are required to complete the 90 day Sprint programme before applying for the other two programmes. Thinclab while open to anyone filters for companies that have an understanding of their market segment preferably with some market validation, have a clear value proposition and business model and are looking to scale globally.

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Both Mads and Marian pointed out that Canterbury beyond the expected agri-tech and food-tech has strong med-tech and aero-tech industries and Thinclab gives special attention to those targeting these “supernodes” of activity on the basis that the stronger the local ecologies the more it assists the growth of new entrants.

Thinclab provides office space, presentation areas, a legal clinic, access to a prototyping space, the chance to tap into the university research expertise, even university interns if your pitch is good enough, as well as tons of networking opportunities.

Well worth checking out.

Canterbury Tech – The Cluster (Canterbury Software Inc.)

On the advice of Mads Moller I caught up with Neil Hamilton at one of Canterbury Tech’s regular gatherings. It was extremely well attended with a wide variety of people keen to mix and mingle. Neil has been the General Manager for Canterbury Tech for the last couple of years though other attendees suggested his association with the tech and entrepreneurial side of life stretches so far back no one really knows a time when he wasn’t a part of it.

The epitome of collaboration he’s been involved in ChristchurchNZ, Te Ōhaka, Thinclab, and the NZ Hi-Tech Awards amongst many other things. He told me Canterbury Tech evolved somewhere around the turn of the millennium from your classic Kiwi beer and BBQ style gatherings.

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The beer, wine and food were still strongly in evidence in what is now NZ’s largest regional tech membership organisation (and quite possibly one of NZ’s most active). Canterbury Tech is affiliated with the NZ Technology Industry Association (NZTech).

They hold an event at a different location each month with business and technical presentations. The event I made it to had 4 presentations, there were so many people it was split into two separate presentation areas. I watched Jamie Cairns, CEO of TASKA Prosthetics, show their unique robotic hand and Steve Mann, CTO at Clever First Aid, run a very gory marketing video for the world’s only smart first aid system, both were excellent.

Canterbury Tech runs several other events including Pathways to Tech to get students, teachers and parents aware of the careers available in tech. Programmes for Internships and Placements, and Mentoring Programmes as well as being a great place to connect with their sponsors and supporters.

If you enjoy a drink, meeting people serendipitously and learning from a presentation or two, get along to the next event.

Ideas Accelerator Limited – Environmental Services

I met Louise Webster at the Canterbury Tech event and coincidentally her cofounder Andy Blackburn reached out to me on LinkedIn later. Together they run Ideas Accelerator and Aronga Whanoke both entities are focused on developing programs that innovate in the environmental space.

An astute observer and with a delicate sense of humour. Louise scared the pants off me with a pointed description of the problems facing the water table in the Canterbury plains. Then just as pointedly smiled and ran through a laundry list of ideas to address those issues. Ideas that could also have large beneficial gains as tech (and marketing) exports for New Zealand.

I have no doubt time spent with Ideas Accelerator would be time well spent.

Louise and Andy also help young New Zealand companies by Mentoring and creating Advisory Boards for them. 


Eduard Liebenberger is an imposing Austrian with a big smile and a deeply curious mind so of course he invited me to meet with him at an AWS Deep Racer machine learning lunch and learn event put on by the folks at

Eduard loves to move and explore, so much so, it’s said his wife was putting a deposit on a home within hours of getting off the plane in Christchurch to try and keep him pinned down for a few years. Not that I think that was necessary.

A big proponent of the benefits of Canterbury, Eduard ran me through the numbers, if you are a startup with some funding and looking to build a team the region has a lot going for it.

Eduard intersects with the startup ecosystem in too many ways to list and is a popular speaker so the odds are high you will meet him at some point in Christchurch. Definitely say hello if you get the chance, his forte is commercialising cutting edge technologies.

As a side note the people ran a great presentation. I dragged a friend along who afterwards noted that even though he’s heard the terms AI and Machine Learning he didn’t understand them but after the presentation he had a real idea of what they were “this is going to change a lot of things isn’t it.”

Take your friends to some of these events, the world is changing.

Salt Works

If you ever want dedicated, Leon Mooney is your man. On a rainy afternoon on a Labour weekend holiday with a fresh newborn at home Leon still took the time to meet me and show me his other baby.

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He’s been involved with the co-working space from the start but took the leap mid-covid (of all times) to make it his own and BizDojo became Salt Works. The co-working space encompasses two whole floors filled with Europlan furnishings and quirky art.

Leon positively glows when talking about the people and businesses populating Salt Works.

He’s a natural community builder and is comfortable espousing the benefits of working with each other and not shy to invest time or money into tenants.

If you’re a business in search of a home with a heart, Leon’s Salt Works in the CBD is salt of the earth stuff.

Canterbury Angel Investors Inc

No startup ecosystem is complete without nutrients, Angel Investors are some of the earliest investors of cold hard cash and Paul Claridge’s name came up often in Christchurch. Unfortunately we weren’t able to connect face to face but Paul’s reputation as an investor, coach and mentor makes him worthy of tracking down. Hopefully on the next trip.

Amongst many other things Paul is currently the Chairman for the Canterbury Angel Investors, the Canterbury region’s angel investment network.

They regularly run workshops and events for new entrants into Angel Investing and old hands. Angels are often the unsung hero’s of the startup world.

If you want to play a pivotal role in the growth of New Zealand’s future this could be the place for you to find out how to do it.

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Directions: take a long swoop up the east coast from Christchurch hugging the pacific, wave to the whales of Kaikoura. Veer inland at Cook Strait. Wine through the vineyards. Take a sweeping left hander into the Tasman Bay.

Stop at the spectacular juxtaposition of beaches backed by mountains iced with snow and topped off with crackling blue skies.

For decoration throw in a container terminal for some steam punk effect, convert an insurance office to a bar, close the streets for cafes, paint a monster squid on the walls and put up a giant peanut butter jar.

Nelson is the geographic heart of New Zealand, and it celebrates one of the fundamental particles of the New Zealand psyche the “quirk”

Not the full-blown European eccentric nor the divisive American narcissism of small differences, just that good old off-the-beat quirk.


First port of call Sacha MacDonald, as the old sonnet goes “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”… actually it’s really hard to count the ways Sacha has impacted the region.

Founder of Rezource, founder of Arewa, alumni of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship, facilitator and mentor of first Techstars Startup Weekend in Nelson, the instigator of He Tangata Startup Weekend (New Zealand’s first Start Up weekend specifically designed for Kaupapa Maori), Board member for Nelson Tasman Business Trust, provider of overnight food and lodgings for Troy. The list goes on and on.

She’s the big cheese at Rezource which provides “fractional” work for busy mums and flexible support for busy companies. Founded when she was frustrated as a young mother trying to look after kids, work around school schedules, sports events and still have some part time income.

What I really liked is she doesn’t just talk values she walks them. The business is built on trust and respect, you’re an adult you do the work, no micro-managing, times cards or petty administrative trivia. And guess what, people return the favour in kind with trust and respect.

Arewa is an extension of the same approach and philosophy used in Rezource but specifically tailored to Māori needs and encompasses capability development, business coaching, startup programmes, project and management services.

It’s that trust, respect (and giant welcoming smile) that’s allowed her to do so much in the community. From startup weekends to active support for the broader Maori community while still being a busy mum.

Much thanks Sacha.



Edmund Hillary Fellowship (EHF)

Techstars Startup Weekend

He Tangata StartUp Weekend

Nelson Tasman Business Trust

The Mahitahi Colab

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Sacha deposited me at The Mahitahi Colab, it’s got that well trafficked government office feel.

We briefly said hello to Ali Boswijk, CEO of the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber shares the Colab address. They work with businesses of all stripes to happily help people connect the dots in both government and private networks.

In the adjacent space you will find Sarah Fitchett the Mahitahi Colab Community Manager and Growth Adviser with the Nelson Regional Development Agency (NRDA).

Before going further I need to clarify that the Mahitahi Colab co-working space is a partnership between its founders, Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce, Nelson Regional Development Agency and Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Not to mention it hosts a front desk for the Nelson Angels Inc, a working space for the Nelson AI Institute as well as co-working and hot desk areas. It’s likely that nearly everyone in Nelson passes through it at some point.

Back to Sarah, she is a recent arrival to Nelson from Auckland. A lawyer by training, she had the automotive startup Tootsweet under her belt before the move down south. She caught the role of Kaiwhakahaere (Community Manager) just as the world was catching Covid.

The role is only part time yet she is determined to make changes to the space and gave me that look of the dedicated curator “there’s so much more this can be!” It seemed busy enough already but I have the definite feeling Sarah will get her way and even more will be happening there in future. Keep an eye out.

Update: this is great news Sarah is now full-time, watch out Nelson.

Coincidentally one Mark Houghton-Brown walked by as Sarah and I were wrapping up our chat. Mark is the Chair of Nelson Angels Inc with that wonderful southern ability to be charmingly and disarmingly direct.

He warmed up with something along the lines of… As far as the Nelson Angels are concerned incubators are almost a dirty word, they’re focusing too much on founders and not enough on teams.

There needs to be more “venture” focused incubators to get better outcomes. A startup is much more than its founder and depends heavily on getting the team right if it is to succeed.

I never knew but Nelson is one of New Zealand’s hottest beds for artificial intelligence. Mark is not averse to taking things into his own hands. He’s the Chair of the Nelson AI Institute as well as the director or chair of at least 8 other active companies and organisations.

What are they putting in their coffee in Nelson?

I was supposed to meet Mark the next morning for a bit more of an in-depth discussion but we got our wires crossed on the timing. I did manage to have a chat with Mack Delany and Cris Lovell-Smith two artificial intelligence engineers with the Nelson AI Institute. They’re doing some pretty extraordinary things with computer vision, deep learning and automation.

No hesitation, check out Nelson.

The Mahitahi Colab 322 Hardy St, Nelson, 7010, New Zealand

Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce

Nelson Regional Development Agency

Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology

Nelson Angels Inc

Nelson AI Institute


The Bridge Street Collective

A five minute walk from Mahitahi Colab you end up at The Bridge Street Collective, tucked away behind a cafe. A bright airy space with open beams and a sunny courtyard.

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Founded in 2011 by Galen King, it’s a Nelson co-working stalwart. Galen is also the founder of Lucid the award winning Shopify solutions provider.

Keegan Jeffries is their friendly studio manager. He mentioned they were keen to get some events happening again amongst the community now that the warmer weather was arriving. 

It would be something to see Sacha, Sarah, Mark and Keegan teaming up for a Summer Nelson Startup Weekend.

The Bridge Street Collective 111 Bridge Street, Nelson, Nelson, 7010, New Zealand


Massively honourable Nelson mentions, that I didn’t have the time to catchup with…

  • Pic Picot founder of the hugely successful Pic’s Peanut Butter and instigator of the giant peanut butter jar in front of Peanut Butter World. Pic’s Peanut Butter Check Pic’s blog as well. Really Good Stuff
  • Stephanie Fry founder of IdealCup is NZ’s very first, lifetime reusable cup, designed and made in NZ. IdealCup
  • Chris Rodley founder of award winning Snap Information Technologies who provide systems, hardware and AI for computer vision applications for the maritime and construction industries. SanpIT
  • Chloe Van Dyke founder of Chia Sisters, producers of sustainable juices from a solar powered, carbon zero, climate positive juicery in Nelson. Chia Sisters
  • Jonny Hendriksen founder of Shuttlerock which produces video ads for Facebook & Instagram at scale. Shuttlerock is based in Nelson, NZ, with offices in New York, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Singapore, Paris and Berlin. Shuttlerock

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Franz Josef Glacier

It’s a hefty run from Nelson to Franz Josef Glacier.

I’m a “Westie” from the north, wild and forlorn is my thing. With techno beats so loud the windshield was thumping as hard as the west coast waves, certain speed limits may (or not) have been closely observed.

White knuckle elemental was the theme.

Until I noticed the only other car I’d seen was an hour ago. Heading the other direction.

There’s no telephone signal, the cloud is low, the rain heavy and the fuel gauge started taking up a lot of my attention. I didn’t know where I was going to stay. I didn’t even know if there was anywhere to stay.

The West Coast dark started closing in. Should I go on? Should I go back? Back where? Do I have enough fuel? Who lives out here? Would they mind a knock on the door?

Alpine Escape

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Brad MacLachlan and Hayley Rendel’s Alpine Escape, beautiful self contained airbnb units, set amongst horse paddocks and facing the Southern Alps. A total relief in the dark, warm, private and cozy. Easy wheelchair access and all the modern conveniences.

The hosts are lovely. Even better Brad is an intrepid Kiwi inventor with a classic entrepreneurial spirit. A six foot four ex-alpine helicopter pilot.

He’s spent the last couple of years and a lot of money, developing a new door closure mechanism for a popular helicopter model. This model is known to have issues with its original door locks. He’s completed the prototyping and is into the regulatory testing phase.

We had a discussion around commercialisation. The helicopter model is used throughout New Zealand and the locking mechanism has to be replaced due to normal wear and tear every few years.

His solution is cheaper, provides a safer, fully visible confirmation of locking (the OEM system doesn’t) and installation takes the same or less time as the original.

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Brad is confined to a wheelchair due to a flying accident but that hasn’t stopped him from doing anything. If anyone in the aero-tech or parts distribution community is interested in checking out this solution his contact details are below.

 Coast Aviation

Alpine Escape Lodgings 6 Ferguson Place , Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand.

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The directions to Wanaka from Franz Josef are simple, for 285kms stay straight on. The terrain complex, and imposing. Steaming clouds covering ice capped alps, lush and densely packed bush. Crazy long, single lane bridges over sprawling gravel beds and deceptively narrow trickles of white waters.

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With Beethoven’s 5th cranked up into distortion levels of loud, barreling around a bend and seeing the mighty Lake Wanaka come into view is certainly something.

Arriving late on a Saturday, the generous Tim Haller was putting up with me for the night. Another helicopter pilot laid low by the sudden halt in international tourism. He had a few entrepreneurial ideas of his own including a “Jenga Bed” and an idea for orienting pilots in “snow blind” conditions.

He was playfully offering to deliver the first ten beds via helicopter to their new owners.

Speaking of blind, Sunday was a bit of a writeoff thanks to Mr Haller.

I regret that now because I missed out on tracking down quite a few places including; the Wanaka Community Hub, The Cell Co-working Space, The Marketing Lab, and one Richard Liew founder of NZ Entrepreneur (an online magazine for New Zealand startups and small businesses).

Ignite Wanaka, the Wanaka Chamber of Commerce are also strongly involved in the local startup community.

All good reasons for a return trip to Wanaka.

Wanaka Community Hub

The Cell Coworking Space

The Marketing Lab

NZ Entrepreneur

Ignite Wanaka, Wanaka Chamber of Commerce

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Taking the Cromwell route past “Roaring Meg” and into the Frankton end of the sparkling Lake Wakatipu doesn’t really prepare you for when you come upon the Remarkables. The aptly named mountain playgrounds of Queenstown.

A small town with all the trappings of big city living loaded with bars, clubs and restaurants. The real estate prices to go with it and a very interesting startup ecology.

Mountain Club Coworking

  • There’s several co-working spaces in Queenstown but new entrants Mountain Club are getting more than their fair share of mentions. Christopher Davern and friends have created beautiful, well appointed and well positioned spaces.

SaaS on the Street

I met Simon Small at the Mountain Club, 5 Mile Frankton.

The space has slick views of the Mountains, understated leather furnishings with a hint of Nordic cool, and Simon fits right in. Quick to smile, ready to help, man about town, and all things SaaS.

He’s dedicated to helping New Zealand create, build, expand and globalise Software-as-a-Service businesses.

He hosts and produces a regular podcast “SaaS on the Street” you can find them on Youtube or check out Simon on LinkedIn. If you’re in the area do make the effort to find the man himself.

Impactech Group

On the ground floor of the same building as the Mountain Club is Joe’s Garage, a busy, cafe and bar. There I caught a coffee with the astute and friendly Jasper van Halder. An ex-corporate lawyer and McKinsey consultant he’s now managing director of the Queenstown branch of the Impactech Group.

Impactech takes a different approach to startups, they are not passive financiers. They invest their own money and literally work within the companies they partner with. This can include anything from creating financial models and business plans to finding suppliers and clients. Interesting.

Startup Queenstown Lakes

Lawyer by training, startup under the belt, dynamic and well known throughout the region. Detecting a theme here?

New Zealand is blessed with active women and Olivia Wensley is another lady who’s name came up everywhere I went in Otago.

Previously Head of Growth and Innovation for Automio and now Chief Executive Officer for Startup Queenstown Lakes, Olivia is bright eyed and on the ball. Busy on the phone when I arrived, she quickly gave me the run down on Queenstown.

Startup Queenstown Lakes, is a charitable trust established in 2018. It brings together founders, investors and the local community.

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It has a volunteer Board of Trustees made up of community stakeholders and has regular input from a laundry list of local and national entities including; Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC), the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce, Ignite Wanaka Chamber of Commerce, Destination Queenstown, Lake Wanaka Tourism, Study Queenstown, and Film Otago Southland. The trust also gets some funding from Creative HQ (via Callaghan Innovation).

They’ve done a fantastic job of bringing together so many threads to weave a solid platform for startup innovation.

Working hard to leverage the regions natural strengths they’re actively pushing development in tourism-tech, hospitality-tech, and adventure-tech.

It’s hard to believe Olivia was only appointed CEO just this year. She’s running fast and hard to manage the nearly one hundred events they’ve had in 2020 alone. She doesn’t muck around.

Be sure to checkout their calendar of events and inquire about their startup programs.

It took her two seconds to get Peter Harris into a meeting room. Peter is the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s Economic Development Manager and whip sharp. He’s someone who thinks things through before a word is spoken.

So when we got onto the topic of investing into startups he threw me with an unexpected question…

Is it better to raise local money or money from overseas?

I’m interested to hear what others think on this. Foreign or local money? Why?

Each answer comes with its own set of pro’s and cons and the question was pondered considerably on the drive to Invercargill.

Wherever the money comes from, Startup Queenstown Lakes is in good hands.

Mountain Club

SaaS On the Street (check Simon’s profile on LinkedIn)

Impactech Group

Startup Queenstown Lakes

Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC)

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce

Ignite Wanaka, Wanaka Chamber of Commerce

Destination Queenstown

Lake Wanaka Tourism

Study Queenstown

Film Otago Southland

Creative HQ

Callaghan Innovation

Mainland Angel Investors


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I didn’t have Invercargill on the list of places to visit until “Noel Muskrat” called me out in the NZ Tech Startups Eco-System Group

“Come to Inver’s… where the sunshine is liquid and the locals can count to eleven”

Who can resist a pitch like that?

So off down the Devil’s Staircase alongside the southern leg of lake Wakatipu and into the pancake flat plains I went.

The weather was perfect, cartoon green fields and piercing blue skies. Until I passed between two highway signs announcing my arrival in Invercargill.

The liquid sunshine commenced immediately.

STEAM ENGINE Invercargill

First port of call was to meet the mysterious Noel and Leon Muskrat (anagrams of their heroes name Elon). They are putting together a maker space and prototyping service called the STEAM ENGINE Invercargill

The intention is to have a fully equipped maker space that people can hire out on a one off and subscription basis. They are also planning project based STEM classes for local children.

Both were overloading me with coding and technical details. I begged them to simplify their pitch and get out and talk to people. We all have a habit of loading everything including the kitchen sink into a pitch.

I really do hope these passionate guys get this up and running, you can find them via their Facebook group.

COIN South

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The COIN South office is in the middle of downtown Invercargill, in the COIN Hub Coworking space with the tagline “When you’ve outgrown your kitchen table and the cat’s lacking any water-cooler chat.”

Late in the afternoon, unannounced I tapped on their door. Prue Halstead, Chief Starter and Louise Evans, Chief Activator were the ones I was seeking but both were elsewhere. Nikki Dermody their Chief Storyteller stepped up to the plate, to fill me full of Black Shag filter coffee and share some background on their operation.

COIN South has a solid list of corporate members and receives funding from their strategic partners including; Southland Chamber of Commerce, Community Trust South, Environment Southland Regional Council, The Southern Institute of Technology and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. They are governed by an elected Board or Directors and operated by Prue and her dedicated crew.

They provide numerous services from advisory support and business coaching to access to angel investors and networking with industry experts, corporates, governments and fellow startups.

Regular coffee checkins are a feature along with plenty of industry gossip.

The flow of information between Queenstown, Invercargill and Dunedin is surprisingly effective and that could be due in part to the Mainland Angel Investors.

Mainland Angel Investors (MAI)

While talking to Nikki, Anna Stevens came to join our conversation. She’s the Network Manager for the Mainland Angel Investors.

MAI is a network of angel investors across Otago and Southland that was launched by Scott Mason as an incorporated society and pushed forward by Prue Halstead from COIN South, David Wallace from Startup Queenstown Lakes and Sarah Ramsay of Startup Dunedin.

By joining forces, MAI investors get access to companies and ideas they might not have been aware of.

When I asked Anna about the risks of Angel Investing, her response was to point out that there needs to be a lot of education on angel investing, how it requires a “portfolio approach” and what kinds of returns can reasonably be expected.

She then went on to quip…

There’s many a local investor that will happily buy into horse racing syndicates with far riskier odds.

It’s all about education and attitude.

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NZ Tech Startups Eco-System Group (Facebook Group)

Steam Engine Invercargill (Facebook Group)

COIN South

Community Trust South

Environment Southland Regional Council

The Southern Institute of Technology

Southland Chamber of Commerce

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Mainland Angel Investors (MAI)

Startup Queenstown Lakes

Startup Dunedin

Black Shag Coffee

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Fully fuelled on Black Shag coffee and a little time to spare, a detour was in order. Directly south for the obligatory photos of Bluff signage and Southern Ocean with a stop at Omaui (NZ’s most Southern Northerly facing beach).

I drove past the old Bluff Freezing Works that’s being turned into an Aquaculture Park and then somehow missed the Catlins. Sidenote: I want a GPS with “interesting projects” and “take the long way” tourist modes.

A relaxed cruise through the rolling hills following Fonterra milk trucks and a speedy rural NZ Post driver delivered me to the lush hills surrounding the Otago Harbour.

Hello Dunedin.

I visited Dunedin a decade ago, stayed for a day and my memory was of it being dark, cold and damp. This time round it was exploding with luminescent yellow flowers across the hills and spectacular rhododendron displays in suburban gardens.

A town that’s kept much of its wonderful Victorian and Edwardian architecture from the boom days of gold. It’s produced some of New Zealand’s biggest companies, as well as a multitude of great Kiwi music and fashion has been brewed in its micro-climates.

Listening to the locals it’s hard to tell if the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic are famed as much for the great quality of education they produce. Or the great quantity of local beers the student body consumes.


I wasn’t expecting this. Five levels that start with a cafe and events area, work upwards to coworking spaces and topped with penthouse views. Natural light, polished wood floors, quirky decoration done with a humorous artist’s eye and homely touches that tie the place into a whole that far exceeds its parts. This is New York Soho wrapped in 1860’s neo-baroque stone and glass.

Kate and Jason Lindsey didn’t start out to create a coworking space. They fell in love with a building, and took a massive punt to purchase the whole thing.

The dream was penthouse living, the reality was paying a mortgage and restoration bills.

They were forced to evolve from landlords to business incubators as their early tenants were cash strapped startups. Quickly realising that in order to survive themselves they had to help their tenants thrive.

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That culture of giving and collaboration kept on growing to not just encompass entrepreneurs but art, food and the broader community as well. It permeates the atmosphere, as playful and experimental as the decorations.

Jason speaks softly and makes tales of hardship sound like lighthearted lessons. Lots and lots of lessons. They have persisted in spite of a thread in Dunedin thinking that its best days are in its past. Both Kate and Jason reject that thinking. 

In a world where gold is made from ideas, Dunedin has vast potential.

Jason lays out a compelling argument that Dunedin’s best days are coming.

It has a spectacular natural environment, a mix of architecture, facilities and cosy city living that provides access to local and international students, world class University and Polytechnic resources, enough bars, cafes and restaurants and Summer time for ideas to foment and enough Winter time for people to buckle down and bring them life.

“From free-to-public business events, early stage funding grants, acceleration and mentorship programs, to well run event management. The Petridish community, smoothes out the path to success.”

My suggestion… Go check out the culture at Petridish.

Startup Dunedin

I didn’t have to go far to meet Mckenzie Dowson the bubbly Community Co-Ordinator at Startup Dunedin. She was having a coffee at the Petridish cafe. She rounded up Rachel Butler the General Manager at Startup Dunedin who was also in the vicinity. Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Angus Pauley their Programme Facilitator.

Apparently they were in the midst of a renovation of their own working space The Distiller. Rachel kindly took some time out from schlepping boxes to the boot of her car to paint a picture of Startup Dunedin activities.

They have The Distiller which is their own non-profit space. It’s for those participating in Startup Dunedin’s programmes and external events such as Angel NZ. They run events and programmes all year round.

They are also linked into the Mainland Angel Investors and the Regional Business Partner Network.

It was began as an initiative of the Grow Dunedin Partnership. With a volunteer board of representatives from Dunedin’s local entrepreneurs as well as from the University and Polytechnic. There’s quite a few familiar names on this board including once again Sarah Ramsay, Scott Mason and Jason Lindsey.

They have funding from the Dunedin City Council, the University of Otago, the Otago Polytechnic, Creative HQ and Callaghan Innovation.

If you are in Dunedin and at the very beginning of your startup journey definitely look at one of their programmes; Co.Starters, Audacious or Startup Weekend.

Check their website for events as well.


Heidi Renata a wāhinepreneur, CEO and founder of INNOV8HQ.

Aotearoa’s first Business Marae.

It was also one of the worlds first indigenous co-working spaces. I didn’t get to see INNOV8HQ but from what others have told me it’s a beautiful space.

INNOV8HQ specialises in consulting for businesses that are high-impact, growth orientated and technology focused and entrepreneurs who are wanting to commercialise their innovations.

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They also run Te Aroha a philanthropic program supporting community initiatives such as KiwiHarvest and the International Science Festival.

We caught up for coffee overlooking Saint Clair beach. With covid INNOV8HQ is going through a renovation and Heidi going in a new direction. She has dark piercing eyes with a cheeky sparkle that haven’t been dimmed one bit by 20 years of helping others succeed. 

A sharp business woman in her own right, you can see those sparkling eyes light right up when the topic of conversation was female and indigenous entrepreneurs. She was born to inspire.

We covered a lot of ground in an hour from business to travel, to history, to covid, to where best to apply talent. She’s happy putting more energy into consulting.

Coworking spaces are hard work and she cheekily suggested more cafes should jump into the game…

Imagine what New Zealand would look like with thousands of incubators?

Comp Girls Otago (STEM Club)

Magdeline Huang popped up out of the LinkedIn woodwork with loads of helpful recommendations for people and places all over the South Island.

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Magdeline is a student at the University of Otago studying Computer Science and Entrepreneurship. She is the leader of a women in tech club the Comp Girls Otago and member of the Otago Momentum Investment Committee. Momentum is a national student-led investment program.

She was the winner of New Zealand’s inaugural Red Bull Basement University and represented New Zealand at the international finals in Toronto.

In between studying for exams she is building “Temp.” A platform for students to list and hire items to each other.

Temp’s mission is to create a sharing culture which promotes sustainability while helping students earn some money from the items they list.

I wish her all the best. 

Black Shag Coffee

Ocean Beach Bluff

Petridish 8 Stafford Street, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand

Ross & Glendining Building

Startup Dunedin

University of Otago

Otago Polytechnic

Dunedin City Council

Creative HQ

Callaghan Innovation

Mainland Angel Investors (MAI)

Regional Business Partner Network



International Science Festival

Comp Girls Otago (STEM Club)


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Heading back up to Christchurch through hills so perfectly green and curved, like the ones we would draw with big crayons in primary school, I completely regret not stopping to take a photo.

I did stop at The Business Hive in Oamaru. Run by Cara Tipping Smith and Alex Regtien it’s a small coworking office featuring desks with bed headboards, a large boardroom and regular events.

One has to wonder if…

Oamaru has a coworking space, Timaru what about you?

The Business Hive 26 Ribble Street, Oamaru, New Zealand


  • My rule of thumb from past experience is that good managers often have the ability to meet at short notice, they’re always adding people for future reference and are good at quickly communicating what they’re doing. I used this as my excuse to give almost no notice and drop in on people within an hour or two of reaching out. Going by that metric the South Island is chock full of excellent managers.
  • From the feedback I sorted names and organisations into regions and then sifted the names according to the number of times they were mentioned and started with the high frequency entries and went from there.
  • The people and organisations I met with are by no means close to all of those that are operating in the south. Weekends, national holidays and prior commitments prevented meetings with many, so consider this more of a rough guide. Those with more time and better preparation will discover an even richer startup ecology.
  • There are so many people to thank for their feedback on my original post, you know who you are and I hope these notes are a small return on your generosity.
  • All mistakes and omissions are mine, I welcome any corrections. Troy


Constitutional Federal Republic

As Benjamin Franklin was exiting after writing the U.S. constitution, a woman asked him, “Well, Doctor, what have we got – a republic or a monarchy?” He replied, “A republic – if you can keep it.”

What happened to the Roman republic was a slow slide into public illegitimacy, intensified by the way in which elites played by the rules only when it suited them and broke precedents and norms when it came to defending their own interests, complaining loudly when others did the same.

Republics do not suddenly evaporate. The institutions they establish tend to continue — but, over time, in a deeply polarized and increasingly unequal society, they can become less and less potent, as various leaders and their followings fight zero-sum games using the rhetoric of power rather than the dialogue of deliberation. Precedents are broken; habits of mind and behavior erode; the advance of executive power ebbs and flows; but relentlessly, the water line of what is an acceptable level of autocracy rises. 

Andrew Sullivan

The Ironies of Automation

In an automated system, two roles are left to humans: monitoring that the automated system is operating correctly, and taking control if it isn’t. An operator who doesn’t routinely operate the system will have atrophied skills if ever called on to take over.

Unfortunately, physical skills deteriorate when they are not used, particularly the refinements of gain and timing. This means that a formerly experienced operator who has been monitoring an automated process may now be an inexperienced one.

Not only are the operator’s skills declining, but the situations when the operator will be called upon are by their very nature the most demanding ones where something is deemed to be going wrong. Thus, what is really needed in such a situation is a more, not a lesser, skilled operator. To generate successful strategies for unusual situations, an operator also needs a good understanding of the process under control and the current state of the system. The former understanding develops most effectively through use and feedback (which the operator may no longer be getting the regular opportunity for); the latter takes some time to assimilate.


Rebuilding the old website, ten years or more of posts kinda disappeared when I wasn’t paying attention. Remember folks, always make backups and test them before you need them!