Episode 6: Passion and purpose

Liam Dann
New Zealand Herald Business Editor at Large
23 MIN

When your business’ future is up in the air, it can be a good idea to focus on your core values and passions. For two Wellington-based tech companies, New Zealand’s initial lockdown presented opportunities for both innovation and reflection. For Jessica Manins, CEO of virtual reality social gaming business Beyond, it was a time to explore how social gaming could connect people in their homes. For Nic Gibbens from digital agency PaperKite, lockdown created capacity to develop an app called Rippl that would not only give their staff purpose, but helped them create a solution that could benefit the country. Both these experiences led each business owner to reflect on their roles within their businesses and how they should position themselves for success personally and professionally. Hear their insights as we continue to work through the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.
Hosted by New Zealand Herald Business Editor at Large, Liam Dann.

The guests featured in this podcast are sharing their own views and experiences. As this podcast is for general information purposes only, content should not be relied upon as professional advice. Always get your own independent advice that takes into account your personal situation. If you’d like to access a transcript of this podcast, you can view it online at blog.bnz.co.nz/podcasts.

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Transcript

Liam Dann:

This podcast brings together two innovative businesses to discuss how they’ve navigated change since lockdown, what they learned, and how they are looking to the future. In this episode, we speak to Nic Gibbens from Wellington-based digital agency, PaperKite, who created the Rippl contact tracing app, and Jessica Manins from Beyond who make social virtual reality games.

LD:

When New Zealand went into lockdown, the prospect of an increasingly digital world came about faster than anyone could have imagined for each business, focus turned to how people would connect in a physically-distanced world and how they could develop new products and ways of working that would set them up for success in the future. I’m Liam Dann, New Zealand Herald Business Editor at Large. Welcome to BNZ Connect SME.

LD:

The guests featured in this podcast are sharing their own views and experiences. As this podcast is for general information purposes only, content should not be relied upon as professional advice. Always get your own independent advice that considers your personal situation. If you’d like to access a transcript of this podcast, you can view it online at blog.bnz.co.nz/podcasts.

LD:

I’d like to get a little bit of background about your businesses, if I can, to start with, so maybe starting with you, Jessica. Can you tell me a bit about business Beyond? Virtual reality always sounds very sci-fi and high-tech to people who aren’t used to it.

Jessica Manins:

Yeah, absolutely. So at Beyond, we are making social VR games and the software that powers them, and it’s really about making games that connect us through play in live environments. So if you think about going to an entertainment space with your friends, and maybe it’s playing laser tag or paintball, and then imagine you’re putting on a headset and that’s in virtual reality, and you’re in this amazing, incredible world, but you can see each other and you’re walking around because it’s free roaming. There’s no backpack PCs, it’s all the latest and wireless headsets, and that’s what we do.

LD:

So, this is sort of the future of video games, arcades. This is in a set place that you would visit to have the full experience with all the high-tech gear?

JM:

That’s absolutely right. Yeah, but one of our points of differences that we wanted to make something that was really accessible so that we could scale it really quickly, rather than having huge tracking systems and big computers and backpack PCs. So we’re using something called the Oculus Quest, and it’s just an all-in-one headset. So basically, that’s all you need. You put that headset on, our game is in there, it plays and you get to muck around with your friends.

LD:

Sure. I mean, I know you’ve got a sort of a centre in Wellington, is it a domestic-focused business, or are there international sales?

JM:

So it’s a globally-focused business, and we do have a space open at the moment in Wellington, which is also where we develop the games, but our key focus was really looking at the U.S. as our first market, and we had just launched there in the U.S. in February.

LD:

Sure. So I can see where there’s going to be some issues coming in on the COVID crisis, but look, I’ll just jump to you, Nic, for now, just because I want to get that background. Tell us a little bit about PaperKite digital agency, which suggests a wide range of software apps solutions for various things.

Nic Gibbens:

Yeah, that’s exactly right. So yeah, I formed PaperKite back in 2010, and at the time, it was primarily because I was fascinated by the iPhone when it came out and the potential that it presented, and I was amazed how in New Zealand suddenly all these phones kept popping up on the table, even though we couldn’t actually buy them here, and everyone was jailbreaking them so that they could use them, and I was just fascinated by the fact that this was technology that connected directly between an individual and potentially brands or customers, and I was just very lucky to sort of spot that early on.

NG:

So I sort of quit my job working for a bank and said, “This is too big an opportunity to risk not doing,” and I sort of started off, really, my idea was to help companies build apps and to help sort of shape those experiences with them, and over time, we ended up becoming a decent sized company that does that for a range of clients, and really, we’ve sort of morphed from being just the app development company that we were at the beginning, and now we’re really concerned with generating sort of better digital experiences and outcomes from our customers, and that’s been really fun.

NG:

There’s so much out there that we can do. Some examples would be things like working with BP for the BPMe petrol application. So you can drive in, tap a couple of buttons on your phone, and within a few seconds, a pump that could predate the internet fires up and lets you fuel up and drive away without any more effort – or order a coffee.

LD:

It’s interesting. We’ve definitely heard a lot about the technological leap that’s been made because of COVID-19. We’re all having to learn how to video conference properly and all those sorts of things. Jessica, can you take me back through that time around late January, February, when you’re launching in the U.S. and then you’re watching the story come out, how was that for you, and do you remember a sort of moment where you thought, “Oh, heck what are we going to do here?”

JM:

Yeah, absolutely. So my co-founder and I had gone to the U.S. to set up our first space in a place called Two Bit Circus in LA. An incredible founder, Brent Bushnell, has made this amazing micro-circus kind of amusement park. It’s one of a kind. Designed for both children and adult. There’s STEM, there’s education, there’s everything you could imagine and want in kind of a place for play, and we were very fortunate to have sold our first license with him, and to be able to launch our game Oddball. So we did that. We were over there for a week, we’d set up, we had people like Ice Cube coming through and testing and playing our game. It was an amazing experience. We had all of these inbound inquiries from people hearing about it. The press had gone out, people were playing, some multimillion dollar deals are on the table. Very exciting.

JM:

As an entrepreneur who had been working away very hard on a new product to get there, to sell, to be off-shore was pretty exciting, and so, we set up and then we said, goodbye. We did our training and we got on the plane, and as we were coming back in, the signs were up saying, “Hey, if you’ve been from mainland China, you can’t go through the normal gates. You need to stop and check in with us because of COVID,” and we’re like, “Okay, this is interesting. Wonder where this is going to go, but it’s kind of China-related. So I think we might be okay,” and get home and tell everyone we’ve launched, and a little bit later, boom. The rest of the world is hit, and America’s hit, and suddenly Two Bit Circus is closed. Our first customer.

JM:

The deals that we were negotiating they’d gone cold, they’d gone silent. We had a partnership agreement with Vodafone where we were going to tour New Zealand and everyone was going to be able to experience Oddball. It was a really big deal, and that was going to be our New Zealand launch of what we were doing, and that all came crashing down. It was pretty devastating. There was definitely a lot of shock and some tears and disappointment when all of that happened.

LD:

Yeah. Nic, how about PaperKite? I mean, there must have been real logistical and real world immediate hurdles that you faced as lockdown hit.

NG:

Yeah. I mean, there certainly were. Nothing like Jessica had to go through, fortunately, but from our position, it was quite interesting because we were really flying at the end of last year and we made the commitment to move into a new office, and lay down quite a lot of investment to do that, and fit it out and make it really awesome, but as we came into January, I just was aware that more and more was circling, and this was actually sort of just pre-COVID, really, before it started making the headlines the way it did. So we started looking at our books and planning for recession at that stage because it actually felt like that was a likely outcome even before COVID had come along.

NG:

So we were actually, at that time, already considering how we would restructure the business to best weather an upcoming recession. So in some respects, we were incredibly lucky on that front because we sort of were ahead of the game and prepared. What we weren’t expecting was any kind of recession to drop as quickly as it did, and we had a very large opportunity that we were highly confident on with a tourism company in New Zealand, and we had people reserved to do that work. We’d turned down other work to do it, and of course, that just fell apart very, very quickly, and I mean, it was horrible to watch because amazing company.

NG:

So at that stage we really just didn’t have anything to do. It was too late to try and sell that time and space. So we suddenly had a massive hole. We had this expensive new office and we were starting to panic a bit about what we were going to do then, which is really actually what led us to create Rippl as much as anything else. So I don’t know if you’ve heard about Rippl, but it was a product that we built.

LD:

So this is a COVID tracing app?

NG:

Yeah, that’s right. As COVID gained strength, we were actually talking to the Ministry of Health and saying, “Look, what can we do to help?” But I mean, tons of other companies were as well, and they had a very definite plan about what they wanted to do, but we were just concerned, and we met up with a friend of ours, Jonny McKenzie, who’s big in hospitality in Wellington, and he was saying, “Look, I mean, we’re likely to be opening to the public and we don’t have any tools to help us at this stage. Just in a couple of weeks. What do you reckon we could do?”

NG:

And so, we sort of went back to the team and said, “Look, we’ve got this spare time. What should we do?” And the team really came up with the idea behind Rippl, but they really wanted to focus on doing it from a privacy-led perspective because what we’d seen happening and springing up around the world just seemed in congress at this age that people would be giving away so much personal data and so much of their privacy just to be able to stay safe, and we thought, “Well, we reckon we can do something really useful, and more to the point, we can do something helpful with our time.” So we knuckled down and actually managed to bust out a product in just a couple of weeks, and got it out there so people could start actually trading again and getting people into their shops.

NG:

So it was really good just to be able to help, and it’s kind of sprawled from there. It turned into way bigger a deal than we had imagined. We just thought we were helping hospitality, and right now, we’re being helped by a incredibly amazing company in the UK called Capita to do a trial in the UK as well, because obviously, they’re really struggling and we’re really keen to see if we can help over there. So it’s actually carried on becoming quite something quite special, and the team is still super passionate about it. So it’s not really a money making exercise or anything. I mean, it would be nice to get some of it back that we’ve invested, but more to the point, it was genuinely an effort to try and do something good with spare capacity.

JM:

It was great, and it came out so quickly. So, for us, as we decided to reopen our space and have people coming back, playing games, it was the first thing that we were able to use, and so, that was really beneficial because the government one didn’t come out for another couple of weeks. So good on you guys for doing that.

LD:

Sure, and that does bring us back to what you were facing there, Jessica, because obviously in that lockdown, what were you thinking? What did you do, and how did you… Did you just sort of gather the team around, and make a plan?

JM:

Yeah, absolutely. We just looked at what was happening in the world. We were being told to stay at home. We were being told to social distance ourselves from each other, and more than ever, we felt lonely, and one of the things I didn’t really like was that wording of social distancing, because it wasn’t about that. It was about physical distancing, but we need social. We need to be together. We don’t want to distance ourselves from our friends and our family. That’s bad for us. It’s not good for our wellbeing, and so, it gave us an opportunity to look at what we were doing.

JM:

Our game and our company was built around social VR games. It was about people together playing, and then we  realised, “Well, they don’t have to come to a location to do that,” and if more than ever, people are at home feeling isolated, then there’s an opportunity for us to make social games for people at home that are connecting you with your friends, wherever they are in the world, in virtual reality, and I feel like this is a time more than ever where people started to play more games, they started to connect online, like you mentioned, with Zoom meetings. Adopting technology they maybe hadn’t tried before, and the sales for VA headsets just really went through the roof. The Oculus Quest just kept selling out and that’s what we build for. So we’ve always looked at what are the home consumer console opportunities for gaming, and really, that was our plan B, and we said, “Well, let’s just execute plan B. This is the time. Lets do that.”

LD:

So, you’re looking at, at home, and I’m sure a lot of parents did. The kids were never away from their friends because they were plugged into their video games and networking, and just chatting away as if they were playing in the backyard, and that’s probably a bit of a leap to the next generation to be use to that, but you can see where it’s going.

JM:

Absolutely. My six year old, he was on Roblox and Zooming his cousin at the same time, and chatting to each other in-game. This is what they do. This is how they connect with each other. Digital objects are often more valuable than physical objects, “Give me $6, mum, so I can get this new outfit.” It’s an incredible new world that this generation is growing up in, and it’s actually quite a wonderful way for them to connect with each other.

JM:

So for us, we went, “Well, let’s make a game. Let’s make a game that’s focused on people at home that still is multiplayer and connects them socially,” and it takes all of the learnings that we had from Oddball, and we said to another company, “Do you want to partner with us on this? Now more than ever, we need to collaborate. Let’s stop working in silos. Let’s figure out what are your skills, what are our skills? Let’s do this together,” and so we found a partner and we’ve started to build that game. So it was just really about being a little bit innovative about what we do. Resilience, of course, that’s really important. Just getting yourself back up there and being creative and figuring out what’s that plan, and then being decisive and making decisions and going for it.

LD:

So basically during lockdown, is that what you were able to get your staff working on, that new game?

JM:

Yeah, exactly. So we had to just start planning on that new game. That’s exactly what we did from home, with the Zoom calls open all the time, and then as soon as we could be together, back in the office, then jumping back in the office and starting to work on it.

LD:

Yeah, and Nic, there’s a theme I’ve noticed through this series talking to businesses actually, but you mentioned, Rippl, for example, not necessarily an immediate revenue spinner, but there’s something to be said for starting a project that just maintains momentum within the business and gives the staff and the team something to feel like they’re focused on during a crisis like this.

NG:

Yeah, you’ve absolutely nailed it. I mean, the worst thing we could have done was go into lockdown, which was weird enough as it was, and have comparatively little to do, and we were really worried about that. We’re a very sociable group of people. One of the reasons we invest so heavily in our office is because we love to be there, we love to be together and just sort of vibe with each other, and sort of embrace that collective genius that goes along with it, and pretty quickly, isolation was isolating, obviously for a lot of people, and we had sort of open Zoom calls all the time. We had the water cooler one, which we called, which was open all day, and people would just go in and check in on each other and just shoot the breeze, and then we had a range of organised meetings every day and the whole company would get together and meet every morning and have a chat and sort of see each other’s faces.

NG:

And we’re very lucky we have an incredible community manager called Priya, who we’ve actually, as a result of the course of this period that she stepped up so fully to make sure that our community remains so strong, that we’ve actually promoted her onto our leadership team now as our director of people and culture, because it just became more and more apparent to us how important it is to make sure that your people are challenged and happy and connected at all times. As it was, I think people were going a bit stir crazy, not being able to see each other, but really, I mean, I was just so impressed with the way everyone handled it, actually.

LD:

Jessica, do you think there’s something to the idea that the crisis can bring out the best in people? You’re sort of forced to confront things that you didn’t want to, but having been forced to confront them, people go into overdrive a little bit.

JM:

Yeah, I think they do, but also, I think it’s an opportunity for people to reflect on what’s important for them, and maybe for some of them, it isn’t what they were doing and it isn’t that work and that job, and I think someone said to me during lockdown, I was having a chat about what was happening, and where we were going, and this new change, and the fact that not everybody wanted to do this in the team, and it was a time to say, “Well, who wants to be on the bus? Who’s ready for this? Who’s ready to really go through the startup journey to pivot, to change, to take on new challenges?” And I think it’s a great time for self-reflection for everyone to decide, “Actually, is it family that I want to spend more time with because now I’ve been stuck at home with them, and I’ve realised that I’ve been missing out on lots of things, and this work isn’t for me,” or the other way round, “Please let me out of the house. I need to get back to work.”

JM:

So I think for a lot of people, there’s probably been quite a lot of soul searching happened as a result of this, and that is a positive thing. For me, more than ever, it’s just showing how passionate I am about what we’re doing and how I know it’s actually really important. You might think that gaming and games is just something trivial, but it’s not. It brings joy and happiness and social connection, and things that make us better people.

NG:

That’s so cool.

LD:

I guess, and you sort of come back to looking at the core values of your business and why you got into business in the first place.

JM:

Absolutely. Yeah.

NG:

I mean, just to sort of play off that a little bit is you’re absolutely right. So interestingly, from my perspective, I’ve decided to move myself onto the board as opposed to being the CE of my business as a direct result of this experience, and that was because I watched my team doing so well in this arena, and the other part of it really was as a CEO, you spend a lot of time just going around, seeing people and having coffees and talking, and you feed off those vibes to really sort of energise yourself, and during lockdown, I was sat at my desk for 10 hours a day.

NG:

I was going mad. I hated it, but it was a quite interesting, and as a result, I think I was so impressed to see people in my team stepping up and taking better roles, and I think I just realised after that, “Actually, I really am loving time with my family, and I’ve got a six year old as well, and I’m really appreciating that.” So I think by moving myself to the board and letting other people step into the role that I did, I think PaperKite is going to get stronger as a result of this. So it’s quite exciting, really.

JM:

Yeah, that’s cool, and for me, I decided I wanted to be more involved in the creativeness of what we were building, and I come from a theatre and film background. That’s my past, and when you end up as CEO, you kind of don’t always get to do all of those things that you loved and wanted to do because there’s a lot of other stuff, talking to people, paperwork, cashflow management, all these things. So I wanted to make sure I set aside time to be involved in the creativity, which is what I love about what we’re doing.

LD:

And do you have personal tricks or spaces that you go to, to sort of drive the creativity, because I know you’ve got a lot of stress going on in a time where you’re having to re-engineer the business, and then to stay creative, how did you sort of manage that process?

JM:

I listened to this really great article about how, when we’re walking, we’re more creative. It’s a good way to brainstorm and think of ideas. So been trying to walk around more and exercise more, I just came from my Muay Thai lesson, which helps, and I think it’s true though. When you’re out and about, if you’re in nature, those are ways that you can be more creative. It’s very hard to sit behind a desk and just look at your computer, and be like, “Yeah, let’s think of a really cool idea.”

NG:

Yeah. I find, also, if I can get engaged in other things that spark my creativity as well, that helps to transfer across into what I’m doing at the business. So I like building stuff and making stuff out of wood, and I’ve got a workshop and I tinker around in that, and I found that was a great place for both my mind to relax and the subconscious to do a lot of that heavy lifting, and at the end of it, I felt creative and I felt valuable in a strange way, and I found that that brought me the energy I needed, especially when I was spending so long sitting in front of a computer on a Zoom call every day.

LD:

Having you both here and with the insight into the tech industry, I wanted to take a minute just to talk about the transformation that maybe the world has gone through, which is, people talk about tech crunch. It seems like it’s been crunched into a few months, what might have taken a few years. How do you guys see that, and do you see that as a positive thing for your businesses?

JM:

Yeah, absolutely. For VR, if you couldn’t suddenly go to a conference, they all became… A lot of them became virtual, whether it was a video or in VR, specific spaces created for you to go in and be an avatar and take part in that conference. That really kind of blossomed over COVID, as did education. VR as an application for education just makes complete sense. We can’t get somewhere or have those tutors go to specific places, but you can come to them in a virtual environment. It kind of makes education a lot more accessible, which is really exciting. So I think this has been an opportunity for people to really start considering these ideas that we’ve maybe been talking about in the tech community for some time, and it’s really sped that up. It’s the same with the digital humans, suddenly we, through Soul Machines we can learn about COVID through the digital human.

LD:

I’m going to need you to tell me about the digital human, I think.

JM:

Well, you should interview the Soul Machines team, but they make… They look like humans, it’s incredible. They look very real and they have a digital brain, and so kind of they react to your emotions. So you’ll see the physical-

NG:

Facial expressions, the backup, the words that they’re saying. it really is incredibly impressive. It’s still in its infancy as well. That’s the amazing thing, and it’s already unbelievably effective. It’s very cool.

LD:

So, I mean, how is the New Zealand industry and the support for the New Zealand industry broadly? Do you feel like there is momentum behind the industry as a whole?

JM:

It’s still one of those industries where I feel like there needs to be more funding. There needs to be more opportunities for people to take chances and risks to try new things because it all costs money and you can’t just expect everybody just to come up with a great new business idea, but right now, there’s this opportunity for people to create new businesses, and if we can give them the funding and the support and the resources behind that to enable them to have the best chance of success, then we really can create all of these weightless technology products that we can scale globally without having to use our natural resources, which as we can see, when it comes to tourism, that’s not going to be the same either. So let’s focus on the things that we have, great people and skills and opportunities, and which is technology.

NG:

Yeah, and I think we’re so lucky, particularly I feel, here in Wellington that the tech community is so strong. Everyone knows each other to a certain extent that there’s very little in the way of rivalry. It’s very collegial. Everyone’s really happy when other people are succeeding, and I think that’s made a massive difference, and I think… Like we wouldn’t have been able to build Rippl without that support and we weren’t going to get it from anywhere else certainly.

LD:

Sure, and let’s look at where you are now. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but how are you feeling about the business right now in the next few months ahead?

JM:

I’m feeling really positive. We’re building something which is exciting and fun, and meets all of those objectives that we value and want to do as part of our company. There’s always risk. Everything that I’ve worked on it, there’s an element of risk, and that makes things a little bit scary, but also exciting. So that offers us a huge opportunity globally to say, “Hey, look. Look what we’re doing here. Look at the opportunities. How can we make more things? Who wants to collaborate with us?” It’s quite an exciting place to be right now.

LD:

And the virtual reality spaces, the destinations, the arcades, I mean, how’s that looking around the world? Are there aspect of life coming back to normal there?

JM:

Yeah, absolutely. We’ve had some new inquiries coming in for Oddball, actually some from the States because there’s areas that are opening back up there, and the same in Europe, but of course, there’s opportunities to look over to China and some of the other Asian markets where it’s a different story over there. So sometimes it’s about maybe just changing your focus and for us, taking a step back and going, “Okay, maybe our original plan,” which was the U.S. is our key market, “Isn’t going to be the key thing for us. So let’s have a look.” For us, this new game, we can launch that globally into every home who has one of these headsets, and so, that really gives us a much bigger market and scale, but we love location-based entertainment, and I think given time, those will open back up. We like to come together with friends. We’re not going to ever want to just stay at home forever.

LD:

I guess there’s a sense that you don’t have to… I mean, the old plan goes into hibernation a bit. You have to redevelop a new plan, but eventually there may be a more expansive strategy there once we get out the other side.

JM:

Absolutely. We did some work with Deloitte during lockdown, just kind of on a continuity plan, setting out milestones and scenarios. So if this happens then we take this action, if that happens then this action, and it’s a really good way of just feeling secure in your future and knowing that you’ve got a plan kind of no matter what happens. We couldn’t predict a pandemic was going to happen, but you can predict something a little bit crappy might.

LD:

Yeah. Hopefully we don’t have anything quite like that again. Yeah, Nic, how about you? How optimistic do you feel?

NG:

I’m actually feeling incredibly optimistic at the moment for a number of reasons, but two things that really struck me about the lockdown situation, one, that we started working out how to work more flexibly as a company in terms of our time and our coming into the office and what hours work for different people, and realising that that wasn’t actually an unachievable thing. In fact, it was a really great thing, giving people certain levels of freedom and allowing their creativeness to work at a time that was actually much more suitable for them, and what also has been really interesting is that we’ve realised that our sandbox, traditionally, has always just been to work in New Zealand and Australia. We’ve worked in the States and we’ve done a bit other around the world, but not so much, but just because one of our major offerings is what we call PaperKite IGNITE, which is our discovery phase.

NG:

We go along and we take someone’s idea, we break it all the way down to first principles and then build it back up, and hopefully what we create is actually much more what they need rather than maybe what they thought they wanted, and as a result of the lockdown, we really invested heavily in our people so that we could actually do that remotely, and we’ve got it working so well. We’ve had two clients literally come back to us saying, “Wow, I just didn’t think that was possible, but what a day. I thought that was going to be a total waste of time,” and so that, interestingly for me, if you put those two things together, people who want to work later in the day and earlier in the day, combined with the fact that we can actually do exactly what we do to anyone, they could be next door, or they could be on the other side of the planet, and suddenly our sandpit has grown to encompass the whole planet.

NG:

We can do what we do from Wellington to anywhere in the world, and so in actual fact, I think that the potential into the future is really exciting, and the more and more we’re getting picked up by people all around the world who are looking at Rippl, that’s actually expanding our influence. So that’s actually quite positive for us, and also, I think it’s just an interesting time to help companies to have these great relationships with their customers, and that’s just what we do, and they need help and we’re here. It’s awesome, actually, in that respect.

LD:

That’s great guys. Look, I’m going to wrap up with, first of all, just if you had a head of tip for getting through something like this, what would it be?

JM:

Be the cockroach.

LD:

Don’t die.

JM:

You just be careful where you’re spending your money as much as possible, making sure that you’ve got your cash flow under control and you really understand it, and you know if something goes wrong where you can make cuts and how you can get through if you need to hibernate. You need to be that cockroach. How are you going to do it? That would be mine.

NG:

That’s a really great one, yeah. Mine’s partly that. So, definitely look at your balance sheet. Look at every expenditure, work out what is a must and what isn’t a must. Think about the world as it’s going to look like if you’re towards the end of your tenancy, reconsider. Perhaps this isn’t the time to extend if people are going to start working remotely, things like that, but I think also from our perspective that the key was to say, “Well, adversity brings opportunity to help solve problems,” and so many people in our line of work are just fascinated with solving problems and big problems can actually generate some really exciting answers and will push us forth. So look out there. See how you can help, and you’ll find that people will want you to help them.

LD:

Fantastic. Well, just finally, we’d love you to both reflect on another business or business leader who’s ingenuity has sort of inspired you through this time. Can you tell us about a business that’s inspired you?

JM:

For me, it would be Nanogirl, Michelle Dickinson.

LD:

She’s so cool.

JM:

She’s so cool, and she just had to do that pivot. I think in three days or something, they set up a studio within her garage and they were online with a website, and suddenly they’re doing all these videos as well as at the same time she’s being relied on to give great, easy to understand scientific information for New Zealanders while also her whole business had just changed and been swept out from under her feet, like many of us, and I just think she’s a huge inspiration.

LD:

Absolutely. Great story, isn’t it?

NG:

Yeah. We had our family watching her videos and had the little six year old following along. It was brilliant.

JM:

Cool.

NG:

Yeah, really cool.

LD:

And Nic, a business that’s inspired you?

NG:

Well, interestingly, my one’s actually just a local business called Ocean Design, and the CEO there is a guy called Blair Mainwaring, and the reason he inspired me was just his compassion. So we were halfway through a piece of work with him when this thing kicked off. Our cash flow ceased, and I just thought, “Oh my God. I’m committed to this. I’ve got to go ahead,” and he just called me up and he said, “You need to just put this on hold,” and I said, “But what about your bottom line?” He goes, “That doesn’t matter. Of all things we need to do right now, is we just need to be kind to each other,” and he just inspired me.

NG:

I just thought, “Wow, that’s just the best way. If you can do business with your heart like that and keep going, as soon as we’re in the right shape, we’ll be going back. Of course we will.” So I just thought that message of just be kind. I thought was epic.

JM:

Love it.

LD:

That’s great. Thanks guys. Look, it’s been fantastic to chat through all the challenges and opportunities, so I wish you all the best and yeah, thanks again for taking the time to chat.

NG:

Thanks so much.

JM:

Thank you.

LD:

This Connect SME podcast was brought to you by BNZ in association with The Business Herald. Subscribe to the series to hear more stories of SME businesses who have navigated sudden change as a result of COVID-19. Hear about the decisions they made and the lessons they learned along the way. The resources, links and transcripts of this podcast can be found at blog.bnz.co.nz/podcasts.

Liam Dann
New Zealand Herald Business Editor at Large
Liam Dann is one of the country’s most respected business journalists and has been a business editor for the New Zealand Herald for more than 10 years. He writes opinion and commentary covering markets, economics and politics and is host of the weekly Economy Hub video show.