Capital Markets Report: Face the fear of missing out

New Zealand companies often have to look offshore to access the funds and networks they need to scale internationally. Two of them, Booktrack and Vend, have attracted much-needed capital. James Penn asked their founders about the state of international investment for high-growth Kiwi companies.
Aucklander Paul Cameron founded Booktrack along with his brother Mark Cameron in 2011. Booktrack’s technology allows soundtracks to be added to e-books to create an immersive reading experience.
Since launching they have secured investment from some of Silicon Valley’s most high profile figures, including PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and Mark D’Arcy, a Vice-President at Facebook.
Vaughan Rowsell is the founder of Vend, a rapidly-growing retail software company. Thiel has also invested in Rowsell’s company, and in December Vend raised $13 million in capital to fund their international growth. That raising included investors such as Square Peg Capital, Movac, and Sam Morgan’s Jasmine Investments.
Herald: When you sought capital investment in the United States, what were the drivers of that decision?
Paul Cameron: To help build networks in our target market.
Local investors opened up their networks to us and this enabled Booktrack to accelerate our business in the United States.
Vaughan Rowsell: As a SaaS (software as a service) company with a global footprint, we looked to the United States for capital, in particular Silicon Valley, because there is a deep capital pool looking to fund exactly our profile of business. We spoke to many Silicon Valley venture capitalists and ended up being funded by the overseas investment arm of one of the great Valley investors, Valar Ventures, which actively looked for New Zealand businesses to fund.
Herald: What challenges have you faced when raising capital in the United States as a New Zealand company?
Vaughan Rowsell: The biggest challenge is that United States venture capitalists (VCs) are not used to working with the risk profile of New Zealand companies — we are a 12-hour flight away, speak differently, have a non-American culture towards sales and marketing, and an alien legal structure to the companies they are used to investing in.
United States-based VCs rarely deviate from their hypothesis on what a great business for funding looks like, which is formed with United States-based companies in mind. When you have geography, culture, a new legal system and other things in the mix, and it comes down to comparing apples with apples, New Zealand companies have a bigger hill to climb.
I don’t mean to say it doesn’t happen or won’t happen, it’s just a system that is harder for us.
If you are willing to be United States headquartered or have a United States executive team, I am sure it would be different. For us, staying Kiwi has always been important so we have secured investment from outside of the United States.
Paul Cameron: Investing in a New Zealand entity can be challenging for a United States investor as New Zealand is not only geographically a long way away, but they also do not understand the foreign tax implications. Having a friendly capital gains structure in New Zealand helps with the tax issue (but still needs some explaining), and setting up your business in the United States and being there all the time provides assurance on the geographic issue.
Herald: What strategies have enabled you to be so successful in attracting capital from high-profile United States investors?
Paul Cameron: Being there, all the time. We only attracted investment from United States investors after spending a long time in the market building networks and understanding the local market. The Kiwi Expats Association (Kea) was a great resource to connect us with New Zealanders in the United States who had great networks. It is important that New Zealand entrepreneurs remember that our cultures are different even though we both speak English and watch the same TV shows. I once observed a New Zealand entrepreneur in the United States mistake a conversation on the Warriors to be about the New Zealand rugby league team and not the Golden State Warriors basketball team. New Zealand entrepreneurs need to think, act, and be local if they are going to attract US capital. That takes a lot of time and commitment.
We need to put more energy into making local investment dollars work for our tech sector versus cows, anti-personnel mines and property. We need to be able to tell dozens of high profile New Zealand success stories.
Vaughan Rowsell
Vaughan Rowsell: A few years ago we secured funding from Valar Ventures which is Peter Thiel’s vehicle to fund non-American businesses, and that immediately overcame the hurdles for us that you get with most other United States investors. They had the great idea that some of the world’s best companies will come from outside the States, and we are honoured to have been picked.
Herald: In your opinion, should more New Zealand companies be looking to the United States when embarking on seed and Series A capital raises?
Paul Cameron: The first question any New Zealand start-up trying to raise funds in the United States will be asked is “how much have you raised in New Zealand?” And then “why are you raising this round here and not in New Zealand?” New Zealand companies need really good answers to these questions if they have any chance of raising US capital. We New Zealanders sound and look funny to US investors, and while it might be cute, it is a super-competitive market for capital in the United States. New Zealand companies, especially at the seed stage, should always be raising in New Zealand unless they are already established in the United States, and have a good strategic reason to be seeking funds in the United States over New Zealand. Series A is a more likely stage to be approaching US investors for capital, but I would still try in New Zealand first as there are great funds like Sparkbox Ventures always on the look out for good deals.
Vaughan Rowsell: My advice to younger companies looking for capital is to look local, or at least over the Ditch. There is an emerging Australian Angel/VC base growing and a few New Zealand companies are finding success with them which is really exciting. Companies can also consider Singapore, but the further you need to fly the greater the pull will be to base yourself closer to the venture capitalist’s postcode. There are always exceptions to any rule, and for us that is Point Nine Capital, based out of Berlin, who again deviate from the usual profile of venture capital. They actively seek investment in world-class SaaS companies all over the globe, and have been very successful at that. It is my hope that more US investors start to follow Valar and Point Nine’s footsteps when they try and answer their own question, “Why are there so many damn world-beaters coming out of New Zealand?”
Herald: Is there more that our public and private financial sectors should be doing to ensure New Zealand companies can access US capital?
Paul Cameron: They already do a lot more than most people realise. Our Seed, Angel, Venture Capital and Private Equity funds and groups are well networked in the United States and leverage those networks for their investee companies. The Government, through NZTE, (NZ Trade and Enterprise), Mfat (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade), Callaghan Innovation and Ateed (Auckland Tourist, Events and Economic Development) have vast investment networks that are working everyday to connect New Zealand companies with US capital.
Vaughan Rowsell: We attract attention by being awesome. It’s all a numbers game. If United States VCs feel like they are going to miss out on opportunities to invest in great companies that originate from New Zealand, then they will come here and invest.
In the meantime, we shouldn’t just wait and hope that happens. We should be doing all we can to help the current and future cohorts of amazing New Zealand businesses going global to make a dent and get noticed. The more successes we have as a nation in creating world-beating companies, the more attention we will get from the United States VCs and the rest of the world.
Herald: How do we do that?
Vaughan Rowsell: It’s a 15-year strategy. There is no silver bullet. Firstly, success in the industry begets success, so we need to do what we can locally to support the next Xero, Vend, Orion or Trade Me. We need to put more energy into making local investment dollars work for our tech sector versus cows, anti-personnel mines and property.
We need to be able to tell dozens of high profile New Zealand success stories. The importance of these stories are to inspire new people into starting businesses because they see how others have done it, and can literally sit down with the founders of companies making it and get advice. The stories also inspire future talent to go into technology careers and create the talent pool.
Herald: Are there any other important messages we should be sending regarding US capital investment in New Zealand?
Paul Cameron: There is plenty of capital in both New Zealand and United States for good Kiwi companies. For US investment, it really just comes down to the company strength, having great people involved, and a commitment to the United States market. Simple.
Vaughan Rowsell: Really simplistically, there are two choices: match the profile that United States investors look for in US companies, which often means becoming one and talking American; or decide you are a Kiwi-based enterprise and look to impress people who understand what awesome Kiwi-based businesses look like. In time, I hope FOMO [fear of missing out] brings more US capital to our shores, but in the meantime let’s create the FOMO.
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On the Grid: Weirdly don’t care about your $500 CV

There’s a revolution underway. Deep within the Auckland Viaduct lurks the beginnings of our own tiny Silicon Valley. At GridAKL, more than 50 startups, in industries as diverse as medicine, robotics and augmented reality, are running the entrepreneurial gauntlet looking to build a high-growth business – or at least a get a second funding round.

In On the Grid, a sponsored series with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), we tell their stories. In this, the third instalment, recruitment revolutionaries Weirdly.

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NZ-born LanzaTech makes biofuel breakthrough for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic

New Zealand-born company LanzaTech has made an aviation biofuel breakthrough with partner airline Virgin Atlantic.

The company has produced nearly 5700 litres of low-carbon ethanol produced from waste gases for the airline, founded by Sir Richard Branson.

The company was founded in New Zealand 11 years ago and the parent company remains New Zealand-registered while its headquarters have moved to Illinois.

LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic say they will work with Boeing and others in the aviation industry to complete the additional testing that aircraft and engine manufacturers require before approving the fuel for first use in a commercial aircraft.

“Assuming all initial approvals are achieved, the innovative LanzaTech jet fuel could be used in a first of its kind proving flight in 2017,” LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic say.
The two companies have been working together since 2011.

The Lanzanol fuel was produced in China at the RSB (Roundtable of Sustainable Biomaterials) certified Shougang demonstration facility. The alcohol-to-jet process was developed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Lab with support from the US Department of Energy and with the help of funding from HSBC.

Sir Richard Branson said: “This is a real game changer for aviation and could significantly reduce the industry’s reliance on oil within our lifetime.”

In 2008 Virgin Atlantic was the first commercial airline to flight test bio-fuel flight – derived from coconut and babassu oil.
“We chose to partner with LanzaTech because of its impressive sustainability profile and the commercial potential of the jet fuel,” Branson said.

The airline’s understanding of low carbon fuels had developed rapidly over the last decade.

The company, which has received more than $14 million in New Zealand Government funding, shifted much of its previously Auckland-based research and development workforce to Chicago in 2014.

LanzaTech has raised more than US$200m from investors including Silicon Valley-based Khosla Ventures and the NZ Superannuation Fund, which has invested US$75m. Other investors included Sir Stephen Tindall’s K1W1 fund and Mitsui.

Its technology is based around steel production, which produces waste carbon monoxide (CO) gas, frequently flared to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

The process involves capturing carbon from the waste gas via fermentation to ethanol, which is recovered to produce ethanol feedstock for a variety of products, including aviation fuel.

Other airlines have trialled biofuel made from waste cooking oil, and in the case of Air New Zealand the Jatropha plant.

 

First published – NZ Herald 15 September 2016

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What can be learned from Silicon Valley?

The following interview with Jamie Rhodes, a serial entrepreneur and founder of Alliance of Texas Angel Networks, was conducted at the Asian Business Angels Forum and AANZ Summit 2015.

Jamie Rhodes talks about what New Zealand can learn from Silicon Valley.

You can meet a quality network of investors and experts in early-stage company growth, acquisition and exits in person by registering your place at the 9th Annual NZ Angel Summit 2016.

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How the queen of Silicon Valley is helping Google go after Amazon’s most profitable business

The first thing to understand about Diane Greene, the woman Google acqui-hired in November to transform its fragmented cloud business, is that she has the mind of an engineer.

Cool technology, elegantly designed and built, lights her up. Even her jokes tend to be geek oriented.

(A lifelong competitive sailor, she was a mechanical engineer who built boats and windsurfers before she became an iconic Silicon Valley computer scientist.)

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NZ tech firm raises funds, wins award

A local agri-technology company is on a high after raising $4.5 million for product development and research and being named the best AG-Tech start up in a Silicon Valley technology competition.

Engender Technologies has worked with two Centres of Research Excellence – the MacDiarmid Institute and the Dodds-Walls Centre – to develop technology to allow dairy farmers to manage the sex make-up of their herds.

It opens the way to a leading position in what’s estimated to be a $3.5 billion market.

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From the highs and lows of Silicon Valley

KIWI entrepreneurs don’t fail well, says Havelock North businessman Hal Josephson.

“We need to change the mind-set around failure,” he said.

“Unfortunately people here start businesses with friend and family money and may have mortgaged their house, so when you fail you want a crawl under a rock. There are huge ramifications for those types of failures.”

He said where there was a network of investors there was the luxury of “OPM” – other people’s money.

“I was in the United States last year doing interviews with entrepreneurs and investors around failure. The general notion in California is failure is a badge of courage – you have prepared yourself for the future. You are a higher-percentage opportunity because you won’t make those mistakes again.

“Risky investors expect 70 to 80 per cent of their investments to fail. So it is not so bad – you can come back for more money if you feel like you have something and you have a good rapport.
“For my money, if somebody has failed three times I’ll go for fourth. In the United States there is even a conference call FailCon. I wanted to be invited for the 3GO story because that hasn’t really been told.”

It was one of few failures in the 20-year entrepreneurial part of his career.

Hal Josephson talks easily of his 20-year entrepreneurial career on the ground floor of the tech revolution because he is planning to write a book, distilling learnings.

It’s a career of historic failure and success, before the terms “startup” and “angel investor” were coined.

It’s a career that started in the 1970s when the New Jersey teen at Ohio’s Antioch College bought himself a Sony video camera.

“People had never seen themselves on television – it was like a mirror out of time.

“I decided there was an opportunity around it – I didn’t know exactly what it was – and so I started out recording people’s events, ranging from weddings to people doing workshops or giving speeches and they wanted to see themselves and how they came across.”

When he graduated from college he saw further opportunity with cable television.

“The Federal Communications Commission mandated that all cable television operators who had more than 3500 subscribers had to offer what was called Local Origination Public Access Television.”

In 1976, his production company was hired by Grass Roots TV 12 in Aspen Colorado, making TV shows and helping people make their own.

“It was one of the first experimental community television networks that was funded by the Government and donations to basically to see what would happened if you empowered a community to have its own video production.”

His documentaries were picked up by PBS including one about Claudine Longet, who preceded OJ Simpson in that she hired a team of expensive lawyers to escape a murder charge after she killed her live-in boyfriend, Olympian ski racer Vladimir “Spider” Sabich in their Aspen Colorado home. The Rolling Stones wrote a song about her but didn’t release it until 2011 for fear of litigation.

At a New York conference Hal met a video producer and was asked to run workshops in Washington DC for the Episcopalian Church.

That led to Episcopalian Television Network asking him to produce a televised concert featuring John Denver.

“We uplinked it and we connected to cable systems that wanted to carry it around the world. We set up downlinks in parishes all over North and South America, so ultimately more than 100,000 people saw it. It was one of the first live television events.

“I literally walked away from that with a nice cheque, thinking, I could start a company around this.

“I pivoted – I didn’t even know the term at the time – my then video production company into a video teleconferencing and events company.

“About 18 months later, after getting some finance and doing some early work with a lot of the vanguard companies doing this, I gave a talk at the Rocky Mountain branch of Meeting Planners International about how they could run a meeting in multiple locations.

“A guy literally came up to me and said, ‘Teleconferencing is sexy, I’m going to take you public’.

“We decided to take our little company, which wasn’t even incorporated, and work with this guy.

“It was a micro deal on the Denver penny stock market in 1982. There were 37.5 million shares issued at 2 cents a share.”

The company netted $650,000, moved its headquarters to Denver “and we started going after real clients”.

In two years the company doubled its revenue and had $500,000 in the bank but its board decided it wasn’t scaling-up fast enough.

“They merged us with a company needing $500,000 and they took us private, buying everybody out.

“We learned a lot about stockholder management and how you had to put out press releases. A first client actually sued us for putting out a press release because we were forced by the board to announce we were working with one of the biggest companies in America. Their legal arm sued us saying, you must have a contract that says you can’t say you are doing that work for us. But actually they never put that clause in our contract.

“Myself and my partner cashed out. She ended up going with another deal that went public on the penny stock market and I was offered 1 million shares to go into my second deal, which they were doing at 10 cents a share for 30 million shares.

“Then I discovered a whole other range of things – my new partners were dishonest. I wound up having to testify against them 16 months later in front of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“That was another education, picking your partners.”

With his partner in the first penny stock market company they formed “a company to form companies”.

“Her husband had been head of Bosch America and then Droidworks, one of the divisions of Lucasfilm, but he decided that he wanted to be a start-up entrepreneur.”

Success was “mixed” from 1985 to 1989 when he was asked to join a startup by Trip Hawkins, the original director of marketing at Apple. Trip had left Apple to start successful game company Electronic Arts.

He wouldn’t tell Hal what the new company was about unless Hal joined the venture and signed a non-disclosure agreement.

“I decided, he probably has a good idea so I’ll just go with it.”

The 3DO’s company’s objective was to create a new home video gaming system which was manufactured by various partners and licensees.

It was also a new business model – 3DO would collect a royalty on consoles and games.

“We licensed technology to a company that had no idea how to make money out of it and wouldn’t listen to us.

“Most unfortunately we lost over $100 million for our investors and likely $500 million for our big technology-licensing partners, Panasonic and Matsushita.

“It was a great four-and-a-half year ride and I managed to parachute out, unloading my stock, before the company tanked.”

Trip Hawkins asked him to organise an event.

“He wanted to build better connections between Los Angeles and San Francisco – Los Angeles was the entertainment capital and San Francisco was the technology capital and they weren’t talking to each other.

“He basically said, I want to throw an event for the top 700 people in the tech, film, TV games and entertainment business. They were all either major content producers or publishers and the major studios.

“At the time Matsushita owned Universal Studios, so they were our partner, and they wanted to see something like this happening.

“Trip said, what would it cost to throw a party for 700?

“On the spot I said “say $1 million” and he said, okay.

“I produced the inaugural Hollywood Meets Silicon Valley conference event called Lights, Camera, Interaction!”

Motorola’s PR firm approached him to produce a similar-style event with a $3 million budget, to lift the Illinois company’s West Coast profile.

“This event was big. I shut down Blue Man Group’s New York show and brought them to Los Angeles.”

The performance artists scored Intel TV advertisements on the back of the event and are touring New Zealand in May.

Hal was hired by Australia Multimedia Enterprises (AME) to be its Silicon Valley liaison, making 20 trips Downunder from 1996 to 1999 to evaluate companies.

“The Howard Government shut AME down and it was sold off to a venture capital firm Allen & Buckeridge.

“They asked me to come out and on that trip I met the head of international banking for Westpac. He was seconded to the private sector-led economic development programme for the Sydney Olympics.

“It ran on the periphery of the Games to basically create foreign direct investment in New South Wales.”

He became a consultant, which involved trips to New Zealand because it was a major trading partner.

He built a network of friends in Auckland and met his current life partner Trish Gilmore, originally from Dannevirke.

Hal continued doing regional economic development around high-profile events like the Beijing Games and Shanghai World Expo, escorting delegations of US business people keen to access China.

“I would basically spend 10 to 15 days in San Francisco and 10 to 15 days in Beijing
and Shanghai. I did 40 of those trips between 2003 and 2010.”

They moved to Hawke’s Bay and live in Havelock North where Hal continued creating events.

He attended Rod Drury’s Accelerate 2011, inviting along John Wander of Giantstep Angel Network from San Francisco.

The same year Hal organised the Make Social Media Work for You conference and found persuading keynote speakers to New Zealand was not always difficult.

He invited a “social media guru” Californian friend who said: “If you set me up to play Cape Kidnappers I won’t charge you a speakers fee.”

One hundred attended: 12 from Auckland, 36 from Wellington, 44 from Hawke’s Bay and Jon Leland had a great round of golf.

Hal said it was a “good first event” but he took up his “New Zealand job” with the Auckland University of Technology.

He is Program Chair for The Project – thought leadership events focusing on innovation and creativity in technology and business.

In 2014 the theme was Digital Disruption, in 2015 the focus was Taking Innovation Global and this year it is titled Creativity in Business and Beyond, all utilising his network of contacts.

Contacts drive his world.

“You don’t burn bridges – why would you unless there is a really negative reason? The only people I’ve burned bridges with were dishonest, or have tried to do something illegal or unethical.”

He said technology such as Skype could not displace spending time with people.
“The past 20 years of my life has been projects that grew out of my business relationships and my networks.

“Business is all about relationships. People move from one company to another, but the relationship remains. If you nourish it and it is important to you, it transcends everything, even being in different countries, and you end up doing more and more business.”

First published on nzherald.co.nz 24 April 2016

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Why New Zealand is punching above its weight in start-ups

New Zealand is a magical land of mountains, milk, sheep, rugby and fibre internet to most homes.

To this list we can now add: interesting technology companies.

In recent times, at least two genuine members of Silicon Valley royalty have poured money into start-ups born in the country.

Last week, Fairfax Media revealed that Sequoia Capital, which over the years has invested in the early stages of some of history’s most successful technology companies – think Apple, Google and Oracle – led a $10 million funding round for 90 Seconds, an Auckland based corporate-video marketplace.

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Sequoia Capital and Airtree lead $10m funding in Kiwi start-up 90 Seconds

Silicon Valley heavyweight Sequoia Capital has teamed up with Australian tech venture capital firm AirTree Ventures to pour $US7.5 million ($9.9 million) into New Zealand-based cloud-based corporate video start-up 90 Seconds.

Sequoia is one of Silicon Valley’s biggest names, having invested early on in several of the world’s most famous tech companies including Apple, Google, YouTube, Oracle, Instagram, WhatsApp and Airbnb.

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Silicon Valley / Silicon Dragon – Complimenting or Competing #ABAF15NZ

#ABAF15NZ: Silicon Valley / Silicon Dragon – Complimenting or Competing

What influence or roles does “the valley” play in approaches to scaling, building markets and creating value in Asia for liquidity success? How do we best access capital connections and customers across the two? Is that even possible for early-stage ventures?

Key note : #Jayesh Parekh (Jungle Ventures, Singapore)

Two promising New Zealand entrepreneurs discuss international scaling from the founders perspective.

# Jo Mills (Fuel50, NZ)

# Jonny Hendrikson (Shuttlerock, NZ)

DEBATE: “Silicon Valley can’t teach us much about scaling angel backed ventures in Asia”

Moderator : # Raiyo Nariman (Malaysia)

Affirmative :

# Marcia Dawood (Golden Seeds, USA)

# Eric Wikramanayake (Lankan Angels, Sri Lanka)

# Lee Bagshaw (Simmonds Steward, NZ)

Negative :

# Jamie Rhodes (Central Texas Angel Network, USA)

# Lucy Lu (Life Science Angels, USA)

# Jordan Green (Australian Association of Angel Investors)

Click here to watch video on youtube

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