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NZ Start-ups & The Valley Of Death

Rod as an interesting post on “The Valley of Death”.

I view this principally as a mental rather and physical issue. Contextually NZ businesses sit far from the rest of the world and therefore they frame everything in terms of distance. Distance begets an attitude of scarcity -“I don’t have enough because I am a long way from everything…” … “I can’t raise capital because I am so far from it…”

Because I sit in San Jose, CA, I frame everything in terms of proximity. I am close to capital and markets. I have lots because I am close to everything. It takes me a night or day to get to New York. It takes a Kiwi a night or day to get to San Francisco. Arguably, my trip is the more exhausting of the two… really.

How do you change the mindset? First, act like you work and live in Silicon Valley. Switch to the timezone. Work the hours. Network via Skype, Twitter and other tools. Plan a week a month there. You don’t have to drink the crap coffee though.

Second, dream your enterprise as it was going to scale like a US business.

Third, if you think there is a Valley of Death it is likely you will fall into it. Imagine there is a highway instead and go ride it. This is critical. Most NZ businesses plan very conservatively in the hope of mitigating risk and failure. They do so so severely that they constrain growth and expansion, choking the company to death.

Fourth, you focus on what is closest to you. Closest to you mentally. The UK is closer mentally to NZ than the USA. So, Kiwi entrepreneurs, despite the distance, focus on the UK. Or, they focus on local customers first. I know some great NZ start-ups that did the opposite and are thriving in the US. To avoid the trap of focusing on what was closest to them they deliberately chose instead to only focus on the West Coast of the US.

And then, you need to turn-up. Some say that a great part of success is in turning-up. Most NZ businesses never break-in to the US market because they don’t turn-up.

I’m not going to make light of the many issues a Kiwi business faces in breaking into the US market. Two biggies for me are lack of capital and a scarcity of experienced talent. In the Valley we have an incredible investment ecosystem – from VCs and Angels through Venture debt. And there is a very deep bench to draw on. For other start-ups issues like Government procurement rules come into play.

These are all issues faced by – and overcome – by Israeli companies. I wish more NZ companies would look at Israeli companies as a model rather than nations like Singapore or Ireland. Go on, give me more than two superstar, NASDAQ listed companies from either…

It is amazing how quickly all the physical and market issues start to vaporize when you shift your context, aspirations, focus and frame of reference. Lets look to a new set of role models and move the mind-set.


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