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The weird stuff – doing things differently

Inspiring New Zealand companies taking on the world

This opinion piece –  from Bruce Jarvis, group manager of Callaghan Innovation’s digital team, on the niche global opportunities within digital services – illustrates how we can succeed when our country’s unique can-do approach drives us to think about and do things differently to our global competitors, which leads to the distinctiveness that draws customers to us. This is what we at Katabolt believe is the key to successful exporting, engineering your distinct competitive advantage, to engineer you international market share.

Our organisation’s namesake, Sir Paul Callaghan, believed one hundred inspired New Zealanders could turn this country around.
There’s a strong case to be made that our software as a service (SaaS) entrepreneurs will be one of the most instrumental groups in shifting our country’s fortunes.

While it might not be our software and digital companies that spring to mind when we think of Kiwi innovators taking on the world, at our Southern SaaS conference, the sector’s success and growing global reach was hard to miss.
Companies like Serko, Pushpay and Vend are bringing in significant export revenue and developing opportunities and simultaneously growing talent and demand for highly skilled jobs. These inspired companies are doing just what Sir Paul predicted they would.
Sir Paul had another theory which also finds its mark in our SaaS community: He believed we should lean into our strengths including the ability to find the value in the “weird stuff” that the big global players don’t think to exploit.



The weird stuff – NZ’s edge

Working with many digital companies at Callaghan Innovation, we know that Kiwis have a knack for identifying unique and niche problems, then nailing a solution that makes life easier.
To be clear, identifying niche problems is not about thinking small or focusing narrowly on New Zealand-specific issues and markets. We need to think global from day one, but there are lots of “niche” problems with a potentially massive global base of customers.This plays out when you look at some of our successful tech companies: Fisher & Paykel Healthcare makes devices for suffers of sleep apnoea, Volpara is a leading provider of breast imaging analytics, Vista is building a dominant position global position in cinema solutions, PushPay is servicing the faith market in the US with their giving and engagement platform, Serko with travel management; and we have Rocket Lab, a commercial operator sending rockets into space.

Here are seven other lesser-known New Zealand companies that are nailing their chosen niches to make their mark:

Fingermark – speeding up restaurant service
Though Fingermark has been around for 15 years or so, things are ramping up for this Havelock North-based company which is now working with multinational restaurant brands including the likes of McDonalds and KFC. Its next-generation customer kiosks and digital menu boards are powered by AI software with real-time and predictive business analytics transforming service, including at drive thrus.

Fuel50 – employee-led career paths
Fuel50 uses artificial intelligence to forecast skills and match employees with internal opportunities – the goal being retaining key talent and a happier workplace. Its multinational clients understand the importance of investing in their employees and include Walmart, Mastercard, Gap, eBay, the United Nations and New Zealand’s Spark. Recently raising $21 million in its latest funding round, Fuel50 will ramp up its international efforts.

Linc-ED – online sharing platform for schools
This Christchurch firm has created a secure platform helping schools track and communicate learning with teachers, parents, students and appropriate government agencies. The platform is built by teachers, school leaders and parents, and is customisable. Ultimately where it wins global potential is a common problem in education: reducing teacher workload, while lifting student and parent engagement.

Optimal Workshop – improving big brand websites
This Wellington-based firm is helping NASA, Uber, Netflix, and the BBC create better web experiences for their customers. Their suite of tools help companies understand customer behaviour patterns to improve their websites – a better experience for users. The edgy company is also well known for its focus on staff including a Happiness Engineer and Chief Smoothie Maker.

Cradle – re-humanising phone service
Cradle is a solution to the frustration people feel when trying to contact a company not knowing who to talk to, or worse, getting an automated response. It gives businesses a tool to talk like humans, reducing frustration and improving brand loyalty. The company recently won a 2019 Xero Award for the best emerging app and has partnered with the likes of Spark, Jabra and Twilio.

AskNicely – real-time customer feedback
AskNicely improves customer feedback loops so that businesses can make changes and take follow-up actions in real-time. It’s rated the world’s top customer experience platform with over 1000 company customers worldwide. AskNicely raised an additional US$10 million in April and its backers include Sir Stephen Tindall and Australian-based Blackbird Ventures.
For more inspiration, a growing number of New Zealand SaaS firms now have useful company profiles on the Scale-Up NZ platform.
Bruce Jarvis is group manager of Callaghan Innovation’s digital team which works with more than 700 ambitious, fast-growth New Zealand businesses.

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