Last week, PandoDaily brought you Australia (more stories to come), this week we go even further towards the Antarctic to bring you a country of even more modest size and first-rate flat whites (which, for the uninitiated, is a style of coffee y’all should be drinking). The native Maori people call it Aotearoa, “Land of the Long White Cloud,” but most other people just call it New Zealand. (That headline, by the way, is written in Maori. It means “Greetings to all my friends.”) It also happens to be my home country, which kind of explains why I’m here for a couple of weeks. I’ll be in Wellington this week and Auckland in the middle of May.
New Zealand is a country of just 4 million people and it’s not exactly known for tech. It is, however, responsible for some companies worth paying attention to on a global scale, including Rod Drury’s Xero, an online accounting platform, and Weta Digital, creators of Gollum and the hand behind the special effects for a number of Hollywood blockbusters, including the “Lord of the Rings” films, “The Adventures of Tintin,” and “The Avengers,” to name a few.
Over the next week or so, I’ll be taking a look at some of these companies and exploring the challenges they face, as well as outlining some of the unexpected advantages that keep them pushing forward in spite of the handicaps of distance, isolation, and market size. I’ll also try to look at some aspects of the culture – underdog spirit, a history of lo-fi innovation, the Tall Poppy Syndrome – that influence startups and the business class in New Zealand.
I’ll explain, at some point, the idea of “kiwi ingenuity” and the “number 8 wire” mentality, and how it can be linked to “The Hobbit” director Peter Jackson; and I’ll look at the effect that country’s film industry, built up Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings,” has had on digital technologies and startups in the country.
Within the country, the biggest tech success story so far is TradeMe, a homegrown version of eBay that has managed to keep the American marketplace out and sold to media giant Fairfax in 2006 for $700 million. It has since been publicly listed as a separate entity. I’ll look more into TradeMe and figure out how it has managed to build such a large empire within such a small country while keeping international competition at bay.
I might eat some pavlova.
I’ll probably stay away from Kim Dotcom, the Mega founder and wanted man who is by far New Zealand’s largest tech figure (in all senses of the word), mainly because I’ve already written about him in depth.
In the meantime, it’s imperative that I leave you with a song that encapsulates New Zealand culture, and a video that embodies its sense of humor. I present to you the song “Poi E,” a Maori classic that was featured in the 2010 film “Boy,” by Taika Waititi.
As they say in New Zealand, “Choice as, bro.”