My quest to find my startup tribe

I believe in New Zealand.

I believe we are capable of great things and that if we can do it here, we can do it anywhere. I also believe our strength lies in our people, in our communities. Strong communities where people live, work, love and play; places where work and life are melded together for the benefit of all.

I love and embrace the way in which Māori recognise the value of community & celebrate the importance of he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata — the people.

I returned home four years ago this month, after years away. I had been based in Singapore working in an AsiaPacific role followed by a role based out of London, working globally. It was time to replant my roots, to step off the corporate treadmill, to re-energise, to re-engage with family and friends, take stock and seek to reconnect with my local networks.

Before I’d headed overseas I ran my own consultancy started on my kitchen table but grown to a team of 7 with an NZ and AsiaPacific client base. I’d been on an Icehouse Advisory board for a talented young techie who’d created a great piece of software. While I was away I mentored a couple of young folk kicking off new businesses too.

Now I wanted to share all the lessons I had learned: from the mistakes I had made while working offshore; the wins I had had; the breakthroughs I experienced. I was keen to give back. I was seeking my tribe, my community.

But how could I find it?

Initial toe dips into meetups, visits to GridAKL, Lightning Lab, BizDojo; a few coffees and a few wines, resulted in some connections. These were dedicated people focused on growing great ideas into businesses. I also took part in my first Startup Weekend Auckland to see how it differed from those I had experienced in London; I made more new connections, including Colart Miles. I started to re-engage; to try and work out the NZ startup ecosystem.

In 2016 I joined the StartUp Weekend Auckland org team volunteering alongside Richard Scott-Will-Harknett, Rowan Yeoman, Alan Froggatt, Pauli Sosa, Mahsa Marks and others, all seasoned Startup Weekenders, with differing styles and approaches. I also gave mentoring Startup Weekend-style a go and I was introduced to Rebecca Taylor.

I was interested to see what the startup scene was like in the regions. In July I found myself flying South to join Rebecca’s mentor team as she kicked off Startup Weekend Kapiti. There I finally met Dave Moskovitz and Paul Spence face to face, and reconnected with Dan Khan. It was great for a first time event and good to chew the fat with those outside of Auckland.

In November I did another Startup Weekend Auckland as a mentor and continued to be introduced to great people, including out-of-towners like Dave Allison, Jo Allum and Pascale Hyboud-Peron. It was also nice to reconnect with Peter Thomson and Klaus Bravenboer. I was getting to know people, to understand how things worked with an Auckland-lens but….

….something still was missing.

I still didn’t feel like I’d really connected into an holistic ecosystem. It felt like I was connecting with fabulous individuals but it all seemed a little lacking in cohesion.

I really wanted to be part of something that was focused on the long game. Something that was committed to growing and supporting all New Zealand. I needed to find a community that was creating long-term benefits for everyone. One that was committed to celebrating and encouraging diversity; one that was focused on growing talent across the country, not just in the main centres.

And then, by chance, an unexpected email invitation arrived.

In late January I spent 2.5 days with six individuals at a large home above Tahunanui Beach in Nelson. Some I had never met face to face; some I had never met before — I finally got to meet Lenz Gschwendtner and Sarah Day.

While we came from diverse backgrounds, from a range of ages, with differing experiences, we all shared a common purpose. We all strongly believe in the future of NZ and the need for an inclusive, values-driven entrepreneurial landscape.

Over that weekend, we crafted a strawman for the community we would like to be part of, to co-create with others. We identified five core values that represented what we believe such a community should embrace. Since then we have remained in regular contact and we continue to share ideas and formulate our plans to reach out. We want to be part of, and grow, a values-based startup community that supports new NZ tech and business ventures.

We recognise that our regions are ripe for creating communities that care; communities that grow; communities that can have strong, innovative businesses and great work/life blends. I firmly believe that creating new business ventures in our regions is critical to NZ’s future success. But those ventures must come from the community and not be imposed. We therefore owe it to those communities to nurture them, to guide their people and grow their capabilities.

New Zealand cannot be an Auckland-centric economy. We will lose people and opportunities as time is wasted dealing with poor infrastructure, lack of affordable housing and increasingly stressful lifestyles where personal and family time is compromised.

Since Nelson, I have spent time in Northland, Waikato, Tauranga, Gisborne and Wellington learning more from passionate people who are committed to making a real difference. Like me, these people are keen to grow local communities and help develop strong NZ businesses.

Communities work best when there is a common purpose and an agreed set of values. Where open, honest communication thrives and people feel safe to voice opinions, to agree to disagree and to celebrate different views. Where everyone has the chance to contribute, individuals are supported and learning opportunities are provided.

A draft framework is being finalised to be shared widely across the NZ startup landscape — to encourage conversations and seek feed-back and feed-forward. We are keen to connect, to grow and to join with others as equally dedicated to the whole of New Zealand’s success as we are.

Our Nelson weekend away was the start of something fresh, something exciting for me. I am learning and growing again.

I have found my tribe.


If this resonates, if you share this vision, join in the discussion on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook using the hash tag #startupcommunityvalues