Kiwi Culture Parallels At Startup Grind

Guest post by Amy Pollok, Intern at Kiwi Landing Pad

Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator

Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator

As a young New Zealander arriving in SoMa, San Francisco’s urban tech district, it can feel like the world has been put on fast-forward.

A constant obsession with what’s next, what’s coming, the future, makes everyone else seem two steps ahead. I for one, found myself desperately playing catch-up. 

Startup Grind was an opportunity for me to do just that. The conference was held in Redwood City, halfway between commercial San Francisco and tech capital Silicon Valley. It was an ideal location for the convergence of hundreds of founders, investors and entrepreneurs.

Spending three days listening to the most successful startup founders and investors made for a steep learning curve, and a crash course in all things entrepreneurial.

Monday evening opened with an interview with Mikkel Svane. Mikkel is the author of “Startup Land” and CEO and founder of Zendesk, a software company focusing on customer service. Zendesk’s tools allow companies to streamline their customer communications and service platforms. The company was founded in 2007 and went public last year, with over 600 employees. A huge accomplishment for such a young company. 

Mikkel’s first piece of advice on Monday night?  

“Screw the business plan. There is no ceiling here.” His point was to focus on a vision, and try to reach the whole world.  From anyone else, this would sound arrogant and bolshy, but when it comes from someone who built a billion dollar company in just seven years, you believe it. 

Sam Altman also spoke on Monday, President of YCombinator, arguably the most successful startup incubator in the United States. His advice was for investors hunting for their next opportunity: “Fund the smartest people with the clearest vision, even if you don't understand it yet.”

So we had two extremely successful business figures advising both founders and investors to focus not on a plan, or an explanation, but on a vision. Both implored their audiences to look beyond what they knew and take risks.

Risk is something we’re familiar with in New Zealand, because you have to go big if you’re going to make an impact from the edge of the world. Kiwi culture and startup culture have a lot in common. A penchant for hoodies and sneakers, a love of beards and impressive pingpong talents. But most importantly, they both operate in an environment with minimal red tape. And both need to take advantage of that more.

It’s very clear that in an economic powerhouse of 300 million people and one of the biggest governments in the world, America loves process. It relishes rules and regulations. Many medium and large size businesses here take a long time to get anything done. But startups are the cowboys of this world, the ones who are actively encouraged to “screw the plan” and be innovative. No wonder kiwi businesses are admired here – we do that anyway.

Sam was asked during his interview whether there were any other places in the world where startups were thriving, besides Silicon Valley. New Zealand was the first place he mentioned.   

What better place to be than at the top of that list? We should be proud of our reputation for rule bending and innovation, and remember that to achieve further success, we should follow the advice of these businesses leaders and screw the plan.

New Zealand is not what you’d expect to be a startup hot spot. But I was like, man, those founders were so good, those companies were so good.
— Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator

Amy Pollok is the marketing intern for Booktrack, working at the Kiwi Landing Pad in San Francisco. She is part of the AUT interNZ scholarship programme, developed to give recent graduates the chance to kickstart their careers in the United States.


New Frontiers 2015 Kicks Off!

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