by Divina Paredes

From startup to global business: Tips from an entrepreneurial techie

May 24, 2018
Big DataCareersCEO

The most valuable thing is providing something the market does not realise it needs.

Matthew Simmons recalls that when he was in his early 30s and starting his own business, he did not have as many resources.

But he wanted to work in technology and he knew how to sell.

He decided: “I could invest in relationships.”

The company he was working with wanted to do business with a multinational technology firm. “I needed to get on their radar.”

He attended a conference and met one of the executives of the said company.

He gave him his business card, told the executive that he wanted to keep in touch.

For the next 19 months, Simmons would send an email once a month to this executive, informing him what his company was doing, and the business deals he had closed.

During the entire time, the executive did not reply to his emails, or call.

But Simmons continued writing to him. “I had nothing to lose.”

On the 20th month, Simmons got a call from the executive who told him that they were working on a project and their regular supplier cannot deliver what they needed. “Can you supply it?’

Simmons says they ended up building the entire platform for the project, and worked on other research and development projects for the company.

This is just one of the experiences Simmons, CEO and co-founder of Nyriad, shared at a TechWeek forum on building a globally significant company from New Zealand.

Nyriad CEO Matthew Simmons says he chose the drawing of a Kiwi looking up for his presentation on ‘the thinking required to build a globally significant company’ at the TechWeek 2018.

Simmons says 99 per cent of Nyriad’s transactions are international.

Nyriad is an exascale software company specialising in advanced data storage solutions for big data and high performance computing.

“I have very little business in New Zealand, even if I am based in New Zealand.”

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He shares some of the things he has learned through the years of building a sustainable, global business.

First, he points out, there is a big difference in running a global business or an international business.

With the latter, you are making a widget and pushing it into international markets.

In a global business, you are selling products and services overseas, and you have to make adjustments to your solutions, based on the characteristics of the market, or culture of the place.

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Building a business is an emotional rollercoasterMatthew Simmons, Nyriad

Thus, if you have aspirations to run a global company, there is an incredible amount of listening you need to do in the cultures you are selling to.

He espouses investing individually, “in absorbing other cultures”. It can start right in New Zealand.

He recently went to Avondale market, for instance, and saw the “amazing people there from all over the world.”

“Have more friends in different cultures and engage with people,” he states.

“If you are going to focus on growing your business from New Zealand, you absolutely need to travel.”

He says he had travelled for work around New Zealand and Australia, but he knew that India and China were the markets that he should have been focusing on.

So in 2010, he made several trips to China and India. “That was a huge investment in time and money that paid off.”

When talking to a prospective partner or customer overseas, he lets them know when he will be in their country, and would like to meet them. He tells them he is not selling anything, but wants to learn about their needs.

“We Kiwis, we invent something in a garage,” and say, “‘Great, I am gonna package it up and sell it.”

But, he says, “the most valuable thing is providing something the market does not realise it needs.”

Find a pain point that was shared to you, or learned through your research,he says. “That will be your most unique valuable proposition.”

“Know why you are in business,” he stresses. “It helps you attract people with similar values.”

Answering this question will require a difficult level of honesty, he says. But it will also give you a reason to be emotionally ready for what is to come.

“Building a business is an emotional rollercoaster,” he says.

If you know why you are in business, irrespective of the money that is in your bank account, “you radiate a level of confidence stronger than your product alone.”

Relationships are key, he says, “the most important thing is to ‘get into their forehead’.”

By this, he means, really communicating with the people you meet as you are building the business.

New Zealand is geographically distant. We invest in relationships by getting on the phone, or even better, getting in front of them, he states.

Invest in regular travel even if you have no clients in a particular place, he says.

He once met a business contact at a conference in Hong Kong. “Being in Hong Kong, at that conference enabled the closing of a business deal that would not have otherwise been possible.”

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Building up a community of watchers can be the most cost effective way of growing your businessMatthew Simmons, Nyriad

“There is nothing more powerful than being in somebody’s doorstep,” he says. “Don’t even tell them that is the only reason you are in that country.”

He says Nyriad is currently growing significantly in market awareness with their software, and they are working with companies in the United States and Asia. Every month, he travels to these markets.

“You can adapt the details of the business based on your market needs and the insight that the people share with you.”

Mayhem and mindmaps

Think long-term, he says.

“Have a vision,” he says. “You need more than a two-year plan for the business.”

“Expect the first three to five years to be a blur.”

He started Nyriad in 2014, but the last two years, he says, had gone at an incredible pace.

“It is a beautiful mayhem.”

Record all your contacts in detail, he further advises.

He says that the company keeps records of every person that they interact with.

Because he is a visual person, he uses a mind map which provides details of when he met them, who introduced them or any key events that happened during the communication.

It enables me to once every couple of years to pull back and look at the network of contacts, he states.

Be very disciplined in updating this network. Upload a business card on your phone and record it to be reminded of the meeting, he says. “Everybody is a door to some opportunity or network.”

Another piece of advice he gave is to “create a community of watchers.”

“Building up a community of watchers can be the most cost effective way of growing your business,” he states.

One does not need hundreds of these watchers. “Find half a dozen people who believe in you and are watching you.”

It could be one person in a multinational company who will help you navigate through the corporate setup with thousands of employees, or a market leader in an industry.

Communicate to them your updates and your journey in the business.

“Get inside their heads; get their trust to the point where they are happy to give you insights. Those insights are valuable.”

If they are from a different culture, they can share with you their different perspectives, and insight on their markets, he says. “Every market has slightly different characteristics.”

“Those people that have watched you, observed your business grow, in three to seven years, they are people you can call upon. You can leverage their trust in you, in their belief in you, to open doors in markets.”

“Share your success,” he says.

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You are building an ecosystem, a networkSteve Simpson, O’Halloran

He shares this quote from the British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead: “No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.”

The pillars for going global

The difference of the mindset between building an international, compared to a global business, resonates strongly with Steve Simpson, director, O’Halloran Chartered Accountants.

I misinterpreted it as the two being very similar, but the fact is they are very different, says Simpson.

He says this is one of the top insights he is able to glean from discussions during TechWeek’18.

For me, that difference is packaging up and selling products overseas, versus actively building a network around those products and services, says Simpson.

“You are building an ecosystem, a network.”

For those who want to build a global business, “It is absolutely a change of mindset on where you want to be.”

But whatever the focus, he says one of the most important components of any business is to build a really good team.

“You cannot be everything,” he says. “You might be good in three or four areas, but businesses will probably require a team across a wider range. It might be customer services, marketing, finance, governance, quality control.”

The team is not just people on your payroll, he points out. The term can have a wide range of definitions, he says.

They could be “influencers” from other organisations who work with you and collectively work together for NZ Inc, which refers to government and private sectors working together to uplift the country’s economy.

Simpson also dispels the notion that there is a lack of capital in New Zealand to help local companies go global.

“If you are a good business, and are investor ready, that capital will find you,” he states.

“From what I saw, people who have got their structure and the ‘why’ of their business really well defined, and who have built their team, there is money out there for them.”

Those who struggle are missing some of those key aspects, he states.

“You have got to play a longer game,” he says, echoing the point made by Simmons.

“A three-to five year plan doesn’t appeal to investors; you need a bigger view of things.”

He says he also advises the organisations he works with to have a succession plan.

“You have got to back it to a five-year exit plan so you can paint your business in the best picture over those years, that there are systems in place and a management team that sits behind these.”

“If you are looking at raising capital, it is important to establish partnerships with other suppliers, so you can work and deliver something together.”

Nyriad CEO Matthew Simmons at the panel discussion on ‘Uncovering the critical components of growing a tech success’, moderated by NZTech CEO Graeme Muller. He is joined by Centrality GM Andy Higgs, Snowball Effect founder Simeon Burnett and Williams Partnerships director Paul Gestro.