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. Monday, 20 May 2019 .

What a week it’s been, huh? It’s no secret that at the start of last week, I was nearing burnout territory – uninspired, feeling off, exhausted – and needed a healthy dose of positivity to cheer me up. Coincidentally when I sent off the interview questions, I asked what their best cure for a crap day was and found it to be extremely helpful to cope with the week. So thanks for the foreshadowing, past me. Much appreciated, present me. 

ANYWAY. Let’s carry on.

I spent the week chatting to some of the mentors at this year’s NZ Startup Bootcamp and it’s been really cool to get an insight not only into their career trajectory but their passions as well. From dream dinner guests to advice to people who want to get into their line of work (because how many times have we seen someone in our dream careers that made us wonder how they got there?!), working on these your interviews has been an absolute treat. Thanks Gemma, Julian, Elly, Marc, and Brooke for your time and for generously sharing your stories!

Safe to say by the time Saturday morning rolled around, I was so hyped! The day started bright and early with a 7:30 am wellness class. Shara from Ara Studios took us (well it was for the participants mainly but I love a good tree pose so I joined in) through a simple yoga routine – essential given the weekend was full on and it was nice to start it with a bit of meditation and stretching and mindfulness. Afterwards we were treated to some Gutsy kombucha before heading off to the first workshop of the day. The day was a mix of workshops, mentor time, and working on their ideas. I loved the timer that were on large screens and the video diary style set-up where anyone can record their thoughts/feelings/as the day progresses. 

Here are the top five things I’ve learnt from the day:

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from, as long as you were keen to participate and work on an idea, you were welcome – I spent sometime with 12-year-old Georgia Tiatia Fa'atoese Latu and her mum Anna, the duo behind Pōtiki Poi. I was so inspired by them – seeing Georgia running the show, working hard on her idea and next steps, Anna doing the mahi while looking after the tiny bub in her arms. Gosh, women are amazing! I sat with them and observed while they work, feeling like a fly on the wall, watching an empire being built from the ground. It was deeply moving. Spoiler alert: they won People’s Choice.

Wellbeing is one of the most underrated secrets to success – there was a group who came prepared with snacks. I spotted some homebaked cookies, fruits, and other treats in one table, obviously some great brain power food to keep them going. Another group went for walks outside to get some fresh air when they felt like they’ve hit a wall or the ideas have gone dry. It was a great reminder that no matter what the hustle and grind culture says (work work work, sleep is for the weak etc), you gotta prioritise your wellbeing. Not only will you be at your best and perform better, you’ll have better ideas and more energy to work away at your idea – essential if you’ve got big plans and dreams to pursue!

The definition of start-up – I feel like the term ‘startup’ is such a buzzword and personally still feel a bit confused as to what they are and how they are different to a company. I know I hear it often and meet a lot of people who have startups so it was awesome to get some clarity around that. We discussed this at one of the sessions and they used Steve Blank’s definition of a startup: “A startup can be defined as a temporary organisation used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model”. 

It’s all about the customer – getting to know the customer is essential to any business, more so in a startup. There are many ways to define what a customer is but ultimately a customer is someone with a problem you’re trying to solve. I like that definition because as someone with a very creative brain and overactive imagination, it’s easy for me to pump out ideas without thinking about who they are for. I’ve already challenged my mindset and reflected on this meaning as I worked on my new project this weekend and the ideas that are flowing feels very different and have a whole new meaning now that I’m armed with this thinking. Another thing that resonated with me was the quote “Treat your initial users as kings. They are really important to the growth of your business”. I agree with this profoundly and think not only is it essential to foster loyalty, from a retention perspective, these users/customers are the backbone of your business.

Investors are looking for your ability to execute
– As someone who admittedly have no idea how financing startup works (I just wanna do the writing and take the photos and do the strategy! I’ve always been mathematically challenged. Ask my High School teacher lol), I found the last workshop of the day ran by Julian So on the fundamentals of a financial models to be the most valuable out of all that I attended. He gave great practical advice and really valuable insight into Angel investing and how it all works like being able to prove you can bring in the right revenue and financial planning.

I was so gutted I had prior commitments and could only attend the Saturday sessions (note to self: clear weekend schedule next year) because I would have loved to come to the other workshops! On my trip back to Auckland, while I was exhausted and ready for a much-deserved sleep, I was also feeling the most energetic, inspired, and motivated I’ve been all week. Thank you NZ Startup Bootcamp and Soda Inc for having me! It’s truly been a great experience.

Signing off for this year’s NZ Startup Bootcamp but I will hand you over to Celine Kao who gave me a lowdown of what happened at the opening and closing ceremony and wrote that beautiful quote you saw above.


48 hours, 20 teams, 2 winners – and $20,000 up for grabs.

New Zealand's largest startup competition was about to kick off. Contestants from all over the country had convened at Wintec's glass and brick-walled Atrium, milling about the manicured table settings and free-flowing wine. I was greeted by several friendly volunteers and shown to my table, where I found a seat by my boss. She would be serving as a mentor to the teams this weekend, and was beyond eager to hear their ideas.

The ceremony was MCed by the effervescent Sacha Coburn, whose introductory remarks set a lively tone for the afternoon. She was followed by three homegrown entrepreneurs - Brooke Roberts of Sharesies, Grant Johnson of Rocketspark, and Tony Burt of East Imperial. Each talked about their share of wins, losses, challenges, and everything in between, stressing the importance of failure, of having passion, and of teamwork. One of Tony Burt's top tips was to hire weirdos, which garnered a loud chuckle from my boss who promptly took a photo of me along with the presentation slide and sent it to the team group chat for a giggle.

After the guest speakers had shared their insights, we were ushered into a smaller room for more drinks and nibbles. The competition participants were itching to launch into their scheduled workshops and strategy-forming, so while the VIP Guests treated themselves to yet another artisanal beer, the teams shuffled off to get stuck into their activities.

The countdown begun.

Just over 48 hours later, I arrived back at The Atrium for the closing ceremony. This time, the tables were sprinkled with platters of bao buns and rustic floral arrangements. It was nearly time for the lead-up to the finale that would determine which teams would be taking home a big cheque, and the excitement was palpable.

Sacha Coburn strutted back onstage in a glittery bright green jacket and explained how the ceremony would work. There were two categories: Existing Startup Ideas and New Ideas, with one winning team from each category. The judges had already whittled the teams down to three finalists in each. Each finalist would have five minutes to present their pitches, with an additional 8 minutes of questioning from the judges. As if the mounting pressure wasn’t enough, there was a large countdown onscreen to amplify the tension.

As the teams presented one by one, I quickly noticed that pitching was a skill that some teams needed to work on, and others not so much. The most impressive pitch came from 12-year-old Georgia, who took the stage with her mother and four-month-old brother. She presented her idea of creating poi from sustainable materials with confidence and passion that outshone her rivals by miles. The judges probed her on how she would handle an increase in demand and if she had any career ideas, to which she proudly replied that she wanted to represent her heritage in a positive light and advocate for Māori culture. Unsurprisingly, she won the People's Choice Award, and she and her mother thanked the crowd with a rendition of their favourite waiata, drawing a standing ovation.

The judges did not hold back though. Teams stumbled over questions such as "How do you intend to market your product?" and "Why do you think your competitors have failed so far in bringing the same product to market?" The judging team was checking carefully for evidence that the team had worked well together, had considered market viability, and depth of research as well as a strong purpose.

The winners were RH Innovation and Chameleon, who were both producing innovative scientific products that would enhance the efficiency of business practices in the agricultural sector – fitting for a competition held in the Waikato. I was particularly proud of Chameleon, a team made up of 4 University of Waikato students (as an alumna, I may be a little biased), who pitched confidently and accepted their compliments with grace and dignity. Their idea is rooted solidly in both personal experience and skill, so I'm very excited to see how they develop their product!

And just like that, my first NZ Startup Bootcamp Experience drew to a close. It was so inspiring to be in a room jam-packed with brilliant thinkers and creators, some of whom I'd only ever seen online fixing the world's problems one day at a time. Hamilton gets a bad rap for being somewhat of a cesspool in New Zealand, but there's a growing energy in many parts of the city and across a spectrum of groups. Things are beginning to move and shake, and the old tagline 'City of the Future' seems less of a distant aspiration now and more of a possibility within reach.

I would definitely recommend anyone with a bright idea and a dream of making it happen to try out for next year's Bootcamp. You never know – it might just become a reality.

P.S. Thanks so much to Jess Molina for enabling me to have this experience. To me she is, and always has been, one of the OG Hamilton movers and shakers. (Ed's note - I bribed her massively to say that. Lol! Just kidding. Thank you)

Celine Kao is just another one of those fresh-outta-uni millennials who’s trying to figure out what to do with her comms degree. Today it’s how to get young people to vote, and also finally figure out the perfect social media bio. It will change tomorrow. Or at least the bio part will (she’s been consistently keen on youth activism).

Her cookie jar is stored online at and she tweets as @celinesque.

This was post was created in partnership with NZ Startup Bootcamp.

. Friday, 17 May 2019 .

Investing seems like one of those totally intimidating things only real adults too (because being in your late 20s isn't real adulthood yet... right? #thestruggleisreal lol) but Brooke Roberts and her team at Sharesies are on a mission to make it as simple as possible. I loved chatting to her about this because like I said before, I've always felt like investing was something that wasn't accessible to me at this stage of my life so it's good to dispel that myth. Brooke is a total powerhouse and I'm so excited to share with you a bit of what we talked about.

What got you into Sharesies and how did that start?

I’ve always wanted to start a business and had a passion for finance, for how we can really make money easy. Seven of us initially got together to create Sharesies. We wanted to make investing easy and accessible and we all rallied to make it happen.

What was your background before Sharesies?

Before Sharesies I was in Global Product Marketing at Xero and before that I was at Kiwibank heading up their saving, investment, and transactional product.

What drives you and Sharesies?

For us, we really want to create a financially empowered generation so everyone can feel like they can be an investor and investing isn’t only for the rich. We want all New Zealanders to know that investing is now accessible to them and for more people to be talk about money and have these conversations. You don’t need to share how much you earn but you can always share what you’re doing and your experiences and what insights you have that can help somebody else increase their financial awareness.

What’s the best thing about getting to do what you do?

Best thing… There are so many great things about being able to be in this business especially when you’re so passionate about what you’re doing. The key thing though is I’m excited to go in and be surrounded by all these incredible people who do remarkable work at Sharesies. We’ve got a team of nearly 30 now and I just love the energy and passion that you just feel.

What are you looking forward to getting out of the NZ Startup Bootcamp competition?

I just love that people are starting more purpose driven businesses nowadays and I love seeing that energy that people have when they are so passionate about why they would do something. Seeing the hustle and business ideas come to life!

What was the last book/song/or film that’s resonated with you?

There are so many that come to mind! I’m a big fan of what The Spinoff do, I think they have good content that are really insightful. I’ve also really gotten into Mother Father Son. I like the drama of it. I should also probably say Game of Thrones!

A book that I’ve really enjoyed too that I’ve just read recently is Trust Factor: The science of Creating High-Performance Companies. It’s really interesting! It challenges the old definition of what high performance is – it used to be working overtime, work harder, but what I like about that book is that it makes you think about high performance as helping people be their best and making sure that you’re creating an environment that’s inclusive and collaborative and helps people to thrive.

What’s the best cure for a crappy day?

I think for me it’s about managing my energy, not my time. So if you feel like your energy is flat, going for a run, listening to music, or even walking really helps me. Having a laugh with a friend – that’s also really helpful.

What’s your advice to your younger self?

I started businesses when I was in school and I think you’re so much braver in your naivety sometimes. And then you go into University and you learn all this jargon, stuff you probably already intuitively know – not all of it of course. But my advice to my younger self is to just do you.

Any last tips for anyone wanting to get into your industry and follow your footsteps?

If you’ve got a great idea, think about the team you’ll need around you to help make it come to life. For Sharesies, there’s seven people who founded it and I think that has been super valuable in this industry in particular because it’s so highly regulated so it’s important to have all the skills you need to help get your business off the ground. Just go ahead and do it!

Find out more about Sharesies here.

This post was created in partnership with NZ Startup Bootcamp.

. Thursday, 16 May 2019 .

This one is for anyone who's ever wished financial education was part of the core curriculum we learnt at school. My relationship with money is forever a work in progress and every now and again I wonder if I formed healthier habits with it had I learnt more money skills while I was at school. Enter Banqer, a financial education platform that provides a hands-on environment for teachers and students to get curious, creative, and ultimately confident with money. It's such an innovative concept that's practical and actually makes a difference in the way the future generation look at finances. Best of all, it's 100% free to Primary & Intermediate schools and is already being used by 70,000+ Australasian kids. Today's interview is with the very cool, very talented Marc McHardy, co-founder and lead design at Banqer. We chat about his love of problem solving, dumplings (because why wouldn't you talk about dumplings? They're amazing!), and taking chances.

What got you into your line of work and how did end up where you are:

I’ve always been drawn to building things, taking things apart and illustration so design was a natural choice, heading down the digital path was a no brainer for where the industry was going. I fell into web and interaction design, it seemed to be what I was good at and piqued my interest, there’s just so much problem solving in it, from understanding people to making the technology work. I was lucky to get offered a job at a design agency out of Uni, that was down to a great comms department at Waikato Uni and deciding to do a final project that was a bit different at the time. I got wrapped up in Banqer at a startup weekend in 2014 and have been involved since. I got where I am today by making great connections, by being curious about how things work, and by marrying my own interests with things that I know others will take notice of.

What are you looking forward to getting out of the NZ Startup Bootcamp?

Seeing the wide range of ideas that come out of it and the slow but steady realisation from teams that they really need to prove to the judges that they have a successful business model. Also just seeing those special teams that have a magic team dynamic where things just click.

Best thing about getting to do what you do:

Solving problems. I love being able to talk to those involved, being exposed to different points of view and life experiences, understanding the problems that are being faced and seeing how all of that can evolve into a beautiful and usable solution that you can be confident about. Without empathising and talking to the people you’re designing for you can’t truly be confident in your design.

Last book/song/or film that resonated with you and why:

Lock In by John Scalzi, it’s a really different type of sci-fi book and gets you thinking from a few perspectives you wouldn’t normally consider. And it’s just a real page turner, that guy knows how to write.

Best cure for a crap day:

Going for a run! …and then eating some dumplings and bok choy with a good beer.

Dream guests for a dinner party:

Ryan Reynolds, Matt Berninger (The National), Jessica Hische, John Scalzi.  Partly because that’s such a weird combo that the interactions would be bizarre and awkward.

Advice you’d give your younger self?

You really don’t have much to lose, take more chances.

Tips for anyone wanting to get into your industry/follow your footsteps:

Take chances, focus on making sure that the work you’re doing is something that others will take notice of or be interested in. You can be self indulgent but more often than not that’s only going to satisfy yourself.

You may not be good at sketch or illustrator or programming but those are all things you can learn, go learn them, there are so many resources out there, but also get good at listening to people, there’s a difference between listening to someone’s problems and telling someone what their problems are.

Be enthusiastic about what you do, be your own cheerleader - don’t focus on the negatives, I’ve found it really hard to do this and have had to work hard to not bring up the flaws (I perceive) in my designs to clients and colleagues, I think this is the design form of tall poppy syndrome.

Join Banqer here.

This post was created in partnership with NZ Startup Bootcamp.