Riding the rapids of public opinion

16:00, Dec 13 2012
The right words at the right time can turn your company's tide.

I told my accountant one day that I was now using the online accounting system Xero and it would be helpful if they could make their system compatible with it.

He made that noise of air being sucked through teeth that tells you what you've just proposed is about to be hosed with cold water. He set out his doubts. Essentially it looked like too much hassle. They wondered if this Xero thing would really catch on.

I shrugged my shoulders and thought, 'that's a shame' and that was nearly that. But then I thought I might as well send an email to Xero's chief executive Rod Drury. I thought he might find it helpful to know what sort of objections accountants were presenting to their clients about his product.

He emailed straight back: 'What's his number? I'll give him a call.' They talked for 20 minutes. The outcome was that not only would my accountant be processing my numbers using Xero, but would resell the product.

What I learned that afternoon is the right few words at the right time can turn a river. What I also saw is that an industrious and well organised person could string together a great many such moments in their working day.

This might help explain why Xero continues its impressive progress towards the goal Rod Drury shared on launch day. TradeMe had managed to sell for $750 million. It would be nice, he said, to build a company worth $250 million more.


Xero is in the monthly subscriptions business. It had just 100 customers at the time of its IPO five years ago. Today it has over 100,000 and is active in Australia, the US and the UK. We need more companies like this one and we need those companies to go out into the world.

Easily said, not so easily done. It's a big, competitive market. It can be daunting. But take heart, intrepid people of enterprise: no New Zealand business has to face that on its own.

No one knows for sure how many New Zealanders live elsewhere in the world. The best guess is 1 million. Many have influential jobs in influential places. A Kiwi connection in the right place, a person who knows the right answer, a friend at court, could be a big help.

A few words at the right time might just help turn a river. That's why the Kiwi Expatriate Association (Kea) is so appealing. The concept is if we could light up the network of the 1 million New Zealanders dotted around the world, the help we could give one another could be immense.

When you talk to the members of Kea you get one message very clearly: get in touch, they'll be glad to help. Pick up the phone. These are very busy, high achieving people.

They're not just cooling their heels by the bar waiting for someone to drop them a line. But people like Drury use their working minutes to highly productive effect. Even 10 minutes with them may be all it takes to get that moment of revelation or inspiration — or just the name of the right person to talk to in Mumbai.

My experience of of working with people in the Kea network has been that they are, invariably, highly accomplished, very clear thinkers, and always generous in their support of a fellow New Zealander.

You might, in that Kiwi way, not be inclined to impose. You might be thinking, 'they won't have time for the likes of me'. That would be a mistake. The time is now. None of those successful people got on that first plane ride with the world already at their feet. They know what's ahead of you and they can help you at the start.

But they also caution: 'be prepared to listen'. As much as you may know your product and your market, you can never know the whole game.

The biggest hazard you hear them cite is  unwillingness to heed advice to change course. If you are open to that, they say, your prospects will be much stronger. Sometimes that river will be about to turn whether you know it or not.