Wellington has got what IT takes
Wellington's IT industry is punching above its weight, according to Guy Horrocks, director of local company Carnival Labs that makes applications and games for international businesses such as Dreamworks Animation, CNN and Coca-Cola.
With some of New Zealand's most successful IT, app and gaming companies in Wellington, it has become the country's hub for new-generation digital firms.
Online auctioneer Trade Me, cloud accounting company Xero and games maker Sidhe are based in Wellington. The industry employs about 3 per cent of the city's population, higher than the national 2 per cent average.
Absolute IT director Grant Burley describes Wellington's IT market as bustling, with consistent demand for professionals. Its recent survey found almost two-thirds of all Wellington-based information technology companies plan to hire new staff this year, and 86 per cent of Wellingtonians already working in the industry like their jobs.
"Wellington is home to some of New Zealand's most innovative and fast growing businesses. It can offer [IT] professionals the opportunity to work on market-leading projects on a national and global scale," Burley said.
Since open-source software company SilverStripe was founded in 2000, there have been more than 514,000 downloads of the content management programme it developed in Courtenay Place. The software has been translated into 65 languages.
Last year, it opened an Auckland branch, but its head office will stay in Wellington, where half its clients are based.
Chief executive and lifelong Wellingtonian Sam Minee likes that so many customers and contacts working in other IT organisations are within a five-minute walk in Wellington.
"It's not so much Wellington's size that is important but the concentration of people doing interesting things in the software space that makes it a really good place for us to work, because that in turn attracts software developers and other IT professionals. I can't think of another city in New Zealand where I would want to start a technology company."
Minee did not find any barriers to starting a business in Wellington when SilverStripe was set up in 2000. He thinks more international flights to and from "further than Australia" would be great, though.
"These days, the success of your business is largely a function of the quality of people you can get working in it. If you want a successful Wellington business sector, it needs to be the place that attracts the strongest talent.
"If you make a city that is a destination, then the people you want to hire will want to come and live here if they weren't already living in Wellington."
WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD
Minimonos founder Melissa Clark-Reynolds, last year named one of Forbes Magazine's 10 business women to watch, is a proud Wellingtonian. She says the local digital industry is smart and that distance is no barrier to succeeding with weightless exports.
"We can think from New Zealand and take those ideas to the world. I think it's very exciting when I look at what we can do from Courtenay Place on a global stage, it is enormous."
Mobile marketing company Run The Red manages more than 200 million messages a year for clients in the public and private sectors. Although it has offices in Santa Monica, Sydney, Auckland and Brazil, its headquarters and most of its staff are in Wellington.
Run The Red operates text message campaigns such as for people to donate money to a cause by sending an SMS. It also manages Inland Revenue's secure text service. Companies such as Sky, Z Energy and Vodafone use it to communicate with customers.
"We've found Wellington to have a really thriving community," says Ben Northrop, who founded the company 12 years ago.
"Back in the old days, Trade Me and Xero, who we're friends with, all met at L'Affare, there was a really good vibe about starting things up here."
He describes Wellington as the best place in the country for IT, with an encouraging local industry. Regular flights and ease of communication online means distance from clients' corporate head offices in Auckland is not an issue.
Its chief technology officer, Doug Dixon, moved to Wellington from Britain two years ago, bringing his wife and small children.
"They've loved it. We've found being based in Wellington quite a plus when hiring overseas. Our guys prefer working here than Auckland or Sydney."
Instinct Entertainment director Dan Milward describes Wellington's tech scene as incredibly savvy. The company creates software that digital games are made with.
"Why is Webstock, the most elite of all tech conferences, in Wellington and not Auckland each year? Wellington is a bohemian paradise and it is 100 per cent conducive to the type of lifestyle that I want. People are pretty relaxed, the coffee is great, and getting around and about is easy."
App and game developer Carnival Labs works for clients around the world from Wellington and is looking to hire more staff. It recently made an iPad game for multinational cookie brand Oreo.
It used to be based in Christchurch, but moved to the capital after its office was destroyed by an earthquake.
"Wellington is really punching above its weight," director Guy Horrocks says, though he laments the lack of investment and profile for the city's emerging high-growth mobile and gaming companies.
"Market presence is a big challenge, but it's the same for everyone in our industry outside America. We've balanced this with frequent market visits and now our chief executive is based at our new office in New York."
John-Daniel Trask's company Mindscape makes software that helps developers build computer programmes. Nato, the United States Government and gaming company Electronic Arts are among its customers. Trask says Wellington is starting to stand out as a great hub for technology both within New Zealand and globally.
He thinks there is still room to grow and the city's IT industry had not yet reached critical mass.
"The ability to sell digital goods like we do at Mindscape is where I see the future for Wellington.
"It removes the tyranny of distance and having dollars flow into the economy as electrons go out works fantastically well."
The Dominion Post