If New Zealand entrepreneurs are going to have any chance of survival, the government needs to reopen the borders now

- November 3, 2021 3 MIN READ
New Zealand, Hobbit
Photo: AdobeStock
In the 2012 book Why Nations Fail, James A. Robinson and Daron Acemoglu look at why some great nations are destined to fail and some to succeed.

One major theme amongst failures is leaders that aren’t prepared to share the success of a nation, and keep all the glory for themselves, eventually leading to revolt.

The other is that by not incentivising and enabling entrepreneurs, a nation will not become prosperous and businesses will be forced to go elsewhere.

Great nations need entrepreneurs building great businesses to be prosperous.

In New Zealand this shouldn’t be an issue as we are natural innovators and punch well above our weight in this arena. We’re geographically remote which encourages us to think differently, we have a great culture and we’re well-positioned to build globally successful businesses.

When my wife and I decided we would build a global technology company in New Zealand, targeting the US$57bn translation industry, people thought we were crazy. But we believed there was an edge we had, coming from a country in which innovation flourished, to look at the incumbent players and do something differently.

In the case of our business, Straker Translations, that was focusing on the service side of an enterprise solution rather than the consumer market. We knew there was an opportunity there and we wanted to take advantage of it.


Going global on the road

It was overseas that we first discovered our power, at our first translation conference in 2011. We felt about as welcome as Uber would be at a taxi convention, which told us we were on to something. We could feel their fear and we dug our claws in.

Building our business and spending time in the key markets of the US and Europe, the pathway to commercialisation became clear and we realised we needed more offices than just our home base in New Zealand.

I flew to Barcelona in 2012 and hired three staff to cover our European production team, bringing them back to Auckland for training. We continued to grow and so did our team, in various countries around the world.

Over the following years we went from nothing to the $50m revenue we are now forecasting for FY22. We had to make important decisions to allow us to grow but remain a proudly New Zealand owned company.

We don’t travel as much as we did in those early days, but that’s because we’ve already had those opportunities to establish the international connections that are so important to a fledgling business.


The world is changing

For the first year of COVID-19, the world was locked down and New Zealand businesses in growth mode were in the same position as their global counterparts. But in the last six months things have changed.

Other countries have begun to open up and NZ entrepreneurs who cannot travel are in a boxing match with their hands tied behind their backs while their competitors are free to throw punches. I unfortunately now know of many entrepreneurs who have made the decision to leave New Zealand with no feasible way to return.

I hope Sir Ian Taylor, the push for home isolation and the end of the MIQ lottery will free up some of the amazing people looking to build New Zealand’s future businesses and allow them to get out there and play in the same arena as their competitors. It will also give them the ability to make the right decisions to help their company grow while maintaining a base in New Zealand.

We’ve heard that the Prime Minister is looking at Q1 of 2022 to ease travel restrictions, but this could be as much as five months away which is just too long for businesses.

For the many entrepreneurs who have taken risks and built flourishing businesses that have given New Zealand the strong and robust economy it has today, they need the same support now from the government.

The low risk option of home isolation and the returning of MIQ slots for personal travel is a win win solution and might relieve enough pressure to ensure a cohort of budding companies can blossom and New Zealand doesn’t become another chapter in the next edition of Why Nations Fail.