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New Zealand company entrepreneurs should use the “Kiwi card” while raising funds

New Zealand, a 5 million-strong country in the South Pacific, has seen a transformation in the digital startup scene in recent years. While significant international firms like as Xero, Rocket Lab, LanzaTech, and Seequent have brought attention to New Zealand’s startup ecosystem, the country has long lacked venture funding.

As either a country whose economy is based mostly on agricultural exports, New Zealand’s startup culture has traditionally relied on investment from a network of high-net-worth individuals and family offices who acquired their fortunes in real estate or farming.

The New Zealand government established Elevate, a $300 million fund of funds initiative that has provided millions to local VCs to invest in the startup sector to cover the early-stage funding gap, in March of last year. At the same time, global investors have been flocking to the little country, which has a reputation for developing world-class businesses. Founders and venture capitalists in New Zealand are hoping that the increased financing from a variety of sources signals that technology will be the country’s next great sector.

That really is, if the current trend of increased early-stage funding continues.

We spoke with two founders (Peter Beck of Rocket Lab and Cecilia Robinson of Au Pair Link, My Food Bag, and Tend) as well as two investors (Phoebe Harrop, principal at Blackbird Ventures, and Robbie Paul, CEO of Icehouse Ventures) to get the inside scoop on the best advice for New Zealand entrepreneurs looking to break into the market. Here’s what we discovered.

Consider the larger picture and believe in yourself.

New Zealanders have a tendency to be introspective, failing to think broad and internationally from the start, according to Beck. This is partly due to the fact that New Zealanders grow up in a society where “tall poppy syndrome” exists, in which those who have achieved any level of success are mocked, chopped down, or undermined. As a reason, few individuals aspire to be tall poppies.

Play the Kiwi card. New Zealand sits favorably on the minds of the international community. Icehouse Ventures CEO Robbie Paul

“If you’re going to build a company, it’s incredibly painful, it takes a lot of work,” Beck told. “Why would you waste your time building a little company? Let’s build a big company. So go after big problems.”

Don’t be too modest if you want to psych yourself up to take on those enormous challenges. New Zealand routinely outperforms its peers in terms of producing world-class entrepreneurs and innovative businesses, according to Paul.

“Back yourself and know you can win on a global stage,” Paul told. “While starting on a rock at the bottom of the world comes with challenges, there are plenty of advantages, too.”

Don’t get too excited over a large cheque

“Remember that the least valuable thing an investor ever gives you is their money,” said Beck. “As you think about building your business, how and where you want to go, make sure you utilize investors to help you get there. People get starry-eyed by the check and don’t really sit back and go, ‘Well, is this person actually strategic to me or not?’”

Beck was quite cautious about the investors he brought in when he was creating Rocket Lab, claiming that the distinguishing element between investors is not their wealth, but who they can call. For example, Khosla Ventures invested in Rocket Lab’s Series A round, which opened the way for another prominent VC, Bessemer Venture Partners, to invest in a Series B round, according to Beck.

The Series C was led by DCVC, but by the time Rocket Lab got around to its Series D, Bessemer had paved the way for Greenspring, a Bessemer limited partner (LP). Sovereign wealth funds, which are where the truly big checks come from, were Greenspring’s LPs in the company’s E round.

“So as your company continues to grow, there are larger and larger pools of capital that you can then go and attract, and if all you’ve got is John from Pakuranga, John doesn’t have the phone number and credibility to sovereign wealth funds,” said Beck.

“It’s all about setting up the company so that when you want to do a bigger round, you can go and tap that venture capitalist’s LPs and then it can tap that LP’s LPs and ultimately end up in sovereign wealth funds or others that can write a $100 million check no problems at all. It’s a smooth path there, and where it’s tricky is when there’s no path or the path is truncated, and the challenge with New Zealand is even though there are some better quality venture capital firms in New Zealand, where are their relationships with LPs?”