Red Bull Basement and Icehouse Ventures invited Company-X co-founder and venture capitalist David Hallett to join a Start-up Speaker Series panel at the University of Waikato on July 20, 2021

The Startup Speaker Series showcased ambitious young entrepreneurs who are disrupting the way we experience the world.

Moderated by technology entrepreneur and serial-founder Ezel Kokcu, the University of Waikato panel also included Rocketspark co-founder Grant Johnson, Easyrent founder and chief executive Toby Thomas-Smith, Vahry Insurance founder and director Julia Vahry, and Eight PM founder Himanshu Parmar.

The panel shared learnings from their entrepreneurial journeys.

“One of the reasons I co-founded Company-X with my business partner Jeremy Hughes was the huge opportunity for building a better and brighter future in New Zealand,” Hallett said when asked to explain his inspiration.

“The technology sector spans our entire economy.  Whether you’re in agriculture, finance, health or some of other industry, so much of what you do is underpinned, enabled and delivered through technology.

“This is also the reason I became a venture capitalist in that space, investing into early-stage technology companies. The tech sector is the second largest export for New Zealand, according to the Technology Investment Network TIN200 report. Annually it accounts for $9.4 billion dollars of exports from the country’s top 200 tech companies and is a major contributor to our economy.

“The fact that we grow really cool businesses whilst generating excellent trade surpluses in export revenue is one of the reasons I love it. It also makes life easier and fun for many people and enables us to become a knowledge economy rather than just a process or manufacturing economy. It’s amazing in terms of the things that you can do and the value that you can create.

“I pay a lot of attention to the companies that we invest in, looking at our own company through the eyes of American business magnate Warren Buffett. Buffett talks about three aspects that you need to be aware of in any business: the ABCs. The first one is arrogance, and that’s in relation to your business or your position in the market or your product. The second is bureaucracy, the implementation of systems or processes that actually aren’t efficient, or stifle decision making. The third one is complacency, and that’s where you make assumptions, you can just be doing so well that you don’t look at managing or maintaining costs in a business. The ABCs are really important aspects to always consider.”


More tips for technology start-ups

Kokcu asked Hallett about the challenges of being in business.

“When I formed Company-X we did a whole lot of strategy and planning up front and there haven’t been too many pivots along the way,” he said.

“In fact, I often see pivots as adapting when the market’s changed as opposed to your business model changing.”

Businesses started talking about pivoting in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People say ‘I’ve pivoted,’ and that’s interesting because it’s about living deliberately and making deliberate decisions with your business. You’re acknowledging that something’s changed and you are responding in appropriate ways.”

The capacity to recover quickly from difficult circumstances, like global pandemics, is informed by good strategy and planning.

“When you’re in business everything you are doing really is to meet an end, so long as you’ve got a plan about where you need to be.”

What about funding for start-ups?

“Money is easily available,” Hallett said. “If you want cash, you can get it. There are plenty of angels around who want to drop $20,000 to $100,000 into a business to see if it will work. There are plenty of early and pre-seed investors, and currently no shortage of venture capital in this country.

“You don’t need money per se, when you are starting up. What you need is talent and capability. The only reason you need money is to buy talent that you can’t afford.

“Speaking as a venture capitalist, one of the things we do is ensure that the founder has a strong equity position, as we don’t want to dilute people who are company founders because they’re the ones who have the drive. You don’t want them to lose significant equity in the company just because they need investment. They need sufficient equity in their own business and the understanding that they will be rewarded for growth. If a founder ends up owning a small minority of the company, then they’ll often lose the drive and dedication because they’ve lost any meaningful ownership or attachment to what they’re doing, in essence they’re just an employee working crazy hours and doing the grind without the requisite reward.

“Money is easy enough to get if you’ve got an amazing business and great sales and growth opportunities, but don’t allow yourself to be diluted.

“Hillfarrance is a Venture Capital business of which I am a limited partner. We are very founder friendly, with the intent of ensuring that our founders get a really good deal. We want them to win, for when they win, we win.”


About Red Bull Basement

Red Bull Basement empowers student innovators in all areas of study to use technology to drive positive change. This inclusive and welcoming initiative aims to connect and inspire all students to challenge the status quo by coming up with student-to-student ideas that can lead to a better tomorrow.


About Icehouse Ventures

Icehouse Ventures is an investment group backing brave Kiwi founders. They have collectively invested more than $175 million into 235 startups including Mint Innovation, Dawn Aerospace, Halter, Sharesies, Crimson Education, PowerbyProxi, and Ethique. Their family of funds includes First Cut, which will invest up to $5 million in 20-30 youth-led startups over the next four years.

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