14 Minutes of SaaS

14 Minutes of SaaS

E47: Vaughan Fergusson – Founder & ex CEO of Vend – 5 of 7 – New Zealand evolves away from Tall Poppy Syndrome

Vaughan Fergusson – Founder & ex CEO of Vend – 5 of 7 – New Zealand evolves away from Tall Poppy Syndrome - episode 47 of 14 Minutes of SaaS

E47: Vaughan Fergusson – Founder & ex CEO of Vend – 5 of 7 – New Zealand evolves away from Tall Poppy Syndrome

Vaughan discussed an evolution away from tall poppy syndrome to world class innovation and growing confidence in modern New Zealand. This is episode 5 of a 7 part series with Vaughan Fergusson, sole founder and former CEO of Vend.
We talk a little more about addressing the challenges of creating pathways to getting all kids in New Zealand into technology. The advantages New Zealand has in the innovations space. Vaughan explains how New Zealand is evolving away from tall poppy syndrome into a growing sense of confidence and a stronger personality in the world. He talks about Vend’s company values and how slow governments are to innovate, but also the need for private enterprise and government to collaborate more effectively.

Part 5/Episode 47

Transcript

Vaughan Fergusson

I think we’re… we’re starting to find our personality and our confidence to share our views and opinions a bit more as a nation. I think that’s because we’ve… we’ve got more exemplars, more people who’ve stood up and done impressive things. And their happy to talk about them. And that’s why I think that Tall poppy Syndrome and is slowly changing because … we’re starting to normalise to success a bit more .. and feeling ok with it. We can build world class businesses and make movies and put rockets into space … this next generation of entrepreneurs, it’s not an issue for them. They’ve seen the Rod Drurys .. they’ve seen the Peter Becks. It just takes that thought away of ‘like well … could we do that? .. Is it too hard?’  Of course it’s hard. Doing this stuff is incredibly fucking hard. If you want to make a difference, just go and do it. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission.

Stephen Cummins

Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS, the show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS ScaleUps.

This is episode 5 of a 7 part series with Vaughan Fergusson, sole founder and former CEO of Vend.
We talk a little more about addressing the challenges of creating pathways to getting all kids in New Zealand into technology. The advantages New Zealand has in the innovations space. Vaughan explains how New Zealand is evolving away from tall poppy syndrome into a growing sense of confidence and a stronger personality in the world. He talks about Vend’s company values and how slow governments are to innovate, but also the need for private enterprise and government to collaborate more effectively.

Stephen Cummins

Are you focusing a little bit more on areas that need more attention? Like maybe Maori girls or areas that are economically less well off in New Zealand.

Vaughan Fergusson

Our goal is every kid. Every very kid should have … if they dream to want to have a future and technology, there should be no barriers in their way to enable them to do that. But as, you know, as we have tried to figure out how we reach every kid. There’s definitely kids who have more barriers in front of them. You know. Girls. Ethnic minorities. People who don’t live in major centres. The probability for some kids pursuing their dreams in technology can get, you know, pretty low. And so I think it’s fair to say that we apply more focus to those kids who just have naturally more barriers in their way. And we’re trying to remove as many of them as possible. Because like, you know, getting a bunch of rich white kids excited about robots is easy. You could do that in the weekend … and you see them on a path. And, you know, wherever their dreams take them. They’ll become rocket scientists or robotics engineers. But yeah, that young Maori girl in rural New Zealand ..  who you know .. wants to put a rocket into space or even to have her own fashion label. The thing is like the dreams our kids are having today …  technology is going to be pervasive in all of those dreams … so in order for them to make it a reality, they’re going to need to use technology. Like there won’t be a tech sector and everything else … it’s like everything they’re gonna do is going to be technology based. And so we are busy trying to figure out how we create those pathways for those kids … to level the playing field.

Stephen Cummins

You live and work in Aukland. Is there an advantage to that given you are on the doorstep of the continent we’re in now … that’s probably going to be the dominant one this century. Is there an advantage to being in a city with so many people from so many parts of Asia there … in terms of an export led SaaS company?

Vaughan Fergusson

I think so yeah. I think there are a number of attributes that New Zealand has as a country that makes it very appealing – and especially in the innovation space. So, you know we’re a fairly well self-contained country. You know, we’re a bunch of islands down in the bottom of the south pacific. We have fast internet, we’ve got fast fibre. We’ve incredibly low levels of corruption. It’s one of the easiest places to do business. And in New Zealand I think we’ve got a little Chip on our shoulder … like we are constantly trying to prove ourselves on the world stage. It’s something that we feel very awkward about … like we can be incredibly bi-polar about it. Like, you know, we have this chip on our shoulder. It’s like ‘You know what? …We could put rockets into space and then we go and do it. But there’s also this thing in NZ called the Tall poppy Syndrome.

Stephen Cummins

I was gonna ask you about that. Is that a real thing?

Vaughan Fergusson

Yeah, it is … and the optimist tin me .. is feeling like it’s starting to become less and less of a social issue. And so to explain what it is… it’s like, you know, if anybody pops their head up by doing something of notoriety, they very quickly get cut down. It’s like ‘don’t get too ahead of yourself there buddy. You’re just like the rest of us.’

Stephen Cummins

I saw this as a schoolteacher in Japan. So school, teachers are encouraged to put the strongest kid with the weakest kids sitting beside each other, you know, they organize it in such a way to even things. It’s definitely Tall Poppy Syndrome – even though it’s a New Zealand thing I believe.

Vaughan Fergusson

I think it’s universal. I think it’s everywhere.

Stephen Cummins

Everywhere to some degree, right? But just because in New Zealand …  you know, there’s like two degrees of separation between you and anybody else. Everybody knows somebody who’s done, you know, who is famous. Or, you know, who kind of stands out. And these are the people that you meet in the barbecues. And I think maybe it just feels slightly awkward to have, you know, you and your mates – everybody’s kind of on the same level … And then… then suddenly it’s like here’s Jolie – Jolie is so successful putting rockets into space.

I think we’re… we’re starting to find our personality and our confidence to share our views and opinions a bit more as a nation. I think that’s because we’ve… we’ve got more exemplars, more people who’ve stood up and done impressive things. And their happy to talk about them. And that’s why I think that the whole Tall poppy Syndrome is slowly changing because we shouldn’t feel embarrassed by it. Or awkward about it. And so the thing I’m feeling is like now we’re starting to get this… we’ve had a taste for it now. we’re starting to normalise to success a bit more .. and feeling ok with it. We can build world class businesses and make movies and put rockets into space from New Zealand  … this next generation of entrepreneurs, it’s not an issue for them. They’ve seen the Rod Drurys .. they’ve seen the Peter Becks.

Stephen Cummins

And did Xero, for example … did that phenomenal success … it seemed to open up possibilities in your head. Did it create the beginning of some sort of a release in New Zealand as well .. seeing that it could be done domestically.

Vaughan Fergusson

Yeah. It just takes that thought away of ‘Like well … could we do that? .. Is it too hard to do?’  Of course it’s hard. Doing this stuff is incredibly fucking hard. Having the comfort that somebody else has already don’t it. It’s that weird psychological thing. Such a huge psychological weight that gets lifted… I guess having the comfort of somebody else doing it. It’s like you don’t know what could prevent you from achieving. But when you see somebody else do it – all of a sudden that way just lift. It’s like, ‘oh, wow, she did it. I can do it too.’  I mean you still have to figure out how to do it, but it’s just such a huge psychological weight that gets lifted, just by having somebody else, you know, following in somebody else’s footsteps. So, yeah, absolutely.

Stephen Cummins

In the UK, Sage CEO Stephen has smartly carved out a niche as a champion to small and medium businesses. He even lobbies the UK government for, you know, for fair play for the SMBs, for SMB friendly policies. You know, do you do that with Vend?  Do you champion the SMBs?

Vaughan Fergusson

We champion SMB retailers globally every single day. You know, it’s part of our values as a business. It’s that every day we should be doing stuff that helps out … that helps champion our customers, our retailers – making their life easier. You know, I’m, you know, I’m not a super political guy. So I’m more in favour of just doing stuff. . If you want to make a difference, just go and do it. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission.

It’s the same with OMG tech. We could see that kids weren’t getting taught computer science in schools and so we wanted to change that. And at first we thought well, let’s go talk to the powers that be in government – and see if we can lobby them and get funding or change the school curriculum. But no, I think it’s gonna take years. Let’s just go do stuff. Let’s take action and start getting kids playing with technology … and in parallel, you know, three years later … the government catches up and goes ‘Oh .. like, we should be teaching this stuff in school. And we’re ‘Like, yeah, duhhh .. absolutely. And by the way we’ve been doing for the last three years and here’s how you do it. It was the same with Vend. Just build the future that you want to see. Don’t wait for anybody else to give you permission to do it. It’s just that governments are incredibly slow to do anything.

Stephen Cummins

Well, I still think governments, have a role to play … in the sense that, you know, like … I was an early employee in Salesforce … I like Marc Benioff’s philosophy. And a lot of things he does are a positive influence on Silicon Valley. But, I do disagree on one thing. He does think that companies can solve all these problems. And I don’t. If I really believed that, I don’t think the US –  which has been producing great companies for decades – would be in such a mess with it’s education system, it’s healthcare. Which certainly as a European I would never want. What’s your thoughts on all of that? Where’s that going? Because the problem of course is inefficiencies in government. So what are your thoughts and all of that?

Vaughan Fergusson

I think that the balances is where the government can align industry to solve real problems for the country, right? So it’s not all about making money … you can make money as you go. But like, you know, take areas like healthcare. Like, you know, I mean you can just point to the US and see how horribly wrong it can go, right? Where it becomes a privatised system where there is not ubiquitous equal access for everyone. And then you look at these places like I don’t know … Canada or New Zealand and places in Europe, where there is that ubiquitous access. And it’s where the government has worked with the private sector to be able to provide a customer centric solution. So it’s not all about making money. It’s about providing the best service to the consumer, to the customer. So I’m a firm believer in that … you know … I’d love to see governments and the private sector work more collaboratively on social issues, like, you know, power or food production or education, healthcare. These are all things that we know make us all better, right? We all benefit from. So absolutely you can have private enterprise in there doing the innovation … because governments suck at innovation. Let the private enterprises do that … they can make money as they go, but find that balance. So, you know, it’s a competitive landscape. It’s not just one outfit leading the charge … and I think that’s where you get the kind of the promise of a capitalist society. It’s where we have this great competition … you’ve got great engagement from government … and everybody’s motivated by the same thing. Which is like lifting the tide for everyone, to making us all better.

Stephen Cummins

In the next installment – episode 6 of 7, Vaughan discusses why team and timing are more important than ideas, and why entrepreneurs need to combine embracing their weirdness with listening carefully, but not slavishly to data.

You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills and to Ketsu for the music. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series and give the show a rating.

14 Minutes of SaaS