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For dec­ades, eco­nom­ists have been advising New Zea­l­and that the path to nation­al prosper­ity is through exports. We have taken that to mean selling primary pro­duce for oth­ers to pro­cess and exploit, includ­ing tim­ber, wool and dairy.

            But what if that much-needed inter­na­tion­al coin could come from ideas, from bits rather than atoms, exploit­ing end­lessly renew­able resources like cre­ativ­ity to gen­er­ate wealth from intel­lec­tu­al property?

            There is a com­munity of digit­al innov­at­ors on the rise in Wel­ling­ton, innov­at­ors who are already quietly export­ing to the world. Per­haps among them there are more future super­stars to join digit­al suc­cess stor­ies like Xero account­ing and Trade Me.

            Miri­am Rich­dale and pho­to­graph­er Mark Tan­trum vis­ited four of these loc­al entre­pren­eurs to find out how they work.



  • Com­pany name: MatterMachine
  • Foun­ded: 2012
  • Key product: web-based CAD (com­puter-aided design) soft­ware for product cus­tom­isa­tion and ordering
  • Awards: Final­ist in BNZ Start Up Alley (2013)
  • Next: Look­ing to bring in investors to help pro­mote sig­ni­fic­ant growth[/info]

Work­ing from a cara­van could mean one of two things: 1, you are able to work inde­pend­ently and from dif­fer­ent loc­a­tions; or 2, you are awe­some. When it comes to the founder of Mat­ter­Ma­chine, Tom Kluyskens, it is both. In fact, all of the design gurus behind the ground-break­ing soft­ware work from home.

Mat­ter­Ma­chine is a product-cus­tom­isa­tion toolkit. It provides a browser-based hub that con­nects design­ers, man­u­fac­tur­ers and con­sumers togeth­er in the co-cre­ation of phys­ic­al products.

Foun­ded in 2012, Mat­ter­Ma­chine uses para­met­ric mod­el­ling – a form of 3D mod­el­ling that is aware of the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of com­pon­ents and the inter­ac­tions between them. It main­tains rela­tion­ships between ele­ments (like volume and length) as the mod­el is manip­u­lated. The con­sumer shouldn’t need any mod­el­ling know­ledge as the design­er uses Mat­ter­Ma­chine to con­fig­ure the product and cre­ate an easy-to-use con­sumer inter­face that can be embed­ded on any web­site. The con­sumer uses this ‘con­fig­ur­at­or’ to cus­tom­ise and then buy the product.

Sus­tain­ab­il­ity is key to the Mat­ter­Ma­chine philo­sophy. Co-founder Ross Kettle says that “It hinges upon the idea that because the con­sumer has played a role in the con­struc­tion of the mod­el, as a res­ult they see more value in the product and will hold on to it for longer.”

So how does the con­sumer play a role in the cus­tom­isa­tion of a product? The com­pany works with cre­at­ors over­seas, such as OpenDesk in the UK, who have a repos­it­ory of CAD (com­puter-aided design) mod­els that can be down­loaded and man­u­fac­tured. These designs are like a recipe, and Mat­ter­Ma­chine joins in at the con­fig­ur­a­tion stage by tak­ing an OpenDesk mod­el and allow­ing the end user to manip­u­late it on the fly. For example, when a user changes the volume of the object, Mat­ter­Ma­chine auto­mat­ic­ally adjusts the dimen­sions of all the oth­er vari­ables. As you increase the size of the mod­el, the soft­ware increases the price of manufacture.

The soft­ware allows the cre­ation of dif­fer­ent inter­faces for dif­fer­ent users. Those involved in design and man­u­fac­tur­ing may need highly tech­nic­al inter­faces, where­as con­sumers prefer a sim­pli­fied view that hides the under­ly­ing complexity.

Mat­ter­Ma­chine is also expand­ing into house-build­ing by col­lab­or­at­ing with Wiki­House, an open-source hous­ing pro­ject star­ted in the UK, to con­fig­ure hous­ing designs not only abroad, but par­tic­u­larly closer to home in Christ­ch­urch where build­ings have been dam­aged by earth­quakes. Don’t for­get that this all hap­pens through clicks in a web browser.

The product was cre­ated to demis­ti­fy the design pro­cess and encour­age the demo­crat­isa­tion of man­u­fac­tur­ing. Design­er Evan Thomas says that “Stu­dents at both Mas­sey and Vic­tor­ia uni­ver­sit­ies are able to pick up on how to use the soft­ware effect­ively. You do need an under­stand­ing and appre­ci­ation of how it func­tions, but the aim is to reduce the digit­al bar­ri­er and have people at ama­teur or cor­por­ate levels cus­tom­ising their designs.”


Glenn Milness (CEO) at the IKE GPS Wellington headquarters. FishHead Magazine shoot: IKE GPS. Exports Feature. Tuesday 21 January 2013. Photo by Mark Tantrum |


  • Com­pany name: ikeGPS
  • Foun­ded: mid-2000s (as Surveylab)
  • Key products: a hand-held device that can both meas­ure and loc­ate geo­graph­ic fea­tures – build­ings, power poles and oth­er hard-to-meas­ure assets. Their elec­tric util­it­ies product is now mar­keted inter­na­tion­ally by GE (Gen­er­al Elec­tric) as Map­Sight
  • Awards: Red Her­ring Asia Top 100 award (2013), final­ist in GE eco­ma­gin­a­tion challenge
  • Next: Spike turns the ikeGPS tech­no­logy into a smart­phone accessory[/info]

Gael Hargreves (CFO) demonstrates a current version of the IKE GPS device. FishHead Magazine shoot: IKE GPS. Exports Feature. Tuesday 21 January 2013. Photo by Mark Tantrum | A history laden shelf with IKE GPS units from years gone by on display at the Wellington headquarters. FishHead Magazine shoot: IKE GPS. Exports Feature. Tuesday 21 January 2013. Photo by Mark Tantrum |

The driver for many suc­cess­ful com­pan­ies is the desire for sim­pli­fic­a­tion. How can we take a com­mon indus­tri­al task or pro­cess and solve that prob­lem more simply? This is what ikeGPS have achieved with their hand-held GPS sys­tems and the latest iter­a­tion of their tech­no­logy, Spike, which has brought laser meas­ure­ment tech­no­logy to any smart­phone. Snap a photo of a build­ing, meas­ure the dimen­sions, mod­el in 3D and share. You can do this all from the palm of your hand.

ikeGPS CEO Glenn Mil­nes says that “the evol­u­tion of Spike comes from a desire to solve a very spe­cif­ic prob­lem with­in an industry, and sim­pli­fy this in a cost-effect­ive way”.

The concept of mak­ing things easi­er has embed­ded itself with­in the cul­ture and pro­cesses of the com­pany, from the products they sell through to their sales regime. Short­er sale cycles are evid­ent, through a cus­tom­er simply log­ging on to the web­site and pre-order­ing products like Spike.

The com­pany sees great demand with­in the AEC (archi­tect, engin­eer and con­struc­tion) industry for Spike. And they anti­cip­ate this demand will spread from there across a wide range of indus­tries, includ­ing insur­ance and recreation.

It isn’t just Spike that is mak­ing life easi­er. The com­pany has seen their GPS sys­tems used on pro­jects all over the world. For example, in the wake of Hur­ricane Kat­rina in 2005, the US Army Corps of Engin­eers deployed ikeGPS for infra­struc­ture and res­cue assess­ment. Detailed data col­lec­tion was needed to map haz­ard­ous areas, before relief mis­sions were planned and teams were deployed.

Recently, the com­pany received a Callaghan Innov­a­tion grant, which provides a share of $140 mil­lion to go towards research and devel­op­ment. They intend to use the grant to build Android and iOS soft­ware plat­forms for Spike.

Con­stant evol­u­tion is key to a com­pany that is proud to dis­play their older mod­els to show how they have changed over time. A 2003 GPS mod­el known as ‘the smurf’ is visu­al proof of how far the tech­no­logy has come. A 2006 ver­sion of the ikeGPS also fea­tures in the dis­play, and is the mod­el the US Army used in the Gulf War.

With the New Zea­l­and mar­ket being so lim­ited, it makes sense for the com­pany to export to the world; in the US they have a par­tic­u­larly strong sales team. For the teams involved, it is the best of both worlds. Mil­nes says, “We have the research­ers in New Zea­l­and, and our sales team are based abroad where all the cus­tom­ers are.”

The future means more growth and the com­pany is act­ively recruit­ing new soft­ware engin­eers to help steer them towards it.

Photo by Mark Tantrum |


  • Com­pany name: iwantmyname
  • Foun­ded: Decem­ber 2008
  • Noted for: Flat hier­archy; all staff paid the same salary; staff can work remotely
  • Awards: Web Host Magazine and Buyer’s Guide Editor’s Choice Award (2009)[/info]

Photo by Mark Tantrum | Photo by Mark Tantrum |
Choose any two: util­ity, usab­il­ity, beauty or beer. To be fair, it would be hard to pick only two. This conun­drum presen­ted itself to me on a white­board while I was stand­ing in the Vivi­an Street office of iwant­my­name. It would be easi­er to say that the first three options are what the com­pany do very well, whilst dab­bling in beer tast­ing on the side. A team of entre­pren­eur­i­al thinkers, they are cre­at­ing an inter­na­tion­ally cred­ible name for them­selves in an industry that doesn’t have much glam­our or a great repu­ta­tion – domain name registration.

A domain name itself is the magic that turns an IP address like into a user-friendly chunk of text like What you may not think about before you punch in your web address is the ori­gin of it. Who is behind the back end and what web wiz­ardry have they con­jured up in order for this to work?

A cus­tom­er uses the iwant­my­name inter­face to fire off a search request to see if the required domain name is avail­able, for example If avail­able, a pay­ment trans­ac­tion is pro­cessed and details of the new domain are dis­played in the – con­stantly refined – clut­ter-free dash­board where the cus­tom­er can select from dozens of free and premi­um Inter­net ser­vices that can eas­ily integ­rate with their new domain. From blog­ging to e‑commerce, iwant­my­name makes it easi­er for indi­vidu­als and com­pan­ies to present them­selves online.

A largely organ­ic busi­ness, iwant­my­name pride them­selves on try­ing things out, retract­ing if neces­sary, and reflect­ing on what works and what doesn’t. Sounds logic­al, right? Co-founder Lenz Gschwendtner says, “There is no right or wrong way. Just learn­ing, and build­ing on an industry that is already broken.”

The industry is “broken” for a num­ber of reas­ons, but loss of con­nec­tion with the con­sumer, com­bined with hefty up-sells, is a con­trib­ut­ing factor. This is what iwant­my­name have set out to change.

Gschwendtner explains that trans­par­ency is fun­da­ment­al to how the com­pany oper­ates: cus­tom­ers who buy a domain pay one clearly advert­ised price with no hid­den extras; and year-to-date sales fig­ures are prom­in­ently dis­played on a com­puter mon­it­or for every­one in the office to see. The com­pany cul­ture takes its com­mit­ment to trans­par­ency a step fur­ther – a flat hier­archy and even equal salar­ies paid to all staff. It’s all part and par­cel of how iwant­my­name are set­ting them­selves apart from the rest.

With 60,000 cus­tom­ers and count­ing, in both New Zea­l­and and over­seas, the team have their work cut out for them. Behind the scenes, iwant­my­name are cre­at­ing a work­ing dynam­ic that is inde­pend­ent of out­side con­trol, and that it what sets them apart from oth­ers. “We are just try­ing to make the pro­cess as simple as possible.”

Andrew Harbott, Design Director, First Star Communications: Tuesday 14 January 2014.  Photo by Mark Tantrum |


First Star Communications



  • Com­pany name: First Star Communications
  • Foun­ded: 1998
  • Key ser­vice: Col­lat­er­al design­ers and com­mu­nic­at­ors for a wide range of inter­na­tion­al cli­ents includ­ing Hyundai, BP and Bliz­zard Enter­tain­ment (World of Warcraft)
  • Awards: BP Inter­na­tion­al Agency of the Year (2009)
  • Next: Adding even more glob­al cli­ents to their impress­ive portfolio.[/info]

Example of client work, The Z Experience iPad app on an iPad mini. First Star Communications: Tuesday 14 January 2014.  Photo by Mark Tantrum | (C)Mark Tantrum, All rights reserved

Scrawled across a wall in the First Star Com­mu­nic­a­tions Blair Street office is a quote: “You miss 100 per­cent of the shots you don’t take.” The 16-year-old com­pany is tak­ing shots and suc­ceed­ing, help­ing inter­na­tion­al cli­ents find new ways of con­nect­ing with customers.

Before you can com­mu­nic­ate a client’s need you have to under­stand them. When asked about the First Star point of dif­fer­ence, chief exec­ut­ive Aaron White told me, “A deep under­stand­ing of our cli­ents’ busi­ness, insight into tar­get audi­ences, and then find­ing the inter­sec­tion between strategy, cre­ativ­ity and tech­no­logy for the com­mu­nic­a­tions chal­lenge at hand. And a little imagination.”

Test­a­ment to this is Stun – a cre­at­ive present­a­tion product that pro­duces digit­al con­tent to help busi­nesses con­nect with audi­ences and tell their story with confidence.

Launched 18 months ago, Stun gives busi­nesses the abil­ity to deploy con­tent through mul­tiple digit­al plat­forms such as Show­case, an iPad-based con­tent-man­age­ment tool that First Star has helped to devel­op. Inter­na­tion­al mega-com­pan­ies BP and Hyundai are just two of the organ­isa­tions that are using Stun to con­nect with audi­ences in a new way.

First Star recog­nised the pos­sib­il­it­ies of new tech­no­lo­gies early on and applied this think­ing ini­tially for the bene­fit of loc­al advert­ising cli­ents, then for major mul­tina­tion­als. It’s not just tech­no­logy for technology’s sake, though; it must sup­port a cre­at­ive solu­tion that will drive desired beha­viour in tar­get audi­ences. At times, the out­come may be a com­bin­a­tion of the tra­di­tion­al (e.g. prin­ted mater­i­al) with the innov­at­ive (e.g. mobile loy­alty solu­tions). It’s not ‘and/or’, it’s ‘what’s right’.

Take the Good Stuff loy­alty app, used across Arco and ampm con­veni­ence stores in the USA. First Star dir­ect­or Adam Black­well explains how the app func­tions: “Good Stuff is an app designed spe­cific­ally for ampm’s core mar­ket. It uses enter­tain­ment to engage, prizes to reward and loy­alty to drive repeat store vis­its. Off the back of that are ana­lyt­ics that the cli­ent can use to seg­ment their mar­ket and adjust their mar­ket­ing offers and com­mu­nic­a­tions accordingly.”

These are not the only examples of how the com­pany is innov­at­ing. At the core is its abil­ity to pull back all the lay­ers and truly under­stand a client’s busi­ness. That com­mu­nic­a­tion and under­stand­ing is what gets the First Star ball rolling.


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