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2015 Annual Report

Exhausted, Invigorated, Excited

In the 1960s, while their husbands were en route to the moon, the wives of the Apollo astronauts got sick of journalists asking how they were feeling, so came up with the collective non-answer of: “proud, pleased and delighted“. We’ll never know how they really felt.

If I had to nominate my equivalent, as 2015 turns into 2016, I would go with “exhausted, but invigorated and excited”. It’s accurate. It only just scratches the surface.

If I’m honest, I’m pleased to see the back of 2015, but it’s finished on a much better trajectory and what is to come is shaping up to be epic.

Let me explain…

Not Work, If You Enjoy It

Top of Corkscrew

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I didn’t take many days off in 2015, but when I did I packed them full:

A winter’s New Year at Whistler in Canada, including a blast down the Olympic bobsled run from Vancouver 2012 (hitting a top speed of 126.6 km/h on the final corner); my first visit to Disneyland; camping with my boys at Lake Rotoiti (before getting smoked out by sandflies); climbing up and flying down the eastern end of the new Old Ghost Road MTB track; a family clean sweep at X-Race Nelson in March (with the painted toe nails to prove it!); driving to Hanmer via the Rainbow Road and back on the Molesworth with MOD and family at Easter; teaming up with my brother to finish in 8th Place in the Wellington City Safari in May (not bad for a couple of old novices!); cycling on the Avanti Dome velodrome; kayaking in Abel Tasman with Tango in October; racing Sarah Walker on a BMX over 20m at the Fast50 Awards in November (for the record: I finished second); completing my first full marathon in Queenstown in November, and another blast down the Remeka Track. And, then, just before my punished toe nails got complacent, running the Tongariro Crossing with Darryl in December.

All of that meant at times that my downtime wasn’t very down.

Keeping Score

I managed three months off Sky Sport at the start of the year, a streak eventually broken by the Black Caps’ unexpected progress in the World Cup. Still that was a nice break, which left me refreshed ahead of the exertions of the Rugby World Cup later in the year.

I didn’t completely deny myself live sport though – highlights were another scorching day and entertaining night at the Australian Open in Melbourne in January (including the treat of finally seeing Roger Federer live, plus Serena Williams at the peak of her powers, 13 years after I first saw her at Wimbledon), followed by the Cricket World Cup featuring the Black Caps live in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. It was also an honour to attend the Halberg Awards in February.

If I play my cards right, involvement in sport in its various guises is going to be to be a bigger and bigger part of how I spend my time. I hope.

It’s Business Time

Business, Business, Business.

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I try to avoid describing the experience of working on an early stage ventures as being “like a roller-coaster”. Sure there are highs and lows, often in quick succession, but generally the intention is not to end up where you started. So, for the purposes of summarising the year just been, let’s go with squiggly line.

I made two new early-stage investments during the year, in Wynyard and Melodics. On the other side of the ledger two smaller existing investments, Respondly and Gelato, accepted acquisition offers (from Buffer and Mashape respectively). In both cases the products will continue on under new ownership and I wish them well.

A significant chunk of my time was spent helping the companies I’ve invested in previously try to raise more. Vend, Atomic and ThisData (previously Revert) all successfully closed new investment rounds during the year, and I went again in all of them. Amongst the companies I work with directly, Timely was the exception, as they continued their impressive expansion without being distracted by looking for new capital.

In total I’ve invested a little over $5.5m now, across 23 ventures. They already owe me nothing, even assuming all of the remaining investments are worthless (which might be safest). Haters gonna hate, but I’m increasingly proud of the companies I’ve backed and the progress they’ve made and I’m excited to have the opportunity to work closely with some of them along the way. I try to contribute more than I capture.

I encourage all of the founders I work with to ignore the cheering from the grandstand and run hard to the tape with the capital they have. If they do that all of them have an opportunity to be another story worth telling.

At the Deloitte Fast50 Awards in November I quietly celebrated a three-peat, as Vend joined Trade Me and Xero to become the third company I’ve worked with to earn the title of fastest growing technology company. In their case they followed up 4th place in 2014 with 7th place overall this year. Being near the top of that index two years in a row is nothing to sneeze at. For them it was a bright spot in an otherwise challenging year, so well earned. While my direct role ended soon after that, I’m thrilled to have been involved over the last five years. I’ll watch now from the side of the pool.

As the year wound down I also reluctantly stepped down from the board at Powershop. Selfishly, the three years I’ve been a director was an invaluable apprenticeship for me, and I’m grateful to John, Ari and the team for having me along for the ride during an interesting time in the development of their business.

And did those feet in ancient time?

Sunset bonfire, with a new filter I invented called "Canon 7D screen" #nocord

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Once again I spent a big part of the year not at home. I was away for 185 days (one less than in 2014, meaning that record stands … for now), completing 90 flights and two inter-island ferry crossings in the process.

Most of that was work, but there was some visits to amazing new places in the mix too.

In June I had the opportunity to travel to Israel as part of an Australian technology delegation organised by Square Peg Capital. It was a great group and we were privileged to meet some remarkable people and visit some normally off limits places. Highlights included lunch with Eitan Wertheimer, a visit to an airforce base, a tour of the old city of Jerusalem and caking myself in mud and floating in the Dead Sea. I wish I’d had more time to reflect on the many lessons and write it up, but as it happened it was a pretty distracted trip, immediately followed by an intense week in Berlin, so I’m left with photos and fading memories. But I did return convinced that there is zero chance that we can reproduce their Start Up Nation miracle in NZ without compulsory military service for all 18 year olds.

Business Incubation Center

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Then, in August, Emily and I finally made it to Africa with Jake and Billy from Nuru International. It was an honour to meet their teams in Kenya and Ethiopia and see the enormous impact they are having in both of those communities. Given the calibre of people involved it’s been a relatively easy project to support over the last five years, and especially cool to visit Kuria in Kenya (near the border with Tanzania), where the impressive local leadership team have now taken over the on-going management and are quickly planning further growth into surrounding areas.

We were also able to visit the incredible monolithic chiseled churches at Lalibela in Ethiopia and prior to that spent a week kicking back on a beach in the Seychelles. Blurring the line between travel for work and pleasure generally means I get to experience the best of both worlds. I’m fortunate to have a great network of people that I see regularly in both Auckland and Wellington. And, even when I’m overseas, it’s great to be able to mix in great food and/or live sport in Melbourne or “Artisanal liquid nitrogen blood orange and pistachio cookie ice cream” @ Smitten Ice Cream in SF. My problems are entirely first world problems.

Why'd ya have to go and make things so complicated?

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When I was at home, a lot of that time was soaked up in a new building project. In the course of the year it’s gone from hole in the ground to now completed working space. It’s been fun watching it take shape (and a pretty interesting shape it is too – triangles are not just for flags, you know!) In early December it was excellent to see it used in anger for the first time at the third annual Flounders Retreat. Spaces are for the people that fill them, and this one is going to be a good one by that measure, hopefully.

Red Peak?

In September I stumbled somewhat accidentally into the later stages of the NZ flag debate when a post I wrote about a design that had caught my attention was widely shared and suddenly #RedPeak entered the lexicon.

Last light of the day on the "First to the Light" flag. #RedPeak #nofilter

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It’s not everyday that you convince parliament to sit under urgency, so that was something, I suppose. I learned more about flags and politics than I really wanted to. It still seems unresolved whether it was a left wing or right wing conspiracy, but if you work it out do let me know! But in the end it was all for nothing – for every person who was convinced to support Red Peak, ten voted for one of the Lockwood Fern+Stars flags, so the seemingly pre-determined winner prevailed. That was obviously disappointing but not surprising.

It would have been great to see Red Peak be the contender, but I’m still proud that we managed to get a real choice in the first vote. It would have been easy to just make a throw away snarky comment and forget about it. But, it was so much more inspiring to see a national conversation about identity and how we represent ourselves to each other and on the world stage. I’m not sure that would have happened otherwise. I’ve been amazed to see the creativity displayed by people who found something in the Red Peak design that made it their own. It was genuinely remarkable. I hope that conversation continues.

Hakarena

But, sadly, it doesn’t seem likely. Those who short-listed the options were determined to pick a design that was unmistakably from New Zealand. A bit of the silver fern combined with the current flag is hard to compete with, given that criterion. And so were left with the Hakarena flag, which to me screams 1994 Cricket World Cup. But, she’ll be right, I suppose. Luckily I will be some distance away, physically and mentally, by the time the second vote rolls around next year.

#LevelUp

Following a wonderful disconnected month or so at the start of the year, I spent a some time thinking slightly longer ahead than I normally do. While I was doing that I read an article written by Ben Casnocha which has ended up having a significant impact.

It started a domino fall which eventually forced me to move beyond brute force and negligence. We’ve already made a significant dent in this, even in the first few months of working with Sacha. We’ve set up a whole new suite of tools to help us work together. Amazingly email is no longer a source of anxiety for me. My dream of implementing surge pricing on my inbox is a step closer. I’m genuinely invigorated and excited to think about what will be possible once we really hit our straps.

A part of the urgency to make this change was driven by our plans to shake things up in 2016, in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible previously. We are taking our kids out of school for the year and in a couple of weeks we hit the road, with plans to visit all seven continents. I have no desire to broadcast or live stream it, but if you’d like to follow along we’ll post occasional updates here. It promises to be an amazing adventure. I can’t wait.

Auf Wiedersehen

This is the final annual report, and likely the final post full stop on this site, at least in the current format.

I started writing these annual summaries in 2008, when I was in a very different place. Reading back over the full set it’s interesting to spot the things which are constant and the things which are nearly unrecognisable with the benefit of time and distance.

Once upon a time this blog was a place where I would post most days. That activity, including all of the conversation which used to happen in the comments has in recent years switched almost entirely to Twitter, for better or worse. What’s left is a smaller and smaller volume of posts of which I am more and more proud.

It’s become a bit of a joke amongst friends how often I reference back to old posts. It’s odd that a particular thought or idea should have a timestamp – both because to the extent that they are still valid and correct they shouldn’t seem dated, and to the extent that they are not they should be able to evolve (or be quietly deleted) rather than be frozen in perpetuity. So, it’s a relief to ditch the blog format and at some point I look forward to repurposing most of the recent content into something that will be more useful, more easily shared and hopefully more widely read.

Onwards and upwards.

Thank you. Take care. Talk soon.

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