Published on the 22/06/2017 | Written by Donovan Jackson
Small scale ‘tyranny of distance’ can easily be overcome…
It’s one of the lasting paradoxes of the technology industry and it emerges because no matter how much we talk about computing, AI, robots, blah de blah, people do business with people. The paradox is that while the very capabilities provided by the information and communication technology industry enable remote working, most tech companies are to be found in the city centres. Most.
But not all. Take Paeroa-based software development company Adroit Creations. It has set up shop in the Waikato town most recognised as the home of the world-famous-in-New-Zealand-since-ages-ago soft drink L&P. The company reckons it is proving that IT companies can thrive in a regional, rural town rather than a big city centre.
“You don’t have to live in a big city to have a successful IT company and to connect with clients around the world,” said co-founder Nic Edmonds in a statement. “You can be innovative and creative anywhere.”
Indeed, your humble correspondent finds himself in Whakatane most days (and nights) of any given week. There’s Dynamo6 in Hamilton, too, and Elite, which operates out of Hamilton, Tauranga and yes, Auckland. And no doubt, plenty more companies hiding away in bucolic New Zealand, but doing business anywhere – like the two Dutch software developers living in Ohiwa Harbour, contracting to European companies.
Founded around two years ago, Adroit Creations develops software for managing timesheets and training, targeted at local government organisations. What’s more, most of the company’s clients are based in Australia, with growing interest from local councils and organisations.
Born and bred in Waikato, Edmonds spent time living and working overseas before starting Adroit Creations in late 2014; that emerged from a stint in Australia where he thought things could be done in better, innovative and more sustainable ways.
“We looked at Auckland and Sydney before making our choice, but Paeroa ticked the box for many reasons,” he said.
Those reasons are familiar to folk who might feel that the ‘real New Zealand’ is to be found in the regions. From personal experience, that includes a sense of community, the ease with which friends can visit, immediate access to boat ramps and other facilities – and affordable homes and office space.
Which Edmonds confirmed: “The cost and ease of living is better than a bigger city. It’s easier to own your own home, and renting office space is cheaper. We don’t get stuck in traffic for hours – heavy traffic in Paeroa is five minutes.”
But for ‘serious’ businesses, there is the likely challenge of attracting the necessary skills which are usually associated with city slickers. That ‘real New Zealand’ notion has its advantages: in Edmonds’ experience, living in the country has been a drawcard. “A big reason for setting up the business here was providing a good lifestyle for our kids, and buying a large piece of land that we could grow vegies on,” he said.
That sort of appeal isn’t uncommon, with many a rat-race victim yearning for the simple life. And indeed, Adroit Creations has grown to nine staff members, including several overseas recruits. One employee came to the company from WeChat: “He wanted the job because his three-year-old had never played on real grass. They wanted to replace the Beijing smog with fresh air and a home with a backyard,” Edmonds explained.
In the tech industry, the notion of ‘eating your own dogfood’ is often bandied about, usually by salespeople it must be said. Companies like Adroit are demonstrating that the tech doesn’t have to belong in the big cities; it helps enormously to have access to fibre (as is the case in Whakatane, Paeroa and many other small towns) and proximity to a regional airport.
And it helps too, to have the sort of ‘can do’ people who are prepared to put up with the minor hassle of the occasional longer commute, to benefit from the unique Kiwi country lifestyle. Maybe someday soon, Paeroa’s big old L&P bottle can be supplanted by New Zealand’s first giant iPad.