This company has no idea — thank God it called me
I met with the board of a New Zealand company the other day. I won’t go into the circumstances, but let’s just say the meeting couldn’t have been more timely. If there’s a company more in need of a swift kick into the 21st century then I haven’t seen it.
They just had no idea.
For a start, they make things. That’s right, things! Actual items you can hold in your hand and show to your friends. Turns out they’ve been making these things since the 1930s. Now the making and selling of things as a business model I could excuse in the 1990s but this is 2017 for goodness’ sake! The future, I told them, is all about weightless exports. Products as services! Services as subscriptions! Sharing not owning!
I could tell by the way they took notes with their ballpoint pens in their paper notebooks that they were impressed. So I turned the conversation towards finance. Funding rounds. Burn rates. Dilution.
I might as well have been talking to a brick wall. This company, it turns out, didn’t believe in borrowing. They’d built the business by selling things at a profit, and investing that profit back into the business. And the owners? The people in the room. (who all happened to have the same surname.)
I needed a break at this point, so asked for directions to the toilet. Turns out it was on the floor below where we were meeting. (Oh and did I mention that we met face to face? It was like Google Hangouts hadn’t been invented.)
Anyway, even their building was like a museum. How the hell are you meant to get from one floor to another without a spiral slide or some sort of fireman’s pole? After five minutes of searching I ended up taking a “stairway” – you know, like on Downton Abbey. I half expected to find a spittoon in the toilets.
Part of me wanted to call for an Uber there and then, but I’m a generous guy and I could tell these people needed me. So I headed back into the boardroom to find a drinks trolley had been wheeled in and they’d just cracked open a big bottle of Lion Red.
“Have a drink!” roared the oldest one, with a twinkle in his eye. “We’ve just shipped our thousandth container to the USA!”
To be honest, it was hard to get a word in edgewise after that. Staff kept wandering in to join the celebrations and none of them seemed to want to hear my point of view on the cloud, weightless exports or digital disruption. Still, they did serve nice sausage rolls, so I ate a couple, thanked them for their time and left them a business card.
In the carpark, waiting for my Uber, I noticed that someone had parked a Toyota Corolla in the space marked Managing Director.
They never did get in touch. Perhaps they don’t follow me on Twitter.
Former air force pilot Vaughn Davis is founder of creative advertising agency The Goat Farm.