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Oct 31, 2017

A Completely Different World | William Reynolds

This week in San Francisco, with a team of New Zealand’s most promising young entrepreneurs, seeing New Zealanders and start-ups doing amazing things has shaped my future and is an experience I will never forget.

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Wow. Seeing the speed, talent and scale of companies in San Francisco was just incredible. People are working on bigger problems, with more talent and larger budgets than we can fathom here in New Zealand.

In the tech mecca that is San Francisco, we saw start-ups 18 months in with upwards of 200 employees and a large team poached from Google, we saw companies recently acquired that had hired ‘only 400’ people in the few years since they were founded, and we saw a company that had recently raised a $42 million series C and its core business was basically just keeping track online of who owns what shares of a start-up.


After 17 of these meetings crammed into 5 days the way that I saw the world was changed irrevocably.

  • It was fascinating to see the holistic approach taken by companies ranging right from Google and Microsoft, through to smaller start-ups like Nuro and e-shares.  Companies were not only focussing on maximising profits but also all types of sustainability and employee well-being.
  • It was great hearing from start-ups that were experiencing, or had experienced, rapid growth about the way they implement different processes, tips and guiding values to maintain quality and consistency.
  • It was thought provoking seeing the speed and scale of the market, as well as the depth/value in some seemingly small niches.
  • It was great to hear from Ben Anderson at Renaissance Leadership about how they work with their clients and also general tips and thinking processes to be a stronger leader. One sentence that really stuck with me was along the lines of “Always be accountable to yourself, if you say you are going to do something, do it.” You can be a far better leader if you have this sorted with yourself.
  • And most of all it was amazing to interview these people and talk with the New Zealander’s doing amazing things over there (some of whom we had known quite a lot about and were huge fans of what they had and were doing).

In the section of my blog below are the key learnings that I took away from the two companies I was responsible for reporting on (Uber and Zendesk).  There are comments on getting new hires righton Zendesk’s rapid scaling, the importance of university and retaining culture/quality while you expand to new marketsThey are the distilled best and most interesting takeaways from the meetings and I hope you get value from it if you read on 



Customer relationship management software - currently valued around $3 billion dollars.

On Getting New Hires Right

The first month is the most critical time. It is where you can shape the employees into who you want them to be. You need to do lots of training, explain the history of the business and historical decisions/reactions to issues so that their decision making processes attitudes will fit with the companies mission.

It is especially important in building the team that when something goes wrong the leaders act fast and they react in a calm, but also, accountable manner.

On Zendesk’s Rapid Scaling

He mentioned a few factors in particular but also acknowledged there were lots of different factors at play.

Venture Capital (VC) dynamics –typically when you take on large amounts of investment you take on a lot of pressure. You take the capital promising that your business will be better in the future (often more than 10x better). This eliminated their complacency and forced them to think hard about how they can meet their huge growth targets.   

For example they almost had to open the UK office so they had better chances of meeting their growth targets. 

However, large goals also can have a negative impact in forcing employees to think short term. This can mean that instead of making decisions which help further and guide long term strategy and company vision, employee may take short cuts or pursue side routes for additional short term profits.

Interesting Notes

Zendesk is located in San Francisco city centre in the ‘tenderloin’ district. This is a particularly poor area of the city rife with homelessness.  Being there is a way in which they can stay connected to reality surrounded by highflying and self-grandiose people and companies in the tech scene.  When employees join Zendesk they are taken on a walking tour of the neighbourhood to show them the reality up close. 



Michael Cook – operations at UBER. Sam George - Managing Director, European Crimson Education

Expanding to new markets and retaining culture/quality

When opening a new office personal presence is great. Drag key people who know and have lived the culture into the new offices for at least the first 6 months so that they can set up the key culture, personality/attitude, values and reactions in the team as it develops.

It is important to have key processes put in place so that employees can go by the books.

  • The particular example that Sam used was having standard employment agreements implemented. This not only limits the number of slip ups occur but because it isn’t done on a case by case basis or differently in different markets it means that during any changes, for records or for firing it isn’t as messy, disjointed or time consuming.

Another note was about having guiding principles so that when the unexpected inevitably occurs, employee decisions may be better guided.

Food for thought - Uber’s Initial NZ Strategy

They pursued the ‘SOHO strategy’.

They got suppliers first. Then they started off very small (just in Ponsonby and the inner city) but they focussed on making the experience quality and consistent.

Doing this, they got sticky customers who fell in love with the brand and service for its consistent quality. If they had tried to blanket Auckland with limited supply, the inconsistent experience likely would have resulted in much poorer word of mouth and very poor uptake and the users would have been unlikely to reuse the app after a poor experience.

“Don’t solve the whole problem at once, deliver a consistent quality experience and then you can start to scale.”

Interesting note – they used influencers and giving free Uber rides to start to get the buzz solidifying and user rates increasing.                                 

Comments on University

Put serious consideration into your thinking about university.

Today the world has changed and is changing so much. There will need to be a lot of adaptation from the university system in the near future. It is no longer necessarily the path to go and with a little bit of talent, but primarily a lot of drive, there are a plethora of other options out there.  It isn’t a necessity depending on what you would like to do. 

It is potentially much better to know exactly what classes you want to take before going in. There are still amazing professors who can and will change the trajectory of your life.

Also though, university shaped them and you develop your social side/abilities a huge amount in the university environment.

“You have lots of spare time in university, if you do choose to go make sure to make use of it and use the spare time to do some awesome things (start something; try things; pursue sports, music or whatever really interests you).”


If you enjoyed this blog and especially if you’re doing Young Enterprise feel free to reach out to me on Facebook or Linkedin.

Published by William Reynolds