My eldest son is this week, turning 21. While I could go into a philosophical conversation about how birthdays are just another day, and 21 should really be no different from 20 or 22, the fact of the matter is that in our society at least, 21 is a special milestone. The upcoming anniversary of the birth of my firstborn has me in a reflective mood and thinking about the highs and lows of his journey, and the sense of pride and satisfaction seeing him come out the other end, pretty much alive and in one piece.
It’s a sentiment that is somewhat ironic given that the same week that this familial milestone occurs is also the week in which it was announced that Kiwi technology company Vend is being sold to a Canadian organisation. The price tag: somewhere close to half a billion dollars. Before I wax poetic about Vend, I need to disclose that, by way of my involvement as an investor in the Punakaiki Fund, I was a shareholder (albeit infinitesimally small) in Vend. That said, this article comes as an industry commentator and witness to Vend’s journey rather than someone with any real pecuniary interest in the business.
In July of 2009, someone who I’d been chatting with but had never met decided to ride his bicycle from Bluff to Cape Reinga. Vaughan Rowsell had just exited his technology company, having sold it to TradeMe and was on a quest to find himself. As such, he found his (portly, I must say) frame on board a bicycle riding “uphill” from South to North. Rowsell asked if he could sleep on my couch when he passed through Waipara and my two boys, then aged seven and nine, enjoyed an evening of conversation alongside my well-regarded molten chocolate cake.
While chatting, Rowsell mentioned that he had a bit of an idea about a new business – something to do for retail point of sale what Xero was in the process of doing for accounting – moving it into the cloud. I thought little of it, waved goodbye to Rowsell as he rode down the drive, and proceeded with my life.
Rowsell spent the rest of the trip cogitating on cloud POS and, upon his arrival in the North, sat down and spent a year furiously coding away to come up with an initial product. Based on that product he gained investment from two TradeMe alumni – Rowan Simpson and Sam Morgan, and there began a 10+ year journey.
Much like his bicycle journey, the Vend journey was one of highs and lows. I was privileged to have conversations with people inside the organisations that told more of the story than one normally gets from an outside perspective and, suffice it to say, like with parenthood, growing an adult business had plenty of tears, anger, bruised egos and the odd busted friendship.
So, fast forward to today and Rowsell and a whole bunch of other people have cashed out and realised the financial benefit that comes from a successful exit. This means, of course, that howls of protest are emanating from the public incensed that “yet another New Zealand company has sold offshore.”
Where to start on this one? Let’s talk about recycling capital. A handful of the bigger shareholders in Vend have just made tens of millions of dollars each. In all likelihood, they will acquire the modern equivalent of the bach, BMW and boat (I mean, of course, a Central-Auckland apartment, a brand new Tesla and a Sealegs amphibious vehicle). When that is done, however, they will pump a huge amount of cash back into the local ecosystem, investing in the next generation of Xeros, Vends and Power By Proxis. This is as it should be and ensures that much like my own progeny will one day sire their own children to continue the family name, the local technology ecosystem continues and refreshes.
The investors in Vend are Kiwis, however, which means they have more than a little humility and social awareness. As such, they’ll no doubt pump a heap of money into making their world more equitable. Indeed, for his part Rowsell (or Fergusson as he is confusingly now known) has already done so, running educational initiatives such as OMG Tech and the Institute of Awesome in Raglan.
So this weekend I’ll be raising a beer to not only celebrate the journey of Vend through its infancy, teenage years and adulthood, but similarly the same journey for my son. I’ll reflect on the good that can come from the Vend cash and experience and the good that is already coming from the first human I helped to create. And I’ll no doubt be having Twitter arguments with those who either suggest that parenthood is an environmental travesty or that selling Kiwi companies offshore is somehow unpatriotic.