Iceberg business image

BusinessSeptember 8, 2017

Announcing the debut of The Spinoff Business

Iceberg business image

Following on from our hit Business is Boring podcast, The Spinoff is pumped to bring you its newest product, The Spinoff Business. Its editor, Rebecca Stevenson, explains what to expect.

Did you know 362,856 New Zealand businesses have zero employees? There’s an interesting wee one-page fact sheet available from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s website. It’s a telling document, and its telling the story of New Zealand business. At its heart is a sentiment I’m sure you’ve heard before – that New Zealand business is the story of small business. But just how dominant small business is in the Kiwi context is glaringly apparent – the vast majority of Kiwi businesses are solo operations. One-man bands.

They are the majority of Kiwi companies, with an incredible 70 per cent of our businesses not even really small, but teeny-tiny. Add in businesses with a slightly bigger operation – one to five employees – and now we’re talking about well over 450,000 businesses out of the total 515,046 tallied up by MBIE in its latest NZ business update.

And yet the public perception of business seems resolutely wedded to the notion of Big Business. Mega Corp, – this is often how people think about business, but the perception is not the complete picture.

It’s hard to know where this perception comes from, but it’s quite likely from media coverage. Big business is pretty well covered in New Zealand, but business, to me, is like an iceberg. Its big, we can see when it’s doing good (business pays handsomely to promote its good work) and when it’s doing bad, because the business media is telling us. But underneath the water is where a lot of the action happens, mostly unseen. We will spend a lot of time below the water at The Spinoff Business, the new section we are launching today, which I’m very proud to be editing.

We want to talk about the mass of Kiwi business, the men and women who are making, selling and serving markets both home and away. Because while they may be small – or medium sized – their contribution to the Kiwi economy is not. How often do you hear how important agriculture is for New Zealand Inc? Well small business, MBIE says, is responsible for almost one-third of this country’s GDP.

How bout them apples? Part of small business is a primary produce story. Dig a little deeper into the stats and you find almost 70,000 small businesses are in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries. Companies with less than 20 employees earned NZ $64 billion in 2014. Not bad eh? New Zealand business is eerily close to how New Zealand likes to think of, and portray itself, to the rest of the world. We may be small, but we are mighty, and we are independently minded – with statistics showing a swathe of our small businesses are beholden to no one, and no corporate owner.

Is being small an issue? The OECD seems to think so, pinpointing Kiwi companies’ lack of scale and ability to compete globally as holding back productivity growth, which would lead to greater wealth and wellbeing for all of us. It said in its Kiwi economic survey that while there has been a strong rate of job creation by new firms, meaning our businesses are relatively young, too many not very good businesses live for too long.

So we can’t miss out the ‘M’ in small-to-medium enterprises. We have to be more than small if we want to grow our economy, and we face some unique challenges here in terms of distance from markets. But as evidenced by cloud accounting software provider Xero, it is possible for a New Zealand company, helmed by a Kiwi entrepreneur, to become a legitimate player in a global context. The Spinoff Business is going to aggressively cover the coming economy and the tech industry, with a particular focus on science and research-backed businesses, and who is backing them. We want to see Kiwi companies change the world we live in, and understand how they did it so others can do it too.

Which is not to say we won’t talk about breaking big business stories, or follow what our corporates are up to; we will watch them with interest and when they’re making moves explain why it matters.

We’re not going to be a thoughtless cheerleader for business either – we want to delve into what’s working, and what isn’t. Both for those running business, and the rest of us who consume and rely on New Zealand companies to bring us the goods. For example, New Zealand’s easy company registration regime is often held up as kind of regulatory holy grail in the business world – but is it too easy for companies to start-up, take money and then go bust, leaving creditors out of pocket?

So why business? Here’s where I acknowledge those making it possible – the team at Kiwibank, the sponsors of our section. They work with tens of thousands of businesses too, and want to see how The Spinoff will cover the sector. We’ve worked with them before and loved it, and we’re happy to be doing it again in a long-term way.

Business is not a new frontier for The Spinoff, we’re just going to beef up how much we do. The Business is Boring podcast is regularly number one in the business podcast charts, and is one of our longest-running podcasts. And of course business is already covered here because it inevitably intersects with our lives in myriad ways, day-to-day down to how you watch TV. You can’t avoid it, even if you tried. But why would you?

I am all in for the challenge of producing business stories that reach the quality and insight of the excellent writers, meme-makers, video producers and podcasts already hosted on this site. I’ve always enjoyed trying to make my reporting on industry and business as common as muck – I don’t believe business is an unapproachable monolith. And the opportunities to do fun things with a business bent, like The Spinoff’s cool Policy tool, are extremely exciting.

At this point you may be thinking – OK it’s likely, you’re thinking – who is this chick waffling on about business? I started reading the Economist at age eight, not normal, but hopefully helpful. I’ve been a reporter for well over a decade, I realised recently, but I’ve always loved business. Working in Hawke’s Bay was when I was first really turned onto New Zealand business. Writing business stories, and hanging out with winemakers, was a sweet relief from reporting on the ins and outs of council and crime, although the council’s economic development manager had a sideline ginko biloba business, but that’s another story altogether.

Entrepreneurs are cool! People who make stuff are interesting. I learnt distance is no barrier to dominating a market, and that yep, it is possible to just have a cool idea, and make a business.

I’ve covered a lot of rounds for Fairfax Media’s national business bureau including small business, breaking business news and court cases like that of business bogeyman Mark Hotchin. Business collapses, a weekly personal finance column – I did it all. And I developed a few unhealthy obsessions, which led to some of my more high profile stories including exposés on New Zealand’s shoddy fire safety in high rises and how New Zealand’s charitable sector hides assets to look poor. I love trades, industry, technology and I am fascinated by mining, natural resources and how we balance economic growth with the health of our environment, and people.

But enough about me. This is about you, New Zealand business. I want to tell your stories. Feel free to email me on And read our first couple of stories, here and here.

The Spinoff’s business content is brought to you by our friends at Kiwibank. Kiwibank backs small to medium businesses, social enterprises and Kiwis who innovate to make good things happen.

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