NZTE’s Dylan Lawrence loves linking businesses to the right investors so much that he started a podcast about it.
Even though he’s beaming in via Zoom, Dylan Lawrence’s passion for his work shines through the screen. “I want to hear war stories,” says New Zealand Trade & Enterprise’s general manager of investment.
Lawrence and his team of 60 at NZTE spend their days helping Aotearoa businesses with major growth ambitions find the right investors, so they can grow, create jobs, and retain their profits locally. Over the last three years, the team has worked with 242 businesses to raise $2.7b collectively, creating 6,451 local jobs. This is estimated to have a potential direct economic impact of $8.5b for New Zealand’s economy.
Lawrence (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Raukawa-ki-te-Tonga, Tūhourangi), is from Tāmaki Makaurau and has a huge appetite for rugged, full-contact business stories. He doesn’t just want to hear from the ones that are doing well – he wants to hear the gnarly stuff too, the stories of mistakes that left bumps and bruises. “Don’t just tell me the good things; tell me what went wrong. We try to find people who’ve just gone through it.”
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Finding the right investor is not an easy task, and there are a lot of factors to take into account. What is the business trying to do? Where is it trying to go? What are its end goals? “You need to have a deliberate strategy for how you’re going to grow your business,” says Lawrence.
Get it wrong, and a business might wind up with the wrong investor at the wrong time. Not only can that hinder growth, it can end up costing businesses money. “You don’t want a later-stage investor at an early stage,” says Lawrence. Likewise, “you might get to a point with an early stage investor and say, ‘I need someone to help me scale this to 42 markets’.”
Get the right investor at the right time, and the sky’s the limit – because an investor can be so much more than a piggy bank. The right investor will be able to provide support, knowledge and networking skills as well as the funding crucial to scale. Many New Zealand companies want to head overseas, and Lawrence says finding investors who’ve already worked in the target market can be the best way to take those steps towards international growth. “If you get investors that understand those markets, they can often give really sound advice,” says Lawrence. “You’ll see a shift and change in the fortunes and the growth of that business.”
The biggest barrier to all this? Preparation. Lawrence and his team often hear from New Zealand companies wanting to grow overseas, but lacking the knowledge – and money – to do so properly. “Most companies underestimate the time it takes to secure sales in an international market,” he says. Getting companies ready for investment is key, which is where the expertise of NZTE comes in. “A lot of the work we do is with companies to prepare themselves,” he says.
Finding the right investor is the next step. “You could go out and just get money if you want,” says Lawrence – but that relationship always works better if investors have something more to offer. “You’ve got to understand what investors are looking for,” he says, and they also need to fit with the founders’ cultural and social values.
All of this quickly becomes part of a business’s story. For three seasons now, Lawrence has been telling the stories of business struggles and successes through his podcast Investment Fix, where he talks to companies that have found the right investors at the right time.
In one, Neil Hinton explains how his company Natural Pet Food Group found success selling into China. “Having that funding in that first stage, particularly for me coming in as a new CEO, really bought us the time to strengthen the foundations,” says Hinton about their investors Pioneer Capital.
In another episode, Lawrence chats to Will Barker, the founder of Mint Innovation, a clean tech company capable of extracting gold from e-waste. “It’s gone from an idea in a lab to… a factory, then a prototype facility.” They’ve just raised their latest round for a full scale plant. Now, they’re trying to raise enough money to put them all around the world.
Of course, not everything goes to plan. The founders and CEOs on Investment Fix also talk about mistakes – things like undervaluing your company, exiting markets you’ve heavily invested in, running out of cash runway, having to pay your staff wages with your credit card, and apologising too much when asking for investment.
Hearing about how companies have rebounded from their struggles, and what they would do differently next time is a powerful, and strangely motivating thing for Lawrence. This, he says, is why he gets out of bed in the morning – it’s his dream job. Every business has those war stories, and as he talks to founders all over the country, all with vastly different pathways to their success, he only gets more passionate about his role in helping more New Zealand entrepreneurs expand their horizons. “I love talking to founders… Sometimes you sit back and think, ‘Shoot, there are some amazing people in this country’.”
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