Pro Features

Attracting high tech talent to the Bay

You’d be hard pressed to describe Hawke’s Bay as New Zealand’s Silicon Valley but Tom Wallace, the founder and CEO of fast-growing local software company Re-Leased, can’t see why it couldn’t be.

Re-Leased is on a mission to double the size of its current team of 60 staff, and that involves doing all it can to attract software developers to the region – even offering them a $5,000 relocation bonus to move here.

“I don’t see any reason why Hawke’s Bay can’t be a really great tech hub,” says Tom, who founded Re-Leased in 2012.

“We’ve got great people, we’ve got a great environment, we’ve got all the technology you need to be able to communicate and work with anyone around the world. Location is no barrier to developing world- beating software.”

Re-Leased sells a cloud-based commercial property management platform – think Xero for landlords, property managers and tenants.

The company is already processing rent transactions worth $500 million a month for clients in 40 countries and it has ambitious growth plans over the next three years, which include opening a US office.

“We want to do it all from the Bay and we need really skilled people who can help us with that,” says Tom.

“We’ve got a great team here at the moment and we want to keep building around that team. We figured there were two options: to bring people in from the outside or train them up internally. We decided to go for a combination of both.”

The company is looking to hire .NET developers, quality assurance and user- experience specialists, as well as filling a range of sales, marketing and operations roles.

To meet its staff growth goals, Re-Leased has allocated $10 million over the next three years for what it’s calling a ‘Homegrown Talent Activation’ campaign – a dual strategy that involves a combination of training aspiring developers from within Hawke’s Bay as well as attracting more experienced people to the region by offering the $5,000 relocation bonus.

At the same time, Re-Leased plans to offer students studying computing at EIT practical experience by supporting the institute’s internship programme. It’s hoping those students will turn out to be a good fit for the company and will move on to becoming permanent staff members.

“In launching a recruitment drive we are sharing what our Napier team already knows – that Hawke’s Bay offers a lifestyle, a working environment and a growing professional ecosystem that can attract and retain the best people to build a global property-technology business,” Tom says.

He believes building that ‘ecosystem’ will produce an upward spiral of IT industry growth for the Bay, which will ultimately deliver a positive payback for Re-Leased.

“The more success we have, the more success other companies will be able to have here, and it will really build up Hawke’s Bay as a [tech industry] destination. It’s about building out the whole ecosystem, because if there’s an ecosystem then we’ll have resources we can tap into as well, and if more strong companies grow alongside us, it’s really going to snowball.”

There’s already plenty of momentum in the local technology sector.

Re-Leased is part of the tech hub cluster of businesses on Ahuriri’s Bridge Street, which includes Xero, NOW, DataNow and several others. That co-location has provided a valuable boost for – and helped build a sense of energy and vibrancy amongst – the players in the tech scene.

Tom believes that if businesses like his can grow staff numbers strongly, it will take that vibrancy to the next level and make it easier to recruit highly skilled staff for Hawke’s Bay roles.

He’s also excited about Re-Leased’s plans to work more closely with EIT, saying there’s a need to fill a gap in the local jobs market, which was evident to him when he left school about a decade ago.

“Previously the options have been to either leave Hawke’s Bay and go to university or stick around and do a trade. There’s another option now: to stay in the Bay, get a great tertiary education and then work on a world- class high-tech project.”

EIT assistant head of schools David Skelton says the institute’s Bachelor of Computing Systems Internship Programme allows industry and education to work together to build our regional capability in IT skills.

“We welcome Re-Leased’s participation, which will offer our students new, valuable experiences,” he says.

Business Hawke’s Bay CEO Carolyn Neville says the company’s Homegrown Talent Activation plans “represent a multimillion- dollar investment in new, well-paid, high-tech jobs that will, in turn, help build the Bay’s reputation for innovation and further diversify our regional economy”.

It’s early days for the Homegrown Talent Activation campaign, which was only launched in late March, but shortly before The Profit went to press, Tom said Re-Leased had been “flooded with inquiries” after announcing the $5,000 relocation bonus. The company was in the process of reviewing a stack of CVs from potential job candidates interested in making the move to the Bay.

An early success for the initiative had been raising the profile of the region among tech industry jobseekers.

“We’ve needed to start making sure there is awareness that there is that option out there. A lot of the time people don’t look for jobs in the Bay because they assume there’s nothing here,” he says.

A company can’t embark on an ambitious expansion strategy without a balance sheet to support it, and Re-Leased is in the fortunate position of having sourced funding to at least get it started on the growth journey it wants to take.

In the middle of last year, the business raised $2.3 million from New Zealand and UK investors in its first external capital round.

It’s a member of the NZTE Focus 700 group of exporters and in 2017 received a Callaghan Innovation Growth Grant to support its research and development efforts.

Tom says given the company’s rapid growth, it will have to raise further capital at some point “but we’re happy with how far we’ve got since last year’s capital-raise. Everything is tracking really well to that plan.”Re-Leased earns more than 70 percent of its revenue from overseas customers, with its highest- growth markets being Australia and the UK.

The more it invests in its skilled development team, the more it will be able to add value to its clients by offering them more high-tech solutions, Tom says.

“We’re making businesses far more efficient, allowing them to grow and we’re solving their problems, so if we can help them do that, we’re obviously adding a lot more value and creating value for ourselves,” he says.

“As we build up new and more sophisticated technology, we can work with much bigger clients too – that’s a natural journey for a software company. We’re working with some really good clients now, which is really exciting.”

It’s an encouraging outlook from a business that’s decided that, while its customer base is global, it’s home will remain in Hawke’s Bay.