Reflections on Silicon Welly

Last week I was interviewed to share my thoughts on why Wellington makes a great place to run an IT business. It was interesting to really think a bit about this given that the scope of the discussion centered around the “Silicon Welly” brand which I found difficult to stick to.

I’ll just say it – I’m not a fan of the Silicon Welly brand. It’s as tired, borrowed, uninspired and me-too as the Wellywood label. I tend to have the view that if something is truely remarkable, it’s made remarkable by the folks that don’t wander about labeling themselves. I doubt that Peter Jackson spends too many mental cycles thinking about the Wellywood brand. Personally I’ve often found myself cringing a little when people throw around the Silicon Welly name. Rather than throwing around labels, why not throw around talk about your recent successes and why you’re actually making Wellington a better place for people in IT?

If you do something extraordinary then other folks with label you – be it a good or bad label. The fact that this brand appears to be driven by the industry itself is a bit sad really.

1. Too narrow
We have 4 million people in New Zealand. Do we really need to localise the tech brand to one city? I don’t think we can – there’s just not enough people around. Also, I thought the whole plan for IT businesses was to think and act global to reach the world? Why the heck would we then take an entirely industrial age mentality when it comes to a brand? Don’t take this the wrong way – I’m fond of the city, and the country, but I think we need to be focusing at the country level, not the city.

2. It’s failed to bring more people to Wellington
I’ve never heard anybody say they moved to Wellington because they considered it the IT hub of NZ. It does have a vibrant IT scene, but so does Auckland and Christchurch. They come because there’s IT jobs on offer and they like the city. Want to attract more tech people to your business? Be extraordinary. If you’re an awesome company and people chat about you then they’ll come and work for you. Relying on labels won’t get you over that hump.

3. I’m not convinced Wellington is actually a better city to base your IT business in
The question was asked – why did I choose to start Mindscape in Wellington? Honestly – it was because that’s where I lived and it’s where the people I wanted to work with lived. These were people I got to know through my existing job so I’m fairly sure I would have met people who I enjoyed working with if I was based in Auckland, Sydney, Hong Kong, New York or anywhere else.

This is not to say there are no positive reasons to base yourself in Wellington – it’s just that they’re not overly unique.

Can’t we have better goals? I’d love to see the NZ technology sector overtake the farming sector in terms of export dollars earned. That seems like a far more fun and ambitious task to focus on than a bland label for one city. If we can achieve that then having New Zealand known for its technology scene will just come along with the success.

Go and do something extraordinary.