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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Who would be a tech entrepreneur?

22 April 2021

Regular readers will know that I've developed an ADSB-based alarm for drone fliers that has attracted a great deal of interest from around the world.

I recently surveyed the market and found that 56% of the more than 800 respondents would actually buy one of these things if I decided to manufacture them.

That's almost 500 units.

Given that the potential market for these things is a lot more than the 800 or so people canvassed, this is a device that would be the genesis of a good "small enterprise" in the tech sector.

So why aren't I jumping at the chance to set up yet another successful tech business?

Well perhaps some of it is just the fact that, as I get older, I don't have the stamina or time to dedicate to such a venture.

I know full-well that to turn "a good idea" or even a finished prototype into a profitable, sustainable business requires a lot of hard work that goes far beyond what is possible in a 9 to 5 workday.

Looking back at some of my previous successful ventures I recall that most of them involved working at least 16-18 hours per day, 7 days per week, for months or years on end. In the case of 7am News, I worked 20 hour days for a year and a half before I sold the operation for a "comfortable" sum. There is just no way I could have afforded (or wanted) to employ someone to take the load off.

Even more important is the fact that in a very small enterprise, efficiency and success often comes from being "the guy" who does everything. It's been my experience that once you start adding extra heads to the project, inefficiencies creep in and costs start to grow, almost exponentially. Being "the guy" ensures that every single aspect of a project is seen in context with every other aspect so that "the big picture" is maintained at all times.

What's more, productivity does not scale linearly with headcount. This was never put more succinctly than in the great book "The Mythical Man Month" where it's claimed that no matter how many women you put on the job, it still takes 9 months to make a baby.

I'm not averse to hard work, long hours or risk-taking. Those have been the currency of my life for as long as I can remember. However, I am very much aware that I am no longer a hungry 30-year-old who can abuse his body for long periods of time with little downside.

I'm now an old bugger with the cognitive and physical decline to be expected in someone who's already inhabited this meat-suit for 68 years.

Perhaps if I had plenty of spare capital I would set up a small enterprise to service the demand for this product and I'd even be smart enough to lobby regulators to mandate that such a "safety system" was a legal requirement when operating drones commercially or in higher-risk environments. Nothing says "profit" like the words "mandatory purchase".

However, I don't have any spare cash and I'm not about to go through the hassle of crowdfunding or trying to raise venture capital for this project. The reality is that raising VC in New Zealand has always been more about being part of the right "old-boys network" (cough... Callaghan Innovation... cough) than about having a good idea and implementation plan.

Besides which, my joy in life comes more from coming up with good ideas and turning them into viable prototypes than it does from commercialisation and managing such a venture. I don't want to be tied down making hundreds/thousands of units for sale -- I want to be moving on to the next innovation/tech challenge and coming up with new ideas and solutions to problems.

The final straw that breaks this camel's back is the attitude of our local council.

Almost a decade ago I had a similar project that resulted in huge numbers of people saying "please built that, we will buy it" and so I considered setting up a small production line in my workshop at the airfield here in Tokoroa. I figured I'd hire some solo mums to work 4 hours a day while their kids were in school and they could solder up the little first-person-view video systems I'd developed. This would put food on their tables, put money into the community, generate some more export earnings for the nation and service an obvious need in the market.

When I mentioned my intentions to the local council I was told that "we will not let you do that". Yes, I was told in no uncertain terms that *I* would not be allowed to hire people to work in my workshop. It's that old "because it's you Bruce..." attitude surfacing again I'm afraid.

Meanwhile, the SWDC is now spending a small fortune trying to encourage overseas businesses to the district, while it stands on the necks of those like myself who would already be employing people and bolstering the district's fortunes.

Why?

"because it's you Bruce".

Sigh!

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