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Ant Howard and John Quirk are directors of Howard & Company – a strategic, investment and advisory firm which specialises in growing promising Kiwi businesses on the international stage.

EXP: How did the two of you first meet and what’s the story behind the formation of Howard & Company?
A&J: We first met as executives at Wang NZ (now known as Gen-i) where we led the successful recovery and repositioning of the company before ‘IPO-ing’ it.
Howard & Company was originally formed to bridge the gap between venture capitalists and entrepreneurs – and bringing some pragmatic business and leadership skills into the equation. It has been focused on delivering capital, courage and capability and over the past ten years the team has grown to five, all with complementary skills.
We are passionate Kiwis and get great pleasure and satisfaction from seeing New Zealand businesses succeed on the world stage.

EXP: When you first assist businesses onto the international stage – what are the immediate goals and outcomes you’re looking to achieve?
A&J: Our first goal is to understand our client’s business, primarily their unique value proposition, and then validate it with the target market. Assuming it is validated our next goal is assess the client’s ability to execute their strategy and address any weaknesses.
Thirdly, has the company the resources to execute? Doing it in a half-hearted fashion usually ends in tears and can be very costly. We put a lot of emphasis on focus and simplicity. The outcome we are looking to achieve is to have all of the stakeholders aligned and committed to the go forward.

EXP: From your experience in assisting export firms, what are some of the common mistakes and assumptions they make which can seriously slow progress?
A&J: Underestimating the time and resources required to build a viable export business. They don’t ask for help or often don’t listen to the advice from those who have gone before.
Also, the amount of time and travel required to spend offshore, as you cannot do it remotely. You must employ good local people and you need to lead and manage them well.  
Nothing beats spending time ‘in market’ and you need to do it much more often than you think you do.

EXP: You’ve assisted a wide variety of firms across a broad range of sectors over the years – what have been some of the standout success stories for you?
A&J: The reality of what we do often ends up in a trade sale to a multi-national, as success in the high-tech industry usually makes a company very interesting to larger players.
This is a double-edged sword for ‘NZ Inc’ as some of our most promising companies end up in foreign ownership, although on the positive side the owners start their next enterprise with more funding, more experience and are successful more quickly.
The essential guidance for New Zealand companies is to focus on building a company that clearlyhas an enterprise valuation based on the strategic value of your company. The best way to do this is put yourself in a prospective buyer’s shoes and work out the revenue and profit potential of the combined entities; then focus all the discussions on this. Once their accountants get involved you will get pulled back to a financial valuation.
We have been involved in transactions with a number of venture capital firms and multinationals over the years, such as Citrix, Asia Pacific Digital, Mckesson, Yahoo and others.

EXP: Capital, courage and capability are the three aspects of business you help build for exporters – what are some of the issues surrounding those three requirements?
A&J: Capital is hard, courage is built through great teamwork as it is lonely when you are making big decisions, and people need to know what they don’t know.

EXP: What would you say is your greatest frustration associated with the work you do?
A&J: Corporate advisory work by its nature is achieving through others; sometimes it takes more time to get to where you can clearly see you need to be.

EXP:  And what gives you the greatest satisfaction/excitement?
A&J: Working with great people, achieving a result and having some fun. One of our KPIs is the number of multimillionaires we have helped create.

EXP: How would you sum up New Zealand’s export sector at the moment in terms of its performance and prospects? What sectors hold the most potential?
A&J: Naturally we are passionate about high tech, high growth sectors and the potential of ‘weightless’ exports. However, at the same time we have great respect for what has been achieved in some of the primary industries.
In the world of rapidly converging technologies and the dis-intermediation of entire industries, New Zealand companies need to pay attention to the following guidelines:
• Be agile, be quick, get out there.
• Revenue is everything.
• Pay attention to detail.
• Fail fast.
• Ensure you have raving fans.
• Think laterally and avoid any myopic New Zealand centric views.

EXP:  What’s your best piece of advice for all businesses out there that are looking to export for the first time?
A&J: Many New Zealand companies focus most of their efforts on building the perfect mousetrap. In fact many spend 90 percent of their funding and time on the mousetrap and 10 percent on sales and marketing. US companies are the other way around.  
The message to New Zealand companies is spend 90 percent of your time understanding what type of cheese is required to attract the mice, know where the hungry mice are, go where there are the hungriest mice, know why they like your cheese and attack the markets that don’t have a pet cat.
Learn from others. Plagiarism is very acceptable!
Do you do market validation very well?

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