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We catch up at a busy North Shore café. Millie Jocelyn’s about to promote her mobile content management system to a large corporate based close by. New Zealand clients already include the likes of Spark, The Warehouse, Mitsubishi, Sky City and Z Energy – who use her Showcase app for sales presentation management, store operations info and training on tablets and mobile devices.
 
In her early 30s, Millie is bright, bubbly, and has big ambitions. She’s also comfortable about making sales calls for Showcase, which she says comes from her first business venture “building a sock monkey empire”.
 
“While selling sock monkeys didn’t really teach me much about real business, it gave me a good start in sales,” she says. “There is nothing harder than standing there selling something you actually made yourself. People can be quite brutal in a market or craft fair environment, when they don’t realise you made the product!”
 
Millie grew up on an apricot orchard in pre-pinot noir Central Otago. Following her double degree in history and art theory from Canterbury University, Millie’s professional background covered advertising, project management and event organisation. It all helped set her up for Showcase. But perhaps the greatest factor for success has been her vision.
 
“In 2010 when the first iPad was released, I was at an ad agency working on a project for one of our major Olympic sponsors. We produced a small promo app about the sponsorship to inform the client’s commercial sales staff. My boss [Adam Blackwell], the two developers we worked with, and myself, could see iPads and tablets becoming popular business tools. There would be a challenge for businesses to get information out to sales teams’ devices without them having to physically come back to the office – as well as keep that information up to date, looking professional, and a step up from Powerpoint presentations.”
 
The Showcase app would solve all that – provide consistency on distributed content and branding for sales teams across most industries. As it turned out, the software would also be utilised for internal presentations and communication. The Warehouse, for example, uses it to keep merchandising staff up to speed on content. It can also be used for training videos. 
 
“Our customers discovered this new [broader] use for Showcase, outside of sales teams.” 
 
Users also have the option of authoring their own customised content utilising the templates provided or using Showcase’s own creative services.
The major selling point of Showcase, Millie explains, is that it’s a simple concept, and customers find the tool simple to use. For sales and marketing managers it’s a major saving on budgets, time and energy compared to producing traditional printed and Powerpoint material. “You’re always in control of what your team is presenting; you can see what they’re sharing,” she says, adding that there’s advanced reporting and analytics built into Showcase, and updating the program requires zero technical skill.
 
 
Quick success
Showcase was nine months in a Wellington business incubator. “The three boys and I each put in a little money and a lot of sweat,” says Millie. “We got a rough skeleton of a system built and started searching for customers. Lucky for us, Hyundai and Z Energy signed up in the first year.” Millie remembers clearing her email messages in a hotel room while on a short holiday in Paris and getting the thumbs up from Hyundai. Such pivotal moments in the growth of the company while Millie happened to be overseas would be repeated – responding to an email from Vodafone while in the US led to a reseller arrangement with Vodafone in Europe. 
 
Surprisingly interest from Vodafone New Zealand was originally sparked by an advert for Showcase in Air New Zealand’s in-flight magazine. “Someone in the Vodafone team, I don’t know who that was to this day, sent that ad to someone at Vodafone’s Innovation programme in London, and that’s how it all got rolling.
 
“Most of our budget was riding on those ads. We had our fingers crossed and it paid off!”
 
While growth funding and brand awareness have never been a problem for Showcase (the latter largely due to the experience of Blackwell), Millie says the big challenge lies in offshore expansion. “More specifically, how do we rebuild our sales process so that it’s repeatable internationally.”
 
She admits market penetration is still tiny and Showcase’s growth is tied in with tablet usage. “Our product costs just $20 per month per user, so to grow we have to chase the big deals.” And while New Zealand is a great market in which to test a product – the most potential for growth lies overseas, she adds.
 
Helping manage the company’s growth is an advisory board, which has only been going a few months, and includes three “prestigious” names. Millie finds the monthly meetings inspirational, and admires how the advisors, with their broad overview ability, can spot things she has missed. “I really appreciate their business acumen and wish we’d established the board sooner. Their advice is so worthwhile; so much easier than the haze of advice you get when first starting out.”
 
 
Global ambitions
The Vodafone sale will provide the pathway to the UK and Europe, Millie believes.
The North American market is currently dependent on talks with a channel partner. An entity based in the US is vital for success, she says. “Not being a US company is definitely a barrier to doing business there.” 
 
As for travelling to the US to develop the market, Millie doesn’t believe she’s the person for the job. “Most American men find it hard to understand me because I talk too fast,” she says. “I had to have some vocal coaching when I was living up there to make myself better understood!
 
“I don’t have the right level of aggression either, but we think we’ve found a local person up there who will be ideal.”
 
The next goal for the local Showcase team is to capture the Australian market and service it from here. “We do have competition over there,” says Millie, “but we’ll crush them,” she adds, with a laugh.
 
So what’s it like to watch your business slowly gain traction? Millie tells me she gets a thrill each time she receives automatic notification about a new user signing up – it’s just as exciting as signing the big brands, she says. 
 
“It’s that cycle of them first hearing about the proposition, understanding it, and then paying money for it. Every time that happens, it’s truly thrilling.”
 
 
Glenn Baker is editor of Exporter.
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