Igniting a sector. 5 ways I went about establishing the VR & MR industry in NZ and why you need people that back you.

Ten months ago I left my role of Regional Manager at the Tech Hub/BizDojo to venture into startup world. It wasn't just one venture I was starting up. It was an ecosystem to support an entire sector. My mission was to create a centre of excellence in virtual and mixed reality. To do this I decided I need to start with the community and understand the needs of this community so I could help and build what they needed.  

Five steps to establishing support for, and of a sector (what I did):

  1. Started an Association. If anyone has every been involved in the set up of a society you'll know it's painful. You need 16 members to form it, there are monthly board meetings,  society rules and AGM's.  If anyone thinks this is any easy option they are very wrong.  The total volunteer hours that have gone into setting up and helping to govern The New Zealand VR/AR Association have been immense. In fact as I write this I'm very aware I'm neglecting a bunch of jobs that need to be done for the Association. The other thing about this association that makes it unique is it's the NZ chapter for the International Association. That's awesome but does add to overheads.
  2. Ran the first ever NZ Augmented Reality Hackathon. Actually that wasn't too hard and it was super fun. Thanks to InternetNZ for sponsoring it!
  3. Wrote a paper. It's called BlackpaperOne and it's a curated overview of the virtual and augmented reality industry.  I worked with the other Director of  Blackeye to produce a beautiful overview of the industry to help educate the decision makers.  The great thing about this paper is that MBIE have now committed to help fund a second paper with The New Zealand VR/AR Association focussed on the economic development opportunities.
  4. Ran a national conference. It was called Future Realities. I built the website late at night, found the sponsors and speakers and hired a wonderful women Alejandra for 6 weeks and worked with the other cofounders, two cool dudes in Auckland, Rob and John plus a load of volunteers to help pull it off.  We got some great press but best of all, those that exhibited had qualified leads and are already getting paid work. Happy days.
  5. Opened a physical space. Everyone just wants somewhere to hang, chat and share learnings with likeminded folk. I know this from my days at the Dojo but it's even more important in a new sector where everyone is trying hard to make a dollar, solve problems and convince the world it's not a fad.  The monthly meetups that NZVRARA have hosted have been great for this but as always, space is hard to find and we've been shifted around workplaces and bars.  As of June, we have a home in wellington at Level 2, 40 Taranaki street. It's called PROJECTR. Come hang.

Seems easy huh? Nope.  I never knew that helping people would be this hard. As soon as you lift your head above water people are ready to shoot you down. The politics has taken it's toll and the financial risks I've taken (especially running Future Realities) have caused many 4am panic attacks and stressful whatsapp messages to my friends.  

About four weeks ago I was ready to give up.

I went through the options.  An attractive job offer, a trip to a hot country and some egg on my face. Wouldn't be that bad....


Thankfully I have some ace people that have offered me a helping hand just and sponsors that have committed to helping me financially including Wellington City Council. But the key thing that's got me through. My ladies. The incredible women in my peer support group that have cheered me on. They backed me and never doubted I couldn't pull this off.

Last week at our monthly session we talked about the importance of a leadership team where everyone backs you.  They encourage and allow you to be awesome.  When people doubt us we start to doubt ourselves.  When we feel nervous it's a lot harder to be creative and problem solve. In fact our brain doesn't allow us to problem solve in the same way when we are stressed and under pressure.

If you are working with people that don't believe in you, don't back your ability and empower you to be successful then you are working with the wrong people. You'll never be the best you can be.


On the 27th of July we officially launched the PROJECTR space in collaboration with MBIE and all our awesome supporters.  I'm the one looking tired but happy surrounding myself with people that back me.





The Job Hunt…Start with Why

I’m not talking about Simon Sinek’s legendary TED Talk (though I admit it’s totally over-cited but still a personal favourite).

For anyone who identifies with the work they do, and has also gone through the process of searching for a new job, you know that it can be exciting but also hugely challenging and even a bit deflating.


I moved to New Zealand a year and a half ago with my husband who is from Wellington. We had been living in Canada where I had a career that I absolutely lived for; a Director with Canada’s leading fashion retailer. If you’ve met me, you’ll know that it’s not fashion that gets me up in the morning. I worked with Aritzia for 10 years in a People Leadership position and though it challenged me in every single sense that I knew, I loved every second of it.

Between Canada and New Zealand, we took a year off to travel and experience some major bucket-list items. That was fulfilling in more ways than I could ever articulate but you can imagine how ready I was to begin working when I touched down in this incredible country.

I placed so much emphasis on my new career in Wellington and I figured that I had totally nailed it. I ended up doing a similar role with a project that was probably considered high-profile in NZ at the time. My in-laws were all extremely excited and proud that I had landed this role and I was pretty excited too.

I knew the company wasn’t 100% aligned to me in terms of values and leadership, but the role was right up my alley and it was a great opportunity. It ended up being a disaster.


Not the project…we pulled that off well but the work I was doing wasn’t aligned to where I add the most value and the values of the company were quite far off from my own. I knew I had to realign with a team whose values reflected mine so I began the search. I wasn’t searching based on what a company did, more how they did it. It’s never been fashion that got me up every morning. In Canada, it was the fiercely dynamic culture and the opportunity to develop my team. I really valued the skillset I developed in people development and cultural development and what I loved most was being able to develop that same skillset in others.

I was on a mission to find a values-based organisation that I truly aligned with. I spoke with loads of great companies and was fortunate enough to receive a couple of job offers from some incredible brands whose values completely mirrored my own. There was something missing though and I knew that this time that I couldn’t jump in to something unless the fit was spot on. It was when I spoke with Humankind, where I now work (and love), that I realised that my search was all wrong.

I thought I had been looking for values: how a company does things versus just what they do. What I had actually been looking for the entire time was the why--a purpose that I believe in and aligns with my own.


Humankind’s vision is to help New Zealand build the best workplaces in the world. The purpose is to help people love what they do and do what they love. We provide innovative HR consulting advice to businesses and agencies all over NZ. The purpose is something that resonates with me personally and has always been a personal-driver for me.

I’m a millennial and as a millennial, it’s true; I want more than a paycheque and a ping pong table. I want to work with a company that will make a difference in the world in a way that is meaningful to me (no matter how big or small). With the rise of Millenials and iGen, this is one of the key ways that work is changing but we’ll save that for another day.

The job search is something that almost all of us go through at one point another. It is totally painful at moments but I took away a lot of learnings from my recent search. It was not a long-term strategy that drove me. My core purpose drove me to where I needed to go. Don’t start with what, don’t start with how…start with why.


Kayln Ponti is a member of Leading Ladies and now works with HumanKind in Wellington.




Jumping on the rollercoaster. How I became a CEO.

For those that read my post about Sarah Frizzell in June and know me well, you might have guessed that was the moment I decided to leave my job and start my own company.

That weekend with Sarah in Hatepe I had 3 offers I was considering. All of them I'd be headhunted for which was a first in my career and felt pretty dam cool. All were executive roles. One with probably the most successful tech company in NZ, another with a creative company I'd admired for years and the other, well that was a slightly different proposal.


It was an invitation to start a company.  An invitation to create whatever I wanted.  To be my own boss. CEO.


It might sound a little strange as it's probably not the traditional way one becomes a business owner.  Having worked with a number of startups over the past 18 months it's not something that I'd heard of.


A mentor of mine had an idea.  Then he gave me the confidence to make it happen.   Mentors are good like that. 


I spent most of that weekend with Sarah debating all those options. 1 month earlier if you'd asked me if I had plans to leave BizDojo there would have been zero chance of me saying yes.  But when 3 offers in the same month land on your lap it makes you challenge yourself and ask questions about your current situation.

Having peer mentors to talk through the options and cheer me on really helped.  I was also inspired by other Leading Ladies like Kat Greenbrook who around the same time left Kiwibank to create her own company, Rouge Penguin.  Being part of The Female Founders as a sponsor and speaker over the years also helped give me the courage to take the leap.  Listening to inspiring women like Melissa Clark Renyolds, Marie Clare, Ruth McDavitt and Julia Forsyth to name just a few, gave me confidence that I too could be a CEO and define my own career destiny. 

Saying no to those other bloody cool jobs was hard.  But all I could think was that when I described to friends the three options, only one of them really made me smile. It made me nervous and excited which apparently are the perfect emotions when taking on a new challenge.


So I've done it.  Along with my mentor, I've created Blackeye VR, a virtual and augmented reality production studio and consultancy based in Wellington, New Zealand.  My first job has been cofounding ProjectR, a virtual and mixed reality centre. It's a big job and I've only just begun.



On the off days, when things are a bit shit, it's easy to think I might have made the wrong choice.  I choose the hardest option.  But I've got a vision for my future and it doesn't involve taking the easy route. 

 And yes, I'm nervous and excited. I'm riding the rollercoaster. Wish me luck.

Jessica Manins

Inspiration from women we love

This week's Leading Ladies share insights into their world's as role models and leaders. 

Watch: First lady Michelle Obama at DNC
Michelle Obama absolutely killed it at the Democratic National Convention. Both her message and her delivery were first class. Is it too early to say #VoteObama2020? 

When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high. ~ Michelle Obama 

Listen: Spinoff's Business is Boring #5
Managing Director Anna Curzon talk humbly about the importance of mentoring from juniors and being a transparent, servant leader. 

I think as a leader in today’s age you really have to be humble about that and go “I didn’t understand a thing you just said, can you teach me please?” And often that will be the 21 year old in your business. I’m starting to think about that reverse servant leadership but also youth as mentors to leaders, which is challenging and hard. ~ Anna Curzon

Read: How to explain Mansplaining
What research tells us about the differences between how men and women talk in professional settings. 

As the Princeton and Brigham Young study noted, “having a seat at the table is very different than having a voice.” Women at the table will attest to finding themselves talked over, cut off, interrupted or forced to politely listen to reams of lengthy speeches. ~ Julia Baird

Read: How this female cardiac surgeon remains cool as ice in the OR
Just 5% of heart surgeon's are female, learn how one made it through training and working in a highly stressful, male dominated environment. 

the first day that I showed up, one of the surgeons said to me, he said, "Listen, you're going to need to be twice as good to get half the credit because you're a woman. So my job is to make you twice as good," and that's what he did. ~ Dr. Kathy Magliato


Time Out and the Search for Quiet

Being a Leading Lady, both at work and in general life, is awesome.  But it can also be exhausting.  I think we women are too good at just working through the tiredness, or planning our time out around other people, whether they’re our kids, partners, family or even around what’s best for our workplaces


But if even our time out is based on doing what’s best for others, then at what point are we properly looking after ourselves? 


While our Leading Ladies group is very much focussed on being awesome at work, I’ve been thinking about just how important taking time out for ourselves is and how, by doing that, by default it sets us up to kick ass in the workplace even more.

 It makes total sense to me that when you get some time off work, you spend it with your loved ones.  However, while that is often fantastic and just what you need, if you’re anything like me, your natural Leading Lady tendencies may find you spending the whole time organising everyone and everything which isn’t particularly relaxing at all…  I’m a Type A personality, so that’s totally my bag, but recently I did the total opposite and headed to the Gold Coast to spend five nights at Gwinganna*, which is a beautiful and - for me - life-changing wellness retreat.  You cannot plan a single thing while you are there.  Instead, you are at the mercy of the delightful and experienced people who run the place - this takes some getting used to, especially for a control freak super organised person like me.  Each morning you are able to choose which activity you’ll do that day, but otherwise you just move through the week eating fabulous food, being in nature, exercising, meditating, learning, having any type of treatment you can imagine in the phenomenal spa and talking to all sorts of lovely souls.  There is hardly any cell phone coverage and you are encouraged to keep your phone hidden away at all times, so you actually barely even look at it.  For five and a half days.  Unheard of. 

So all of this may seem lovely and perhaps a bit indulgent and a pretty extreme version of having time to yourself.  I get that.  But here’s the thing that makes it completely worthwhile (and I am not exaggerating when I say it’s made me look at life very differently). 


It’s quiet.  It is so so quiet. 


And I don’t just mean because there isn’t any traffic around and you’re in the middle of the bush.  I mean it’s quiet from all the external noise which surrounds us at all times, that we’re not even really aware of because it’s just always there.  Your phone isn’t ringing or bleeping.  No one needs anything from you.  There’s no TV to be distracted by.  There are no deadlines or schedules to follow.  At no point do you have to be anywhere at a particular time.  You don’t have to worry about how you’re presenting yourself to anyone.  If you want to laugh or cry or talk to some cool new friends or not talk to anyone at all, then you just go ahead and do it.  (You can also talk to a horse if that kind of thing floats your boat).  If you want to spend two hours floating in the pool like a human lilo, then I would highly recommend it.  Everything slows down and without having to think about any of life’s usual responsibilities, there comes a kind of clarity which is normally hidden beneath the deadlines and the to-do lists and all the things we are always doing for other people. 


If you’ve ever questioned what you’re doing with your life or wanted to find a way to make some significant changes, then this how to work through those things. 

Gwinganna Trees

Gwinganna Trees


Without any noise to drown those thoughts out, surrounded by beautiful souls in beautiful surroundings.  It’s pretty amazing.

Obviously we can’t spend our lives living at a wellness retreat, which is a great shame, but I suppose our people would miss us and we’d very quickly become extremely poor, (though extraordinarily well).  We also can’t regularly take five and a half day solo holidays and leave everyone else to muddle on without us.  But I really think this idea of quiet, with the focus being purely on yourself and no one else, is key to recharging our Leading Lady batteries and just checking in with our inner selves to see how we’re really doing under all that noise that life surrounds us with.  Finding even half an hour every day or three to go for a walk, read a book, (and I’m talking Catlin Moran, not a book that’s going to ‘better you’ in the workplace), sit outside in the hammock or go to a yoga or meditation class can make such a difference.   Since I’ve been home, the TV has been off a lot more, I’ve read more, I’ve swum more and I’m spending a lot more time outside – these are the things that really relax my mind and it took being away from everything else to tap back into that. 


Take the time to find those things that give you peace and take whatever opportunity you can to do them. 


In turn, this will give your mind more space to be awesome at work and the awareness and energy to tackle things head on, without the fear of burning out or ever having to relinquish your Leading Lady status.

 *In case you were wondering, this is not a sponsored post for Gwinganna.  It really and truly changed my life.  I think it was the pool.

Post by Aimee Froud

Trust & spreading the goodness

On Tuesday night at Sarah's office ( Xero ) we hosted our first Leading Ladies Connect event.  20 women from different companies, industries & ages came together to hear our journey and be linked up with their own peer mentoring group.  It was soooo good.

What I loved most about this event was that all these incredible women trusted us. They turned up, they shared their stories and they were open to something new.

" It's great that you guys have taken onboard the challenge to connect up other women with peer mentoring. I thought you guys were really impressive." Connect Attendee

We are stoked to be able to share our learnings and help others establish a group. There are now 3 groups running in Wellington and I think we might be on to something here.

There is still time to get involved. If you missed out on this event we'll be looking at running another in October.  Also keen for some sponsors so we keep this low cost & accessible....hit us up.

Thanks to everyone for attending, your honesty and trust in the process.

You rock.

Jessica, Toni, Aimee, Sarah & Kalyn

Telling our stories

One of the great things about peer mentoring is being able to tell my stories to a trusted and supportive crew of women. 

I don’t have to worry that my story is too small, revealing or wrong-headed -- I can just share what I need to. And I receive all sorts of goodness -- laughter, empathy, ideas for moving forward, offers to lend a hand, stories in return.

That’s a distinguishing and brilliant feature of peer mentoring. With more senior mentors, it can feel silly to raise an issue that you suspect may be trivial. We might not want to pierce the veil of competence that’s brought us into the relationship in the first place. Peer mentoring helps us to let our guard down.

Last month, I had the opportunity to share some of my stories with a different type of audience. People from the business community all over New Zealand turned out to hear me alongside these four dazzling individuals at part of the New Zealand Innovation Council’s “Innovation Heroes” series.

Back in March, I’d accepted the invitation from Louise and Andy at the New Zealand Innovation Council not because I felt that I fit the billing, but because I was honoured to be part of something with legends like Glen Martin and Steve Henry. I was equally excited to get to know Lisa King and Dale Clareburt and hopeful that I could perhaps encourage one or two other people to take a leap. I also thought it would good for me to take stock of the past couple of years of my career and to give myself a good dose of public speaking.

Predictably, fast-forward to May and thoughts like ‘why did I agree to do this?’, ‘I don’t belong here’, ‘I’ve got NOTHING to say’ and various other hits from the I’m Not Good Enough Top 100 are playing in my head.

The other speakers were all Founder-CEOs of remarkable businesses. I was not. And while I am indeed part of an amazing technology company, the evolution of our business 8i didn’t feel like my story to tell up on the stage. Instead, the story that felt authentic was an intensely personal one about me … my fears, insecurities, challenges I’ve overcome, lessons I’m learning. I felt really vulnerable sharing that information with crowds of people from Dunedin to Auckland and worried that no one would find it interesting.

As it turned out, the experience was one of the most rewarding that I’ve had all year. Lots of people responded to my story, they laughed at my jokes, came to meet me, wrote to tell me my story inspired them. And of course most gratifyingly, they tweeted about it (jokes). It turned out that the honesty and humility spoke to people just as much as a hero’s tale could.

A week on, I sat across from one of my best and most impressive friends as she relayed a recent experience of her own. As a successful senior manager in one of New Zealand’s most prominent tech firms, she’d been called upon to speak to a very senior group of female leaders in the Public Sector. If you know my friend, you know she’s an obvious choice for this kind of thing … a deep thinker about successful workplaces, accomplished manager and great speaker. Turns out, same deal. She went through the ‘why did I agree to do this?’ ‘I’ve got nothing worthwhile to say’, ‘What if I’m not worthy of this audience?’ cycle too. And sure enough, she’d give her talk, nailed it, and several weeks on Tier 1 and 2 leaders of large organisations are still emailing her for further advice. It felt so weird that we’d both gone through the same kind of thing.

Turns out not so weird. Tara Mohr recounts virtually the same tale in her book Playing Big, which I am right into at the moment. My feeling is that women tend to be cautious about putting their stories in the limelight. Having that bias, it’s actually pretty unlikely that we’ll go ahead and share stories that don’t have real value with a wide audience. So try to quiet that voice in your head and go for it. And p.s. If you want to be on the receiving end of some inspirational stories told from a place of honesty and vulnerability, I highly recommend you check out the next installment of Extraordinary Tales of Strength and Daring, which is hopefully not too far away.

I want to finish this blogs by recording some of the gems I remember from 2 weeks on the road with Innovation Heroes:

Steve Henry:

  • Forget being an innovation hero. Focus on being an innovation survivor.

  • Fall down seven times, get up eight. Fall down eight, get up nine.

  • The Auckland Inorganic Waste collection is an institution to rival Christmas. Long live the inorganic waste collection.

Dale Clareburt:

  • It’s normal for start-up entrepreneurs to devote most of their waking hours to work and then dream about it as well. Dale can make business decisions in her sleep and wake ready for action! Impressive.

  • It’s a cliche, but it really is a roller coaster. Closing a $99 deal can make you feel like a millionaire, but you could get knocked back down the very same day.

  • Holy crap I’m in a light-box. (Ditto that Dale).

Lisa King:

  • It takes a lot of courage to start a business, and then once you do ...

  • It’s like having a baby. Everyone will give you advice, but no one can really prepare you. It will change your life, you can’t stop taking care of it, night or day, and you can’t give the baby back.

Glenn Martin

  • Believe in facts, believe in science. I don’t believe in myself, I believe 2+2=4 and that tells me what I can do.

  • It helps a whole bunch to have the right partner (well, Glenn would say “husband or wife”).



Embracing change - Taking inspiration from Sarah Frizzell, The Lucky Taco Founder

Last weekend I spent time in Hatepe, on Lake Taupo with one of my favourite Friends, Sarah Frizzell.  4 years ago Sarah left a successful career as a creative in advertising to start up The Lucky Taco with her husband Otis Frizzell.  It was her dream and she had the guts to do it. Something I admire most about her. 

It was a bold move.  Giving up a great career to create and manage a food truck in the middle of an Auckland winter.  But she did it and she did it epically well.


On social media, Sarah & Otis have successfully created an attentive audience and their beautiful Mexican food has won over many fans and accolades.  As far as branding goes, these two have nailed it.  They understand how to build a brand and a loyal following and they've put the hard work into executing excellence in everything they do. 

What I love most about seeing these two succeed is they have genuinely gone after what they want. They've made huge sacrifices, put in the long hours and marketed their butts off.  As a friend, I've had a glimpse of that hard work, the triumphs and tears.  Like the many startups that I'm surrounded by in my current role, it's no easy ride.  This graph often comes up at events around success and it's a favourite of mine and so very very true.


I lived with Sarah over 10 years ago in Edinburgh. Back then she had long brown locks, a very different picture from the funky pink shaved head she is currently rocking.  She was my glamorous friend in advertising. Working and partying hard to help the big brands get bigger. She wasn't much of a foodie then. In fact, I probably wasn't the only one that was a little taken back when she first started cooking.... The Sarah I know now is still the same person but she's made changes to build a life she wants.  She's taken control of her destiny.

What I've loved most is watching Sarah transform herself.  It's empowering to know that if we want to change, we can do it. We can be whoever we want to be and our past is just that.  


We can change our look, our career and develop new passions.  It's only ourselves that stops this. Ourselves and the perception that is often put on us by others to be a certain way.  But stuff everyone else, it's our life after all!

Maybe it's being in my 30's that has given me the confidence to be more of who I want to be.  I know I want to be my own boss. I want to work with people that inspire me to be better, to innovate and make positive change in the world.  I want to work with creatives who have vision and work authentically with their values.  And it's not always easy to find these people.

Sarah at Hatepe giving flyfishing a go in her supercute sportsware :)

Sarah at Hatepe giving flyfishing a go in her supercute sportsware :)

Spending a weekend with Sarah reminds me that it's all possible. It's not going to be pretty all the time and there will always be haters, hardship and doubts. 

But if you want to be the best you can be. Then you've got to embrace change.


Blog by Jessica Manins