Ice ideas conference talk

This talk was given at the Ice Ideas conference. You can view a view of it here.

I’m Mitch Olson & I’m the Co-founder of SmallWorlds.com which is an online game targeted at anyone & everyone aged 13 & above. Gaming is the largest sector of the Entertainment Industry – 2.5x revenues of movies (NZ$35B) & 4.5x revenues of music (NZ$20B), so its an exciting industry to be a part. We have over 6.5 million registered players & growing at about 250k new players per month & 99% of our users are outside NZ, mostly in the US. Our team is based here in Auckland, in fact just up the road in K Rd, which itself has a long history in the entertainment industry – although I think their audience skews a little older than ours.

In preparing to talk here today I was reflecting on my journey to be here today, & trying to find a unifying theme that pulled everything together, and it was this “Wherever you are going you start from where you are”.

So, 6 years ago when my business partner Darren Green & I started this business, I started with a humble, but deeply meaningful aspirations; to put food on the table of my family & a roof over our heads.

But there was a little more. To build a more prosperous future for ourselves and our team, and create something that was world-class & loved by millions. But that later aspiration was more of a fantasy than a goal in the sense that part of me didn’t really believe I could realise that, or that I even deserved to.

But I love the universal theme found in a lot of fantasy-oriented stories about the boy who lived under the stairs who turns out to be a wizard, or the lost king or undiscovered genius. I think the popularity of these stories & this theme is because it has a deep resonance with us; we are all more powerful than we imagine. We each have undiscovered depths of genius & power inside us. As I reflect back on the difference between what I believed was possible & what our team has created to date I am reminded that that idea must be true.

Wherever you are going you start from where you are. For kiwi’s that place is what my father used to Godzone. I love this country. Every time I travel overseas & I reminded about what talented people we are. And what a great place this is to come home to.

NZ has one of the best education systems in the world. We’re ranked 4th in the world in reading & science, & 7th in maths. My grandfather was a Swedish whaler, who spent time much of his early life working from South Georgia off the coast of South America, before eventually settling in NZ. When I think about what sort of person voluntarily leaves the known & familiar to travel to the other side of the world to the unknown to create a new life I almost can’t imagine it. But their is something of our ancestors pioneering courage & curiosity in each & every one of us, which makes us the people we are. One of the dictionary meanings of “pioneer” is “to develop or be the first to use or apply a new method, area of knowledge, or activity”. And it is this quality which I believe makes this the best country & a nature home to innovation.

Wherever you are going you start from where you are. I recently re-watched on Youtube Sir Paul Callaghan’s speech from earlier this year where he spoke at the StrategyNZ workshop. I thought he spoke plainly & powerfully about what NZ needed to do to create a more prosperous future. One of the interesting metrics he talked about was “revenue per employee”. According to Sir Paul, in this country at the moment that figure is about $120,000 per employee. And some industries, like tourism for instance, earn less than that, & some earn more. But one of the common themes of those industries in which this figure is higher is that innovation is involved. Industries like ICT & gaming have revenue-per-employee figures of up to $1M per employee. Innovation is key to our future prosperity as a country. Wherever you are going you start from where you are & I can’t imagine a better country to start from here. Thank you

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