Mish Guru breaks the States

Mish Guru breaks the States

A Kiwi company with an empire state of mind

From humble beginnings, Snapchat start-up Mish Guru is proving that Kiwi fledglings certainly aren’t flightless after taking the United States by storm.

It’s common for many New Zealand start-ups to try and break into the United States as quickly as possible. In terms of scaling, the Land of Opportunity has proven to be just that for Kiwi businesses with the potential to reach out to larger audiences.

Just take PwC’s 2017 New Zealand CEO Survey as an example, in which a huge 72% of Kiwi business leaders said they see The States as a top market for growth.

Software company Mish Guru is one of these start-ups. Founded in Wellington in 2015 by three young Kiwis, Mish Guru is now an international company helping brands market themselves through the explosively popular medium of Snapchat.

Speaking from the Mish Guru offices in New York, founder and CEO Tom Harding and Head of Operations Connor Archbold tell us how this Kiwi fledgling got off the ground – with a little help from the PwC Private Business team along the way.

A Snapchat story

Why Snapchat? It was a question that Tom admits was on everyone’s lips a few years ago. However, the image- and video-sharing social app has seen a huge uptake by individuals in recent years, and the big money has followed.

In March, the app’s parent company Snap was floated on the New York Stock Exchange, reaching market capitalisation of US$33 billion – three times that of Twitter. Fortunately, Tom and his co-founders had already caught the wave.

“Three years ago, we were looking at Snapchat as a space, and it seemed obvious back then that it was going to continue to grow,” Tom begins.

“At that time it was a mobile-only product, and you could see that it wasn’t particularly brand-friendly. There was no real way to understand how your content was performing, and we saw people running around with a mobile phone trying to pull off large-scale campaigns without really knowing what was working and what wasn’t.”

It was this vision that Snapchat could be bigger for businesses, as well as the perception that companies had no way of effectively using the platform, that formed Mish Guru.

Since then, the company has gone from strength to strength. With significant capital-raising from New Zealand investors, the business has spread into Australia, Europe and the United States. Tom, along with his co-founders, Ashok Fernandez and Jacob Duval, have since built an impressive and varied portfolio of work, making the most of Snapchat’s unique digital wizardry.

“We had an amazing campaign recently from our client McDonald’s in Australia called Snapplications, where people could create and send a 10-second job application to McDonald’s over Snapchat while they’re wearing a virtual staff uniform. It worked really well in engaging their young audience, many of whom use Snapchat and are into using the features,” Tom explains.

With global companies like Paramount, Visa, Vodafone and PlayStation already among their growing client portfolio, the Kiwi startup has built a reputation for working with top brands – starting with one of the biggest in Aotearoa.

“Winning Spark in New Zealand was a real catalyst moment,” Tom continues, “and they were fantastic to work with.”

Breaking the States

And yet, Mish Guru’s success has not come without challenges. Some of the biggest, Tom says, were around getting set up and scaling in the US.

“There are so many small steps and it does take a bit of a toll. We take for granted how easy it is to set up a business in New Zealand until you try it as a start-up in the US.”

To this end, PwC has been working with Mish Guru to provide advice, guidance and connections to experts on the other side of the world.

“What PwC offers to a company like ours is awesome,” Connor explains.

“There was a confidence that the PwC team knew the unknowns and how to solve the problems we had,” Tom adds, “particularly when setting up overseas.

“It was our drive to break into the US market, but in terms of the legal, financial and tax side, we needed help. The PwC team really impressed in our first meeting by ‘getting us’. They knew we were small but wanted to grow and had a drive to get on board and grow with us.”

To start, the PwC Private Business team suggested using Stripe’s Atlas product to set up the US company and US bank account – this can be a pain point to complete from New Zealand, and saved Tom and his team time and hassle. PwC then provided practical advice on transfer pricing, legal agreements and other aspects of the expansion to the US.

Knowing the pressures start-ups like Mish Guru face, the PwC team provided fixed fees to give the company fee certainty and help manage cash burn. However, Connor says there was another aspect of the PwC experience that he’s found particularly valuable.

“In terms of getting off the ground here, working with PwC has given us a real vote of confidence,” he explains.

“People will say: ‘oh, you’re a start-up, so do you even have your finances in order?’ Being able to reply with ‘yes, we’re with PwC’ has helped us a lot.”

Empire state of mind

So, what lies ahead for Mish Guru? Tom says they’re feeling good about having a business that people enjoy working with – certainly a great start. Next comes a change in gears to share the product with as many people as possible.

“We want to become more than a cool little New Zealand company and take Mish Guru to a true global stage,” Tom explains. “We want to show that we can do what we do as good as – if not better than – anyone else in the world.

“What drives us is the desire to fix something that’s broken. When the three of us started out, we were all engineers, so there’s a definite drive to repair something that’s not really worked for businesses in the past – as well as to mix it with the big boys in The States.

“Our ultimate motivation is to grow something that makes life easier for brands around the world.”

The PwC team is always excited to see a start-up with a great idea get on the right track. With such a focus on doing what they do best, Mish Guru is certainly growing up fast, and has all the makings of another great NZ Inc. success story.

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