Datacom shows entrepreneurial DNA

New Zealand tech companies don’t come much bigger than Datacom. The company is also old by industry standards. It started in the 1960s. For years Datacom deliberately stayed out of the public eye, preferring to keep its own counsel and communicate directly with customers.

Despite all that, there’s nothing staid or complacent about Datacom.

My interview with CEO Greg Davidson for the New Zealand Herald Innovation feature focussed mainly on the company’s datacentre operations. Davidson told me Datacom took a bold punt pouring money into a huge Auckland facility just as global economies were tanking.

While I was with Davidson he told me how the company deliberately fosters an internal innovation culture. In effect he said there are virtual start-up teams and there are competitive events where Datacom developers work start-up style.

Big technology companies often claim they support internal entrepreneurial activity. Often it’s a matter of paying lip-service to the idea – partly as a way of keeping development teams happy.

Davidson made it clear Datacom’s entrepreneurial culture is more than skin deep. He told me the events often take place outside normal work hours, that they are popular and well attended. Although he didn’t say so, it was also clear the company’s senior management stands squarely behind these activities.

Tech feature writing works best when you focus on one or two big ideas, throw everything in and it gets hard to follow. So I left this material out and made a mental note that it could be worth a follow-up later.

Then I spoke to Mohit Singh for the story about Garden Genie. The team won top prize at the Auckland Startup Weekend in November. That’s an achievement. But it went on to win the global ecommerce prize. Team members are now in Austin, Texas working in an incubator to get their idea ready for market.

Singh works as a developer for Datacom. Moreover, he works on phone apps.  You’d think that might mean a conflict: a motivated, smart entrepreneur delving away in a tech giant. Singh told me he has nothing but encouragement from his managers – presumably including time off work to take up the prize. Nothing serves as a better illustration that Davidson means it when he talks about fostering an internal innovation culture.