A Face for Hire: A Must-Read for a Generation of Influencers

Recently our health-tech start-up Tend, moved into our new Kingsland medical clinic. It seemed the perfect match, for a kiwi start-up to take up residence in the kiwi bacon factory. 

But just a few months ago, if you turned the key to our clinic you would have opened the doors to something which felt like it was taken right out of a sci-fi novel. A post-apocalyptic office space that had once housed Uber. 

Walking around the office for the first time, I was astounded at the sheer destruction of the space. It was as if a tornado had swept through and removed the people that were so obviously once there.

Across the office we found laptop and phone charging cords, desks and chairs were left behind as was a stack of dirty plates and glasses scattered throughout the kitchen. A very expensive projector was left sitting proudly in the board room and tens of thousands of dollars of technology, left behind.  

There were half-eaten packages of muesli bars and popcorn leisurely left behind as if the people who once occupied the space were at some point just about to return. Water bottles were left half drunk and other beverages simply left behind. 

I could not help but think that this is what business warfare looks like. A space that at one point housed one of the world’s fastest growing startups, did their New Zealand takeover and then simply retreated.

The staff were let go and the money that once was potentially going into the back pocket of NZ business owners, now flows overseas to the empire which is Uber. 

As kiwis we are fiercely proud of what we consider our own exports. New Zealand’s open economy that works on free market principles serves us well. Our dairy, honey and eggs are sold worldwide, as is our wine. 

As a nation, we are proud when we say that we buy “kiwi made” products but in an age where consumers are getting more and more messages thrown at them, sometimes this message can get lost.   

On social media, I watch some influencers who speak warmly about their commitment to New Zealand products but in their next post go out of their way to promote products which so obviously erodes NZ inc, becoming just another gun for hire. 

Being the founder of My Food Bag, I have always been proud of what we add to the New Zealand economy. 

So, when what has been dubbed “the worlds most ruthless start-up” entered New Zealand, I was under no illusion what their form of warfare would look like. 

This large, German listed food provider, (who has had significant backing from the Qatari Sovereign wealth fund), go out of their way to entice local influencers to make them look kiwi. Leveraging off their “kiwiness” for the lack of theirs. 

How do you really feel as an influencer when you are lining the pockets of rich Qatari investors, in a country where women are marginalised? Where homosexuality is illegal? 

There was a New Zealand small food kit company who closed their doors after seeing significant discounts and “free” food being given away. I always wonder how consumers believe that this is ever “free”. 

In fact, that cost does not just come at the price of the provider, but to those locally owned businesses who must compete with them. 

And influencers play a huge role as part of these campaigns. Only in mid-September last year did the Advertising Standards Authority finally put some restrictions on influencers.  

I wonder, now that being an influencer has become an accepted part of advertising, where is the corporate responsibility of some of our influencers? 

When did it become “cool” to promote businesses who use complicated tax arrangements and employ very few people locally, who basically leach off New Zealand, in return for a paycheck? 

Do not get me wrong, I also have many friends who are influencers and who take their roles seriously. They have learnt through the years to ask the hard questions of the PR firms that represent the brands before accepting the next job. 

Those are the ones I celebrate and work alongside. So, I am asking for our New Zealand influencers to begin to exercise some corporate responsibility, if you are not already. 

Sometimes I think people find it hard to understand or quantify what it means to support New Zealand businesses. Which is exceptionally short-sighted. 

Many of the types of businesses I am talking about only employ very few people in New Zealand, with most of the business kept offshore. With marketing, PR, finance and leadership roles all centralized offshore. 

And I for one, am very clear on what that means. It means another person employed in New Zealand, buying coffee from the local café, holidays on the luge in Rotorua and saves hard to buy the property next door. 

In My Food Bag, it meant implementing, at the time, New Zealand’s most generous parental leave scheme and providing tens of thousands of meals to charities across this country each year. 

With Tend, we have gone out of our way to employ a local tech team, rather than doing the easy thing which would have been outsourcing the build to the Ukraine, Israel or Russia. Instead, we pay salaries here and contribute to our economy, here.

Something which I know is at least three or four times more expensive. 

I for one like paying tax here. I know that the money I pay, contributes to our economy and that for the people we employ here, it all comes back as part of the ecosystem.

Tend’s UK counterpart Babylon, is partially owned by the Saudi Arabian wealth fund, something which bemuses me, because while they are not in New Zealand, I wonder how many kiwis would feel comfortable with the Saudi Arabian wealth fund having access to their medical records. 

And while there are categories, we simply cannot do, or struggle to do in New Zealand e.g. such as large-scale manufacturing. There are a lot of categories which we can.

And while influencers have a lot to answer for in this space, consumers also, need to become a lot more aware of how and where they spend their money. Pleading ignorance is simply not good enough.  

Do your homework as a consumer and understand the purchasing decisions you’re making. 

For influencers, I would like to challenge them to think about their corporate responsibility and how the decisions they use to promote their platforms impact New Zealand. To take some responsibility and ask the hard questions. 

Simply, let us all challenge ourselves to where possible buy kiwi made and owned. 

As for our clinic in the kiwi bacon factory, you will be happy to hear that there is no remnants of those post-apocalyptic days and that we are a shining beacon of a kiwi owned and made business.