How Kiwi tech got the drop on Apple
By Andy Kenworthy
It takes lightning reflexes to beat Apple to the punch in the tech business, but Guy Horrocks has managed it.
Born and bred in Christchurch and still in his late 20s, Horrocks has the claim to fame of co-founding Polar Bear Farm,
the world's first iPhone development company, well before the App Store and all that goes with it. And after getting the
head start, he has maintained the momentum.
He says: “It made a huge difference being first to market. It allowed us to go pitch to big US brands as a credible and
innovative company, regardless of being a small NZ start-up. Some advertising agencies and technology companies spend
years trying to open the doors at large brands that we already have, so we’ve been very fortunate. However, you still
have to deliver a world class service or product to get anywhere long-term.”
Horrocks and lead engineer, Cody Bunea, left the Farm in late 2008 and set up Carnival Labs to originally target casual
gaming, entertainment and advertising apps. According to Horrocks, at that stage there was plenty of work going round
for those with the right blend of technology and creativity.
“We were so busy, it really was hard to go too wrong,” he explains. “You could almost pick any area of the market and
build a very successful company.”
But the team were all too aware that first movers are not the only movers for long in a sector like this one. They soon
had to work hard to rise above the noise of the increasing competition and make sure they didn’t try to bite off more
than they could chew. They have proved they can do so with more than 100 apps out there, including high profile work for
global brands like Nestle, Pepsi, Dreamworks, Kraft Foods and Taco Bell. Meanwhile, the Carnival now comprises 10
full-time staff in New Zealand, plus about four part-timers making things happen while Horrocks clocks up the airmiles
as roving ambassador.
You might have thought having the company’s office destroyed in the Christchurch earthquake, and then one of its key
clients selling up and shifting the work offshore, might have put Horrocks off his game. But instead he has responded by
expanding into the US, and picking up so much US work that he is now preparing to make New York his permanent home. The
bulk of the work will still be done in the company’s new headquarters in Wellington, but Horrocks can now do the face
time for clients when it counts.
“Before, you met a potential client and you had a great meeting. Then you went back to New Zealand and someone else was
meeting that same client,” he explains. “Our clients tend to be large brands and advertising agencies. So most of the
action is in New York, with Los Angeles probably being the second largest focus. However, if you're building a
technology company and trying to raise investment and attract good staff, Silicon Valley is still probably the place to
be. New York does seem to be gaining some ground with companies like Foursquare, Gilt, BirchBox and even Group Commerce
started by New Zealander Jonty Kelt based in the Big Apple.”