Breaking the Silicon Ceiling

e solutions’ clients are on journey. At least that’s what the corporate alliance of Telecom, EDS and Microsoft, often tells them.
But so too is esolutions, its destinations still evolving and best summed up in sentence: “Markets that don’t exist can’t be analysed.” It’s from book called The Innovator’s Dilemma which esolutions’ general manager Jane Freeman read recently, finding its sentiments reassuringly biographical.
The alliance and its journey read like something out of Star Wars, their trajectory passing through the cyberspace junkyard of over-hyped e-ventures. So the stages this odyssey takes as it aims to enable big and small clients alike, are carefully graduated.
The 18-month-old alliance was created as much by convergence as corporate advantage.
“Telecom, Microsoft and EDS couldn’t do this without each other,” says Freeman, adding that some of the products and services esolutions offers grew from IT.
esolutions is specialist developer of e-commerce packages that help businesses of all sizes and complexities to participate fully in the online world. Its business-to-business packages provide ?building blocks’ for companies to go online and its 65 staff are employed by one of esolutions’ parent companies. Each partner contributes and shares revenue relative to its investment in individual projects. Because esolutions is an alliance not legal entity, customers actually make agreements to purchase with one of esolutions’ channel partners.
Managing the start-up and the corporate partners as well as developing new products and services has been demanding assignment for 38-year-old Freeman who does however relish both change and challenge. mother of two, she spent six years with the ASB from 1987 as head of marketing and then three with Clear, where she was general manager of residential markets, covering the company’s residential markets and customer services divisions. She was BankDirect’s general manager before being tapped to run esolutions.
Success came to greet her rather than the other way around.
“I’ve never planned my career like some people. I’ve been great believer though in not turning down things that help you expand. With this job what I had was start-up experience and the fact that I could pull team together,” she says.
Freeman is soft spoken, petite and demure but there’s no doubting her determination. She describes how she has seen some people hitting the brick wall through either exhaustion or near burn-out. For her it remains challenge.
“I’ll find ways of getting over it, under it around it or through it,” she says.
“I’ve always been the sort of person who if I really want to achieve something, I’ll do it. I’ve never had my sights set on particular job, or on money… it’s just in me that I have to do my best. I feel like I am letting myself and others down if I don’t,” she says.
“Success just happens if you do your best – if it doesn’t then it doesn’t matter because you’ve given your best.”
Part of her challenge for the past 18 months has been learning about the IT industry and the state of the market in New Zealand.
“I think when the business plan was first put together for esolutions before my time, we expected things to go lot quicker than they did. What we’ve realised is that we are well placed to take advantage of the fact that businesses need to start at the beginning,” she says.
“They are not going to jump in there and do everything online. Largely, both small and big companies are looking for infrastructure provision.”
Freeman also found that the market evolves about every three months.
“We had vision that we wanted to revolutionise the capabilities of New Zealand business. As we moved through the first year that’s still true, but it’s really more about netmarketing and providing enabling technology to get on board.”
For Freeman, staged departures on the journey are critical to enabling businesses. It allows them to continue operating along traditional lines while developing and trialling some of esolutions’ packages.
These range from web hosting and renting office applications to Safecom which, according to Freeman, offers safe way of doing business over the Internet. Freeman believes most people in business still do not understand IT.
“Nor should they – they just need to understand the benefits,” she says.
At the moment take-up is what Freeman describes as “steady” – esolutions has about 10 percent of its target market, translating into about 3000 clients. The percentage leaves Freeman unfazed – she regards it as an achievement after only one year. She recalls the early days of Eftpos when this now everyday convenience sat at just two percent of the market compared to its present figure of about 90 percent.
“It wasn’t until the banks got out and started demonstrating the possibilities that it took off,” she says.
esolutions has taken that lesson to heart. Freeman can’t see much point in developing packages and leaving them on the shelf for customers to discover. It actively promotes the benefits of its packages to customers and helps them trial some using samples of their customer base to test their effectiveness.
Looking back, Freeman concedes it’s been hard job partly because it’s in three parts – IT, the start-up and the alliance.
“I guess my challenge over the last 12 months is to get it all done – it’s just such huge job in pulling it all together. The alliance aspect of it is tough but I haven’t seen any negatives managing it,” she says.

With apologies to that old show stopper of song, there’s no business – like e-business, especially when it comes to uncertainty. And to borrow the next line from that entertainment anthem, they really do smile when they are low.
Take Cindy Mitchener, chief executive of eVentures. She’s smiling – just. The reasons aren’t all that difficult to isolate. Not when local media are calling for more results after she’s been in the CEO’s chair for just over year; not when losses amount to $4.5 million and certainly not when the Nasdaq misbehaves during eVentures’ start-up.
“The Nasdaq went from 4000 to 1800,” says Mitchener. “If people don’t think that’s tough, then they are not telling you the truth.”
Change – rapid change – is part of the difficulty of managing new e-outfit. Like other leaders in her field, Mitchener is painfully aware of the industry’s volatility and wary of its over-hyped expectations.
“We could have done all the things some people expected from our prospectus but we’re old-fashioned business people and we saw that the environment had changed enormously,” she says.
“I think the market always wants people to do more. We understand and we are looking at lot of investments, but the landscape changes regularly,” she says.
Forty-two year old Mitchener joined the company in January 2000. Its major focus then as now, was to provide investment capital and related expertise for the establishment in New Zealand of leading international Internet, e-commerce and new media business.
The company launched in May last year with major financial backers. Locally, Telecom, The Warehouse and Todd Capital took up 15 million (six percent) of the 250 million shares. Kiwi entrepreneur Craig Heatley owns 40 million shares (16 percent) in eVentures and other shareholders 35 million (14 percent).
The major shareholder in the company though is eVentures partnership, Delaware general partnership owned in equal proportions by SOFTBANK and epartners. The company has 160 million ordinary shares (64 percent of the share capital).
It is the one of the world’s leading Internet investment companies. epartners was launched in mid 1999 as US$400 million venture capital fund specialising in Internet, e-commerce and new media investments. Its primary investor is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. There may be media and other pressure

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