Techlandia Issue 3 - 2019/2020 - Page 11

Techlandia 11

AskNicely takes customer satisfaction seriously.

In just five years, the New Zealand marketing technology startup has grown from the vision of co-founders John Ballinger and Aaron Ward to a 70-employee operation with clients around the world.

Based on the principles of Net Promoter Score, or NPS, AskNicely has created a sleek and user-friendly platform that lets businesses instantly adapt and improve the customer experience to drive customer retention and increase word of mouth marketing.

Most of AskNicely's growth has come since 2017, when Ward made one of the biggest decisions an overseas entrepreneur can make: opening an office in the United States.

And when it came time to decide where along the West Coast to open AskNicely's American office, he sought advice from fellow New Zealanders who had already made the leap.

"I'd never been to Portland, but what we learned was that there were a number of New Zealand folks who had started businesses here," said Ward, in an interview conducted by JLL Managing Director Niall Travers.

As a customer experience company, positive culture plays a major role in AskNicely's decision-making and success.

The mantra of being “on brand” with regard to AskNicely’s culture applies to its philosophy with customers and employees alike.

One of the New Zealand expatriates Ward spoke to was Jeremy Moon, founder of New Zealand apparel company Icebreaker, with its American headquarters in Portland.

"I was quizzing him about Portland, and he had an enormous amount of praise for the city," Ward said. "Portland, and Oregon in general, share so much in common with New Zealand so in choosing a U.S. home for AskNicely we were very keen on maintaining a consistent culture, where someone from the New Zealand office could come to Portland and feel at home, and vice versa."

So in early 2017, AskNicely selected Portland for a test run, setting up a light footprint with fewer than a half-dozen employees in a coworking space east of the Burnside Bridge.

The company moved four times within the coworking space over nine months as the business grew. By the end of 2017 AskNicely was moving into the former Icebreaker space in the Pearl District.

“We chose that location largely because of the employee brand we wanted to build to attract great talent into that location,” Ward said. “That has always been the primary motivation for us in terms of location and style of building.”

But they quickly outgrew the space last year, and relocated to the Slabtown area.

Five months into AskNicely’s two-year lease there, a familiar problem had come up.

“We’ve got people banging into each other at desks, complaining about noise. We need somewhere bigger,” Ward said. “I made the same mistake I said I wouldn’t repeat. But it’s a good problem to have.”

Now Ward is preparing for a move back across the river. The neighborhood is a perfect match for AskNicely’s company culture, Ward said, rich with colorful surroundings and residents. It matches the welcoming, tight-knit vibe Ward has found from tech startups across the city.

“This just feels like a very natural home for the next iteration of the business,” he said. Ward’s hope is that Clay Creative space cements AskNicely as a long-term player in Portland’s startup scene.

The move comes after AskNicely redomiciled earlier this year, becoming a Portland company with a New Zealand office, instead of the other way around.

New Zealand employees have moved over and embraced the city, Ward said. AskNicely’s profile is higher than ever back in native New Zealand, and other local founders and CEOs are contacting Ward to ask about Portland.

Ward has developed a pitch for the city that he has come to love as his and AskNicely’s new home.

"The biggest reason we're here comes down to the type of business we need to build, and the movement we're creating around customer experience. What I've found in Portland is unlike any city I've been to in the world. People pour so much love and craftsmanship into everything they do. There's a real level of care and pride in what people deliver, both in terms of services and products here in Portland,” Ward said. “Our thesis is if we can recruit people that are of the Portland philosophy, then we don't need to indoctrinate them in our particular philosophy, because they come preloaded with that gene in their DNA. That means we can create a truly customer-obsessed culture at AskNicely that's authentic, that our competitors won't be able to duplicate. For us it's a resource, a competitive advantage, and it's the reason we're doubling down on Portland."