Zeald was formed in 2001 by three young guys from the small New Zealand town of Mangawhai Heads. They had practically no money, but a seemingly unlimited supply of grit & determination, and a boldness that bordered on lunacy. Twenty (20) years later, Zeald is the largest website design and ecommerce agency for small and medium-sized businesses in New Zealand. This is the Zeald story.
The world, as we all knew it, changed in March 2020. Now, more than one year on, the forever impact of Covid-19 can be felt across the global, local and digital landscapes.
In New Zealand, SME businesses are adapting to the ‘new normal’, while still trying to work out what that means for them and where they sit in this radically different, more digital age.
To say it’s been a whirlwind year for Zeald, is an understatement - and a sentiment we know we share with all Kiwi businesses.
For us, 2020 was marked by intense change, uncertainty, radical undertakings, and bold, new, socially-driven initiatives that have permanently changed Zeald - for the better.
Yes, we would definitely call it a “pivot”.
In the face of lockdowns and restricted trading conditions for small businesses, we felt compelled to help. As New Zealand’s largest and most-established website design and digital transformation agency for SMEs, we were equipped to make a significant contribution.
We wanted to offer our 20-year ecommerce and digital expertise to help small businesses and communities in New Zealand survive and thrive beyond Covid.
Four days after New Zealand first went into lockdown, we launched our Get Ecommerce Movement - the GEM initiative. We announced 500 free ecommerce websites to help struggling SME businesses urgently get online and trade through lockdown and the ensuing, ongoing uncertainty. We mobilised our teams across New Zealand and the Philippines, and geared our workflow and production systems to deliver these GEM websites at scale and speed.
We also developed our GEM Academy, which offers free digital training and real-world experience for New Zealanders wanting to digitally upskill. And we started our free webinar series “Keep Calm and Get Digital” to provide small business owners with regular, expert, digital knowledge and advice.
Our GEM initiative is now a permanent fixture at Zeald, in addition to our usual commercial operations. We continue to give away free ecommerce and lead-generation websites every week through GEM, to help Kiwi SMEs start their digital journey.
Digital resiliency is key to business survival in the face of uncertainty, and post-Covid.
Digital capability is the foundation from which every business can leverage and take advantage of the many benefits and opportunities that new digital technology has to offer.
Zeald’s mission still is, and always will be, digital revolution - where every Kiwi small business, community and individual has access to digital tools, training and capability, to thrive in this digital era and to help close the digital divide.
Our team is committed to supporting businesses to do digital well in these extraordinary times, and to making a lasting, positive contribution to the wider New Zealand community.
Time is short. Speed of change is everything.
David & Brent Kelly (brothers) and Hamish Braddick (a cousin) all grew up in Mangawhai Heads, a small New Zealand coastal town north of Auckland. At the completion of their college schooling, they all left home to undertake tertiary studies in Auckland.
Hamish, the older of the three, was the first to leave home in 1994 to study a Bachelor of Graphic Design at Auckland’s University of Technology (AUT). Following his graduation, Hamish moved to Christchurch for a profitable stint as a T-shirt illustrator before moving to England for an overseas experience as a website designer.
David and Brent left home a few years after Hamish (1997 & 1998 respectively). They studied at Massey University’s Albany Campus, both graduating with a Bachelors of Information Science as some of the highest achieving students in their degrees.
Following the conclusion of their degrees David & Brent spent the summer season carefully saving their pennies and then convinced Hamish to return home from England to form a new company called Zeald. Together they had a total of $15,000 in capital and a journey ahead of them that they knew was going to be nothing short of punishing hard work. However, if they had realised just how hard, they might never have had the guts to begin!
Their vision: to build a ‘world-class’ business that helped small to medium-sized businesses develop successful websites.
David was appointed the leader of the small team (Chief Executive). Hamish was made the Creative Director, and Brent was charged with overseeing the technical development of the core product(s) of the new company (Research & Development Director).
Based on some good ‘arm-twisting’ and smooth-talking, the company managed to get itself accepted into Massey University’s E-Centre; a business incubator located on Massey University’s Albany campus. And so Zeald found itself with its first 'official' physical premises. (In the ensuing years that followed the E-Centre provided vital support as the company navigated the highs and lows of business development and growth. The founders of the company would like to recognise and thank all the people involved in the E-Centre, in particular, Steve Corbett and Kim Powell for their crucial support)
From the outset, the company based itself on a strong set of ethics. They were determined to build a strong business that provided good value to its client and to conduct their business affairs in a way that represented the highest in integrity and honesty.
When Zeald was conceived, David, Hamish and Brent strongly believed that a successful website contained two fundamental things. Great design and great technology! A website had to function great from a technical perspective and had to look great from a branding perspective. Following along this line of belief, they threw themselves at their vision of producing NZ’s best-looking and most technically robust websites. Little did they know that this vision was going to evolve significantly before the company started to meet with genuine success.
For the first two years of Zeald's existence, the major goal was to:
“Discover a way that the company can build quality websites at a cost that is realistic for a small to medium-sized business.”
Based on this the team set out to develop a complete set of website ‘building blocks’. The website ‘building blocks’ would reduce the time and effort required to develop a new website by allowing a website to be built using the different prebuilt blocks rather than completely from scratch. The whole team was focused on developing the ‘building blocks’ system. Progress was slow, and the undertaking quickly proved to be far bigger and more complex than originally imagined.
Slowly the months and then eventually the years rolled on by; with all three pushing themselves harder and working longer hours than they had ever worked before. All night stints became a regular occurrence, and unhealthy doses of caffeine became part of everyday living. However, eventually, after years of gut-wrenching hard work the first version of the Zeald system emerged in all its glory! This initial undertaking had taken two long years, during which time the company had generated just enough revenue to pay the rent and basic office expenses. Unfortunately, there had never been anything left for wages. Hamish, Brent and David would not have survived if it had not been for the incredible support of their partners and family.
They were now two years into their journey, tired and seriously addicted to caffeine, but excited about what lay ahead. They could now build amazing websites using their new system. Websites that provided true value to their clients; websites that enabled their clients to run their websites efficiently and effectively. The next major challenge: find some clients!
A meeting was called. The company needed to have someone focused on selling. Hamish & Brent decided that David was the best ‘talker’, and so he could become the company’s official salesperson. However, before this could happen, they needed to employ someone to take over some of David’s day-to-day responsibilities. The main challenge: the company had no spare funds and was barely covering the office rent.
After many different interviews with potential employees, David managed to convince Jonathon Sim (‘Jono’) to come work for Zeald for a very frugal wage. Jono had just graduated from Auckland University with a mathematics degree and had developed a solid base of experience in programming and computer networking ‘on the side’. And so… the team of three suddenly became four. With a Jono on the team, David needed to learn how to sell - and fast. He had never officially sold anything in his life and he was trained as computer programmer not a salesperson! A daunting journey now lay ahead of him.
So, David hit the road… and failed miserably!
Despite his best efforts, David struggled to learn this new ‘sales’ game and successes were few and far between. The company continued to struggle to meet its basic expenses and Jono’s very small wage. Personal credit cards were ‘maxed out’ and often money would only arrive in the company’s bank accounts on the very last day before expenses absolutely had to be paid! Many times they came close to being evicted and had their phones disconnected more than once! After many months, a meeting was called. A decision had to be made. Zeald was heavily underperforming in the sales department and changes needed to be made quickly if the company was going to survive. It was decided that Zeald needed to do three things:
However, before this could be done, funds would be required to cover the expense of another employee. After much persuasion, one of the founder's parents was convinced to guarantee a loan from the bank that enabled the company to cover the increased wages for a six-month period. The clock was now ticking…
A salesperson was then subsequently hired and together David and the new salesperson quickly started to meet with success. Sales increased, the company started to grow and with the new salesperson’s guidance, David quickly learnt the ropes in the sales area. With a solid base of clients, the platform was now set. They could now promote the company to potential investors and seek someone who would be prepared to provide the company with funding for its next stage of growth. However, if they thought the first couple of years had been tough, Zeald was about to experience the emotional roller coaster of external funding and investment.
After many discussions, a private investor was located and a verbal agreement was reached. Zeald then took on extra staff to implement its growth strategy according to its business plan. Their first big funding lesson quickly followed – never make commitments until everything is signed up! Two weeks prior to the Christmas break in 2003, the private investor withdrew from the agreement. This left Zeald with only 2 weeks of cash reserves, additional commitments and nowhere to go since the rest of New Zealand was on holiday! On top of this, all three founders were down on energy and very close to total burnout!
The next 3 months were some of the defining months of Zeald’s early existence.
Zeald survived the Christmas period but by early January the situation was looking incredibly bleak. The founders called a meeting of all employees (7 full-time at the time) to decide on the company’s future path. They had only had two options to present:
The staff were not prepared to let go of Zeald and proposed a ‘third way’:
The effect of the battle plan was electric. The whole team pulled together and despite personal sacrifice, morale improved. Within 8 weeks sales increased by 120%, private funding was secured with 3 days to spare and all staff went back on full pay! And… for the first time in over three long years Brent, Hamish and David found themselves on a small wage!
Shortly after this incredible trial, the company made a startling discovery. After speaking with 100’s of New Zealand business owners, David had continually asked every person the following question,
“What is the number one thing that you want from Zeald as your website company?”
The answer was the same time and time again,
“We want a website that generates results! We want a website that generates more business.”
The founders had always felt that the very core of what any company did was serve a client. So if the majority of Zeald’s clients wanted a website that generated results … then Zeald needed to do everything within its power to assist them. Zeald needed to have an unrelentingly focus on this one goal!
Therefore, shortly after this discovery, the company’s vision was refined to the following:
“To help small to medium-sized businesses generate amazing results online, using a website and other forms of online marketing.”
On the back of that change in vision, the company went from strength to strength. The team made many significant changes to its website system to assist its clients in generating amazing results using their website. The next period of time saw Zeald achieving significant success in the marketplace with many new clients coming on-board. Demand was very high for the company’s services and the company desperately struggled to keep up with this demand.
Attention was then focused on how the company could service its widening client base and expand the business into new regions in New Zealand while still providing a top-notch service to its clients. The company researched setting up additional offices in other parts of the country. They considered packaging up their products so that they could be sold through other organisations. Finally though, they discovered a model that would successfully lead Zeald into the next stage of its growth and development; the development of a network of Digital Strategists.
However, just as plans were starting to be finalised, disaster struck once again! One of Zeald’s senior managers - the sales manager - decided to start up a business in direct competition to Zeald. They located an investor who was prepared to back their operation and put up a million dollars to fund the new business. Whilst they were doing this, they continued to work for Zeald and gave the appearance of carrying on their normal duties for the company. They took some of the materials, systems, and processes that had been developed within Zeald over the years and even started quietly approaching Zeald staff members to see if they could lure them away to the new venture!
Fortunately, for Zeald, the other staff members blew the whistle! This staff member had directly violated their employment contract with Zeald in many different areas. But despite this, they knew that there was no way that Zeald could stop them from what they were doing. At the time the company had a very limited amount of funds to fight a legal battle, while the now ex-employee had as much funding as they needed to fight any legal battle that might eventuate. Zeald had just learnt another major lesson…
During this very hard time, Zeald made a very important decision. Very early on in the saga, they decided to do their utmost to make things right as best as they were able. However, no matter what, they would not allow themselves to lose focus on what mattered most: continuing to build a fantastic business that served all the people involved in it. As the quote goes; "forgiveness = freedom".
In the months that followed, the team met the setback head-on with an indomitable resolve. There is nothing like having a competitor in the market place with lots of your material, systems, and processes along with $1 million in funding to get you focused.
By the beginning of 2005, Zeald had done the following:
The plans were now in place to launch Zeald’s network of Digital Strategists. However, before this could occur the founders felt that further funds needed to be raised to fund the increased levels of growth. (The original investor had since been bought out by the founders and Jonathon Sim.)
The founders opted to approach a small group of friends and family, who had been supportive over the years, and provide them with an opportunity to buy a small amount of shares in the company. This was met with great enthusiasm as the company quickly raised the necessary funds. The appropriate pieces were now in place, and the company was ready to launch its network of Digital Strategists.
In early 2005, Zeald launched a pilot of its licensee program with two founding Digital Strategists. Three months later the pilot program was concluded, and the licensing program formally launched to the marketplace. The next 12 months saw a slow but steady stream of digital strategists recruited and extensively trained throughout the North Island of New Zealand. However, this brought with it, its share of problems as sales doubled in 6 months and then doubled again! The company struggled to quickly build its operational teams and keep up with the ever-growing demand for its services.
In early 2006, Zeald temporarily suspended its recruitment of any further Digital Strategists. The company was bursting at the seams as it desperately tried to keep up with the massive increase in demand for its services. A time of ‘consolidation’ was announced. The company once again had a huge challenge ahead of it. All of a sudden it was one of the largest such companies in the country. Servicing a client base in the hundreds was the realm of the last few years. Skills, systems and processes now had to be developed to enable the team to successfully service a client base in the thousands! Over a year was spent focused on overhauling and enhancing just about every single aspect of the company’s operational systems. The entire team focused on the systems to an almost microscopic level of detail. Systems were developed, tested, refined, tested again, and refined repeatedly and a number of experts were brought in to advise and assist.
During the following 3 years from 2006-2008, this became the status quo at Zeald as it witnessed a continual seesaw effect. Fast growth would be followed by consolidation which would then be followed by more fast growth. Systems were refined again and again and a process of 'continual ongoing improvement' was relentlessly focused on in order to continually refine and improve the Zeald's systems.
In 2009, after another period of strong growth, Zeald's growth levelled out once again as the global credit crisis hit and the New Zealand market went into a strong recession. Zeald used the recession as an opportunity to restructure the company and its operations in preparation for international expansion. The company was extensively restructured to support its international expansion with a global holding company formed to oversee the different national trading arms of the company. Its management structures and operations were also significantly restructured in order to assist it to successfully service various international markets. This all cumulated with the opening of its first international office in Sydney, Australia in 2010.
The world, as we all knew it, ended in March 2020. COVID-19 took the entire world by surprise and hit with extreme prejudice. Almost overnight, the world changed forever.
In the weeks leading up to the lockdown, Zeald battened down the hatches and prepared for the worst by getting all staff right across two countries (New Zealand and the Philippines) working from home. We completed this transition one and half weeks before the lockdown was put in place.
And whilst that happened… we pivoted with everything we had!
Our vision changed, our mission changed. Everything changed.
The pressure to go online and get digital for micro, small and medium-sized businesses (MSME’s) had just gone to another level. So many businesses, communities and individuals were on the wrong side of the digital divide and this divide was only getting wider and harder to cross. What could we be doing as an organisation to help? We needed to be doing more. We had the experience of helping thousands of MSME's to go digital. In many ways, we had been engineered for a time like this.
We mobilised our entire team and started swarming on the challenge, working around the clock, day and night, weekdays and weekends. The goal was to retool various products, services and systems to enable us to deploy large numbers of integrated digital solutions (websites + other key systems) for MSME businesses for free. And then to offer these integrated digital solutions to those who needed them (at no cost) in order to derisk the process of these businesses going online and crossing the digital divide.
On the 30th March 2020, we launched our Get Ecommerce Movement (GEM) with an initial batch of 500 free websites for MSME businesses needing to rapidly get online. And just like that, the next stage in our journey began.
Time is short. Speed of change is everything.
If you own a website, need a website, or need help with marketing or refining a website and would like Zeald’s help then click on any of the links below to find out more about how Zeald can help you.