Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

When Mika and I started Ikayzo seven years ago I got everything wrong. Because I enjoyed a good relationship with my previous two employers I was confident they would become my first customers. Surely I could easily sell to local companies as well. Although we were a new company, I had a solid software development resume and some experience with business development. I thought recruiting would be easy because we could offer the ability to do interesting work in paradise. I also thought I would be programming and doing interactive design work most of the day with maybe 20% being allocated for...well...CEO stuff.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

About two months after launching the company I realized I was not going to be able to sell back to my previous employers. At my last two jobs I had very solid right-hand men and women. As a manager I had worked hard to build redundancy in my department because, as with mission critical software system, its important not to have any single point of failure. When I left the redundancy kicked in and best practices continued to be followed. The idea that these companies would need me for the same reasons they had when I was originally hired was a conceit. I had to start looking elsewhere for our first customer. That company turned out to be a neighbor at the Manoa Innovation Center. Over the years we ended up working with five other companies at MIC. Next came jobs from UH Manoa, which is just down the street.

Selling to local companies turned out to be harder than expected. The approach I had taken when I worked for companies in Tokyo and San Francisco didn't work in Hawaii. I needed to develop localized sales skills (e.g. a healthy amount of talk-story) to sell in the Hawaii market. Without local references it was hard to earn people's trust. It quickly became clear that building a healthy base of local customers was going to require years of reputation and relationship building. It took us about three years to get to where I had expected us to be in one, but persistence eventually paid off.

Recruiting top talent also turned out to be difficult. Many of Hawaii's brightest students move to the mainland for college and don't return. They don't think there are any interesting well-paying positions locally, and our industry doesn't do a particularly good job of advertising such positions. Its hard because there is no easy way to target all the top performers from Hawaii who are now scattered across the mainland. You have to network, network, network.

Getting people from the mainland to move to Hawaii is often surprisingly difficult, especially if they have families. Many potential recruits are concerned about being so far from family, the cost of living and the local school situation. I remember a Washington-based developer I really wanted to hire asking me, "I live on an acre of land in a five bedroom house. My three kids attend top performing schools. How much will that cost me in Honolulu?" As you can imagine, that conversation didn't go well.

We had to start on a long journey of finding a mixture of local people who left to attend college on the mainland and people from outside of Hawaii with a healthy sense of adventure. It was important to find people who considered our location to be a significant plus when evaluating offers. In those cases we could actually wrestle them away from the likes of Google and Apple, something that a company our size could never do if we couldn't offer the differentiator of working in paradise. Over the years we got better at finding these people via social media and traditional networking. Developing a good working relationship with local universities was also a big help. Being down the street from UH Manoa ended up being advantageous for many reasons.

I don't want to talk too much about Ikayzo specifically because this post isn't an ad. My intention is to share my experience with other Hawaii entreprenuers. Suffice to say that we've grown to a point where we are competitive in our target markets both locally and on the mainland. My average day isn't what I thought it would be. Most of my day is recruiting, selling and managing. Every once in a while I get to do a little development and design :-) That being said, its been, and continues to be, an awesome journey. There is nothing better than being able to get up in the morning and look forward to working with a great group of people in a beautiful place on interesting projects.

Views: 968


You need to be a member of TechHui to add comments!

Join TechHui

Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 24, 2013 at 5:23am

Chris: I've heard good and bad about Hawaii's school system.  I have three bright and creative kids, and I certainly don't want them left behind the mainland educationally.  How bad (or good) is the school system, really?

On average, our public elementary and secondary schools severely underperform in terms of national averages for math and reading. There are bright spots (e.g. Noelani for elementary, Mililani for high school, etc.) and there are always the private and homeschooling options.

Chris: How has technology helped your business needs?  For example, are you able to use Skype or GoToMeeting to do business with mainland customers?

We use tools like GoToMeeting and Google Hangouts on a daily basis. Most of our documents are in Google Docs where we can easily collaborate with remote customers. Many of our team members work within our customers' networks via VPNs.

Although we've had growth in local business over the past few years, the majority of our revenue comes from mainland customers. We also do business in Japan. The main challenge isn't servicing a remote customer after we've landed a deal. The hard part is selling to mainland customers from Hawaii. I'm in New York or Tokyo every few months doing business development.

Comment by Chris OKennon on February 24, 2013 at 4:20am

How has technology helped your business needs?  For example, are you able to use Skype or GoToMeeting to do business with mainland customers?

Comment by Chris OKennon on February 24, 2013 at 4:18am

I'm going to shoot off questions as they come to me, but this is an excellent article.

1. I've heard good and bad about Hawaii's school system.  I have three bright and creative kids, and I certainly don't want them left behind the mainland educationally.  How bad (or good) is the school system, really?

Comment by Rubén Peña on October 16, 2012 at 12:17am

Thanks for eye-opening article Daniel.  As someone would Love to go back to the Islands, it continues to be interesting to read about the tech industry here. I am so grateful a WEB site like TechHui exists!!  I'm still trying to learn more about Hawaii tech sector and the market, as I eventuall plan to do the same, i.e. relocate back as Kama'iana and have a start-up in Hawaii (or at least establish a local Hawaii base from my original start-up in Taiwan).

You article was VERY insightful.

Many Mahalos,


Comment by Daniel Leuck on October 8, 2012 at 10:35pm

@Norman, Alyssa & John - I'm glad you found my post useful. @Alyssa - Thank you. Your brother was an enormous contributor to our success.

Comment by Norman Chan on October 8, 2012 at 3:49pm

Thanks for an interesting article Daniel.  As someone new to the island, it's interesting to read about the tech industry here. I'm still trying to learn more about Hawaii tech sector and the market. 

Comment by Alyssa K on October 4, 2012 at 8:43am

A sign of a great manager is that he actually takes time to manage! Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading your post.

Comment by John Sydney Yamane on September 26, 2012 at 10:29am

I like your daily recepie. And yes...  Hawaii is tough to must really put out more then they receieve in order to be accepted as worthy, which cost alot of time and money.... I guess that is what is called:  "Paying your dues"  Im in the computer repair and internet technology business, now for over 16 yrs..

Comment by Daniel Leuck on September 20, 2012 at 11:13am

Hi Gordon. I hope all is well in Tokyo. We just finished a hiring spree, but we will likely be looking again in a few months. We post open positions on our Facebook page, and we are always happy to receive resumes.

Comment by Gordon Hee on September 20, 2012 at 12:57am

Re: recruiting, there's always the set of locals who left but are looking for a way to return to the islands. Not that I'd know any of those! <cough, cough> (^_^)


web design, web development, localization

© 2024   Created by Daniel Leuck.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service