Like most successful start-ups, it began with a simple solution to a problem most businesses didn’t even know they had. It was 2011, and Jonny Hendriksen found himself back home in New Zealand after spending the past 20 years in Tokyo. He was still riding high on his success with ValueClick, a global online marketing enterprise he founded with school friend Tim Williams in 1998 that went on to become a publically listed company. Inspired by the explosion in popularity of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, Jonny – alongside Tim – founded Shuttlerock, a visual marketing solution that help brands self-generate visual content.
“We say that content is king for a corporate, and we say it so much that people forget what it is, what it means,” explains Jonny, who set out to help brands utilise generated content from their online community. Subsequently, Shuttlerock essentially works by integrating relevant, quality content – namely photos, videos and news – from a company’s social media presence with their website. The simple yet incredibly effective formula has just bagged the company the Innovation Spotlight award from Facebook in the creative category, a recognition that Jonny describes as “huge. It doesn’t get any better than that.” Shuttlerock were the only Southern Hemisphere-based company to be recognised.
Different though they may be, there’s one common denominator among Shuttlerock’s clients – they all strive for a relationship with the customer, says Jonny . “They want to be able to own content from their customers. I think that being able to build a relationship with customers is really, really important,” he explains. “If you want to sell your product or tell your brand story – it all happens within your website. So getting people to your website and having them stay there longer and do more, a large part of that is going to come down to how fresh your content and messaging is and how slick you can make your site.”
One of the pivotal reasons behind Shuttlerock’s resounding success is the way that Jonny has been able to predict the direction in which online marketing is rapidly evolving. This, he says, is primarily down to the fact that he’s been on the scene since its inception. Having moved to Japan at the age of 18 to study economics, Jonny set up his own web hosting business, and then moved into Internet advertising.
“I ended up founding my first company when I was 25,” he explains. “It was the very early days of the Internet so we were the pioneers in domain name registration and setting up websites and the whole hosting business.” Jonny recalls that while people were rushing to set up homepages for their companies, no one really had a firm grasp of what the Internet was or why having an online presence was necessary. He likens the process to people setting up their Facebook page for the first time – “not really knowing why you were doing it but everyone else is doing it so you do it too.”
It was during this period that Jonny noticed that while most websites were “glorified company brochures,” the most interesting ones were the ones usually designed by young students who would regularly update their page and, as a result, attract the most traffic. Content, Jonny learnt early on, is key to a successful online business presence. Jonny then bought the Japanese license for a small US company called ValueClick, one of the first banner advertising companies of its kind. “It just went crazy in Japan,” he recalls. “Up until then it was media property that got advertising and we were the ones that said you can be anybody if you’ve got an interesting homepage.”
At their peak, ValueClick were reaching around 40% of the Japanese population and, in 2000, he and Tim were the first Westerners to take a business public in Japan. They were bought out in 2003. Jonny, who remains a ValueClick shareholder, describes the path from Auckland to Tokyo as a “real wild ride”.
“I’ve been in and around the Internet for a long time so it’s sort of being able to be a part of its evolution,” he explains of his unique viewpoint of Internet advertising. “I’ve been heavily part of the history of it which means I get a good feel for where it might be heading from hereon in, and that’s where Shuttlerock really comes into play.”
Due to his proven success with ValueClick, raising capital for Shuttlerock proved to be a breeze; Jonny brought in (US) $2.95 million during its first significant round of venture capital financing back in 2014. This, he says, was a pivotal for both the business and his motivation to succeed. “The moment that you take money from someone else your responsibility is now in someone else’s money,” Jonny admits. “I think that’s one of the reasons I don’t always self-fund the business myself, and why I operate a lot better if I’m doing it with other people’s money because of that sense of responsibility.” And if you make your investors happy, you make your team happy. And if your team are happy, your customers are happy… which, in turn, makes your shareholders happy. It’s a cycle. “I’m always conscious about making sure we have a wonderful team,” says Jonny, who notes that where a good, vibrant team goes, potential investors will always follow.