International businessman Jason Wilby is a force of nature. He’s just arrived home to Queenstown from a fleeting, non-stop business trip to Sydney but, after a year of closed New Zealand borders, there’s a certain sense of excitement and a feeling of new beginnings.
There’s also a certain energy coming from the background of Jason’s Zoom call, the entrepreneurs and go-getters doing business from the upmarket Mountain Club shared co-working space in Queenstown’s Beach Street.
“Mountain Club is a really helpful connector within the Queenstown business network – there are so many innovative people doing amazing things, all creating weird and wonderful businesses in order to be able to live here,” he says.
Although Jason established his own rapidly growing financial services tech platform, Open, in Australia five years ago, having access to collaborative spaces like Mountain Club has made integrating into the Southern Lakes business community nearly seamless.
Full disclosure: Mountain Club is owned by Jason’s partner, Chris Davern, who set about developing a modern-day co-working space when he discovered the need after the couple moved to Queenstown from Sydney in 2017.
Jason manages Open from the shared co-working space, running the fintech company’s operations in NZ (with small teams in Queenstown and Auckland) and Australia, where Open has an office of 45 staff in Sydney and 20 in Noosa. The super-successful start-up is also on the brink of a significant multi-national expansion, branching out into the UK and Europe later this year.
“Queenstown isn’t the most practical place to build a fast-growth technology business, but it is possible,” he says. “I lead the company from Queenstown and Open has grown 300% in the last 12 months while we’ve largely worked in Australia from our base here. I think that’s proof that you can achieve incredible growth from Queenstown.”
The couple’s relocation from the hustle and bustle of Sydney to the adventure of Queenstown was sparked by a shared passion for the outdoors – snow sports, hiking and mountain biking – and, for Jason, who was raised on the Isle of Wight in the UK, it was about getting closer to nature.
“I loved Sydney but I always wanted to return to a place that wasn’t a city,” he explains. “We had been coming here on holiday since 2005 and we always used to think, ‘imagine living here’. So one day we decided to take the plunge, and we haven’t looked back. The community has been very welcoming.”
The international airport just a short drive from their home in Arthur’s Point has made Jason’s fortnightly commute to the Open offices Auckland, Sydney and Noosa relatively stress-free and the company has embraced Queenstown as part of its ‘talent acquisition’ and partnership strategy.
“It’s pretty special to have a key office and global team in Queenstown,” Jason says. “People are interested in coming here to visit and for conferences and meetings. Our location has become part of our brand story.”
Although Jason admits it’s somewhat more challenging trying to recruit talent to move here fulltime, despite offering six-figure salaries.
“Recruiting people can be difficult, particularly if you need to find someone with lots of technical talent,” he says. “In our talent profile it’s hard to recruit wherever we are, but we do need to work on convincing people to live and work here over somewhere like Auckland.
“What we are trying to do at Open is create a value proposition for teams that prove moving here isn’t a trade-off; we pay the same salary here as what we pay in Sydney. Our aim is to bring together the quality work and the quality lifestyle in an incredible location.”
Hear from those who have already made the move.