Seeds of WebMedia demise

Failed Auckland web design firm WebMedia was last year voted by staff as one of the top 16 places in the country to work.

Failed Auckland web design firm WebMedia was last year voted by staff as one of the top 16 places in the country to work.

Employees told Unlimited magazine’s Best Places to Work 2000 survey that they were proud to work for the Parnell-based organisation and enjoyed working with their colleagues. This was perhaps why the company claimed zero staff turnover for two-and-a-half years. They didn’t rate the training or salary and benefits so highly, however, despite a foosball game and pool table, expresso machine and a 10% training budget.

In January WebMedia took its entire workforce to Amsterdam in what was billed as a team-building exercise.

Former IDG journalist Russell Brown was invited along. In June 2000 he had written a profile of the company for Unlimited that tried to discover why the company had been so successful. WebMedia had already claimed high-profile clients such as Colenso, Air New Zealand and TVNZ without its name being widely known. Jobs for Telstra.com and Fox Studios were touted. The company, which began trading in 1997 with two partners, Steve Hill and Glenn Harding, had by the end of last year grown to 45 employees and accumulated revenue approaching $5 million.

It was when the company spent $200,000 buying the www.webmedia.com, signed a regional partnership with Ernst & Young, opened offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and San Francisco and attracted a 10% stake from Ilyas Khan, worth about $1.8 million, that it started to make some noise, said Brown. WebMedia became a cog in Khan’s strategy — working on multimillion-dollar ventures such as the Asian pop music portal Gogo.com and its own local ventures. A disputed five-figure bill to Gogo.com was said to be at least part of the reason for WebMedia’s demise.

Perhaps WebMedia’s necessary focus offshore for continued growth also contributed, given the dot-com crash and subsequent worldwide business slump.

Harding agreed in Brown’s Unlimited profile — entitled “Local fish outgrows pond” — that this would be the case, but insisted that New Zealand would remain its production base.

“The situation in Silicon Valley at the moment is that they’re running out of ideas and opportunities.

“A lot of the new dot coms are getting quite desperate, so there’s an opportunity in New Zealand, Australia and Asia to start bringing a lot of ideas that have worked into the emerging markets.

“We provide the opportunity for lifestyle — and to nurture new ideas.”

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