We are going to spend five minutes extracting five interesting pieces of information from a founder, thought leader or member of the wider Movac team. This month, we caught up with Movac Operating Partner Serge Van Dam.


1. Serge, give us a quick background and explain how you work with Movac.

I have been around ‘digital stuff’ since the advent of the internet. I joined some friends of mine in a B2B SaaS company called M-Com at the end of 2004 – we more or less invented mobile banking, and built a platform we sold to banks around the world, with a focus in the US market, where we had moved our business.

We sold M-Com in 2011 to Nasdaq-listed Fiserv and I have been an active software investor for seven years or so. I am on the Board of a handful of B2B SaaS companies, and a hands-on investor in another five or six.

In terms of Movac, I have known the partners for many years and invested in Fund 3. I became an Operating Partner in Fund 4, and signed up again for Fund 5 in 2020. I work on an as-required basis to help Movac’s leadership team with its due diligence of potential investee companies, and once they are part of the Movac family, I work with our companies in the areas I have some expertise in; namely marketing, enterprise sales and distribution models. And if I can help identify talent for our growing companies, I do that too.


2. What is the biggest piece of counterintuitive advice you would give a marketing lead?

It would be that your biggest opportunity is not your product or your team or your back story, but your successful customers. Your prospects don’t want to hear about your office dog or how nimble you are or even that you are a Kiwi – they simply want to be as successful as your most successful customers.

Most people come to the conclusion that marketing is about who can shout about their own greatness the loudest, but in my view, that is totally the wrong game to be playing.


3. What are some of the common trip ups you see Kiwi companies making as they scale the marketing function. Any tips in this regard?

The most common mistakes I see fit into two categories.

The first one is one of ‘unscalability’. The error here is that what got you started in your market will also sustain you in the long term. That is unlikely and is particularly pronounced in areas like paid search. You need to look for a marketing model that scales, most typically through sustained differentiation in your marketing investments.

The second most common trip-up is the ‘copycat model’ – thinking you can copy what your much-better-funded competitors are doing and still match them in the long term. The most obvious concern here is that the budget of Kiwi companies never matches their American equivalents, and you end up only succeeding in small pockets only. Why bring a knife to a gunfight?

Also, disappointingly, most Kiwi companies don’t back themselves to create categories. Many of the founding teams know what space they want to occupy in the universe, but most of the time, don’t have the confidence or don’t want to do the work to ‘own’ the category.

My advice is often the same, you need to look and exploit ‘white space’ wherever you find it. Your growth strategy has to be distinct from everyone else who may be circling in on your space. ‘Audacity’ is the name of the game.


4. Building and executing a channel strategy is an obvious way to accelerate scaling. How would you suggest initiating and then staying in control of a strategic partnership?

Most Kiwi companies start off their inaugural channel strategy by committing ‘channel suicide’. By that, I mean that they give exclusivity to a channel partner for a particular geography or vertical and have no levers to ensure they get value in return. And to top it off, they often don’t have clear mechanisms to terminate these relationships, let alone get compensated for their failure.

What I try to communicate when working through channel strategies is that you should ‘build the stick before you give the carrot’. This means that you need to create your own points of leverage over channel partners first, and only after you have done so, should you spend time figuring how to incent their success. These ‘sticks’ or leverage, are typically in the form of thieving a partner’s customers, making them look silly, or creating confusion in their market. Sticks are by definition negative, and founders don’t like going there, but that is the only route I know that leads to channel success.


5. You have been spending a bunch of your time recently working with CoGo, a B2C app for consumers to track their carbon footprint and make buying decisions that align with their specific ethical goals. Mass market B2C businesses are a rare beast in NZ. What have been your biggest learnings from building this marketing strategy?

I guess my biggest learning is how hard and expensive is to create predictable interest and engagement from consumers, especially at scale and in multiple markets. As far as I am concerned, consumers are basically weirdos.

But seriously, unless you have natural virality in your growth model, building consumer trust is the most challenging element of B2C activities. And beyond that, you need to be able to explain your proposition to an average consumer in 15 seconds or less. Uber has pulled it off, and I hope we will do the same with CoGo.

Our strategy at CoGo has been to build deep and long-term relationships with enterprises who already have relationships and trust with consumers, and have already built many channels through which to reach them. So in New Zealand for example, we have partnered with Westpac who is committed to working with us to bring 1 million Kiwis onto the CoGo platform over the coming years.