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Business connections made with billionaire visitors

Thursday 20th January 2011

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Xero founder Rod Drury is excited about the interest some of the biggest technology entrepreneurs in the world are showing in New Zealand businesses after enjoying the lifestyle here.

"What I'm finding interesting is that quite a number of global technology heads have a relationship in New Zealand," Drury said.

A real community of "Silicon Valley" people were enjoying the New Zealand lifestyle and visiting the country regularly, Drury said.

"Up until now we haven't connected with them from a business perspective. What is good is we are now making the connections," he said.

The entrepreneurs were interested in what New Zealand technology companies were doing and were keen to help.

An example was the move by Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook, to set up Valar Ventures LP to invest in New Zealand businesses.

Valar has invested $4 million in the online accounting firm Xero and has taken a holding in Pacific Fibre, the fibre optic cable company developed by Mr Drury, Sam Morgan, Sir Stephen Tindall and others.

Thiel, who is regarded as a libertarian, considers New Zealand to be an investment "utopia", according to the online website of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Drury said representatives of Valar will attend Accelerate 2010, a meeting of New Zealand's leading technology entrepreneurs in Hawke's Bay in February. They will hear Morgan, the creator of the website TradeMe which he sold in 2006 for $750 million, speak.

Also, Drury will hold a workshop in San Francisco next month which Valar will be involved in.

Drury said Thiel met Morgan in New Zealand last year and he met Thiel in San Francisco. The relationship was facilitated by Investment New Zealand, an arm of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

The New Zealand technology scene is small and everyone knows each other, Drury said.

"It is really exciting that we are connecting with these people and they really can help," he said.

Drury said that the Valar executives he deals with were associated with Thiel's hedge fund Clarium Capital.

The SFGate website said Thiel has founded two other companies in New Zealand - Second Star, where he is sole shareholder, and Silverarc Advisors.

The name of Thiel's firm Valar Ventures comes from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings universe. Thiel is a huge Tolkien fan, the website said.

New Zealand Companies Office records show that Valar was registered in July last year and its offices are the offices of solicitors Bell Gully in Auckland.

In 1995 Drury developed one of New Zealand's first Microsoft development companies, Glazier Systems, which was acquired by Advantage Group in 1999 and continues today as Intergen.



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