Nerve centre for messages fully flexible

Modica’s Dunedin-based team Neeta Mhatre (left), Mark Goldfinch, Emmanuel Delaborde, Gavin...
Modica’s Dunedin-based team Neeta Mhatre (left), Mark Goldfinch, Emmanuel Delaborde, Gavin Kennedy, Michael Foley, Jim Cheetham and Indy Griffiths work out of Petridish in Stafford St. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Modica Group chief executive Stuart Wilson always finds it amusing when people ask where the tech company’s head office is.

It doesn’t have one; the closest it has is the address for its law firm in Wellington. Since its establishment in 2001, it was always built to be location independent.

It was all about sourcing good people — regardless of where they lived — and Dunedin was in a "sweet spot" for that, as it looked to continue to grow its Southern presence, Mr Wilson said.

In a nutshell, the text messages people received from the likes of banks or doctors were what Modica did.

It managed hundreds of millions of messages every year, with a worldwide client base. Its cloud-based messaging platform connected directly to all mobile networks and customer software solutions, via secure API (Application Programming Interface).

The pioneering company worked closely with finance, IT, Government, health and education organisations, enabling clients to manage their customer communication, services, and engagement via mobile.

Mr Wilson, one of the founders of Modica, said it all began thanks to two approaches; a bank approached them saying customers were often ringing asking for their bank balance and they wondered if that could be done by text.

Then there was an approach from overseas asking about a subscription service and whether it was possible to send people a text every day at the cost of $1, for daily jokes, horoscopes and religious quotes.

Mr Wilson thought that would never work but there were 15,000 subscribers in the first week so they built a platform to manage that.

Modica now had staff around the world, including five in Australia where it was about to add another six; and eight in the Dominican Republic, as well as other destinations. In New Zealand, it had about 20 in Auckland, 35 in Wellington and seven in Dunedin.

Prior to 2017, there was one employee in Dunedin and when a second was hired, they started an office in Petridish, the shared office space in Stafford St. It was now quite a senior technical team.

There were good tech people in the city; both graduates coming out of the University of Otago and also other tech workers, many who worked remotely.

As far as Modica was concerned, staff could enjoy the Otago lifestyle and an easy commute to work while working on global tech projects.

The regions were also "exploding" as people looked to get out of the cities.

People had not necessarily realised that tech companies like Modica, and others, were getting bigger, exporting their technology and the money was coming back to New Zealand.

There were well-paid jobs in tech available in places like Dunedin and Whanganui, where Modica recently bought a company.

Last year, Modica went from 45 to 70 staff and still had 20 vacancies it did not fill. This year, it was looking for 60 — "if five, 10, 20 of them got filled in Dunedin, great", he said.

While the company could take some graduates and interns, it also needed some experience — "we can’t break it" — as it was dispatching ambulances and dealing with millions of dollars of transactions every day.

The New Zealand tech sector was growing much faster than people were getting educated or experienced, he said.

Dunedin was in a "sweet spot" as it had a big enough population and the University of Otago and there was existing tech business and people working in the sector.

Mr Wilson has also been seriously thinking about building a tech hub in Cromwell. Again it would provide a great lifestyle.

As far as Covid-19 was concerned, there had been an upside for the company. It was already geared to work remotely and a lot of its customers had lifted activity. Although Air New Zealand and Virgin were both customers, it still managed to double in size, revenue and people over the past year, he said.

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