An interview with Catherine Lye from ExportNZ

Tell us about ExportNZ and the assistance you provide to New Zealand businesses?


We believe the key to a more sustainable, productive and prosperous export sector lies in connecting business people with international growth aspirations to very, very smart people at the top of their export game for professional guidance and support.   


What excites us at ExportNZ is how transformational it can be for a business in the early stage of their export journey when that knowledge bank of super smart people is unlocked, and shared directly with the right people at the right time. Amplifying the experience of wise heads with the energy and work-rate of our aspirational future business leaders - our Excelerators are the export experts who believe ‘paying it forward’ and giving back to the local business community is important to provide a pipe-line of businesses that have the confidence and know-how to grow their business to a meaningful scale internationally.   


Excelerate100 is a 12-month programme combining peer-to-peer group learning with focused mentoring support. With a clear understanding of what drives export success, we help businesses focus holistically on the activities that drive real long-term sustainable value. 


How is the ‘NZ Inc’ brand perceived overseas? Is it advantageous to be ‘Made in New Zealand’?

New Zealand is generally well-regarded internationally.   New Zealand Story has researched consumers in the United States, China, Japan, Australia and Mexico to find out what they think of New Zealand.  I suggest you have a read, have a think, then get out there and start telling your own New Zealand Story.  

What are the most common problems that New Zealand companies wanting to export encounter?

  • Many businesses haven’t fully optimized the NZ market first and are seduced by the perceived appeal of exporting before fully understanding their value proposition and how to sell it. (note: there are some NZ businesses who are global from day 1, and NZ is not a market)
  • Sidestepping researching and validating the market opportunity and leaping to Step 6: finding a distributor. Too many NZ companies are reactive and impulsive when it comes to dealing with export enquiries and end up with a little business in a lot of markets which ultimately dramatically increases the risk, multiplies the costs and reduces the actual returns and in some cases damages your brand. Too often, we see people appoint distributors who then perform poorly but often the blame sits with the lack of due diligence by the exporter from the outset.  Skype, Zoom and emails will only get you so far and air travel is relatively cheap at the back of the bus (who said being an exporter was glamorous) and there is no substitute for expending shoe leather and eye-balling your potential channel options and customers face-to-face.
  • NZ has minimal product regulations, relying instead on consumer protection legislation, and post-market surveillance. All other trading nations have a plethora of product regulations that need to be complied with pre-market. Do your homework! Do your homework!


What are your top 5 tips for companies wanting to be export-ready?


  • Seek good advice from people who have real and relevant experiences and from those without any expectations or vested interest. BDO's team of international business advsiers are on hand to help you navigate this complex exercise. ExportNZ’s Excelerate100 Programme is a no-brainer. Set up an Advisory Body, populated by people that you trust and learn from. Places like NZTE and KEA are also brilliant at linking you up with kiwis who have been there and done that around the world. The great thing about New Zealanders is we are more than happy to give advice to other kiwis.


  • Validate the product concept and value proposition by actually talking with 20 in-market customers/prospects, but try to be as focused on a particular sector and then on a specific buyer persona. Then...
  • Craft a compelling value proposition and test and evolve it on specific buyer personas in this particular segment you are targeting until it resonates…all other activity can be anchored to this.
  • Choose your market carefully, get a bank check on possible agents/distributors; confirm the tariff rate for your product in that market; check whether there are any regulations, including packaging and labelling, environmental, etc.


  • Define success clearly then be prepared to eliminate markets and/or opportunities to focus.  Focus on one market at a time, and go deep. Going too wide in many markets too fast is a trap. Don’t let excitement get in the way of being very practical, grounded and lots of focus, and get those quick wins.  It’s really easy to get enamored by all sorts of markets, and all sorts of conversations with all sorts of people who are super enthusiastic about what you do but there’s nothing like purchase orders and cash in the bank. So, stay focused and make those practical clean steps to get traction in a focused market and pick a market, focus on it and do it really well.


  • Find people who share a similar mind-set, vision and passion. There are a lot of pretenders out there  Being able to be able to sniff out passion is really important. That’s a very secret ingredient.  


  • Make sure you physically spend time in market pre and during your launch. While you may be using distributors or partners, you know your business and its vital you understand the market place. There is no substitute for boots on the ground.  Love the market, and love your customers, more than you love your product.

Catherine Lye, Regional Manager, ExportNZ

BDO Exporters