VIKRAM KUMAR, THE former head of Internet NZ, is to take on the CEO role at Mega, Kim Dotcom’s NZ-based high profile encrypted file locker start up. I caught up with Vikram to see what his thoughts were ahead stepping into his new role.
Witchdoctor – So how’d you land the role of CEO of Mega?
VK – Kim emailed me on hearing that I was leaving Internet NZ at the end of January. My initial reaction was ‘great opportunity, but risky’. I met Kim and the rest of the Mega team in mid-January, and then once again two weeks later. Over this period, I had a look at Mega from various perspectives and came to a decision that I should accept the offer.
Witchdoctor – What factors figured most in your decision to become CEO of Mega?
VK – The opportunity and risks. I was looking for new opportunities, new challenges after leaving Internet NZ. The Mega team are nice people – straight up and very competent. However, the major factor that really mattered to me was the intentions of the Mega team. It took me time to come to the conclusion that they were really interested and driven to build a significant global internet business which complied with the law both in letter and spirit.
Witchdoctor – What things about Mega most appeal?
VK – Besides the above, it is a New Zealand company with a predominantly global customer base. As an internet start-up, it has very fast growth – 2.5 million customers in two weeks. The service they’ve taken to market is advancing the global cloud storage industry in a very positive way. Looking at customer feedback on Twitter, it is apparent that many customers around the world love Mega for its ease of use, speed, and built-in security.
Witchdoctor – It must be a bit of a step-change going from Internet NZ to Mega. What differences do you anticipate?
VK – Yes, very different from Internet NZ. I have previously worked for a start-up many years ago so I knew what some of the challenges are going to be like, in particular the constant cash flow pressure. At the same time, Internet NZ’s vision is to promote ‘an open and uncapturable’ internet. At a high level, that isn’t too far from Mega’s vision of privacy and security.
Witchdoctor – What’s likely to be on the agenda for your first few weeks at Mega?
VK – To support and co-ordinate the talented team they already have in place. Put in place more comprehensive information collection and flows across the business. Better understand the major risks and put in place measures to mitigate them. A very close eye on the cash flow and the first steps to bringing in more investors.
Witchdoctor – Being a start-up, albeit a very high profile one, what challenges do you feel Mega faces?
VK – The usual start-up risks including product design, business models, customer support, and growth. Plus there is always the threat of action from people and organisations with strong, entrenched prejudices against the Mega team. And the four letter word for start-ups: cash.
Witchdoctor – How about opportunities?
VK – Immense. This is the first service, secure file storage on the internet, which needs to be filled out first, e.g. quickly bringing in iOS and Android apps. After that, the opportunities are to bring in new services that can build off the storage base.
Witchdoctor – Where do you see Mega in say five years?
Witchdoctor – What do you think NZ needs to do or change in the near future if the digital economy is going to grow?
VK – Right now the biggest gap is the lack of a second international cable to bring down prices at the retail down to a tenth of where it is now. Data caps are a huge barrier for people to use cloud services. While fibre will help, Mega has shown it is possible to work with file sizes up to medium size using tech smartly – how it opens up multiple streams – even today. For the digital economy to grow, it will not really be about the infrastructure. Ultimately it is about vision and commitment. We lack leadership in thinking about the possibilities, getting support for that vision, and then staying the course to get to that vision.
Witchdoctor – Are there any regulatory changes you’d like to see made?
VK – Yes and no. There is nothing stopping New Zealand from a brilliant digital future if we can get the leadership, vision and commitment. On the other hand, many laws and regulations don’t work well in an internet age as they were built in a hierarchal, centralised world. However, regulatory change is the wrong focus level.
Witchdoctor – What advice would you give kiwi entrepreneurs looking to start up their own online apps and cloud services?
VK – Think of the world as your market from day one. Build services for a global market, not NZ first and then export, which is essentially a physical mindset. Cloud computing gives you a level playing field. PAT PILCHER