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It might be considered good luck but the success of software entrepreneur Victoria Ransom is mostly due to her down-to-earth attitude and endless hard work.
Words: Frank Nelson / Photographs: Robert Holmes
A $US450-MILLION pot of gold lies at the end of a rainbow stretching from the isolated farming community of Scott’s Ferry in the south-west corner of Rangitikei to the hub of the high-tech universe in California’s Silicon Valley. And matching the colourful arc of that rainbow is the career of New Zealander Victoria Ransom, the farm girl with an almost accidental flair for business.
Wildfire, the software company started in 2008 by this self-confessed non-techie and her boyfriend Alain Chuard, has morphed into an empire employing more than 400 people in eight offices around the world. That meteoric performance made Wildfire a tempting takeover target for Google which in late July bought the company in a package thought to total around $US450 million, including staff retention and performance incentives.
The venture began with the young founders putting in 16-hour days in their flat. “That’s where we worked for almost a year,” says Victoria. “I distinctly remember some days when we didn’t get out of our pyjamas.” A couple of office moves later, ending in palatial digs on a massive technology campus in Redwood City about an hour south of San Francisco, Google came calling with that pot of gold.
A chunk of the money goes to repay investors while stock options mean Christmas has come early for many staff, with some long-serving members now instant millionaires. More of the cash will reward staff who stay with Wildfire and meet performance targets. However, even after all those deductions, Victoria, 36, and Alain, 38, now engaged and planning a March wedding in New Zealand, can look forward to starting married life with a nest egg of about $US200 million. But with Victoria it really isn’t about the money. “I’ve never been a big spender,” she says. “That sort of thing has never been important to me. I’ve never dreamed of having a Lamborghini in my driveway.” The couple currently rents a modest house in Menlo Park, one of several prosperous little cities that dot Silicon Valley, only seven kilometres from their office. A Honda Civic and a Kia Sorento sit in this driveway.
Victoria says they’ll buy their own place at some stage and she hopes to see more of her family – the thing she misses most about New Zealand. But otherwise her philosophy is more aligned with business titans like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who have pledged their wealth to help improve the lives of millions. “What I hope now is that Alain and I can use this wonderful platform for doing some really great things in the non-profit, philanthropic space. My sense is that if you’re fortunate enough to acquire that kind of wealth, this is the very best way to find fulfilment from it. I’m really grateful to be grounded by my upbringing in New Zealand because that’s what I use as my reference point. That’s more heavily entrenched in me than anything around here that might influence me.”
From a childhood growing up on farms in and around Scott’s Ferry, 20 kilometres from Bulls and barely a pinprick on the map, Victoria took the first steps on her unlikely journey. Along the way she rubbed shoulders with President Obama at The White House, British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris. She met entertainment icon Oprah Winfrey to talk about social media and she’s no stranger to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg whose sister Ariel and brother-in-law both work at Wildfire.
Her education, beginning at two-room, two-teacher Parewanui Primary, finished on the other side of the world with an MBA from Boston’s Harvard Business School. Between those two poles Victoria and Alain started two successful companies. The first, Access Trips, took adventure travellers around the world and taught them snowboarding, skiing, rock-climbing, mountain-biking and surfing.
For the full article please see Issue 46 of NZ Life & Leisure