He’s a 6 foot eight inch, 300 pound man who’s a defensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks, but that is about where the normal size of Steve Paea begins and ends. He started playing football in his home country of New Zealand and only played the sport until college; you can’t really say that Steve Paea is an NFL rookie.
When I first heard about the video game, Wreckfest, I was excited. Wreckfest was a game that was going to be made by a UK studio called Bugbear Entertainment. The game was going to be a sort of off-road racing simulator, and it featured a lot of the things Wreckfest was trying to accomplish: it was going to be a horrifically violent, visceral racer. However, the game was almost never released, as the developer vanished after the game’s assets were stolen, leaving the project in an unfinished state.
Steve Paea is aiming high. It has grown Liberate I.T. from a start-up into one of the largest ERP and NetSuite players in New Zealand, and the Australian market is already open to future opportunities. We spoke with Steve about his accomplishments over the past decade, including the sale of NetSuite to Xero, Pacifica in IT, and how his approach is different.
Good afternoon and taloofa, Steve. How did you get into computers?
I remember when I was young, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Dad was a taxi driver and he told me he always had to pay his accountant a lot of money – so I must be an accountant! I studied business administration and accounting, but that was only secondary. I’m sure I could have done it, but I’ve always been a person who is passionate about connecting with people and understanding their journey, so I was drawn to the sales profession. I like hunting, and I like business. Until 2011 I worked in freight forwarding, logistics and import distribution – nothing to do with technology! But I knew NetSuite and I knew Liberate I.T. would be a leader in ERP here and abroad. It made sense to step out of my comfort zone and take on the challenge of learning something new, so I took a leap of faith and went for the directors. Technology has always been an innovative industry, and it’s where the world is headed. Then I saw myself. So the first year was all about training; I didn’t know much about IT before that, so I had to know NetSuite inside and out to make sure our customers got the product they wanted. And also the whole technology landscape – how hardware and software work together, as the technologists say. A lot of jargon has been studied!
And now, 10 years later, you’ve helped Liberate I.T. become a major ERP player in Australasia.
When I started, I was Liberate I.T.’s first agent. – and the first employee. We have grown tremendously over the past five years and have had incredible success. I brought in a team from Australia and New Zealand, so we could continue to do good work and build relationships across the IT ecosystem. We have worked with large companies and have built a reputation for our expertise. The team knows its stuff. We stick to one product, and we do it well. And that’s what works so well for us. There is a lot of turnover in the ERP industry; most people only work for 2-5 years. If you’re selling a product that people can’t see – cloud-based software – you have to do it really well. You have to be determined and patient. And you have to earn people’s trust. So you have to listen a lot.
Speaking of success: You are the person who sold NetSuite to Xero. How did you do that?
This is probably our biggest win yet! Xero is a huge global software company doing amazing things all over the world. By integrating them with NetSuite and getting them on board, we really showed that we were doing the right thing. The secret is in the relationship. When we went to market, they looked at another application. Therefore, we need to understand their needs and requirements. They were faced with outdated technology; they needed cloud-based software that could also serve their international teams. So I put together a team and we did the evaluation with them. The fact that we took the lead and were able to coordinate everyone involved in the evaluation process showed that we were up to the task. And it worked. When a prestigious company like Xero, with hundreds and thousands of employees, is willing to trust us and NetSuite, we are on the right track. Because for them, as for many other companies, a reliable cloud ERP means not only faster and easier processes, but also scalability. Expansion and acquisition in all markets also suddenly became easier. I also enjoy working with organizations to improve their operations. It’s great when you launch a product and the company says: We don’t have to make those reports anymore, we don’t have to stay up late until X is done. It’s a real pleasure to see them get their value and time back. In addition, small and medium-sized businesses can easily save $20,000 to $30,000 per year at a lower cost. If I could save you 20% of your time in a week, how would you invest it?
Giving back is important to you, isn’t it?
For society and for work, yes. It’s about education. Pacifica people – we care about family and we support each other. That’s why we’re so good at technology.
What do you mean?
It’s all about teamwork. We are calm in nature and bring a lot of respect and empathy to the team. We work with a unified team. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes – and be humble. In all of this, relationships and trust are very important to us. I grew up in South Oakland, my parents are from the islands, and faith, family and humility are most important to us when working with clients. But there are also side effects. We believe in the family and we support each other; faith and brotherhood are strong. In this way, the pulse helps families and communities. I still visit my parents in Otara every week and ask them for advice. They support me and remind me how grateful I am to be in the position I am in. If what you do doesn’t bear fruit, what’s the point?
Is this why you became involved with Pasifika in IT?
In the technology sector, we make up only 2% of the total workforce. The majority of Pasifika Maori are gainfully employed. With the advent of automation, much of this work is being replaced by machines and computers. Who’s gonna get hurt? Maori pasifika. I want to get the message across: There is another way. Pasifika in IT is the largest Pasifika computer network in the world. We are committed to breaking down barriers and placing students in excellent jobs in computing and technology. We have to overcome some prejudices. So I’m going to tell people that they don’t have to have a college degree, that technology is moving faster and faster, and that we’re trying to help people get jobs and help them get microloans. It’s not often that members of the Pacifica tribe become the first employees of a startup – and bring it to where it is today. We want to put into practice what we preach. IT and engineering require more people from Pacifica. We have a lot of catching up to do. And this contagion effect is a contribution to yourself, your family, your churches and your community. That’s the goal. So when I’m not working at Liberate I.T., I’m involved at my old high school in South Oakland – De La Salle – as an administrator and board member, showing kids that there are great opportunities here. I am also a member of several councils, including the AUT and the Digital Advisory Board.
As part of the growth of Liberate I.T., you will provide leadership to a rapidly growing team. Do you feel you are contracting the same muscles?
Absolutely. But I don’t see myself as a manager, I see myself as a mentor. My goal is to make them successful, so we do a lot of coaching, development, and sharing of stories. As Liberate I.T. grows, it is important to maintain our ethics, treat clients with empathy, be honest and down to earth. When people know they can trust you, you know your relationship is off to a good start. They’ll be more open to understanding what’s possible with NetSuite and what their utopia looks like – and how to get there. This is consistent with other charitable functions I have taken on. I can now achieve some of these life goals and give something back and educate the next wave of people coming into the industry. I haven’t had that kind of advice in my career. I want to help people get through this journey and succeed.
Is this what you have been driving Liberate I.T. for the past ten years?
The work I do, I love it. Meet new people, work from home, participate in video calls with the team. Helping the team to develop personally and professionally. We help companies get the results they want and give that time back to their employees so they can use it wisely. Yeah, it got me through. We have an excellent work-life balance and a real culture of flexibility. Get the balance right and everything else will fall into place. I’m a family person, and the beauty of what we do is that I don’t have to worry about taking a half day off to go to my daughter’s play or sporting event. Being close to them and watching them grow up, that’s all. It was a tough job. You have to be patient and persistent and eliminate what you can’t control. But you get back to work, you get in front of people and you keep showing what is possible. Patience in this difficult work and building trust help a lot. I am very proud of where the company is now, having been part of it from day one. I am passionate about our success. I have long term projects that I would like to accomplish. We become a leading partner in Australia and New Zealand. We look at the JPAC and then the rest of the world.