Facing a lack of satisfaction in his previous role as a teacher, Chris Rodley decided he wanted to build something of his own. So, he sat down with his brother, his dad and a piece of paper. After discarding many ideas, he is now running Snap Information Technologies (SnapIT) which makes cameras and AI hardware combined with cloud software to track and manage huge quantities of video footage for the marine, meat, food, construction, and tourism industries.

“We broke all the rules — we didn’t start with a clear problem or anything, we started with 1000 ideas. We called those puppies, and we had to cull a lot of them. You can’t have 1000 puppies, that tends to suck you dry and it’s a little hard to manage all the puppies. But it’s not an easy thing to do, to put these ideas down,” said Rodley.

In the early days, Rodley put a live streaming camera on the family holiday home, which was later picked up by mainstream media and led to the team putting up a network of cameras for others.

The next big opportunity occurred in 2012 while they were installing a camera on a lamp post in Auckland’s CBD. The CEO of one of the largest fishing companies saw them up the ladder and asked whether they could install cameras on boats.

Today, SnapIT’s team of nearly 50 has no shortage of work.

“We literally do everything—we design the camera in-house, and we assemble the camera in New Zealand. We do the software, the AI, the infrastructure and the cloud-based transmission. We’ve built a camera that can be installed underwater, and we’ve tested it to 2000 meters.

And we’ve used that to create tools for construction monitoring and management,” Rodley explains.

Snap IT
SnapIT’s cameras and AI track and manage huge quantities of video footage for the marine, meat, food, construction, and tourism industries.

Rodley believes that it’s about deriving value out of the data and then making it easily available. “While we have paid humans to watch all of that footage to find the needle in the haystack, if we can give someone a cup of hay and say there’s a needle in there somewhere, it’s much better than giving them the whole haystack.”

SnapIT is focused on building something that’s significant and delivers value to fishermen, food producers, farmers, and their stakeholders. In some use cases, SnapIT is saving fishermen $65,000 annually because the cost of compliance in the US is so high.

It hasn’t been without tough times as they have bootstrapped the business over the years and the journey has been long. Rodley states, “There’s an element of how important it is to be able to fail and fail well, and then fail forward and move to reliability and stability. It’s hard to stop a camera from exploding when it’s struck by lightning. But that happened twice to the same camera so then we were faced with a problem like that to solve. And these little failures along the way, they just make the product better.”

Being in Aotearoa New Zealand has had a positive impact on the company’s development, partially due to the support available from New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) and Callaghan Innovation. Rodley notes that it’s likely they wouldn’t be as far as they are without receiving funding from them along the way and from the developing ecosystem in New Zealand.

“I think it’s really good to celebrate those things that New Zealand has done. Our ability to position ourselves as innovators, as a country, that’s unique. We’ve done things that other people have said, on the surface, are impossible. Other successes, like Xero and RocketLab, demonstrate that it can be done. And once the four minute mile is broken, everybody runs it, right?” states Rodley.

SnapIT closed an investment round with high-net-worth individuals in early 2019.

Rodley shares that they look to these individuals as opposed to traditional venture capital firms because they are interested in long-term relationships with their investors. By taking a very strategic approach in relationship building, Rodley believes the resulting knowledge will help further the company goals. SnapIT is impact-focused so having accountability around the impact is key when it comes to their investors.

SnapIT won the Peoples Choice category for Electronic Monitoring for Sustainable Fisheries Management at the New Zealand Innovators Awards.

The business made its first acquisition, a charity based in Canada called Teem Fish Monitoring Inc. Rodley explains why they were interested in the acquisition, “We were around at the genesis of Teem Fish as we were working with them when they were a charity. So the relationship was really strong. We supply most of their hardware and software and we were really keen to see if we could assist them in becoming the dominant electronic monitoring player globally.”

“The team was functioning really well so we added our technology into their business in a way that would give them autonomy and allow them to actually go to market with a stronger value proposition. They’ve been a part of our organisation for a long time. Just as much as we’re tech geeks, they are fish geeks. So, the joining together of tech and fish geeks has created something that I think is quite profound, and hopefully transformative. And that’s our focus.”

SnapIT is planning a Series A round in 2022 to enable them to pursue additional acquisitions.

As their team has grown over the years, the culture has moved from “let’s give it a crack” to “let’s execute really, really, really well” and they have found creative ways to hire, including having applicants create a presentation to show how they would enact SnapIT’s mission: Capture innovation, inspire transformation.

SnapIT looks for people driven by change and who want to do cool things. “We’re a team of people who want to move forward,” says Rodley.

“If you want to split a log, you have to hit it in the same spot, over and over again—and not be tempted to strike somewhere else, because you don’t know when it’s going to split. An axe is stronger than wood, so you’re always going to break through. It’s just a question of when, and how long you persist. Knowing when to quit is a real key skill. People have told us to give up in the past. And we didn’t. We listened to the feedback though, and we changed.”

Story by Katherine Blaney. In partnership with Nelson Regional Development Agency.

Innovation Nation is a series celebrating stories of innovation and entrepreneurship from around New Zealand.

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