Q & A with Webtools
Webtools is a Christchurch software development company providing off-the-shelf and custom tech solutions with a focus on the health, agriculture, transport and energy sectors.
Agile, forward-thinking and creative, their developers work with some of the largest public agencies and companies in New Zealand.
From creating apps in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to helping energy retailers with their billing systems, Webtools delivers solutions.
In six years, the company has grown from two guys in a room so small they couldn’t pull their chairs out at the same time to a team of more than 40.
CEO Brett O’Donnell speaks to ChristchurchNZ about doing business in Ōtautahi Christchurch and the creativity driving innovation in the city.
Webtools is based in The Loft in the SALT district, what do you like about being in a co-working space?
People often turn up here to pitch ideas and get advice. There’s always someone in The Loft who can help people or guide smaller start-ups. It’s not just a co-working space — we’re here to help each other.
Christchurch has that reputation, right? As a place where businesses help each other out and it’s easy to make connections.
It’s like a small town. You can meet a decision-maker or get in front of a top CEO with just a few phone calls. There’s a supportive feel here, too. It’s not competitive or the faceless rat race of other major cities.
After Covid-19 hit, two local health experts came to you for help. Tell us how that led to you working with the Ministry of Health on an information app for healthcare workers?
We sat down with a coffee and a whiteboard. They said this is going to be bad, what are we going to do? We need something fast — can you make it happen?
We threw our designer and three software developers on it. Within a day we had prototyped a solution, within a few weeks we’d pitched it to the ministry, and then we had a contract within a week.
If you’ve got the right people doing the right things you can do it fast.
And Christchurch is a good place to test and develop ideas like that?
Christchurch is the perfect place to take risks in. We roll out new products here all the time because we feel safe to test, validate and make mistakes. We know we won’t damage our reputation in any way.
Webtools CEO - Brett O’Donnell
“Christchurch offers access to everything you need to start a business. There’s plenty of crazy risk-takers with ideas, enough talent, enough money, and you’ve got good networks of decision-makers and support to validate ideas.”
You mentioned before Christchurch can feel like a small town, but does it have the talent of a major city?
The calibre of the people in Christchurch is great. We have a similar sized team in Melbourne and we find it just as easy to find great people in both cities.
Christchurch offers access to everything you need to start a business. There’s plenty of crazy risk-takers with ideas, enough talent, enough money, and you’ve got good networks of decision-makers and support to validate ideas.
Post-quake, the city became known for grassroots creativity through the likes of Gap Filler. You made a game of Pong people could play waiting at traffic lights. Does Christchurch still have that quirky innovation culture?
I think so. We’re far enough away from the bureaucracy of larger cities we don’t get bogged down with red tape. The really interesting thing is you’ll talk to a tech person at a tech event here and they’ll be involved in five or six different crazy things.
Those sorts of people are always going to be inventing stuff, always going to be coming up with quirky ideas and trying new things. And I think Christchurch is a great place for that.