Alumni Update: Will Houghton

Will is a member of our most recent cohort of young entrepreneurs who went through Venture Up 2019 in Wellington. He took us through what it was like to work on Volant, an on-demand grocery service, and it’s struggles. Since then, Will has used the skills he gained to run his own company more effectively.


Can you give us a rundown of your VU company, Volant?

There were 5 of us and we did a kind of Uber for groceries. The idea was to have groceries from numerous stores all over your city delivered in 90 minutes or less. I’ve since left the business because there were flaws in our team. We were starting a software development company with nobody who knew how to write software and I was like “this isn’t going to work long term”. We just didn’t have enough experience.

So that didn’t work out. That’s often the reality of starting up a business. What did you learn from that?

Because the business model for Volant works but the team is just wrong, for me it’s getting the right team. We had the drive but not the technical skills that you’d need to start a great company. Of course there are going to be unicorns that succeed but that’s rare. So of course having a good team is important. For example, right now I need a cofounder who can write code better than I can.

I’d say Venture Up gives you the keys to the kingdom of the entrepreneurial world because it’s the contacts you have. For example I’m meeting someone later who I know through Venture up and I’m meeting up with someone tomorrow who I know only from Venture Up. If I didn’t go through the program I’d be sitting at home doing whatever. Getting to know those people who are really ambitious and passionate about what they’re doing is great.

What do you think changed most about you personally?

Self-esteem. 100%. Best self esteem builder. Just with how they push you out there. I had really low self-esteem before because I was really quiet, didn’t really get along with other people. It’s really cool how they put you out there. You’re interviewing people in the street you don’t know. You’re cold-calling. You’re doing all this stuff that really gets you to constantly push yourself. Really helps to build self-esteem and I saw this in other people too. It’s building a growth-mindset.

How did you use that newfound mentality?

Before Venture up started I already made a business and I still run it. Venture Up is so much better in a way because I was just stumbling in the dark and it really helps with starting a business. You can take the concepts from Venture Up and use it anywhere. You can use it in any job you don’t need to be an entrepreneur. At the end of the day it’s not about being an entrepreneur because you can be an entrepreneur in any business. You can innovate in a business. You don’t have to be the founder to innovate. Venture Up came out of Creative HQ and that’s innovation. I can use the stuff I learned in VU my whole life.

Awesome to hear that you’ve got your own business running. What have you got going?

You know Minecraft? I make servers on that.  There are different servers, or worlds, because it’s a universe. You got Jupiter, Mars, Saturn. I wasn’t really innovating at first. It was just for profit and that was fun. I enjoyed it. I’ve got a couple game modes, another one is releasing this weekend. We have a store and people can buy stuff which gives them in-games perks and helps fund the server. I’ve got 3 developers who work for commission. We pay Youtubers to use our platform.

What the vision for the future?

I’m spending a lot of time thinking about where I want to be where I’m 25 and the idea, the vision, the best possible outcome would be running a company with 5 or 6 employees, having an apartment in Wellington.

I don’t think brick and mortar is worth it because you have so many other things to worry about. I’d be digital. What I like about tech is that you can sell to anywhere in the world, and once you’ve got the software, it doesn’t cost you anything more to add another hundred clients.

Could have 5 people in the game or I can have 2,000 and it won’t cost you any more.  

What’s your driving force?

I really enjoy it. I love it. I love the process. There’s no real goal to make a million dollars. That’d be cool but, who cares really. If you’ve got a million in your bank that’s not that great because it’s what you can do with it. I do want to make a lot of money in my life because of what I can do with it. So I can help people, which I really enjoy.

What are your pro-tips for people who are about to start Venture Up, who are about to begin their journey to creating something.

I’d like to say trust the process. They say that a lot at Venture Up. Be bold and put yourself up for everything. What was so great about my experience is that I put myself up for everything and you know how when you go through a course you’re always like ‘I could have done this’ or when you go on a holiday it’s I could have done this but I didn’t. I came out of VU realizing that there was nothing I could have done better. I put myself up for everything.

I really hated public speaking and I put myself out to do all the pitches with a friend. I wasn’t great at public speaking but I got better at it as time went on and I was really glad I put myself out there for that. Just taking advantage of every opportunity you get and making the most of it is really important. At the end of the day if you mess up nobody really cares.

Also celebrating failure. that’s something they ingrain in you from the very start. Of course, celebrate failure but not to the point where you’re failing on purpose.