Anna Lawrence is still haunted by the lowlight in her 165-test hockey career – the crucial play-off match at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Captain Lawrence and her Black Sticks side had been riding a wave towards an Olympic medal, until they were unceremoniously crushed, 7-1, by Argentina.
“One million people back in New Zealand were watching the game live, and we were destroyed; our medal chances were over,” she remembers. “I was actually unable to talk to anyone for 24 hours.”
But from that sporting tragedy, Lawrence learned resilience, mental toughness, optimism and the ability to reframe things. All skills that she’s employed, 18 years later, in launching her digital marketing start-up, Boma.
“I look back now and realise those things that I learned in sport have been so invaluable to me in my business career. Like the resilience to get back up after a loss; we had a lot of ups and downs. When you reflect on it, you realise you use that same mental strength to get through the highs and lows of a start-up,” she says.
“It’s physically different, but just as taxing. Now that I’m also a parent and in a business like this, I realise those skills from my hockey days are amazing.”
Lawrence, who has built up a broad background in marketing, is a co-founder of Boma, which she describes as “a self-drive marketing platform which helps take the guesswork out of digital marketing for small businesses”.
She has teamed up with Ian Christie, former CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi, and marketing and advertising specialist Charles Clark, to create the marketing software, which was launched in September. But Boma truly made its entrance on the world stage at last month’s Xerocon conference before 3000 accountants in Melbourne.
Cloud accounting giant Xero has taken Boma under its wing, entering into a global partnership with the fledgling company. Boma has created a bespoke model of the platform for Xero, specifically for accountants and bookkeepers, to make it easier for them to market their businesses. “Working with small businesses, we saw a lot really struggling just to create a basic email,” Lawrence says.
“If you build technology in New Zealand these days, you have to think global first, because the market here is too small. We always had those aspirations, but then we found this amazing match with Xero.”
Through the relationship, Boma now has clients in Australia, Asia and the United States. By the end of this year, Boma will have also released a version of their product for small businesses.
In her 12-year career in the Black Sticks, Lawrence played at two Olympics, two World Cups and won a bronze medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. Her highlight was leading New Zealand out onto the pitch at the 1998 World Cup at The Hague, in front of 30,000 fervent Dutch fans, for the opening match against the Netherlands. She is famous for scoring all three goals in New Zealand’s victory over world champions Australia on the eve of the Sydney Olympics – breaking a 15-year run of losses to the Aussies.
At the height of her hockey career, Lawrence also studied and worked in marketing – women’s hockey was far from professional during her time. When she lay down her stick for good in 2002, she became sponsorship manager for the Blues Rugby franchise, joined Lion Nathan in Auckland then Sydney, and then spent three years as national communications and sponsorship director of Lion.
Working on the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Auckland, developing the MyBlackCaps fan app, proved to be an ideal learning ground in tech before joining forces with Christie and Clark almost two years ago.
“Five years ago, I didn’t know anything about marketing technology and here I am in a start-up, going for it,” Lawrence says. “It’s been an exciting, challenging, and sometimes daunting ride. But I love being in technology and having an opportunity to help businesses understand and navigate through this complex world.”
The Boma trio saw a gap in the market for a product giving small businesses access to technology only available to large marketing teams with big budgets.
“Many small businesses don’t do a lot of marketing, so we built a platform where they can create digital marketing campaigns without the need for marketing and creative skills,” Lawrence says. “It’s a simple-to-use tool that allows you to send multi-channel campaigns to clients and customers. You can quickly build an email, a Facebook post, a tweet, a LinkedIn post and an Instagram in one platform and bang that out in five quick steps.”
Boma users can access a library of purpose-built marketing content which they can quickly personalise and send out on social media and email.
Next year Boma will release e-commerce integration, so retailers can analyse data to see how people are behaving on their website. “Then you know what kind of messages you should send them,” says Lawrence. “If someone has bought a $150 pair of pants online one day, you don’t send them a discount voucher for 50 percent off those pants the next.”
The company, which received R&D funding from Callaghan Innovation, has an interesting story behind its name. In Africa, a boma is a corral or enclosure around livestock and villages. “In modern terms, it also describes a social hub, a place where people go to meet,” Lawrence says. Boma is also the name of Christie’s favourite restaurant in London.
Lawrence admits tackling a start-up has been “super challenging”, and the biggest learning curve she’s been on in sport or business. “A whole other dimension is parenthood,” says Lawrence, who has two children, aged 4 and 5. “People think I’m a bit crazy going into start-up land!”
She has returned to playing hockey, albeit at a social level, and will be a keen spectator at the World Hockey League Final, which continues this week at the North Harbour Hockey Stadium in Auckland. The Black Sticks will be among the world’s top eight women’s teams competing over 10 days, and win or lose, Lawrence is certain they’ll be forging skills for a life after sport.