A Blackbird Takes Flight

Date Published:
April 19, 2024

Today, I announce some bittersweet news. 

In the coming months, I will be preparing for the arrival of baby #2. After some deep reflection, I’ve decided this is the right time for me and my family to move back to Sydney where my extended family live. 

I’m officially handing over to my fellow Partner at Blackbird, Phoebe Harrop, to run the New Zealand office and team from 1 May. 

They say your job as a leader is to hire people far better than you, and this is certainly the sentiment I have about Phoebe. She has very much been like a co-founding partner to me these last three years. 

We were lucky to hire her when she fled London’s lockdowns in 2021 where she was working as an investment director at Al Gore’s growth stage firm, Generation. Since joining she has led 10 investments, including Tracksuit, Carepatron and VeVe. She is an absolute magnet for the most talented founders. Phoebe shares the same passion for improving and growing the local ecosystem and building a generational firm. I cannot imagine a better steward for the Blackbird brand and can’t wait to see where she takes us over the coming years. 

Phoebe will be supported by a strong bench: David Booth, James Palmer, our new Associate Georgia Robertson, and two other new joiners to be announced soon.

When I return to work next year, I will still work closely with the New Zealand based investments team. Much of my dealflow will still be NZ based, and I’ll still continue to seek out and lead investments in Kiwi founders wherever they may be. After the move, I will retain my relationships with Kiwi companies I’ve led investments in, like Halter, Partly and FirstAML. The only major change to Blackbird Aotearoa will be that day-to-day management of the New Zealand business will pass to Phoebe. 

Looking Back to Look Forward

I have always loved the Zero to One phase of anything. It’s why I became a founder. It’s why my most successful startup role was as a ‘region launcher’.

It was only a little over 4 years ago that I decided to move my British-Aussie family to Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland to head up Blackbird’s first international office. I was a sleep-deprived mother of a 4 month old with no support networks and the daunting task of raising a $60M fund. It would have been easy to stay in Sydney, doing the job I was familiar with, surrounded by friends and family who could give me their best sleep training tips IRL. But I felt a deep conviction that across the proverbial ditch was a galapagos island of ambitious, highly original, resourceful founders with far too little money available to supercharge their ideas. Timing is everything in life, and waiting one year might have made it one year too late.

Since setting up Blackbird Aotearoa, we have raised $140M in funds solely for Kiwi founders. We have invested $133M in 28 companies who collectively generate over $80 million annually in revenue and employ hundreds of Kiwis. We’ve hosted close to 100 events that have brought thousands of people into our orbit. 

Building Blackbird Aotearoa has been the most rewarding Zero to One journey of my life, and I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to do it. 


It’s a fitting moment to reflect on what I’ve learned on this journey.

Number 8 Wire

Firstly, as clichéd as it is, the number 8 wire mentality is real. 

Four years ago, I had no idea what a number 8 wire was. The first time I heard the expression, I had to google the meaning. Wikipedia informed me that “Number 8 wire” referred to a type of wire that became ubiquitous on New Zealand farms from the mid 19th century. Initially designed just for use as fencing, it was used inventively and practically to solve all manner of mechanical or structural problems.

The Number 8 Wire came to represent the ingenuity and resourcefulness of New Zealanders, and the phrase "a number 8 wire mentality" evolved to denote an ability to create or repair machinery using whatever scrap materials are available on hand.

In a startup context, number 8 wire shows up a few different ways.

A can-do attitude that refuses to give up, even when the obvious and even less-obvious paths are exhausted. 

A scrappy resourcefulness, which often means Kiwi companies achieve more with less money than other startups. 

A first-principles way of thinking, where Kiwi founders don’t distrust an idea just because at first blush, it seems crazy, or even stupid. 

Guiding cow movement through sound and vibration collars?

Microwaving metal? 

Hydrofoiling passenger ferries?

It’s all worth a go! 

The Achilles heel of Number 8 wire mentality is it keeps founders doing everything themselves for far too long. There is a time to be resourceful and to multi-task, and there is a time for bringing on people who can help you scale. Failing to do so will throttle the company’s growth, and the company doesn't get to fulfil its kaupapa or mission. 

Startups are designed to grow fast. The challenge is to deliver on a big mission in a high integrity way, without sacrificing a sense of urgency. 

A challenge that remains more unfair for Kiwi founders than elsewhere is that talented people who are capable of scaling Kiwi companies to the greatest heights are thin on the ground, and unduly difficult to import. More work is required here

Country Kids

The profile of founders in our Kiwi portfolio is quite different from our Aussie portfolio in one noticeable respect: a great many of them grew up on farms and often only moved to the city as adults. Their childhoods were filled with many hours of open-ended, self-initiated play. Read: being bored, away from devices, getting up to unsupervised mischief where to do anything, you had to figure it out yourself. 

I’ve come to believe these circumstances help nurture a sense of curiosity, self-confidence, initiative and resourcefulness that are great attributes for any human being, but particularly ideal raw ingredients for a startup founder. 

As a parent of young children now, the Kiwi founders I’ve been fortunate to back have inspired me to think about how I will raise my children differently in the hope a bit of their magic rubs off on them. 


Great leadership is about bringing your people along the ups and downs of the startup journey. Undoubtedly, there are some leaders who are better than others at rallying the troops to get through the low points. 

There is a tikanga Māori concept, ‘mana’, which perfectly captures this quality. 

It is defined as:

“prestige, authority, control, power, influence, status, spiritual power, charisma - mana is a supernatural force in a person, place or object”.

At Blackbird, we talk about investing in ‘wild hearts’ with ‘wild ideas’ as early as possible.

I think ‘mana’ captures in one word the essence of what we mean when we say we are looking for a wild heart founder. 

Founders with mana exude a quiet confidence. They magnetise the best people to join them. They build trust through actions, not words. They may not be the oldest or most experienced, but they make a lasting impression in any setting. They create a ‘reality distortion field’ that allows great work to be done. Above all, they are ambitious, and inspire excellence.

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

It wasn’t long after moving here that I learned the famous Māori proverb about the importance of people.

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata he tangata he tangata! 6 February 2011. Evans, Malcolm Paul, 1945- :Digital cartoons. Ref: DCDL-0017011. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22703273

Put simply, I owe everything I’ve experienced in my time here to the people who have been on the journey. 

To the LPs whose belief in what we were trying to build, and how we were trying to build it, thank you. In particular, I’d like to acknowledge those Kiwi LPs who took an early leap of faith. Your backing gave us that early confidence boost that we were onto something. 

To the dream team: Tip, Ryan, Phoebe, James, Becca, David L, David B, Izzy and OB, you took your considerable energy, intelligence, but most importantly, all of your heart, and gave it to building Blackbird Aotearoa. It is what it has become because of you. 

To our Kiwi founders, you’re literally the reason we exist. If you were not so great, we would not have a business. Thank you for extending such a warm welcome to Blackbird, and to me personally. We hope your experience with us means Kiwi founders will choose to partner with us for decades to come.

There are too many people in the community to name and thank. And still yet more that I wish I had more time to meet or deepen the relationship with. I won’t easily forget the wonderfully generous people I’ve met in my time here and hope that physical distance won’t make strangers of us.  

Although my job here on the ground is done, I leave knowing with absolute certainty that the Kiwi ecosystem - and Blackbird Aotearoa - is just getting started.

Ka kite anō

Sam Wong