2018 In Review

Things that happened in 2018:

  • I started the year exhausted - In November 2017 one of our closest friends was tragically killed in a car accident. This unnecessary event sent shockwaves through our whole community. The following weeks and months were spent grieving, coming together, picking up the pieces and adjusting to the new "normal". I'll remember these times as some of the most sad yet also some of the most beautiful as we all experienced so much love, closeness and support throughout that time. Regardless, I was pretty knackered by the time we got into the swing of 2018!

  • Nelson Tasman Air launched: We had been working on this startup tourism venture for over six months by the time the doors officially opened. We were privileged to be a partner in the journey from designing their experiences and brand through to opening the doors and going to market. Projects like these are always hugely challenging (this one was no exception) but also massively rewarding to see real tangible things come to life. I love getting away from the screen and being in the trenches with clients trying to do bold and brave things - it keeps my work interesting!

  • We went to Stewart Island for the first time: In February, we were lucky enough to join our extended whanau and close friends on a trip back to a very special place for them - Stewart Island. We absolutely fell in love with the place (most people do I gather) and enjoyed kiwi spotting over whiskeys, G&T's and yarns at the pub, exploring the surrounding beach and bush and having loads of laughs. We finished up our Stewart Island adventure with a last minute impromptu escape (delaying heading home of course) to Akaroa and then Christchurch to see James Blunt live (you heard). Arrived home feeling grateful to live in this beautiful part of the world!

  • I did an adventure race.....well sort of: I married an adventurous soul who spends every other weekend hiking, mountain biking or rock climbing. This year I got to head down and support the Wild Women in Reefton for the Absolute Wilderness Adventure Race. Luckily for me the support crew was myself and a good friend Jonny (another Jonny, I promise) however treacherous conditions meant we spent most of the time on edge. On the edge of the seat outside the Ikamatua that is.....

  • I went on a mountain biking adventure (actually this time) - Marlen has a very bad habit of massively over estimating my fitness on a regular basis. "You'll be fine" is often how most adventures start and severe chafing is normally how they finish. This year, we biked the Queen Charlotte Track. On this occasion, it was all worth it for the views (or more importantly this epic photo of me looking victorious).

  • We ran a couple of workshops then decided to call it a day: We've put over 1,000 kiwi businesses through our OnMarketing Training over the past five years. We ran just two events this year and whilst they were still selling well, we decided to call it a day on that particular workshop. It's always good to disrupt your own business model before you are forced to - we felt the workshop space (living somewhere between lead gen and revenue generation) wasn't carrying the same energy and impact it used to so we've decided to give it a rest while we re-assess the training and business education side of our business. Watch this space as I don't doubt we'll be back.....


  • I went away for a week to fill my brain up again - I make a habit of doing this on a regular basis. This time it was off to Auckland for Unfiltered Live (one of the best conferences I've been to actually) and then to Melbourne for NextGen in Business which was also right up my alley.

  • Then I came back and brain dumped my thoughts to the Aspire Conference in Nelson: The Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce run the Aspire Conference each year. I've spoken there before but this year they decided to have in-depth panels around employment rather than the traditional keynote presentations. I really enjoyed the opportunity to share my thoughts on the future of work and challenge some of the dated assumptions that still exist in this space. It certainly wasn't the only speaking I did in 2018 but it was the most enjoyable.

  • We went & visited my brother in Thailand - In May, the ShiftOn office shut the doors for over a month as the whole team (all 3 of us at the time) went venturing off overseas on our own adventures. For me, it was off to Thailand with my mother (her second time overseas since the 70's I might add) and my wife Marlen. Jamie & Steph (brother and sister in law - pending the paperwork!) had set out on adventure only a couple of months earlier to spend the rest of the year in Phuket. We spent two weeks exploring Phuket and Bangkok before we headed for Hong Kong.

  • I went to RISE Digital Conference in Hong Kong along with 15,000+ others - And had an absolute blast! Marlen and I both fell in love with Hong Kong (unexpectedly) and plan to return ASAP. The conference was a huge buzz! It was awesome to hear the conference focus on ethics in tech and start talking about techs "big tobacco moment" which is fast approaching (in other words - tech companies need to be called out for designing for addiction). Oh and the shitty misogynistic culture that has infected so many large tech companies got ripped by the awesome Kara Swisher who inspired me with her gusto, clever wit and bravery. Oh and yes that is a robot talking below....

  • I got stuck into the regional tourism strategy for Nelson Tasman: This year I had the privilege of working alongside two organisations responsible for the destination marketing of the Abel Tasman and wider Nelson Tasman region (home for me). It's been awesome to work on the ground with startup tourism operators through to seasoned and well engrained businesses then step up the impact by looking at the whole visitor economy across Nelson Tasman. Hundreds of hours of research, workshops, interviews and discussions later - we delivered some great strategy work and the wheels of implementation have been turning ever since!

  • My old man turned 65 and we had a party: Once we were back from our overseas travels, we set our attention to organising a great weekend away in paradise (Golden Bay, NZ) for our family to celebrate dads 65th and fast approaching retirement (nearly there!). It was such an amazing weekend celebrating with whanau and friends in a beautiful place and reconnecting with people we hadn't seen for far too long. Note to self - do that more often!

  • I ate a burger with my brother: My mother and I went to Auckland to experience the Irish Celtic Show that was in town. We both travelled to Ireland together in 2017 and did a roadtrip around some of our ancestral homes. I love the Irish culture so thoroughly enjoyed the show and being able to experience it with mum. Once my older brother Jayson caught wind of it, he shot up to Auckland from Tauranga in a heartbeat to join me for a night on the town which concluded in a stunning burger from the White Lady at 5am.....

  • Dylan joined the team and we went to Honolulu - A couple of years ago now I shared a glass of red on the waterfront with a friend of a friend and his partner who both lived in Amsterdam. We yarned about the idea of really lifting the benchmark in terms of the quality of production and digital work happening in the region. They were both working in big agencies in Europe at the time and could barely conceive the idea that you could live in Motueka and do business here. In September (right in the midst of our chaotic event preparation), Dylan Galletly arrived in Motueka looking slightly frazzled after 40 hours + travelling with a baby and partner. The poor bugger walked straight (and I mean right away) into the public launch of Lift Off Abel Tasman - the very festival he was about to be asked to help us produce in 6 weeks. To celebrate (and procrastinate further), we went to Honolulu for the Nurture Change Conference and carefully divided our time between mingling with the locals during the early hours of the morning and soaking up the outstanding speakers at the conference.

  • A grand idea was conceived and delivered within three months: We love working with entrepreneurs at ShiftOn, its the way we're wired ourselves and so it makes working together so much more fun and energising. The downside is that we can get a bit carried away so when one of our clients came to us and share his vision for an aviation festival in the Nelson Tasman region - we couldn't help but jump onboard. After a bit of brainstorming and dozens of phone calls - Lift Off Abel Tasman was born! We were now at the start line of what was probably the most intense three months I've experienced. We had launched a festival over two days, with over capacity for thousands of people, in two different locations (really silly idea BTW) and with less than three months to pull it off. It was six weeks from our public announcement through to the delivery of the event and our to-do list was awkwardly big. As it happens with events, the dates rolled around and we welcomed 10,000+ punters through the gates of the first ever Lift Off Abel Tasman Festival. Balloons, fireworks and skydivers decorated the skies for the long weekend alongside live music, food stalls, kids entertainment, circus performers and much more. The whole community rallied around us and made the whole weekend a huge success with the event being reported across dozens of news outlets including the 6pm news. I'll notch that one up as nothing short of a degree in event management (for a couple of first timers) and one of the most rewarding yet terrifying projects I've ever worked on!

  • I got nominated for Young Business Person of the Year in Nelson Tasman: Right in the midst of our post-event hangover recovering from three months at the coalface delivering this event, we got dressed up to the nines and headed out for a night in Nelson to celebrate the Nelson Tasman Business Awards and my nomination as Young Business Person of the Year. The calibre was very high and I was super stoked to even be a finalist. It wasn't our night in the end but we partied as if it was.....

  • We had a team retreat in Golden Bay (the ultimate place to get away and have a think): Fresh off the back of our big event, the ShiftOn team headed away for a few days to have a good long hard think about what the future looked like. We had a lot to think about - we had a new weapon onboard in Dylan and his expertise in new media and production, we were feeling confused after the event (we don't actually do events but we loved it at the same time) and the chaos of organising Lift Off had starved our business of three months of growth which was a good chance to reassess. Several sheets of paper, rounds of coffees and a few cheeky reds later - we had picked apart the business as much as we could. This process is invaluable and I highly recommend it. Don't forget to balance the good with the "bad" as you review the business. It can (and did) feel a bit overwhelming recognising where things were at during that time but it was also a good chance to reflect on the wins, progress and future potential of the business as well.

  • We launched the new AbelTasman.com in style: We've been working with a group of Abel Tasman tourism operators for a couple of years now and one of the signature projects we've worked on is the development of the bookings portal and travel planning website AbelTasman.com which is now live to the public. This year, we went through a rebranding exercise, built several new websites, upgraded the reservation system and launched it all with a fantastic party at their new headquarters in Marahau mid-way through December. The project has been a huge success - delivering growth for the business and helping consolidate their position in the market.

  • We took our clients sailing and had an awesome evening on the water: We're lucky enough to call all of our clients friends. That was one of the main goals I set out to achieve when I left my job over 5 years ago now. I always wanted to work with people who I was motivated to help, who shared similar values and who I'd actually enjoying going out for coffee with. I'm proud to say we've remained true to that value. We took our local clients out on a sailing trip around Nelson just to remind ourselves how awesome it is to be friends with your clients and colleagues. We had a blast!

  • I dressed down a bit and we headed off an a roadtrip through the North Island:Anyone who knows me well, knows that I'm very rarely seen in a shirt. I consider a t-shirt and jeans acceptable business attire and prefer not to work with anyone who takes issue with that. But when we headed on a roadie through the North Island, I took the casual attire to a new level....

Our roadie was the perfect way to top off a great year and was the perfect mix of relaxation, catching up with families and exploring new places including the Tongariro Crossing.

Things I Didn't Do in 2018:

  • End up in hospital again (big win).

  • Commute out of Nelson every other week (another big win).

  • Exercise enough or stick to a healthy diet (not a win).

  • Maintain a consistent routine (still debating whether that's bad or good).

Looking forward to 2019 and so far we have planned:

  • Launching a new product in the tourism industry to help small players leverage their online presence more (amongst other things).

  • Developing out our service offering further to focus more on creative services and production to sit alongside our strategy and coaching products.

  • A trip to Europe to celebrate Marlen's grandmothers 80th birthday and we'll pop into a few other places while we're over there.

  • Working with some heavy hitters on a regional wellbeing strategy for the Top of the South. More to come on that another time.

  • Doing more in the "JOD personal brand" space after years of resistance and trying to hide behind ShiftOn. Expect to see more content, more insight and more speaking taking place.

Johny O'Donnell