Good Choice

Helping business people and students make better decisions

D Scene, 26 October 2011

By Gavin Bertram

University of Otago Department of Economics lecturer Paul Hansen describes the Eureka moment when he devised a decision-making algorithm. As he explains, every decision in life involves ranking the available choices. Now the patented "PAPRIKA" system, based on that revelation, is the foundation of various endeavours Hansen is involved with.

These include the innovative and Graduate Factory websites. Both are concerned with helping people make better decisions.

1000minds, which has won a number of software innovation awards, has been used by many business and government clients, including Boeing, the Dunedin City Council and DairyNZ.

Graduate Factory has been developed for secondary school leavers, to assist them in making good decisions about which bachelor degree to pursue.

"For most people leaving school at 17 years of age it's really daunting," Hansen says. "How do you know what subject to do? And the costs are so high, especially in the US, so there's a lot riding on it."

Having worked at Otago for nearly 20 years, he has seen many students make the wrong decisions and says it “breaks my heart sometimes”.

The company also includes Hansen's 1000minds partner Franz Ombler, Voucher-mate founder Christian Kasper and chief executive Julian Moller.

The idea was first developed as Otago Choice for the University of Otago in 2008. That has proven particularly successful, with more than 60,000 students using it since mid-2008.

However, the company has had a harder time finding purchase in North America, where it launched the equivalent No Major Drama application in early 2010.

Graduate Factory chose to target that territory due to the huge market on offer - about 20 million students graduating from high school annually.

Hansen says it nearly drove him insane researching the multitude of bachelor degrees on offer in North America, with subjects often going by different names in different regions.

"We had to wade through all that. We narrowed it down to about 300 to 400, but it was quite fun because I had to learn about all these things," he said.

"I had to get on top of all the subjects that you could say make up Western civilization and Eastern civilization too."

While it has had very positive feedback from those who have used No Major Drama, the company has found it hard getting it in front of students, without being on the ground in North America. Hansen says it is hard slog pushing the product from so far away in Dunedin, and so Graduate Factory is looking at the possibility of a New Zealand-wide version that would be more manageable.

Despite those challenges Hansen enjoys the business environment in Dunedin, and the connections that can be built here.