Business inspiration

Fresh eyes an asset for kiwi creative agency

4 min read

‘Luck’ is a word Sam Stuchbury uses a lot when talking about the success of Motion Sickness, the business he co-founded almost five years ago.

But listening to his story, you can’t help but think of the old saying ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’.

“There’s a lot of stuff online about startups and entrepreneurs and hustling, and you can see how that creates an impression that you can build a business overnight and get rich quick,” says Stuchbury.

“I think it’s cool for anyone to want to start a business, but you have to understand you’ll need to commit years of your life to it.”

The big idea

Stuchbury was in his last year of a design and marketing degree at Otago University in Dunedin when he hit upon the idea for Motion Sickness – a social media marketing, digital marketing and content production agency.

While the use of social media and video content in marketing has exploded in recent years, they were relatively nascent concepts in 2013, but Stuchbury perceived there could be value in an agency that focused on providing those specialist but related services.

“I didn’t really want to work for anyone else,” he explains, “so the idea was to start a business specialising in content and social media marketing. At the time people hadn’t really clicked on to how powerful those tools could be for marketing, so getting in early meant the timing was really good.”

Stuchbury was soon joined in the business by fellow director Alex McManus (Hillary Ngan Kee is now the company’s third director, and the trio – who own the business outright – are all Otago uni alumni) and they moved Motion Sickness to their hometown of Auckland.

Capital and customers

The word ‘lucky’ comes up again when Stuchbury recounts how the company overcame the classic startup hurdles of sourcing capital and customers.

As a service business, Motion Sickness required little initial capital investment, he says; in the early days they rented the necessary gear to make the slick visual content they produce for clients, and have steadily purchased their own equipment over time as cashflow has allowed.

And they’ve been in the enviable position of having customers come to them.

“The thing we’ve focused on has been producing really good work that we’re proud of and not pumping it out like a factory. That’s worked for us because, luckily, the nature of our work means it gets put online, a lot of people see it and ask ‘who did that?’ Then those people come and hit us up for work. Even now we don’t actively look for work.”

The company also practices what it preaches, building a strong social media and online following for its brand. Its followers now number 6,000 on Facebook and 10,000 on Instagram, and it has 2,500 subscribers to its online newsletter.

“We don’t just use that following to push our work,” Stuchbury explains. “We have lots of young creatives, marketing managers and film-makers following us as a brand, so we also really enjoy sharing tips and insights so we can share some knowledge with them.”

Sounding boards

The advertising industry has a notoriously cut-throat reputation but Stuchbury says he’s found it otherwise. Having started the business while still at university, the founders had no previous advertising agency experience, but say they’ve made a point of reaching out to people whose work they admire who, in turn, have been generous sources of advice and support.

Clients have been similarly helpful. Motion Sickness has carried out campaigns for major kiwi brands (Stuchbury recently finished a 32-day shoot in Europe and the US for Les Mills International, and other clients include Icebreaker, Colliers International and Blunt Umbrellas). He says clients relate to Motion Sickness’ story, and love supporting a young, small New Zealand firm.

The company now has eight full-time staff, but Stuchbury admits growth hasn’t come without its hurdles. McManus, a lawyer by training, oversees the financial side of the business, but the team has also relied on solid support from their accountants and BNZ.

“Over the past year especially we’ve taken the next step in terms of scaling up and having more staff. The bank’s support has been really helpful around scaling up the right way in terms of loans and cashflow.”

Go your own way

Stuchbury believes the founders’ lack of previous advertising agency experience been an asset while building their own business because, uninfluenced by convention, they’ve been able to construct a way of working that best fits them and their clients.

“The mentality of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation was that you went to school, went to university, got a job, worked your way up, then if you wanted to start a business, maybe then you’d go out on your own. It’s a very structured mentality.

“Millennials and younger generations get a lot of flak for not doing things that way but I think it’s a good thing when young people go out and create businesses. People shouldn’t be afraid to do things their own way and, sure, sometimes it may not work out but you’ll learn a whole lot of valuable lessons along the way.”

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