FRIENDS IN MOTION
IN JUST FOUR YEARS FRIENDS SAM STUCHBURY, ALEX MCMANUS AND JONO DE ALWIS HAVE GROWN MOTION SICKNESS FROM DUNEDIN STUDENT FLAT TO AUCKLAND HIGH PERFORMER. AND THEY’RE PICKY WHEN IT COMES TO CLIENTS.
In just four years, friends Sam Stuchbury, Alex McManus and Jono De Alwis grew digital creative agency Motion Sickness from Dunedin student flat to Auckland high performer.
When 25-year-old Sam Stuchbury and two university friends started their digital creative agency Motion Sickness, their mantra was “Good Vibes Only”, meaning they did not want to start a business only to end up working for people they didn’t like. They wanted to work with people they were in tune with and with whom they could build collaborative relationships.
It certainly seems to have worked. In the past four years Sam, Alex McManus and Jono De Alwis have taken their company out from their student flat in Dunedin, up to Auckland; they can now boast an impressive line-up of clients, an annual turnover of more than $1 million a year, eight fulltime staff and a loyal group of more than 20,000 who follow their social media platforms and subscribe to their newsletter.
Sam tells NZBusiness that this business mantra has meant they have turned down quite a few clients. “We are quite picky who we work with sometimes, we need to believe in their product and we don’t just work with someone to make some money. We don’t just take on something for the paycheck.”
He thinks people do respect that stance. “If you are working with them, you truly have to believe in them. We always had the vision to be a business that works with ten amazing brands and does great work, rather than have 50 and sacrifice quality.” They want to be proud of what they do. As their promotional material puts it: “They're young, fresh and unconventional in the way they work; leading strategic marketing campaigns with social media and digital content.”
None of the founding members has worked in a traditional agency “and their rather unconventional model is seeing them winning new business pitches to work with brands like Maserati, Jim Beam, Fullers, Les Mills, Stolen Rum and Colliers International.”
Recently the company won a gold BEST award for its anti-smoking campaign for the Manukau District Health Board. Other clients include Blunt Umbrellas, I Love Ugly and Burger Burger.
They are also seeing more companies asking for help to launch into international markets and Sam says that leading with social, digital and content marketing means that they’re able to help New Zealand brands not only break into the United States, Australia or Asia, but actually experience success with sales within that new market.
Their philosophy on social media is to create great content that not only builds awareness online but also drives online sales. What also makes the company different is that everyone in the agency is under 27 years old. Sam is the majority shareholder and the three founders have been
friends since high school. So, can that be difficult?
There have been no fallings out and while it can be challenging for friendships they are all pretty open to dialogue and open about what they want to do.
Social media can be something of a minefield for smaller companies. Sam’s expert advice to any SME owner wanting to gain more leverage from social media is to commit a small budget to promote your content. He says you battle away to drive organic growth, but promoting your social media and committing just a few hundred dollars can give you far greater reach. SMEs need to spend the money advertising, he says.
Twitter is useful for an individual’s brand, or for customer service, but in terms of campaigns for clients Twitter is quite small in terms of New Zealand users, he adds. Motion Sickness works with clients on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Sam says there is a huge opportunity for retailers through social media and creating a sales funnel through Facebook or Instagram – noting that it’s not just about branding.
Anyone can build up audiences but a lot of it comes down to the way the story is executed and strong creative is what will get results, he says.
Asked about the fact that Facebook owns everything that appears on its site, Sam says that the amount of data Facebook can provide about your audience is hugely valuable. And he doesn’t see Facebook going anywhere soon. People forget that Facebook and Instagram are so big in terms of numbers and Facebook is constantly changing and bringing in new features.
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY
As to what they might have done differently since launching the company Sam says not too much, except maybe enjoyed it more in the beginning.
When they started they were worrying about risk and whether it was going to be a success. He says that part of the journey should be enjoyed, you just need to be patient.
What does annoy him is to see a start-up where a product or app has been developed and the only point appears to be around making money.
“It’s important to find something you are passionate about and that you can commit to.”
If you focus on something you are passionate about money will be a product of that, he believes.
Motion Sickness has been self-funded and has had positive cashflow right from the start.
And the directors are grateful for the industry support they’ve received.
As a young company in Dunedin, when they decided to move back to Auckland (the founders are all from Auckland) they were warned they were moving to one of the most cut-throat industries in the country.
“But when we got here, everyone has been very supportive with how we were trying to do things differently,” says Sam.
The company’s “very loose” advisory board includes Luke Johnston, the owner of Dunedin agency Brandaid; Valentin Ozich of menswear brand I Love Ugly; and Mimi Gilmour, a hospitality entrepreneur who is the founder and creative director of Burger Burger.
As to what’s next, Sam says he’s been asking himself that question and one big focus is working with bigger brands and sinking their teeth into growing the business further.
L-R: JONO, SAM AND ALEX.