How the magic of Wellington makes entrepreneurship thrive

Some of New Zealand’s leading businessmen, artists and entrepreneurs share how the capital of Aotearoa helped make them successful.

There is a special kind of magic embedded in the infrastructure, fashion, food and creative energy of Te Whanganui-a-Tara. There’s a magic found in every corner of downtown — from the pedestrian alleys and hidden corners of Cuba Street, to the vibrant student culture of The Terrace and Aro Valley, to the more business-oriented north end of downtown, all the cafes and bars that act as convergence points between them.

For companies like cultural design agency OHO, online accounting firm Hnry, and hundreds more that have sprung up amidst this magic, it’s clear that the environment has been critical in shaping their companies into the industry leaders they have become.

Now as part of her Wellington only Campaign introduces Wellington NZ to some of the city’s brightest business talents and shares their stories of how Wellington’s special energy has contributed to their success.

Jonathan Campbell, A sculptors and artists who calls Wellington home says it comes from the tight-knit communities of artists, businesspeople, students and everyone in between.

Having lived in Wellington all his life, he says it’s a city of inspiration everywhere. In a series of sculptures he created for the Only in Wellington campaign, Campbell helps showcase the places where some of Wellington’s business leaders found inspiration. He says creating a series of pigeon sculptures as part of Wellington NZ’s campaign was “a fun job” but the sculpting process is far less elegant than the final bronzed product.

One of the pigeon sculptures created by Jonathan Campbell, inspired by Garage Project’s Jos Ruffell (Image: Wellington NZ)

“It is a very labor intensive process. It’s all glamorous when it comes out, but it’s quite difficult,” Campbell explains. After a long process to create each wax sculpture, a ceramic bowl is placed on top of these wax figures, then the wax is melted out to make room for bronze casting.

It might not be glamorous, but the results are undoubtedly head-turners. Two Wellington business owners who helped inspire his sculpture series – and who have leveraged Wellington’s communities, connections and vibrant culture to build their businesses – told The Spinoff what makes our capital city the ideal place to turn an idea into reality.

Rachel Taulelei, Oho: It’s a mood thing

Rachel Taulelei, founder of Oho (Image: File)

What makes Wellington so special is hard to pin down. It’s a mood thing. It’s not a big city, but that makes it a really tight-knit community.

We have a community of people in Wellington who want to see how each other is doing well because it’s kind of a fighter mentality. Whether it’s the weather, our proximity to the elements, or the fact that we’re not a big city geographically or in terms of population. It’s so common in Wellington to walk into a pub and see a student with their last 10 bucks and a politician sitting next to each other, buying a great local pint and turning the breeze. It’s a very egalitarian city in that regard.

I recently started a company called OHO, which is a business and brand strategy company. And so much of what has allowed me to build this company comes from the networks that you can only build in a place like this.

Rachel Taulelei’s dove sculpture by Jonathan Campbell (Image: Wellington NZ)

Business-wise, it started when I started Yellow Brick Road, a sustainable seafood company. I remember at the time calling Al Brown, who’s a friend, and I said to him, “I’m going to start a fishing company, what do you think about that?” He probably thought I was crazy, but he called his top five cooking friends, then we would go around and sit down with him and tell them what I was doing. That really gave me the first leg up.

When you ask me about places that are important to me, I go to places to eat by default. I was a big fan of the Matterhorn when it was open, but I think my breakfast destination these days is August on Taranaki Street. This is a really great cafe. I’m also a huge die-hard fan of The Larder and Mabel. These are the places where I always find myself. I love walking around Mount Vic – Tangi Te Keo is his real name. It’s a beautiful part of town and you can get right into the bush very quickly; You are right next to Zealandia. I almost got knocked out by a kākā the other day, hit the stop, dropped and rolled because it took a liking to one of my earrings.

James Fuller, Hnry: Winter Mornings by the Water

James and Claire Fuller, co-founders of Hnry (Image: Wellington NZ)

There’s a certain time and place that I think is really special about Wellington. It’s winter, in the morning, down by the water. There’s that moment around a quarter to eight, when the sun is just rising and the water is still; As you pass by Te Papa there is a great spot where the large Wellington sign and bronze statue stands. It’s such a special little moment when it’s so calm and this amazing harbor with the sun rising overhead that you can’t help but stop what you’re doing and just admire it for a few minutes.

Claire [Hnry co-founder and James’ wife] is a born and raised Wellingtonian. We met in London, where I’m from, but we moved here about 10 years ago when our eldest daughter was born. We started Hnry five years ago and now we have no intention of going back. We love it here. Every time I came here for the holidays it always felt like home and when I came over to live here it just felt like I was already in the right place.

The genesis for Hnry was that Claire and I were both self-employed a few years ago and we were just absolutely blown away by the amount of management and effort it took. To be fair, I think we probably assumed someone had already solved this problem. But we put together a one-page website and put $100 into a Twitter ad campaign, and Hnry was born.

James and Claire Fuller’s Hnry-inspired dove sculpture by Jonathan Campbell (Image: Wellington NZ)

A few years later we are now New Zealand’s largest accounting company, which is pretty crazy. We have 65 staff between Australia and New Zealand and this all grew out of using some spreadsheets to solve a personal challenge we had.

It sounds a bit cheesy, but I think there’s a real community here in Wellington. That’s a common thread in New Zealand, but in Wellington there are even fewer degrees of separation; much lower barriers to working with other people. We always say that there is no way Hnry would have been successful in another city.

In Wellington you can visit people face to face very quickly. We used to be based on the corner of Dixon Street and Taranaki Street and we were able to go from the creative end of town to the employee end so quickly, there’s really no distance in between. It’s that convenience and Wellington’s open, community, and collaborative nature that I think is what makes it so successful.

One of the dove sculptures created by Jonathan Campbell, inspired by Lorenzo Bresolin of Scopa and 1154 (Image: Wellington NZ)

Find the pigeons

Campbell’s series of 10 dove sculptures have made their home on some of Wellington’s landmarks. Find them yourself as you stroll through Pōneke with this handy map.

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