Young upstarts making money: Inside Curative, Beatnik Publishing, Always Sometimes Anytime and gather & hunt

These ambitious smarties are making money in industries that aren't renowned for paying the bills – fashion, publishing, the non-profit sector and the internet. Their secret? Give everything away.

Eddy Helm and Jade Tang will make people listen to you.

They’re running a thriving business based on doing good – helping charities and community groups go further with their marketing budgets than any not-for-profit has gone before.

“There are 97,000 community groups in New Zealand and they all have wonderful stories,” says Tang. “They just need help telling them a bit more effectively.”

From backgrounds in advertising (Helm) and design and arts management (Tang), the pair met as volunteers for the yMedia Challenge, which paired university students with non-profits for pro bono work experience, all under the watchful eye of industry mentors. So far, so clever.

But Tang and Helm knew yMedia had its limits – they wanted to be full-time do-gooders, and yMedia wouldn’t ever be more than a side project. What’s more, they had an inside view of what non-profits needed help with and a burning itch to do something about it. In early 2012, they launched their own communications agency, Curative, and set around proving to everyone (including themselves) that their services were a good investment.

“Last year was about proving we can make a website, produce beautiful videos, put a TV ad together, make you gorgeous business cards, design a logo, organise events – essentially, that we can tell a story,” says Helm. The door stayed open for anyone who knocked, provided they matched up with Curative’s values (wine labels out, Global Poverty Project in). Helping small organisations with little budgets and big needs meant Curative operated under a kind of pay-what-you-can model at first.

“It was like, here’s our honesty box – just put your cash in at the end of the project,” Helm laughs. “We got a lot of gifts last year.”

When the pair found themselves putting in weeks of 80-100-hours, they knew it was time to evolve, armed with a diverse portfolio – and the attention of people who mattered.

One downside of the non-profit sector is that financial growth isn’t necessarily built in. Or as Helm puts it: “Just because you help feed 100 kids who are living in poverty doesn’t mean you get more money … because [non-profits] aren’t businesses and a lot of them aren’t generating revenue themselves it’s not like the budget grows every year.”

So growing Curative has involved a bit of smart thinking – getting the attention of those who actually hold the purse strings, such as the funding bodies and government organisations that cash up Curative’s clients in the first place.

“They’re starting to see the value in the work we’re doing,” says Helm. “Now the funders are starting to match us with projects, paying for our time and services, where they see how our skills could be of benefit.”

Jade Tang & Eddy Helm

Spend five minutes with Tang and Helm and you’ll realise they’re relentlessly, indomitably optimistic. Not the aphorism-dropping kind, but the kind who recognise that positivity is a motor that needs refuelling on a regular basis. They get up in the morning because they genuinely want to change the world, and they don’t see ‘making a difference’ as a blurry target but a list of steps with measurable outcomes. They’ve got a utopic vision for the way they run their business (it involves cultivating “joy and play and fun”, says Helm) and they’re willing to share what they’ve got. Friday afternoons are set aside for coffees with strangers who’ve approached them – “either a student project or an NGO project or an entrepreneur just wanting to toss their idea around”. There’s no agenda to these sessions – it’s about pointing people in the right direction, connecting them to community groups or creatives who might be able to help.

Cultivating relationships is something that can’t be undervalued, says Tang, especially in the not-for-profit sector. Trust and respect aren’t bestowed immediately, but incrementally. “It’s quite different to working with a marketing team in a corporate organisation,” adds Helm. “That time you actually take to sit down and have a cup of tea with people and hear their stories is priceless.”

Inside Beatnik Publishing

Sally Greer’s life story sounds more like a screenplay than reality. She launched an independent publishing company with no savings or investors, as a single mother, in New Zealand, just before a global recession. Now she’s on track to turn over $1 million. She’s a bona fide ‘slashie’ – that’s graphic designer/photographer/art director/entrepreneur/publisher. While designing for Auckland’s Sanderson Contemporary Art gallery, she spied an opportunity for a business producing books on commission for other businesses.

Her company, Beatnik, was still a newborn slashie (publishing house/design agency) when a friend approached her in 2007 with the idea that become her first title, Gran’s Kitchen. A cookbook/memoir based on the journals of 95-year-old Dulcie May Booker, it climbed its way onto the New Zealand bestseller list and lodged there.

Next came The Artists, a collaboration with Sanderson profiling 21 painters, sculptors and photographers – the kind of project Greer (left) had originally set out to do. “It makes sense to work with businesses because [the benefit] comes back to them more directly,” she explains. “With an author, it doesn’t work in the same way. The whole traditional publishing model doesn’t really suit such a small market.”

There isn’t a single Beatnik model as such; each of their titles has taken a different route to existence, from businesses who tip in cash at the outset, to Creative New Zealand grants for poetry to the calculated gambles of traditional publishing. Greer’s right-hand woman Ande Kuric reckons the publishing industry has an “insecurity” about books funded by individuals or organisations rather than future readers. Beatnik doesn’t. If it’s quality work that Greer and Kuric love, they’re willing to give it form, whatever its provenance.

“When people see us offering that support instead of acting as a gatekeeper, we become much more approachable,” says Kuric.

And that friendliness is something that’s set them apart from big multinational publishing houses with formidable reputations.

“Because I’m a designer I’ve always been trying to create the brand and the image and the community around Beatnik – it’s been just as important as everything else. And that’s working. Now people approach me because they want a Beatnik book, they want to work with us as a team, not just hand over the content and see what comes back. They want that relationship with that publisher and they want collaboration.”

Ande Kuric, Sally Greer & Kitki Tong

What’s kept Beatnik going, even through lean times, is its slashie nature – there’s still a fully operational creative studio alongside Beatnik’s publishing arm. “It meant I could pay the bills while developing books that don’t pay for more than a year,” says Greer. But those lean times are receding into the distance. “We’re doing really well at the moment, we’re taking a big leap forward and increasing our turnover so that we can get to that next level.”

Ten books over the next 18 months will see them hit their million-dollar turnover. Now Greer’s casting her gaze over the horizon for new opportunities. Her eyes widen when she talks about the future. “There are 200 million English speakers in China,” she almost whispers, as though she’s telling a secret. “We’re open to everything.”

Fashion and blogging

Courtney Sanders and Kat Patrick are busy making a living out of two industries you’d probably advise your kids to stay out of: fashion and blogging. And along the way, they’re figuring out the future of digital advertising. No biggie.

The pair met in a bar and bonded over a shared literary crush, which they immediately took to the internet. “We started a blog with pictures of Jonathan Franzen having drinks with other women and we superimposed our faces onto their bodies,” explains Patrick. At the time, both were fishing around in the pool of Auckland’s creative industries for styling and writing work and coming up empty-handed. Photoshopping Franzen pics ended up being a bit limiting, so Sanders brought Patrick on board with her fledgling blog: Always Sometimes Anytime (www.alwayssometimesanytime.com).

Three years on, ASA is a fully formed online magazine – a mash-up of fashion and opinion and pop culture, all related in a reliably wry voice and splashed with a dirty sense of humour. The site’s split into three channels. ‘Always’ for pop culture news, ‘Sometimes’ for written opinion and ‘Anytime’ for visuals – the last being anything from fashion editorials created exclusively for the site to collaborations with brands across Australasia. The goal: to provide a creative outlet for stylists, writers and photographers who, like them, are finding the fashion industry hard to crack.

Their vision doesn’t stop with the site’s content, but extends to its income. “We wanted to monetise it in interesting ways,” says Sanders. “I’d worked with heaps of fashion brands in the past who I knew weren’t getting the right sort of advertising treatment from magazines. I wanted to incorporate what I’d learned in retail and what I’d learned in my freelance work to create collaborative partnerships with brands.”

What this means: a series of exclusive gigs at Auckland bar Cassette for Wrangler, featuring Kiwi bands Cut off Your Hands, Die Die Die and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Stylist Karen Inderbitzen-Waller toting a Fuji camera backstage at New Zealand Fashion Week and creating a visual diary of her favourite moments. An exclusive fashion editorial for Lee jeans. The crucial aspect is Sanders and Patrick don’t hand over the creative reins; it’s content they’d make even if no-one was paying them for it.

“You’re buying into our aesthetic and our style,” says Patrick. “We’re not going to sacrifice that.” Adds Sanders: “It’s basically getting sponsorship for interesting projects. That’s effectively the model. It’s a fun thing to do – it’s way more fun than chucking in a standard ad, the same ad that you’ve seen everywhere else.”

The pair’s biggest challenge has been explaining to marketing teams and media buyers exactly what they want to do – and why. “The New Zealand advertising industry is probably a year away from adopting these collaborative ideas,” says Sanders. So getting their pitches over the line hasn’t been easy. “There were definitely a few head-banging meetings at the start,” admits Patrick. “Like, why are we explaining that online’s important.”

“And they don’t just have to get their head around online, they have to get their head around the future of online,” adds Sanders.
“A banner ad isn’t the future.” But they’re both dead certain that their way of doing things is the future for any brand who wants to market to the internet generation. “The younger audience has always had the internet, and therefore have always been exposed to so much all the time – they’re not just interested in fashion but in music, film, art and the way it interacts,” says Sanders. “As they get older and that market becomes more important, you’re really going to have to do all that – not just fashion. Because they expect a level of intelligence that has never been expected in the past.”

gather & hunt

Courteney Peters and Alice Harbourne are part treasure hunters, part bush-bashing David Livingstones. Peters, a former pilot, quit the skies and a sojourn in Australia to start website Gather and Hunt, www.gatherandhunt.co.nz back home (the story appeared in Idealog #39). “The cultural hub for Auckland online,” she calls it – a comprehensive guide to stores, eateries, events, interesting locals, even dating, filling New Zealand’s gap for a Time Out magazine or other publication that specialises in knowing more about a city that anybody else.

But monetising Gather and Hunt has been an exercise in going offline – banner ads definitely aren’t the way of the future, says Peters. Knowing hospitality businesses don’t have a ton of dosh to splash around, the pair figured out a way to help them join forces – through local business associations, which together fund Peters and Harbourne’s exploration and publicity of different suburbs. So far they’ve stomped their way through Kingsland, Eden Terrace, the Waterfront and now Takapuna. “Being community-focused, it seemed a natural progression for us,” says Peters.

Courteney Peters & Alice Harbourne

The pair have also been using their hospo relationships to promote specific restaurants with one-off ‘Tasting Club’ events and video profiles of individual places.

“Eighty-five percent of people Google a restaurant before they go out,” Peters points out. “What quicker way to get an idea of what a restaurant is?”

But Gather and Hunt, at its heart, is a personal recommendations site – designed to help you discover places and experiences that are a perfect fit with your own tastes and value. Their eventual goal? World domination.

“My dream is for Gather and Hunt to be so personalised that it remembers what you like anywhere in the world,” says Peters. “It’ll tell you everything you’ll like that’s around you and everything that’s happening – so you can be a local wherever you are.”