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Idealog's Most Creative: Simplicity's Sam Stubbs talks creativity

Idealog's Most Creative: Simplicity's Sam Stubbs talks creativity

Sam Stubbs was one of the People's Choice winners for Most Creative in money for Idealog and Accenture's Most Creative People. Stubbs is a man on a mission and the CEO of Simplicity, an online-only, not-for-profit Kiwisaver fund that hopes to challenge the status quo of high fees and greedy finance companies taking millions of dollars a year away from New Zealander. It gives 15 percent of its management fee to charities, it has become an activist investor demanding more gender diversity in major New Zealand companies and its marketing strategy is all word of mouth, digital savvy and growth hacking. Here, he discusses why he doesn't reckon he's creative, lessons learnt and why you should just do it. 

What does creativity mean to you?

Doing lots of little things a little better, and simply. Saying ‘no’ is as important as saying ‘yes’. 

What do you think it is about your nature/habits/interests that makes you creative?

I’m not creative! I just cut through the bullshit and get back to the basics that I think really matter and am honest. That may appear creative at times, but it’s just simple and honest.

What first drew you to your chosen field?

Fast cars and the fast life. I’m a Westie, so those were very bright lights in my 20’s. In hindsight they were very poor reasons, but I’m lucky now that it allows us to make a really big difference in Kiwis lives. Helping Kiwis make enough money to lead a dignified life really, really matters.

What was your upbringing like, and how do you think that led you to where you are today?

I’m a Westie, from Sunnyvale. I’m thankful for that upbringing. Out there you take little for granted, are given little, and live by hard work and your wits. All are really useful traits to have in the emotional kitbag now.

Where do your best ideas come from?

Others! We often say nothing we are doing is new, just new to NZ. Seriously, I think there are very few original ideas out there, execution of the already known is how most successful people do it. It’s 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.

What does inspiration look like for you?

Making a tangible difference to the world. Something you can see, feel and touch. There are lots of cheesy quotes, but for me inspiring things are in the doing, not the saying.

Is there an ethos/motto you abide by in your work?

Our Why? is giving people dignity. If we can make them richer, they have more choices, and thus dignity. Having enough money really matters, because poverty sucks.

If there were a secret to success, what would it be?

Don’t rely on secrets. Take what others have done, and do it better.

I just cut through the bullshit and get back to the basics that I think really matter and am honest. That may appear creative at times, but it’s just simple and honest.

What were some of the challenges that you faced early on? What went wrong? Any regrets? 

Everything was a challenge! It’s not easy setting up a business and making it hum. I regret about 25 percent of the decisions I made, there were some very poor ones. But making bad decisions is part and parcel of getting it right. The key is learning from them and failing fast. If I have any enduring regrets, it wasn’t shutting up and listening more. 

Do you work a lot? Do you have an obsessive part to your personality?

Yes and yep. Any startup founder has to have both. You don’t win by taking it easy, it’s competitive out there, everywhere. But that said, you do learn to switch off at times for your sanity. We have 100 percent job flexibility and we work from home, so the work life balance gets intertwined, but it’s extremely efficient. No commuting!

What’s the secret to resilience?  

There isn’t one. You learn resilience. You start when you’re a young kid, and it’s hard wired by the time you’re in your 20’s. You enhance it as you get older, and learn that when you’re in hell, you keep going.

What have been some of the highlights of your career?

I’ve had some jaw dropping experiences in New York and London, real top of the market stuff. But the highlight has been being able to stop working for money and giving back. 


The Simplicity team

What do you think New Zealand is like for creativity? Is there something about ‘Kiwiness’ that helps or hinders?

NZ is as good as anywhere, but not markedly better. I think the geographic distinctions are artificial. Someone with the right stuff will make it anywhere. It's the person that matters, not the place.

What would be the advice you’d give someone who wants to turn their creative passion into a full-time gig?

Just do it. What’s the worst thing that could happen? The one thing I hope changes in NZ is that failure becomes more a right of passage than something to be ashamed of. The US start up culture has a lot to teach us in that respect. 

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Be honest with yourself and others. And trust your gut instincts, particularly with people. We humans are remarkably adept at sussing someone out quickly. Rarely has my long term opinion of someone been dramatically different than my first impression, especially when I listened. 

Where to next? Do you have a goal you’re working towards?

Sure, many. But the big ones are to be the best dad, partner and son I can be. I’d love Simplicity to make Kiwis $10 billion dollars richer, and give away over $100 million to charity in the process.  Then I can do some serious skiing and sailing, knowing that we’ve done our bit.

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