Wellington’s a business hub, and home to many pigeons, real and bronze (Images: Wellington NZ, additional design: Tina Tiller)
Wellington’s a business hub, and home to many pigeons, real and bronze (Images: Wellington NZ, additional design: Tina Tiller)

PartnersSeptember 1, 2022

How the magic of Wellington helps entrepreneurship thrive

Wellington’s a business hub, and home to many pigeons, real and bronze (Images: Wellington NZ, additional design: Tina Tiller)
Wellington’s a business hub, and home to many pigeons, real and bronze (Images: Wellington NZ, additional design: Tina Tiller)

Some of New Zealand’s leading businesspeople, artists and entrepreneurs share how Aotearoa’s capital has contributed to their successes.

There’s a special kind of magic that is embedded into the infrastructure, the fashion, the food and the creative energy of Te Whanganui-a-Tara. It’s a magic that can be found in all corners of the central city – from the pedestrian laneways and hidden corners of Cuba Street to the vibrant student culture of The Terrace and Aro Valley to the more business-oriented northern end of the central city, and all the cafes and bars that act as convergence points in-between.

For businesses like cultural design agency OHO, online accountancy company Hnry and hundreds more that were born amid this magic, it’s clear that environment has been crucial for building their businesses into the industry-leaders they have come to be.

Now, as a part of their Only in Wellington campaign, Wellington NZ is showcasing some of the city’s brightest business talent, telling their stories of how the special Wellington energy helped to inspire their success.

Jonathan Campbell, a sculptor and artist who calls Wellington home, says it comes from the close communities of artists, businesspeople, students and everyone in between. 

He’s lived in Wellington for his whole life and says it’s a city that offers inspiration everywhere you look. In a series of sculptures he has created for the Only in Wellington campaign, Campbell is helping to showcase the places where inspiration has struck some of Wellington’s business leaders. He says creating a series of pigeon sculptures as part of Wellington NZ’s campaign was “a fun job,” but that the sculpting process was far less elegant than the bronzed end product.

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

“It’s a very labour intensive process. It’s all glamorous when it comes out, but it’s quite hard,” Campbell explains. After a long process to create each sculpture out of wax, a ceramic shell is put onto these wax figures, then the wax is melted out to make way for bronze to be poured in.

Glamorous it may not be, but the results are undoubtedly eyecatching. Two Wellington business owners who helped to inspire his sculpture series – and who have used Wellington’s communities, connections and vibrant culture to build their businesses – told The Spinoff what makes our capital the ideal place to turn an idea into a reality.

Rachel Taulelei, Oho: It’s a vibe thing

Rachel Taulelei, founder of Oho (Image: File)

What makes Wellington special is a bit of a hard one to put your finger on. It’s a vibe thing. It’s not a big city, but because of that it’s a really tight knit community.

We have a community of people in Wellington who want to see each other do well, because it’s a bit of a battler mentality. Whether that’s about the weather, about our proximity to the elements, or whether that’s about the fact that geographically and population-wise we’re not a big city. 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 beer and shooting the breeze. It’s a very egalitarian city in that way.

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

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

Business-wise, that started when I created Yellow Brick Road, a sustainable seafood company. I remember at that time ringing Al Brown, who’s a friend, and I said to him, “I’m going to start a fish company, what do you think about that?” He probably thought I was mad, but he picked up the phone to his five best chef friends, then we went around and sat down with him and told them what I was doing. That really gave me that first leg up. 

When you ask me the places that are important to me, I will by default go to places I can eat. I was a huge fan of Matterhorn when it was open, but I think my go-to for breakfast these days is August on Taranaki Street. That’s a really great cafe. I’m also an enormous diehard fan of The Larder and Mabel as well. Those are the places that I will invariably find myself. I love walking at Mount Vic – Tangi Te Keo is its real name. It’s a beautiful part of the city and you can get right into the bush really quickly; you’re right next to Zealandia. I nearly got taken out by a kākā the other day, I hit the stop, drop and roll because it took a liking to one of my earrings.

James Fuller, Hnry: Winter mornings at the waterfront

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

There’s a specific time and a place that I think is really special in Wellington. It’s in the winter, in the morning, down on the waterfront. There’s this moment at about a quarter to eight, when the sun’s just coming up and the water’s still; there’s a great spot as you come past Te Papa where they’ve got that big Wellington sign and the bronze statue. It’s such a special little moment, when it’s so quiet and there’s this amazing harbour with the sun coming up across it, 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 bred Wellingtonian. We met overseas in London, where I’m from, but we moved over here about 10 years ago when our eldest daughter was born. We started Hnry five years ago, and now we’ve got no intention of going back. We love it here. Every time I used to come here on holiday, it always felt like home, so coming 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 totally blown away by how much admin and hassle that required. To be fair, I think we probably assumed that 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 pigeon sculpture, by Jonathan Campbell (Image: Wellington NZ)

A few short years later, we’re now New Zealand’s largest accountancy business, which is pretty crazy. We have 65 staff between Australia and New Zealand, and that’s all grown out of using a couple of spreadsheets to solve a personal challenge we had.

It sounds a little cheesy, but I think there’s a genuine community here in Wellington. That’s a common thread in New Zealand, but there are even fewer degrees of separation in Wellington; much lower barriers to being able to work collaboratively with other people. We always say there’s no way that Hnry would have been successful in any other city.

In Wellington, you can go and visit people face to face very quickly. We used to be based over on the corner of Dixon and Taranaki Streets, and we could go from the creative end of the city to the white collar end so quickly, there’s really no distance in between. That convenience and the open, community, collaborative nature of Wellington is what I think makes it so successful.

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

Find the pigeons

The series of 10 pigeon sculptures created by Campbell have found their homes at some of Wellington’s landmark spots. Find them for yourself on a wander around Pōneke using this handy map.

Keep going!