Small business in Wellington is thriving - in its flow, in fact. Thanks to our great culture, low administrative barriers and keen enthusiasm, beginning a company in Welly has never been easier.
But what is a business if you don’t look cool and don’t speak to the right people, in the right way? Who will feed Wellingtonians need to be nourished creatively? Enter Plankton’s Carl Robertson and Emily Mecchia who are shaking up the big business model of advertising, with their microscopic sized agency - providing small-to-medium businesses with the tools they need to communicate and grow strong.
WHAT IS PLANKTON?
Plankton is an agile, nano-agency, located in the Biz Dojo Wellington. They create ‘Bloody-Well-Designed & Dynamic Campaigns in Digital and Social Media.’ Plankton brings passion and expertise to all projects they lay their hands on, working in collaboration with clients and identifying the right channels - which for small budget businesses means social media and digital solutions. Plankton provides content, digital, social media, creative and media communication. Most of all, they’re about community and connections making sure everyone is on board for the ride. “We want to focus on Wellington,” says founder Carl as we catch up over People’s Coffee in the deep depths of Newtown.
HOW DID THEY GET HERE?
Carl was born in Lower Hutt, the eldest of his family. His father worked in real estate and his mother was a legal secretary. “The Hutt gets a bad wrap. I was born and bred there, and it was a great place to grow up,” Carl said. He was encouraged to develop integrity and independence when attending St Patrick’s College in Silverstream. “Awesome school, great life experience and terrific friendships formed.”
“The Hutt gets a bad wrap"
In 1993, Carl swapped the Hutt glam for the glitz of Palmerston North, motivated by his friends studying there too. “Barkers track pants, fleece, close to home. It was perfect for student life” Carl remembers wistfully. “I was trying to work out what to do with my life. My friend Phil and I were both really keen to be dog handlers in the police force at the time. Phil actually ended up with the police. When I finished university, I ended up in real estate.” Not knowing exactly what to do next, Carl went to work for his father. “He had a great business and I decided to give it a go” he shrugs. While Carl loved the thrill of selling people their biggest investment after three years he decided to move on and like many Kiwi’s set his mind to travelling the world.
It was while Carl was travelling throughout North America he decided to move to the east coast of Canada and experienced a vast range of work, from bar jobs, landscaping, accountancy - “…Anything to get money to live” Carl remembers. “A friend of mine was working for a mining company and gave me cash accounts to work on. I also did snow clearing in the Winter time. There would be three trucks, a huge plough and we would clear the driveways and paths for people in a very affluent area of Montreal. I got really fit and made some good friends. When you have to work for cash, and you don’t speak French - you do what you have to do to get by.” In his second year in Toronto, Carl worked in accounting and auditing.
"You do what you have to do to get by”
Once, back in New Zealand, Carl worked in a printing company. “It was the first chance I got to connect with all people in the corporate space in New Zealand. However, I began thinking what’s next? I went to a company called Western Mailing. Back in the day, when email was less common, if a large company needed to get a message out to a large number of people, they would post a targeted letter out.” It was also while back in Wellington Carl met his wife, the lovely Justine.
In 2005, Carl moved to a company called Marketing Impact near the Basin Reserve. Carl was there for nine years, motivated by the change and flexibility. Here he learnt about the huge benefit of being physically present in your work relationships. “They had a full creative agency and we would work with government and large corporate clients. The best thing about that company was that the three Directors were all Wellington based and sat right behind me. I learnt so much and adapted and evolved so quickly” he says.
Carl then moved to Adcorp, another full-service agency with a Wellington basis. “Adcorp is headquartered in Australia. I had to grow the Wellington agency and manage a team of people which was awesome but also hugely challenging.”
“My wife and I had a new baby. I had heaps of work on…I finally had a chance to think to about what I wanted to do next.”
Then home life changed. “My wife and I had a new baby. I had heaps of work on…my family and I went to Vietnam and Cambodia and I finally had a chance to think to about what I wanted to do next.” Carl knew things weren’t sustainable and he needed more work-life balance. “For me, seeing what my kids are doing growing up is really important,” he says.
When Carl arrived home, he decided to talk to friends and build a new path. “A friend of mine suggested that I do my own thing. I was unsure. It seemed risky with a young family. He finally got through to me. “It is a massive thing to leave your corporate career and go out into the unknown.” The final pieces came together and Carl resigned. “I’m doing this because I really want to make a difference for our family as well. It is really important to me to give my family a life. That’s the key driver. I couldn’t keep wondering ‘What if?’”
Carl planned like crazy and then got his sister in law Emily, to join him. “It was important to me to have someone who was both supportive and who had the creative skills to complement my agency skills," he says.
And Emily? Emily was born in Timaru (a part of New Zealand she thinks is underrated). “It was a really nice childhood. The mountains, nature…From there I moved to study in Dunedin. I actually studied twice. The first time I went to Dunedin, I didn’t love Hall life. It was intense. I moved home and worked for a year as a kitchen hand.” After a year of washing dishes, Emily went back to Dunedin to study design and marketing at the University of Otago. “We had heaps of fun there and did the whole scarfie thing,” Emily laughs.
“It felt like the best option to come home to Wellington to be back close to family"
She then moved to Melbourne, working in odd jobs and met her partner Colin, who is from Hataitai. Emily still wanted to follow her passion for creative design but decided to travel and see the world while she could. After moving back to Melbourne, Emily’s career, at last, took off. She spent the last five years in Melbourne, where she gained a deep understanding of agency models and how to develop and execute successful campaigns. However, she admits she never really felt fully grounded across the ditch. “It felt like the best option to come home to Wellington to be back close to family. I’ve found Wellington to be an inspiring environment, with as much opportunity as Melbourne.” In 2017 Carl approached Emily to start Plankton. The rest is now history.
WHAT DO THEY LOVE ABOUT PLANKTON?
In short - everything! They’re all about genuine relationships which will grow with a company. The wide experience that Carl has been fortunate enough to gain in his previous positions, especially as Agency Manager, has given him the business acumen and direction to form Plankton.
Carl and Emily have all aspects of business covered in what they do. “We know how to build relationships and nurture them to where they need to be, ” he says. “I know the marketing strategy, the campaign management and coming up with ideas. It’s also so important to communicate with clients as well as to do the creative part.” In particular, Carl loves being in Biz Dojo. “It's the best decision I made for Plankton. We are connected to so many great brains. It has a great energy and a great vibe. We can be on site, talking to small businesses and knowing what to do from the ground up” Carl says.
HOW DO THEY WORK AND STAY FAMILY TOGETHER?
“It can be abrupt at times” laughs Emily. “It has its testing moments, but it can also be funny and always full of energy.”
“Wellington is a village. There are so many inspirational and exciting businesses to be involved with. We have a great Mayor, Justin Lester who is passionate about our city. It just makes sense to focus on Welly” Carl says. “We’re determined!” chirps up Emily (a bit abruptly? *just kidding*) “Plankton is here to stay!” And like the microscopic organisms Plankton is named after will continue to go with the flow while feeding our innovative and entrepreneurial Capital city.