There’s some incredible entrepreneurial success stories coming from the heart of Christchurch these days. Stories of inspiring entrepreneurs who have created something great where adversity was one at the forefront. Brother sister duo Libby & Ben Crawford were one of the first to set up their business in the Christchurch CBD during rebuild phase and are without a doubt inspirational entrepreneurs we can all learn something from.

Tell us a bit about what Libby & Ben do, and why you deliberately set up a CBD presence early in the Christchurch rebuild phase.

Libby & Ben is a creative advertising agency. We work with brands to strengthen their communications – whether that be developing and implementing a new brand strategy and identity, producing television commercials or creating websites. We are a full-time team of five and have two studios, one in the CBD of Christchurch and one in Auckland. We chose to base ourselves in the heart of central Christchurch two years ago when there was barely anything here. We were one of the first businesses to move back to the CBD.

We did so because we are passionate about the city and want to be part of its future. To work on the anchor projects defining the city and work with those companies helping shape the region. So what better place to do that than from the centre of the rebuild?

What changes have you witnessed over the past few years in the Christchurch entrepreneurial scene and what can Kiwi’s in other regions learn from entrepreneurs in Christchurch?

Christchurch was always perceived as quite a traditional city. It feels like the ceiling has been lifted over the last few years, leaving opportunities wide open for fresh, dynamic thinking, new possibilities and innovative ways of operating. In particular, start-ups and temporary businesses have been encouraged to breathe life into the city during the rebuild. We hope that this energy will drive the culture of the future Christchurch, not just the short-term focus for the city.

Entrepreneurs anywhere can learn from this mentality. Taking that first step to set up shop, whether it be temporary or permanent, that addresses an immediate need. Then evolving, refining and building their business from there to become engrained in the longterm fabric of their town or city.

How did you get Libby & Ben off the ground?

We were lucky to have the opportunity to announce our new business on national television during the live final on The Block NZ, which gave us some immediate awareness. However, a lot of it was misguided, believing we were a renovation or interior design business.

It was a huge punt to quit our jobs beforehand, as we didn’t know if we’d win any money. Fortunately, we did, and that provided us with a safety net, allowing us to work full time on the business and have enough income to fall back on.

The next day we looked at each other and realised we were now in business. Ben literally set up the Auckland studio at the end of his bed, and Libby established the first Christchurch studio in her spare bedroom.

While opening some doors, The Block didn’t provide us with any business on a plate. We arguably had to work harder to prove our professional capability. Through a lot of hard work, focusing on providing our clients with exceptional service, producing the highest quality work and always saying yes to potential opportunities, we’ve been able to create a successful advertising agency in three years that’s continuing to grow very strongly.

Based on your experience what key tips would you like to share with budding entrepreneurs who are keen to make their own start?

The biggest hurdle is starting. Once you take that leap, you have no other option but to make it work. Of course, you shouldn’t just blindly leap into business, ensure you have done your homework and know it is a viable opportunity.

We’d recommend a one-page business plan, stating your mission, vision and values along with your 1, 3 and 5-year goals. We still use these to base our decisions and planning around.

Finally, use Xero. It’s an amazing tool, reduces your admin time massively and gives you amazing transparency into your business.

What has been your biggest challenge to date and what have you learned from it?

Going from two people working at home to then having two studios and staff was a massive leap for us.

On one hand, our overheads went through the roof, and we were not only responsible for our own livelihoods but our staffs’ as well. And on the other, we had to relinquish some of the control over to other people which at the time was concerning – whether other people could work to the level we expected.

Making this leap was the best decision we made. Our work is so much stronger now as we have a variety of perspectives and skills beyond our own capabilities. We also have more time to work on developing the business.
Libby & Ben Quote

Some people might say working with family can be tricky. As a brother-sister duo what’s your opinion on this?

We don’t think so. As siblings, you inherently trust each other and can be completely transparent. You can also ask a lot more of each other.

You were winners of the inaugural season of The Block NZ. Do you think the challenge of working together on The Block NZ has helped you in any way be better entrepreneurs, if so how?

Yes, firstly it gave us an appreciation of what you are capable of doing if you put your mind to it. An insurmountable challenge is actually achievable if you disregard the notion of ‘normal hours’. There have been plenty of times where we’ve been working into the small hours together to meet deadlines or to put together pitches for new business.

Secondly it also highlighted that you should say yes to every opportunity as you never know where that will lead you.

Looks like you’ve built a fabulous team around you. What’s your secret? What are the most important attributes you look for when choosing people to join the Libby & Ben team?

Our guys are brilliant. We’ve consciously built a team that has diverse perspectives, styles and skills so we can offer our clients the widest possible responses to their briefs. So we spend a lot of time looking at the opportunities and pinchpoints for our business then defining the ideal candidate before we even advertise a position. As well as raw creativity, personality fit is massive for us.

What’s the future plan? Your big audacious goal for Libby & Ben is to:

Apart from taking over the world? Our vision is to be the most well regarded independent advertising agency in New Zealand. We don’t aspire to be the biggest, but we aspire to be regarded as the best when it comes to service and the quality of our work.

Is there a specific entrepreneur that springs to mind that you admire? If so, who and why?

Internationally Richard Branson. Love the stories of how he began, saying he could do something when he had no idea whatsoever, and then set about figuring it out. Combined with his understanding of the power of brands. He’s been able to transfer the Virgin brand from music to publishing to air travel.

Locally, Peter Cullinane, who started Lewis Road Creamery, and is a founding partner in Assignment Group and Antipodes Water. Peter is a magician at creating a brand that adds value to products vs. creating a commodity product competing on price in a race to the bottom. ■

Libby & Ben – The Creative Agency was established in 2015 by siblings Ben and Libby Crawford. With studios in Auckland and Christchurch, the agency has clients across New Zealand including the AA, Cure Kids, Christchurch Airport and the Arts Centre of Christchurch. Visit www.libbyandben.co.nz for more information and to view some of their work.