There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the tiny hamlet of Glenorchy at the head of Lake Wakatipu where Ben Young grew up and the thriving metropolis of New York city where he now lives.
Raised on a farm in his early years, he was kept busy collecting fruit, feeding hens, moving livestock; there was never any shortage of chores to do. So when his parents decided to sell the farm when he was 12 and move to Palmerston, north of Dunedin, Ben suddenly found he had a lot more spare time on his hands.
As it turned out, the timing was opportune. It was 1998. The internet was in its infancy and it wasn’t long before a whole new world opened up before him.
“I was in my element. I quickly learnt how to find the source code from websites, copy it and from there I taught myself how to build websites. As the traffic to the sites began to increase this attracted advertising and it wasn’t long before I realised I had a fledgling business on my hands.”
Deciding to follow a relative’s advice and go to university as a “back-up”, initially starting at Otago before moving to Auckland, Ben continued to develop what had become a growing digital marketing consultancy while he was studying teaming up with his business partner Duncan Shand to form Young + Shand.
Starting out in Auckland in 2009, and securing SPCA as their first client who were set to launch a new range of pet foods, the assignment was to provide an unexpected marketing opportunity for the fledgling business.
Within a short time and after more than 21,000 responses to a sampling ad on Facebook, which itself was still gaining traction in business circles, the social network was soon calling to find out how they had done it and the two partners realised they were on the cusp of a whole new revolution in marketing. It lead them to make their first hire and they were on their way.
“We embarked on a series of more than 250 business pitches to car brands, entertainment and media companies, liquor brands, anyone we felt would benefit from this form of advertising. In the end we lost most of the pitches but we helped educate a lot of people about the way the world of marketing was changing.”
Not surprisingly the business grew quickly. The biggest issue it faced was finding staff with digital design and it wasn’t long before freelancers were being recruited all over the world.
Deciding to relocate to New York, where the business is now based, Ben believes we are now entering what he calls the third wave of the internet revolution.
“The first wave was about simply building the internet and getting people educated, the second wave involved businesses adoption and now we’re into the third wave which is based on the fact that almost everyone is connected which leads us to ask what can we now do that wasn’t possible before? It opens a whole pipeline of new opportunities.”
The move to New York also led to the birth of Nudge Analytics, a measurement tool that provides information about, and helps optimise, business campaigns in real time.
While living in U.S. as a New Zealander comes with its own set of challenges from a visa perspective, Ben has no regrets about his decision to base himself in the U.S.
“If you’re serious about doing business in the U.S. you have to be here. As I like to say about our own business: we're a team of over 50 misfits, creatives, designers, geeks and hackers. We live in three time zones, breathe new media and we're focused on making a difference. New York is a great place to do that.”
Still, the Big Apple can never match Glenorchy for charm!