Brisbane startup Creatively Squared is taking on the world. Recently they completed the Collider Accelerator run by QUT Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA) and then continued their startup journey to take out the winning place at their annual Creative³ Pitch competition. Part of the prize awarded to Creatively Squared was to represent Australia at the Creative Business Cup in Copenhagen where they pitched to a global audience of entrepreneurs and European investors. Ruth Stephensen, one half of the founding team, makes time to catch up with us to talk about their story, challenges, inspiration and how to make an award winning pitch.
Can you tell me about how Creatively Squared began?
Creating visual content has always been a passion of mine but Creatively Squared actually started as a creative Instagram community.
I’d been participating socially on Instagram and I used to enter a few creative competitions which I found a lot of fun. The only problem was they were all very niche; such as interior design and decor styling. I wanted all my friends to play along with me but a lot of them felt they couldn’t participate because they didn’t have enough nice homewares to photograph. This led me to the idea of starting my own hub and making it really inclusive — so that no matter what type of creative discipline, interest, or hobby you had, you would still be able to come together and connect with like-minded people on the same platform.
What problem did you start out trying to solve?
The original problem was inclusivity, because I could see this amazing community of creatives that all had a shared passion but were sort of floating around online without a dedicated base to go to. My dream was to create a hub where they could all interact with each other, unite over a shared activity and participate in something fun, which became the weekly creative challenges.
We originally geared the challenge sponsorship around helping small up and coming businesses. Quite often they’d be creatives or makers themselves, and the idea was that we would introduce them to the community and invite them to create images inspired by a weekly prompt. We had an amazing response from the very first week and it’s now been two years since the debut challenge. The format worked so well it hasn’t really changed to this day!
From day one the quality and creativity of the content produced through our challenges has just amazed me. After spending considerable time online navigating the fast lanes of social media I realised that brands were struggling to keep up.
Traditional marketing budgets aren’t able to sustain the sheer volume of bite sized content required for social media. With the limited lifespan and visibility of each post, hiring a professional team to create original content is overkill. Luckily, we now have a global community of creative experts that can help solve this problem for brands in a cost-effective and efficient manner!
What makes your offerings future proof?
As far as we can see, no one else is focusing on the particular niche we are, which is lifestyle oriented, in-context product photography.
The real point-of-difference with what we are doing is that we are a very creative focused platform and we care deeply about both sides of our market. Our purpose is to empower the world’s creative talent and find them work that is both meaningful and fulfilling. We want to be the place that brands think of first when they need content and the best place to be as a content creator. We believe that supporting our creatives and ensuring that they are happy and inspired will result in satisfied customers which seems to be working for us so far.
We’ve made a commitment that we are never going to ask our creatives to produce work that they are not getting paid for. So if we contract them to do a job they’ll get paid in full for exactly what was promised.
We know that the thing that makes us future proof and our key advantage is our creative community, by putting their needs as a key priority and making sure we also have a strong customer focus and provide high quality content, it’s an appealing value proposition for both parties.
What has made your solution possible? Who has been crucial in getting you this far?
We have a good combination of skills in our founding team. I’m very creative and visual and I have a really good understanding of both sides of our market. I’ve been on the brand side where it’s been hard to source content but I also understand what motivates and inspires creative people and how to get a great result for our campaigns. My co-founder Scott is a very strategic and analytical thinker, he’s great at processes and systems and he’s always looking at the bigger picture. I think between the two of us we’ve got very complementary skills that have allowed us to move to where we are today.
Who or what influences and inspires you?
I’m inspired by a few local Brisbane artists like Charli Burrowes and Jasmine Dowling. They’re great examples of self-made creatives that have paved the path for many picture-makers getting their start on Instagram. I think it’s great because they don’t appear to have come from any particular profession or formal training, they are girls that just went out there and carved their own niche with their signature style and have become wildly successful. That’s what I would like to empower all the creatives in our community to do, just to own their own aesthetic and to make it happen for themselves.
After taking out the top prize at CEA’s Creative3 conference, you represented Australia and pitched to European investors in the Creative Business Cup in Copenhagen late last year- how did it go? What were your biggest learnings/accomplishments?
Pitching in Copenhagen was a really valuable experience. There were 60 countries that took part from around the world covering everything from modular robotics and gamified psychometric testing through to craft jams and algae based textile pigments. What was interesting was that even though we had diverse backgrounds and companies, we often were facing very similar challenges. We learned a lot from the other teams about common problems like customer acquisition and retention; it was great having everyone share their experiences.
In terms of the investors, we found that no matter who you’re pitching to, or where you are in the world, the same template applies — what problem are you solving, who are you solving it for, how do you make money and what traction do you have. Stick to these points in a clear and concise manner and you can’t go wrong.
You’ve recently graduated from CEA’s Collider Accelerator program, how important do you think accelerator programs are for early stage startups?
I think that accelerator programs can be incredibly valuable for early stage startups. For me it was a great experience, especially in terms of my own personal development. I had never even considered myself an entrepreneur, or thought about how my ideas could shake up an industry until I put the wheels in motion at Collider.
I got so much value out of the master classes and one-on-one sessions with mentors, as well as having access to the wider support network through CEA. In addition to accelerating your business, programs like Collider are wonderful opportunities to expand your horizons and build your own confidence. I never thought I would be comfortable up on stage pitching my idea to hundreds of people — let alone actually winning competitions doing so!
You say half the battle of pitching is convincing the audience that you’re not nervous; what are your other top tips for pitching?
It’s so important to practice and to try it out on a lot of different people, because you get a lot of different feedback depending on who you are talking to. The hard thing with pitching is knowing how much backstory, or how much context, you need to weave around what you do. It all comes down to taking the audience on the journey with you and having an engaging narrative.
I always welcome any good tips about not looking nervous on stage, people have told me that I look confident and relaxed when I’m presenting, but honestly, I feel like my knees are shaking most of the time. The key thing is being able to convey the joy and passion for what you do, and not getting too hung up if you don’t use the exact right word or terminology for something because it’s all about how you tell the story as a whole.
What excites you about living and working in Brisbane/Queensland?
I actually migrated from Victoria about ten years ago and have never looked back! I just think what the government and the local community are doing for startups here is very exciting. It’s great that we have a Queensland Chief Entrepreneur and Advance Queensland providing opportunities and support for the startup ecosystem. I feel like if we weren’t based here we might not have had a lot of the opportunities we’ve been introduced to so far. It’s a really supportive, give first economy and I feel incredibly lucky to be here.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Some of the best advice that I have been given is to let go of perfection and just to be you! Everyone brings their own special skills and passions to the table and there’s no point comparing yourself to others or trying to be something that you’re not.
What is your vision for the future of Creatively Squared?
Right now we are focused on solving a specific problem for brands which is how to produce quality visual content in a scalable manner, this is where our creative community’s core styled product photography skill set lies. However we are already receiving requests for lots of other types of content and know that we have an incredibly diverse and talented range of creatives that can cater to this in the future.
Ultimately our purpose is to help creative people develop their skills, work with brands they love in order to produce exceptional content and earn a living doing so.
If you liked this article, please click the 👏 button below to make it easier for others to find.
CEA’s Collider Accelerator is part of Advance Queensland’s Industry Accelerator Program, designed to supercharge key industry sectors in Queensland.
Read more stories about Queensland start-ups, innovators, inventors, entrepreneurs, and community digital champions all helping drive change and make things happen.
Advance Queensland is a suite of programs designed to create the knowledge-based jobs of the future, drive strong innovation and an entrepreneurial culture.
Subscribe to the Advance Queensland eNewsletter to stay up to date with the latest in Queensland innovation news and to find more opportunities to collaborate with Queensland Government.