New Zealand shoemaker Allbirds may have recently listed on the US-based NASDAQ with an IPO raising US$300 million ($445m), but the company hasn't forgotten its roots.
Despite having a market cap in excess of $2 billion, the company continues to call on little-known New Zealand ad agency Wrestler to lead all the creative, direction and filming for Allbirds campaigns rolled out around the world.
What makes this remarkable is that Allbirds could have its pick of virtually any advertising agency in the world. And yet, it has opted to retain its connection with the Wellington-based crew that's been part of the story from the beginning.
So how did this Kiwi collaboration start in the first place?
Wrestler co-founder Ben Forman explains that the partnership extends well beyond the current hype surrounding the IPO.
"[Allbirds founder] Tim Brown approached us when he was more known for his football prowess than anything else," recalls Forman.
"He just had this crazy idea of making woollen shoes."
Forman and his team had earlier attracted some attention for their Kickstarter campaign for Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement's "What We Do in the Shadows", and this led Brown to approach them for some help pushing his audacious idea.
"We made this Kickstarter video and it obviously went bananas, and, all of a sudden, Tim had to actually make all these shoes and deliver them."
Entrepreneurial journeys rarely run in a linear route and it would be around two years before the paths of Forman and Brown would cross again.
"He got in touch, and said: 'Hey man, things are up and running and we're now called Allbirds – and we're going to go for it.'
By this stage, Allbirds had raised some money and moved its headquarters to San Francisco.
In a serendipitous twist, Forman and his partner and fellow co-founder Kat Lintott were heading to the United States at the time and met up with Brown while there.
This discussion led to Wrestler being commissioned to develop the brand launch video for Allbirds.
"This was at a time when we were both small. There were maybe four of us at Wrestler and maybe four of them at Allbirds."
Forman laughs when he thinks back to how tiny the budget was for that video.
"It was myself on the camera, our creative director who wrote it and directed it and my wife Kat produced it. It was just the three of us on this farm with Tim. And we even had his parents doing some cameo stuff.
"We had a script, but as we were going, we just ad-libbed a lot of it. The place where it really came together was in the edit room."
With the help of a few quirky subtitles, that launch video ultimately caught some decent traction that the company was able to build on in the coming years.
"It all just started really organically and continued that way in the future work that we did," says Forman.
"Taking a step back now to look at the success of Allbirds from a storytelling perspective, I think it's because it's always come from a super authentic place. They've always just had this mission of creating exceptionally great products that have amazing values at their core.
"The product and the purpose is all there. So when it comes to the storytelling, you don't have to be a cliche advertiser and make things up. You're just presenting what's already there."
Looking back at the small budget for that original launch video, Forman today jokes that he maybe should have asked to be paid in equity instead.
In November Allbirds listed on the Nasdaq at US$15, before rising swiftly to hit US$29.90. Market uncertainty over the last couple of weeks has, however, seen the share price drop back down to around $14.20.
"The potential of Allbirds is so massive," says Forman.
"They're not a flash in the pan brand. They want to be a long-term brand that is here for 10, 20 years or even longer."
As Allbirds went into growth mode after the launch video, it started to work with a few bigger agencies both locally and abroad.
"We actually drifted apart for about two years. I think that was for the best at the time. The trajectory of Allbirds was bananas and we just weren't on the same trajectory as a business. They went off and worked with some really amazing agencies."
Forman says that during this period, Wrestler grew up as an agency, improving its processes and identifying the kind of work it wanted to do. The Wrestler team has grown from a handful of staff in those early days to a respectable mid-sized agency of 25 staff.
"By the end of 2019, we had positioned Wrestler as a value-led organisation that works with brands that push the collective consciousness forward and isn't here to just sell shit for shit's sake. We wanted to work with brands that are pushing the needle and trying to make the world a better place.
"I couldn't help but see Allbirds as a dream client. And I thought: 'well, they were a client. So let's get them back.'"
Forman says that all it took was one call to Brown.
"We called Tim and he was like: 'Yeah, man, I'd love to work with your guys again.' It was awesome that the relationship was still there."
Wrestler was then commissioned to work on a few projects alongside bigger agencies.
"All through 2020, we just kept doing more and more work for Allbirds," says Forman.
The project work was good, but Forman felt that he wanted the business partnership needed to be more formalised, so he called Brown again at the end of 2020.
"I had this plan of how I was going to word it to Tim, but he just front-footed it. He said: 'Hey man, we've loved working with you. What we love is the way you partner with us. It just feels like an extension of our team. So we want to make this a bit more official."
Wrestler wasn't put on a retainer, but the agency was given the certainty of a minimum set amount of work every year.
"It was so great to not have to sell myself. We did the work, it was noticed and the relationship was solidified."
With Allbirds now on the stock exchange and moving beyond shoes into other areas, the pressure will only grow on Wrestler to ensure it keeps delivering interesting ways to tell the stories of one of New Zealand's most famous brands.
This may well be the start of the next chapter in the shared story of these gutsy Kiwi entrepreneurs.