Rising US entrepreneurial star wants to open an office in Auckland.

Jesse Thomas, the rising US entrepreneurial star with his digital creative agency, JESS3, is looking to set up a New Zealand office, most likely in Auckland.

"When I started the agency, I always thought of NZ as a place to have an office," says the American who has dual citizenship with New Zealand, thanks to Hamilton-born parents.

"Auckland has always been my number one location for an office," says Thomas. His parents are hoping to retire to Waiheke Island from Washington DC in the next couple of years.

Thomas, with his co-founder, was named in 2012 as Inc.'s 30 Under 30 America's Coolest Young Entrepreneurs. JESS3 was also named Ad Age's Gold winner Small Agency of the Year in the Southeast of the States.


The agency, based in Washington DC, specialises in data visualisation, its services ranging from User Interface/User experience (UI/UE), animation, content creation and digital PR to developing large-scale installations, social strategies, data visualisations and infographics. Its client list includes Nasa, Nike, Google, Samsung, ESPN, American Express and Forbes and it was involved in the recent national elections in the US.

In New Zealand on a visit recently with a group of US investors and entrepreneurs, known as Geeks on a Plane, led by 500 Startups' Dave McClure, Thomas met a number of Auckland entrepreneurs through business incubator The Icehouse.

He also talked to BNZ about the idea of setting up a business in the Viaduct or Britomart.

Thomas, who has made some short films and animations at JESS3, was also impressed with the skills he saw in Wellington at the Weta Workshop. There are a number of ways the entrepreneur is willing to create a New Zealand base.

"I could build the team or I could find a team that already exists, someone who is under-valued. It may be that I come and acquire it or partner with the company," he says.

"Or it could just be hiring an individual initially. I can always work with someone very talented and manage them internationally," says Thomas.

"One of the great things with dual citizenship is that I can set up a business here - and I have the ability to bring Google, Nike, Nasa, bring the work here and take my NZ workers to America," says the 30 year old.

In the first instance, Thomas is looking for a managing director to run the creative team he hopes to find here. "I am trying to meet an MD type person who has agency experience, experience with a creative team.

"Hopefully that person has deal flow and would be developing a more senior team here," he says.

Thomas has thought of the potential for new clients here such as Air New Zealand, The Warehouse and BNZ. But his international clients such as Samsung have a strong presence in Asia and New Zealand would be a good place to have an office for those reasons.

The NZ agency would offer the same services as JESS3 in the US.

"We'd be looking for someone with experience or interest in information design," says Thomas. There are three categories JESS3 works with: infographic design, data visualisation and visual story telling.

"My goal in NZ is to be the hottest digital agency in NZ," he adds.

The entrepreneur expects the kind of tech savvy types he is looking for to contact him through Twitter, LinkedIn or the company website.

Thomas would start up a business here immediately if he found the right people. Thomas, not lacking for ambition, not only wants to support big brands, he wants to create the next big tech brand - the next Google or Samsung. "I am always looking for new frontiers of opportunity," he says.

Thomas takes inspiration from fellow Geek on a Plane, Dave McClure, the founder of 500 Startups, the seed fund and start up accelerator.

Thomas describes it as a community centre for Silicon Valley.

"The people who he [McClure] is investing in might be the wrong idea but the right team.

"He's an incredible talent scout," says Thomas.

The JESS3 entrepreneur is advising a couple of companies and has some money set aside for investment.

JESS3 is rapidly growing, with a US$6.5 million ($7.9 million) turnover this year, and 35 fulltime employees with 20 part-time plus contractors. Thomas recently moved to LA, where he has put together a video production and animator team.

"I think LA is the capital of creative professionals in the world," he says.

Thomas has plans in the future for setting up a creative agency targeted at SMEs rather than at the big Madison Avenue corporates.

In the States, he has been talking to American Express, a client, about sponsoring some pop-up shops where small businesses will be given 10 hours of design service such as information graphics and presentation design. "I love this way of helping businesses," he says.

"It's the perfect time in the history of the world, helping people in small businesses - we don't want more big corporations, we want these Mom and Pop businesses," says the entrepreneur.

Interactive agency

*JESS3 specialises in "visual storytelling".

*Services include animation, content creation and animation, content creation and digital PR to develop large-scale installations, social strategies, data visualisations and infographics.

*The agency is rapidly growing, with a US$6.5 million turnover this year, and 35 fulltime employees with 20 part-time plus contractors.