Small Kiwi company’s successful move to the US ‘not for the faint-hearted’.

Victory in the World Cup may have eluded the All Blacks, but their influence is helping a Kiwi company succeed in New York.

Augusto, a New Zealand creative content production agency making waves in New York's tough business world, says its association with New Zealand rugby and the All Blacks has helped open doors in the Big Apple.

Launched from nothing in 2008 by Riverhead couple Michelle Walshe and Leon Kirkbeck, 18 months ago they took the "brave" decision to move into the high pressure business world of New York.

Since setting up in New York the company has been working with high-profile US professional sports organisations like the New York Red Bulls soccer and Brooklyn Nets basketball teams – and is in no doubt its work back home with the All Blacks has been a factor.


"One of our earliest working relationships in New Zealand was with the All Blacks," says Walshe, Augusto Group's CEO. "This led to production and creative partnerships with adidas and AIG (All Black sponsors) in international markets like the US, Germany and Australia."

The company's success in New Zealand (its annual turnover has hit $11m), and rapid rise in the US, has just seen it named as the Central Auckland region supreme winner in the Westpac Auckland Business Awards and winner in the Excellence in International Trade category.

The Westpac awards are delivered by the Auckland Business Chamber in partnership with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) to celebrate innovation and strategic thinking. Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett says Augusto is yet another example of a business having the courage to apply its vision on a global scale and succeeding.

Walshe, who with Kirkbeck and their four children now live permanently in New York, says the recognition is an amazing thing for Augusto: "Eleven years ago when we started out it was just the two of us with an idea and now we are a grown-up business achieving extraordinary things."

Click here to view winners, photos, video and more.

Although it works with other big Kiwi companies and organisations like Tourism NZ, Fonterra, Wendy's, New Zealand Golf and ASB, it is its association with the All Blacks - and its production of the Richie McCaw documentary Chasing Great - which has set it apart.

Walshe says the McCaw documentary has had a big impact in the US: "Its message transcends rugby and it has inspired many sporting organisations and businesses. It was amazing to see the coach of the Chicago Bears (a professional American football team) wearing a Chasing Great T-shirt at a press conference recently.

"We have strong New Zealand values and we talk about them a lot," she says. "That Kiwi 'can-do' attitude, our efficiencies and problem solving abilities, drive and energy, all of these qualities are really valued over here."

Walshe says while the move into the US has not been at the expense of New Zealand (it maintains its office in Auckland where most of its production is carried out), taking on New York was not for the faint-hearted.


"We literally came from a farm in Riverhead with four children to an apartment in Brooklyn," she says. "We have always prided ourselves on our bravery, innovation and gusto approach; we've always taken big risks and challenged ourselves, this attitude is deep within our core.

"It is usual for New Zealand companies, particularly in advertising and production, to make their first move overseas into Australia. However given our strong existing relationships with AIG, adidas and world rugby we believed New York represented a better opportunity.

"The US is the leading commercial film and entertainment financing market and we knew it could provide us better opportunities for finance and distribution deals," says Walshe.

"We want to be here, we want to test ourselves but I will admit while bravery is a valued Augusto behaviour, it has been tough to emulate this culture and confidence in the New York market - and challenging to make inroads in the US client base."

Walshe says while Augusto's access to the All Blacks and the trust it gained by getting the best performances out of them (on camera) were highly in its favour, "we still had to gain the trust of these major clients as they had to be confident that someone in New Zealand they'd never heard of could produce content as well as their other global suppliers."

Augusto's US business continues to grow. It has recently launched an app for amateur sports coaches called Coachmate which delivers easy-to-use coaching content and is currently shooting a feature documentary for an as yet unnamed major US sporting organisation.

The company is also strong in entertainment - it produced Rhys Darby's Short Poppies comedy series for Netflix - and in platforms for social impact like Jessica's Tree, a web-based series it produced as a response to suicide statistics in New Zealand which was released with NZME as distribution partner.

"This is where we see ourselves going next year," Walshe says. "We are looking to partner with people and brands who want to make a difference, who are doing great things in the world."

Coming up in December we feature the winner from the 2019 Westpac Auckland Business Award's South & East region.