We’ve spent a lot of this year working as an ‘acting’ in-house product and design capability for a newly-forming FS brand, incubated by a Big 4 bank. Our brief has been to build and operate an internal studio to launch a new product, before transferring to a ‘business as usual’ team once live.
It is an interesting place to be for a newly-forming company — high-profile, high-pressure and occasionally overwhelming — building a business for our client at the same time as we build our own. At times, truly meta.
Whilst we’ve worked with other clients throughout the year, this founding project has had perhaps the biggest bearing on our values and proposition.
We’ve learnt a lot about our company and our values:
We’ve been hungry (to the point of actual hunger in the early days, thanks to a nascent knowledge of cashflow management).
We’ve been flexible to the point that we have initiated and survived several client pivots.
We’ve been generous with our cumulative networks (without always benefiting us commercially) and in doing so built one of the best teams that we have worked with.
We’ve known our place and recognised that our clients’ ambitions are more important than our own (you could call it being humble).
We’ve been transparent in our costs and team — typified by monthly financial reviews and helped significantly by sharing an office (and at times a desk) with our sponsors.
It wasn’t by design. It was simply perspective.
We’ve watched the approaches of others fail
From our base, sitting alongside our client, it has been interesting to observe the behaviour of other agencies and consultancies who have been involved at various stages — as we’ve helped our sponsors select and work with innovation, design and UX testing agencies. These approaches have failed to grasp the concept of a client with a need for a more open and transparent model.
This section used to contain a breakdown of five ways in which the traditional agency (as represented by the handful of agencies that we worked with) did not work in the context of our project. These were centred around a lack of flexibility in resourcing, commercial, change management and ways of working.
One of the agencies who were involved in the project, upon reading this article requested that it be deleted. The contents were not explicitly about them, but were deemed by them to be traceable to their agency. This article was in no way intended to be an insult to the traditional agency model nor the guardians of it — only to be an exploration of finding a new model for a new breed of client project. We apologise for any offence taken by any of the hard-working and talented people working for this agency. None of the points in question were intended to be insults to their capability, approach or professionalism — only the system that they work within.
Nearly a year in and our biggest client has helped to teach us who we are, for which we are very grateful.
We will stick by our values. The same values that have given us a first year we couldn’t have imagined by, frankly, being easier to work with than other agencies and consultancies in our environment:
- We will stay hungry (without being actually hungry, now that we have working capital)
- We will be flexible enough to manage change as it inevitably arises
- We will stay generous with our networks, as it helps us be successful
- We will always be humble enough to know that our client’s purpose is bigger than our own
- We will stay transparent in our costs, because it makes people trust us
This year has also validated all of the frustrations that we had working with and for agencies and consultancies in our space. Our model will overcome some of these frustrations:
- We will always colocate, if feasible for our clients. It means that we get to understand our clients’ business by being part of it. It also means that we can manage our HQ overheads and lets us be more competitive and transparent in our costs.
- We will never hire false leadership or sell it into our proposals. Our project teams will always contain full-time senior practitioners, who lead by doing good work (not reviewing it).
- We will define ourselves by our outputs and never sell processes as outcomes — our efforts will be on what our clients need, not what they want to hear.
- We will use a curated network of trusted freelancers, who have worked with us and each other before. This broad talent pool lets us shape and cast projects based on what a client needs, not who is sat ‘on the bench’.
- We will favour simple resource agreements, based on trust and talent — not on endless assumed definitions of scope and penalties for organic deviations on plan.
If this sounds like something you would like to be part of, get in touch — firstname.lastname@example.org.