How I’ve built my dream company
Four years ago my partner and I started our own design studio. We wanted it to be different than the companies we knew and had worked for. We wanted it to be a place for creativity, innovation, and a place to call home. This is the background story, what we dreamt, and still dream of, and what we actually have managed to build.
Before we dig into the details, let me give you a short history on us. Blixt & Dunder is owned and managed by myself and Teresa. We met while working at a leading digital agency here in Copenhagen. We worked together for almost four years before we decided to start our own business.
Being inspired by companies that think a bit different, companies like Ustwo and Doberman, I had always dreamt of creating a company that was “equal”. Equal opportunity, salary, responsibility, but also possibilities. In Teresa, I was lucky to meet someone that had the same values. So even before we had formed the company, we agreed that we would have one salary level, private health insurance and pay the same pension for all of our future employees (Teresa and I included).
When working as a consultant, you are not always honest (no shit right?). The agency you represent wants you to sell a certain way, a process that you have to push the clients into accepting, and maybe a team of developers that have to be paid for, forcing you into suggesting solutions that aren’t really what the client needs.
We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to be able to give honest, authentic advice based on what we think is the best solution for our clients and their customers. It sometimes means that we tell the clients what they don’t want to hear, and we sometimes risk losing the project. But it helps us sleep at night and keeps us motivated.
Being based in Denmark, we have 37 hour work weeks. Teresa and I early on made a deal that we should never work more than those 37 hours per week. We also agreed on that to be able to function as a company, everyone working with us needed time for themselves, and that we should never be booked more than 80% per week. Giving each employee a full day per week to spare with colleagues, explore internet rabbit holes, and learn new skills.
We’ve always known that we didn’t want to become a big agency with different teams, skills and internal cultures. Our dream isn’t world domination thru size but rather thru great work from a dedicated team of design and user experience experts. Sure sometimes we need more than design and UX, but then we will bring in the best freelancer/team/company to help us.
So what is the ideal size for us then? Well, we’ve discussed that a lot over the last four years. Currently, we think that the perfect size is 12 people. That means that we can still have lunch or dinner at the same table (if we squeeze together) and Teresa and I can still be part of each employees daily work and be there to spare and lend an extra hand if needed.
Mills has always called Ustwo a fampany, and we apply the same term to Blixt & Dunder. Being a fampany can have its challenges, but for us, it’s the only way. When someone has a bad day, we will try to pick them up. If they have a good day, we will all join the celebration. If someone wants to try something new and leaves the fampany, we will support them 100%. But in the evening when no one is watching, we will cry.
Being able to share our work and our experiences have always been a big part of how we think. As much as possible, we hold presentations and workshops at universities, make time to drink coffee with people who ask us for help, applied for a job, or just moved to the city and reached out over social media. Being able to use Blixt & Dunder to give back to the creative community and to do more than only client work is essential. And all of our employees are encouraged to do the same.
We are reaching the end of our fourth year as I write this. And it’s been an equally tough and exciting year. Over the past 12 months, we have changed our client base out by 75%, moved to a bigger office, lost our first employee and hired someone new, and worked on some gratifying projects with new fantastic clients and collaborators.
So far we’ve managed to keep the 80% weekly workload, we are seven employees in total, and we’ve travelled to conferences, lived together and hosted workshops and held talks all over Denmark, but also in Stockholm Budapest, Barcelona, and Beirut.
I can’t wait for year five! And six, and seven...