Distributed, nimble creativity

What we’re really good at

Eight weeks into my return to running Mecenato, my digital agency operation, I’ve come across a big wall. Bootstrapping my way while living in the most expensive city in the world is proving to be a mistake. Cash burn is high, project approval cycles are slow. The runway is shorter than I thought. Time to reconsider my approach to building this company up, and the decision of where in the world I should be doing it from.

You see, I like Singapore. I really do. After two and a half years living here, I’ve grown to like it. It’s a great base for exploring Asia. It’s safe, it’s well-connected, and is home to the Asian operations of most of the large clients, media, publishers and tech companies I need to interact with. Changi Airport is top of its class, and the frequent free concerts at the Botanic Gardens are not bad at all!

But all those positives hide a very big negative. The barriers of entry for a small, bootstrapped digital operation are quite high actually. Even one ran as a distributed, nimble, low fixed costs network. Brand marketers here are usually on the risk-averse, conservative side of the spectrum. I’ve already worked in four different continents, so I’d like to think I have a good base to compare. On top of that, I’ve encountered many project scenarios where payment terms are ninety days or over, non-negotiable. Big clients routinely ask for work for free. Tough. Time is money, and in Singapore the same time is just way more expensive, period.

You see, I’ve put together a network of people that is very good at what they do. At crafting sound ideas that are insightful, human and relevant. At reaching audiences in a fragmented media landscape. At designing interfaces and experiences with the user in focus. At using the best tools and data out there to report on attributable results. But the market is the market, and either is in your favor or is not.

I am currently doing a very strong 6-week push here in Singapore, trying to find forward thinking brands — and savvy brand managers — that are willing to place a bet in a new way of producing ideas. That are willing to bypass complicated procurement flows. That are willing to invest in areas that they might not fully understand yet, but that their target audiences are already immersed in. I am going at it full steam.

If that doesn’t work, time to retreat and re-assess. No point in paddling against a stream that is stronger than you at your very best shape. Because in the end, what one needs to be really good at these days, is in adapting.