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Studio Sense: How to make an idea successful

The start of the journey

We frequently get asked the question, why did we start 20Ten?

Well, in the summer of 2013 we thought we had all the answers. The journey started working from a ‘shoe box’ serviced office in Soho. Not the most inspiring of spaces, but commercially viable and we had the W1 post code we’d always desired. We were on our way!

Our original plan was to start a business with a passionate desire to do things differently and better. Having worked for several years within the creative industry as employees in a much larger organisation, myself and the other two founding partners Suki Bains and Alan Nuttall came to the conclusion that, with careful planning and preparation, we were ready to make the big step.

The 20ten team
The 20ten team

And it was a big step. We were walking away from well-paid, secure jobs and we were taking a risk. Would we be able to continue paying our mortgages? Would we need to change our lifestyles accordingly? In complete contrast though, our aspirations were high. If we were successful we could play golf during the week, have that dream car, we could even create that ‘better work/life balance’… it’s good to dream!

First off was our visit to the banks to get some working capital. Not surprisingly, our key financial objective was to become stable as soon as possible with the end goal to create a business that was both profitable and more importantly sustainable. However, our initial dreams soon hit a roadblock when it turned out that the banks said no to lending us money.

But, with careful planning we managed to kick start things with no borrowing. This in turn meant self-funding everything including salaries and all IT hardware. This was a significant factor in our success, as we could focus on solidifying our foundations, concentrate on our creative output and start to establish our client base and portfolio of work.

At the outset, the important thing was already knowing and trusting each other. That was really the first lesson – did we make a good team? Suki was highly experienced and provided the commercial nous, Alan was an amazing account director with clients who loved him, and I completed the trio with my expertise in client services.

However, in the early days we did what everyone had to, by selling to people we knew using skills we already had.

Scaling up

Before, when working in a larger organisation, we would naturally lean on the company’s in-house infrastructure and support. But now it was down to us. So the next step, as with any growing company, was to learn new skills and to consider introducing more internal processes and controls.

We also had to think more closely about the type of customers that we wanted to engage with and invest in creating deeper and more meaningful relationships. We now had to shape who we were. We needed to stop being reactive and start being more organised and controlled in our approach.

As a result, we secured impressive wins, such as the PS4 Launch for PlayStation, soon to be followed by international client wins with the likes of adidas Group and DreamWorks Animation. After these successes we made the decision to move from our “shoe box” into a larger studio on Wardour Street, still W1, but now a proper creative space.

Now feeling like a real Soho agency, we thought we’d really arrived….but in fact this is when the real challenge began.

Creating the Culture

Our determination to succeed was now stronger than ever. We had larger campaigns to service with bigger budgets to create even greater impact. Our challenge was no longer so much about how to get the work, but how we could best service it.

When we set out to start the agency we perhaps naively thought it was only about doing great work, which would in turn entice both the clients and the future employees. However, we soon discovered that it was actually just as much about creating a personality for the business, a tone of voice and ultimately a culture that we lived and breathed. It was about what we stood for and who we were, how we talked about our work and how we talked to our clients – both from a creative perspective and from a client services viewpoint.

It’s the culture we have created, and are still evolving, that gives the team the freedom to be themselves through empowerment – and more importantly creativity. Our ethos is to nurture talent and encourage people to grow. It is always a subtle balance between commercial restraints and affording the best hand-picked talent, offering appropriate benefit packages to compete in the marketplace and having the best studio space possible….Oh, and the always important Friday afternoon beer(s)!

Where next

Our barometer of success, progressing from our original work on simple banner ads to, for example, a full nationwide campaign strategy and roll out for the PlayStation Uncharted 4 release. The reward for us as business owners isn’t just financial; it’s the buzz of seeing our hard work deliver great results for our clients.

The culture we have set and ethics we strive towards will ultimately become the base for us. Important to us is attracting and retaining the right talent and creating an environment that leads to happy clients who love our work. Loving what we do should always be the focus. We believe without passion there is no creativity.

We have now expanded into the US with a comparable offering in LA and are in the fortunate position of needing to move premises again. This is primarily due to continued growth and the ever expanding creative team; now a mature and talented studio with an enviable portfolio of work.

Lessons learned

The journey we are on is exciting and highlights the importance of getting the fundamentals right. Have we got a great team, are they happy, do our clients love us, have we got the right culture, have we got an exciting proposition and do we have a plan?  Yes we do!

20ten.co.uk

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