Cultures differ around the world. When we first setup one of our earlier startups as an experiment to test if our business model would work out, we had quite the jitters.
We felt like children. Dreamy. We were ever ready to have fun. My sibling and I. He had just graduated from College, and I had just returned from a whirlwind affair with Europe. We were both very eager, especially when we wanted to put our passions and drove the
town clients insane. He had also earned his quad As’ around the same time in A&M; as I had to adapt to life in Asia working in PR & Visual Design Communications.
Everything written on paper, is a concept. An idea. Even if you think is workable it isn’t until it is implemented as a working foundation. A working business model is when you translate whatever’s on paper to a realtime situation, like work. Hard work where you actually move your fingers.
We could say the same with why the Universe was created, in a glitch or two. Smile.
Don’t. You have the business plan written out. You know it by heart. There’s no need to plan. Seriously. The planning is for the business on paper. Not your life. There’s a difference between your life, and the business. There ought be a delimitation or you’ll end up marrying it, and most prolly win an “Enslavement of Yourself” award, if you don’t get warded first into the hospital.
Balance in all things are essential. The workload will still pile irrespective how efficient and a perfectionist you are.
Putting things in perspective is necessary — what you draw on paper is not what you get in real life operations. You don’t often get what you dream out in your mind, and that is why a contingency is a prerequisite in planning. Allocate for at least twenty percent cash flow for the total setup. Stash that in the Bank, untouched as emergency fund.
If you can roll that, roll it.
Also, consider the economics — crucial. If the country is about to dip into recession, rethink, and rework everything. Seriously consider fluctuating prices of stock and inks, and every peripheral device. Small, but they do add up once you expand. Consider leasing since peripherals or anything electronics tend to diminish in value by 20% yearly.
So it really is not worth acquiring those. Best save whatever profits for other startups later, or for a stormy year.
Our first printer cost us about a small Proton, and there weren’t many agencies in the country that had those employed. We were doing both above and below board projects, and these were unfortunately necessary. Our first successful project paid for everything we had invested in, including bonuses for our staff.
Sure, everyone loves the superfluous idea for ego boosting, but really, unless you have the experience, and I mean, hardcore working experience, don’t even bother. Having an MBA without work experience still does not equate to a seven digit pay scale. Quit dreaming! Besides limiting yourselves to a designation is to really limit your mind to thinking past the glory of the title.
Instead design titles of respect that befit the end-person: Our Design Communications Agency didn’t have the usual C-Level Execs by appellation of CEO, CTO etcétéra — instead we had soubriquets that went along the lines of the A-Team, for the design department; the Undercover Agents for Client Servicing, etcétéra … you get the drift. Do with uniforms too, get into the game by gearing up. It creates the buzz needed besides, it perks everyone’s fantasy.
You must give back to society. Imperative. If its not monetary, hire a senior, or subsidise for the lease of a daycare centre, for your employees’ kids in the neighbourhood. No, internships are not giving back to society. In some parts of Asia, that is sheer exploitation and don’t we just love that.
It is tempting but really, must you indulge? — remembering the Golden rule: you do what you want done unto you. Besides professional work must be consistent, and once you start carving your brand, it gets sticky if it comes with shoddy work, and ethics.
We identified several Design Tech colleges in the city, and hired interns just after their graduation years. As a lean startup, we started off as a two-person operational outfit to about twenty after months eighth.
Library & Media
Do not be beggarly on books and reference materials especially when you’re setting up an A&M or PR Agency. Original inspiration block can hit even an experienced creative director. Pantone colour swatches and charts are beautiful too, so are imported foreign movies in Slavic.
The goal of every startup experiment is to discover how to build a sustainable business around that vision — Eric Ries, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Yes. Business irrespective the size must be fun. We made it our business to even have fun the first three months without hiring a receptionist to man the PABX, but instead answered it ourselves.
The many voices and hats came in handy being lean. With our first client, we had our receptionist within the forty-eight hour hiring period. Our client was a Financial Institution and we were literally swamped with effective, and salient ideas and we didn’t want to be disturbed in the Lab.
They have fired many celebrated A&M Agencies previously, and we didn’t want to be added to their list. We literally envisioned signing the dotted line, as a retainer. We went in to stay. Our first project was to launch one of their banking products and both VP & President loved our approach so much, we stayed on for several years until they had to diversify.
All our clients were handled with extreme care — We didn’t want to be just another Design Communications Agency but the One and Only DCA, besides the fact that it was an experiment, but of course we did’t tell that to our esteemed clients.
Space, Fixtures & Slavery
Our office space was about 3k sq.ft which was rather small, but it was a start — we were looking at about a minimum 10k open space concept, but it wasn’t feasible when we first started.
We didn’t have enough cash so we had to think smart. Our lease was just beside TGIF, so it was the perfect venue for clients meetings, and our regular weekend meetings. We even had our own table, and loyalty cards when they didn’t have loyalty cards then.
We were very fortunate when it came to purchasing design and office equipment. Our late father was a professional engineer and in his consultancy, a whole building reserved solely for design mavens. At the time everything were hand worked — design wise. So the rOtring instruments, the T-Squares, the tables, and plans drawers etcetera were literally offered for cheap.
We are blessed — They could have sold it off at quarter price but it was a token for us. We only had to purchase the range of PowerPCs, and Power Macs later on since we were working with animations, publishing and the likes. With the funds we saved with office equipment, we all each had our own, and they were all networked. Fully automated.
Sim City looked great on my twenty two inch then.
I love CCTVs don’t you? I have always been seen carrying a whip, and handcuffs in some minds. No, not cuff links darlings — it helps when you’re the only rose amongst the thorns. As tempting as overworking the staff, especially the interns, unless you are slaving tin soldiers, forget it.
That is why thingamajigs are being sent for contract manufacturing in tenth and twelfth world cities because exploitation is a culture and not a crime.
The reason I fixed CCTVs were for the only reason that came to mind, despite the triple pay checks — Moonlighting. The boys never clocked out. And their wives, girlfriends and mistresses were yelling in the phones one day, I thought I was going to have a fit.
Yes our first year operations were seven days weekly — the A-Team were given options to take weekend leaves, but since we paid double, and triple on national holidays than most A&M agencies, the boys preferred to work on weekends as well and that itself was a win-win bonus for us all.
We were known as the exploited startup that everyone wanted to sleep in until of course I straighten things out — I made a point that staff had to clock out or they will never see their pay checks.
The boys may be sweet with you in your face kinda thing, but literally carry the whip nonetheless. Yes, I was Lara Croft.
Take stock of supplies and have a gauge at how fast or slow these go — printer inks; paper stocks: Strathmore, Fabriano, Canson etc.; and design equipment. If it does not equate to the amount of wastage allocated for a client, then something doesn’t add up.
Also seriously consider air-conditioning — these take the toll on electricity bills, especially if your office does not come equipped with a central air conditioning system.
Rewards and Benefits
Consider benefits when you’re hiring. We looked at transport and marketing for our Undercover Team. We even got each of them their own mobile device with a mobile subscription. Since marketing equipment and materials are tax-free in some jurisdictions, it’d be wise to your advantage to check that out. Since our clients weren’t just local businesses, they enjoyed discounted long distance too. We also considered toll-free and hotline numbers for our regular clients.
Transport would include petrol cards, and a lease on option deal with authorities in road transport.
We reward both our staff and clients amply. Bribery is very Middle Ages, and we don’t indulge in those. We love the idea of marketing, as a concept. It works both ways. For clients as well as staffs.
When meeting with potential clients the first time, either on appointments or cold calls, always bring your media kit to give away – That’s what they are for. Since we chose our clients — yes, we were that fussy, our’s usually include the basics:
- Company Brochure of our services with our un-tearable Tyvek business cards attached. We weren’t going to give them reasons to do so.
- A book authored by a professional, that will indirectly educate them on why they desperately need our services
- A device like an oversized pen-drive or something practical they can use in their IT Department
- A dine-in voucher worth a couple of hundred. We actually worked a marketing win-win partnership with our favourite hideaway then
- Effervescent Vitamin Cs tablets, with a card explaining why they need these
- A multimedia presentation on floppies. Yes, our first startup was in the 90s.
- A licensed copy of Sims City. We get these at a discount.
And when they sign the dotted line, and they often do after the first meeting we often over deliver, and we always under promise.
Référence et Suggested Readings
- 4As — Association Of Accredited Advertising Agents
- Visual Design Communications
- Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster by Alistair Croll, and Benjamin Yoskovitz
- Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields
- The Lean Mindset: Ask the Right Questions by Mary Poppendieck, & Tom Poppendieck
- Why Lean Start-ups Don’t Work?
- Eric Ries Lean Startup Machine
- What Would The Lean Startup Look Like For Nonprofits?
- Why Lean Startups Turn Into Innovative Firms