Back to the start-up

The number of start-up agencies in London creating irreverent work and worrying network rivals seems to be at an all-time low. Campaign asked some seasoned adlanders, some of whom have already been there and done it, how they would go about starting from scratch.

Dave Trott

Founder, Gold Greenlees Trott, Bainsfair Sharkey Trott, Chick Smith Trott

The great thing I have learned after doing three or four start-ups is that the most essential person is the new-business person, who should then become the chief executive. The executive creative director is the second-most important person and, if they’re joined at the hip with the CEO, then that’s all the better.

With Abbott Mead Vickers, the difference was Peter Mead. He saw his job as facilitating David Abbott and that’s why they succeeded. Also, look at Saatchi & Saatchi and Tim Bell. It was a little consultancy until Bell came along.

The creative person is like the motor and the new-business person is the boat. First you need a boat, then you need a motor. A boat on its own will at least float.

Basically, you need to get someone who is successfully building someone else’s agency and who wants to build their own. If you can convince them they can sell what you make, then you have a business.

James Murphy

Founder, Adam & Eve

I think I would savour the moment a bit more. When you do a start-up, you’re convinced that the phone will never ring. Then what happens is that you pick up speed. Next thing you know, you’re two years old, then three years old. You don’t have any breathing space.

But the flip side is that this momentum helped the agency [Adam &Eve/DDB] succeed.

The other thing you learn as a start-up is that you have to kiss a lot of frogs. You talk to people who say they have no budget but, since you’re a start-up, this would look great on your reel, so you do it for five quid. Despite us all having experience at other agencies, you soon realise that you’ve still got a lot to learn.

Dan Shute

Founder, Creature

I’ll confess – it feels odd answering this because, as far as we’re concerned, Creature is still very much in the process of starting up. I guess, though, we’re nearly four years old now and, from the outside, we’re well on track to becoming just another dusty fixture in the adland firmament. Ho-hum. Anyway.

So. What would we do differently if we were starting up today? Don’t shoot me, but I’m not sure we would want to do anything that differently at all. Sleeping a bit more would be great, but it’s a combination of passion, wide-eyed optimism, trusting our gut and naïvety that has got us this far, and I think we would worry that changing any of that might screw everything else up along with it.

Don’t get me wrong, we have definitely made mistakes – but those mistakes have been just as important as the things we have got right; although it might have been nice to have made a few of them a bit quicker. You know, to get them out of the way. So we could sleep more.

So maybe that’s it – if we were going to do this again, we would do it exactly the same, only try to fuck up faster. Oh, and prioritise hiring a really good finance guy over getting 25,000 bees. We would still get the bees, though.

Mark Lund

Founder, Delaney Lund Knox Warren, Now

I’ve spent more of my life in start-ups than doing anything else, and it has been a very successful and enjoyable part of my life.

I think the first thing I’d do (if I started again) is to be absolutely sure that the area was in growth. It’s amazing how much that makes a difference. If the sector is growing, then the market is looking for new companies.

The second thing is to find a mix of time income and intellectual property income. The classic agency model where you just sell your time has been good, but it’s getting harder and harder.

The third thing is to look for diversity in terms of the people who are in the team. The tendency is to find people who you are comfortable with, and that’s essential – but, when you have a small group together, the biggest danger is groupthink.

Last, I think you would need to give yourself a limited time frame to succeed.

Mark Roalfe

Founder, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe

I have three bits of advice for anyone thinking about setting up a new agency.

First, have a very good reason to start one. The last thing London needs at the moment is another advertising agency. However, if you look back at the agencies that have been a real success, they have all brought a new vision and new way of doing things. If you have got these, go for it.

Second is choose your partners wisely. Clients buy teams and chemistry as much as work. You’re going to spend enormous amounts of time stuck in small rooms working together, so it’s best if you all get along.

Finally, do it now. Sure, it requires huge amounts of energy and resilience. And, sure, it will take over your life and consume your every waking hour. But, in the end, when you look back at it, it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on.