Opinion

The secrets of start ups

Start up buttonIt is a new year, and many of you are thinking of starting afresh. Something new. Something of your own.

But how to go about it?

Mumbrella talked to media and marketing folk in Asia who have started their own businesses and asked them for the best piece of advice they could give someone who wants to be their own boss.

Simon SquibbSimon Squibb founded Hong Kong creative agency Fluid in 2000 and is now CEO of incubator investment firm Nest (but not the Nest just bought by Google).

Be passionate. Love the idea and don’t just do the startup for money. Make sure your startup is something people want or need.

Don’t adopt the “build it and they will come” school of thought.

Read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries, and don’t start a tech startup until you have! Invest time in a scalable idea (one that can be expanded regionally or globally). This is definitely more attractive to firms like Nest that invest in companies and founders.

Think about who your client might be in as much detail as possible, and don’t forget to ask them if they need your business idea.

Talk to customers; don’t sit behind a computer and guess what they want we always tell our potential founders we look to invest in.

Hire people smarter than you and/or who complement your skill set. We also say, You’ve got to think, so why not think BIG!

Be original and don’t steal ideas. Many people might disagree with me, but in the long run, anyone who copies someone else always pays for it.

Be confident and develop a thick skin. Many will say you are nuts and tell you to get a real job or to do something else.

Give yourself no choice but to succeed! Many fail because in the back of their minds, they know they can go back to a job. Failure is not an option—but then again, don’t be scared to fail.

Ask everyone in your circle to support you. The founder of LinkedIn said that building a startup is like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down. You need to go home to a soft landing to make it!

Wayne ArnoldWayne Arnold co-founded digital communications agency Profero in London with his brother Daryl (see below) in 1998. Based in Singapore, Wayne is now global CEO of the agency, which has also has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, Sydney, Tokyo and re-opened in Hong Kong in October last year.

Don’t make any assumptions and be constantly responsive. Most people will start a business with a partner or a group of people. The biggest mistake most people make is to presume everything will be perfect. The only certainty is it won’t be.

Have difficult conversations and well as the positive ones upfront. It will only enable you to be more successful. Secondly, even the best made plans will change, so your ability to respond to change will mean you will be around for longer than the initial launch.

Daryl ArnoldDaryl Arnold left the company he founded with his brother (above), Profero, in 2010 to launch the sustainable business innovation firm Newton Circus.

When pitching your new business if everyone tells you at first you are mad, then maybe, just maybe you might be on to something. Then with insane amounts of belief, smarts, hardwork, luck, (unfortunately) pain and loss you might just make it big.

My recommendation is before you get going, write down what success looks like to you, so that at anytime you can refer back and check to see if you are on track.

Picture 33Paul Grubb was part of a collective who launched British creative agency Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters in the late eighties. He worked there for 15 years before joining Lowe as Asia Pacific ECD in 2005. He launched his own agency, Red Pill, in 2010 and is based in Bangkok.

When we started Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters in London in 1989, we were clear that it was NOT about money, but work. We hired a superb financial controller as a fifth partner (Ian Cole) but he controlled the finances, not the company. We were creatively AND financially very successful.

Put a finance man in charge of the company and you’ll end up with…well, our business is now largely run by finance guys and look at the state of it. A finance guy didn’t make Apple the most valuable company on earth. So do it because you love it, not because you think you’ll make money from it. That way you’ll probably make money from it anyway.

Fiona BartholomeuszFiona Bartholomeusz launched Singapore integrated agency Formul8 almost 14 years ago. The agency also has an office in Dubai.

Don’t ever start an agency just to make money or in the hopes of being acquired. Remind yourself why you love the business because there will be many days when you will forget why it’s worth the slog. If you’re good, the money will follow and the suitors will come in time. But to start any business with the singular intent of cashing out is a death knell from the get go.

Robert Gaxiola

Robert Gaxiola, the former ECD at Ogilvy & Mather Singapore, started up Mangham Gaxiola with the former Ogilvy chairman Stephen Mangham in January 2012.

The best advice I can give anybody is to start off with people you respect. Each person needs to complement the other in both skillset and personality. Like an elite team of bank robbers targeting a fat casino, everybody on the team is needed to pull off the big heist.

Daniel NgDaniel Ng has launched three companies in his career, most recently the shopper marketing agency Day 28 in Singapore.

Starting a business is simple. You just need courage and common sense. But to be an employer and provide livelihoods to others requires maturity and the willingness to make sacrifices.

Sustaining a business on the other hand requires years of experience in the business you are in. In the ideal scenarios, gain those experiences personally by investing some time working for the best in the business. For the less patient, spend some time talking to the veterans in the business. Most of them wouldn’t turn down a cup of coffee or pint of beer.

Chris CatchpoleChris Catchpole, who has just moved from Lowe Vietnam to Phibious as regional ECD, has also started up three businesses in his career in the UK and Asia.

There is only one thing you need to start an agency. It’s not a swanky office. It’s not great staff. It’s not an awards cabinet that proves you’re the best in the world. It’s not an incredible business brain. And it’s not even talent. I’ve watched some of the best people from the best places fail because they mistakenly thought that their brilliance would win the day.

This might sound completely obvious but the only thing you need is a client, preferably clients. It doesn’t matter what quality of work you’re doing, you just need to keep the cash coming in. No one cares how famous or not you are in the industry, all that matters is money. Great work comes later.

Charlie BlowerCharlie Blower, the former Singapore MD of Euro RSCG (now Havas Worldwide) and creative group head of DDB Singapore, launched creative agency Blak Labs in 2010.

You have to remember that there’s no safety net. It may sound obvious but success starts and ends with you. You’ll make mistakes – but who doesn’t? So lose your fears. Surround yourself with the right talent and take the leap. And make your mum proud!

Toby HemmingToby Hemming left News Digital Media, where he was head of corporate affairs, in 2012. In June of that year, he started his own PR agency, Bold Media, which has just re-positioned as Asia-Pacific’s only PR agency for the media, marketing and ad industries.

Put flexibility at the centre of your business model, and don’t worry about making mistakes. Be prepared that when you start up, its very likely you know very little about what running a business is really like. Don’t be too rigid about following a pre-determined path and have the courage to go with the flow if it seems to be taking you in the right direction. As long as you are still in business, there are no mistakes only lessons. Don’t beat yourself up about things that don’t go exactly to plan and treat each potential setback as a case study.

Manoj MotianiManoj Motiani founded Indian creative consultancy Thought Bubbles five years ago after a long spell at Ogilvy & Mather in Mumbai where he was a creative director.

A start up should be about excitement. Keep that intact and building. Look at the big picture, enjoy the space you are in, have fun, don’t fall prey to the financial pressures and keep your growth in a broad context. Make precious learnings, and make sure personal family time is part of your plan.

Pat Law

Pat Law started Singapore-based social media agency Goodstuph four years ago, and Another Good Thing in 2012. Goodstuph launched in Hong Kong last month.

Stop behaving like a start-up. Just because you’re a start-up, this does not give you an excuse to be any less professional with your client. It doesn’t mean you get away with not following up with a contact report within 24 hours (fine, we do them embedded in emails but the point is, there needs to be a follow-up post meeting always because we all have goldfish memories), detailed post-campaign reports, and be answerable to KPIs.

My belief is simple – if you want to stop being paid like a freelancer, stop having a freelancer attitude.

Shalabh PandeyShalabh Pandey is the former head of earned media marketing at Nokia Southeast Asia and the global head of media at Blue Interactive. He launched the kids’ news website Whiz Times in 2012.

Leverage your network first – digital and real. But not just over the internet or on the phone. Do it the old fashioned way. Get out and about, meet people. Things will happen.

We at The Whiz Times get so much help from unexpected quarters and people, it is incredible. People are so positive about start-ups and admire you for sticking your neck out, for working without money, for personifying their dreams. Try it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Be the Hotel California (in a positive way). Start with a focus on client acquisition – don’t go chasing higher margins or higher value business. Clients should be able to check in any time they want, but then dazzle them so that they never would want to leave.

Everyone looks for a proof of concept – prospective clients, potential investors. Repertoire and portfolio is treated as a strong proof point.

At Whiz Times, we made that mistake in the beginning – we focused on saving costs, spending on marketing and revenues, when we could build higher user numbers by, say, offering free subscriptions to schools, get en-masse registrations, and then upsell at a later stage. We are going onenotch higher now to make-up for that opportunity, by offering a metered paywall to our users.

Don’t walk down the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Don’t walk alone. Bring some good people in. Build a team. I know, it is easier said than done, but if you can, do it as soon as possible. Not necessarily as co-founders, but even as paid employees, or freelancers or contract/flexi workers.

For The Whiz Times, in the beginning, I tried doing everything. from coding to design to marketing to content to business development, all on my own. It was difficult finding the right people and I wanted to cut on costs. But in hindsight I paid more in the form of slow development, feeling burnt out and paying for higher operation costs. Of course, we fixed that, and immediately saw some early good results.

Be the Sultan of Swing. Start building influence at an early stage – in the marketing services business, size and show matters. Either the size of your company, or the size of your influence – or even the posturing of influence. So start posing. You probably know how to do that.

Neal MooreNeal Moore co-founded Singapore-based production company Click2View, which recently repositioned as a ‘motion content company’, in 2010.

There’s no room for a B-team in a start-up. Obviously you don’t want non-performers, but even average employees will slow you down and suck the life out of small companies, settle for the best possible team you can get, especially in the early days.
Also, your office is not your priority.  Many creative start-ups, not just agencies, think they need a mini-bar, massage beds and a petting zoo to impress their customers and inspire their staff but guess what?  Shakespeare didn’t need an X-Box and he’s still making more money than you! Fact is, worrying about how you will pay for all these things will undermine your confidence and kill your creativity so leave the petting zoo alone.
Emmanuel AllixEmmanuel Allix, the former APAC MD of InMobi, is founder and CEO of Art Of Click, a mobile and web demand side platform that operates in Southeast Asia.

Stay focused. Believe in what you do and deliver brilliantly on few things rather than mess around with multi-billion plans.

As a startup, it is tempting to say ‘yes’ to all projects. Learn to say ‘no’. The less the better at the start, but key is to deliver efficiently and fast.

Also be different. A startup has to innovate and shake up markets. Otherwise there’s no point to being a start up.

And last be persistent. As a startup, you will get a lot of of No, Maybe, Later. But be persistent. If your idea is answering a market need and plugging a gap, clients will one day recognise it. How many times have I heard the phrase “This year is the year of mobile” and saw no increase in brands’ spend on mobile. But finally in 2014, the patience is paying off. Brands are waking up. And soon Art Of Click won’t be a start up anymore.

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