Being great above being big. Lessons from [what could be] the happiest agency on Earth.
So let’s say you want to move your company from good to great.
And that doesn’t necessarily mean being the biggest.
Let’s also say you’re visiting Copenhagen, Denmark. Arguably the world’s happiest country. And you’ve got the chance to spend time in one of the world’s best creative companies who – in their own words “are on a mission to turn the worst day of the week into the best one… creating joyful digital ideas, products and experiences”.
There is a large empty table in the middle of the studio. This is where the whole team stops for a break together at a set time each day, they gather to eat a home-cooked lunch together.
In the corner is “an experiment” that only one person in the office fully understands where watercress is being grown beneath a 3D printed contraption held together with duct tape and controlled by an ipad.
There’s a fussball table at the side. And someone is actually using it.
If all the above were true, you’d be in the offices of Hello Monday
Last year, we visited Andreas Anderskou and his team in their gorgeous little corner of the canal-lined Christianshavn area of Denmark’s capital. Along with 15 leaders from creative & digital companies in the UK on our Invent programme, we had the privilege of three glorious hours thinking about how to build a company that is both creatively fulfilling AND commercially rewarding.
Hello Monday isn’t a huge company. They have around 50 employees across three offices located in Aarhus, Copenhagen and New York. But, (and it is a big BUT) Hello Monday do incredible work on a repeat basis with Google, Diesel, National Geographic, YouTube and a host of others. They choose not to brag too much about the 230+ awards they’ve won since 2010 including Cannes Lions, Creative Circles, Webbies and Awwwards. The work speaks for itself.
Have you ever used the YouTube Kids app to help your children steer clear of the nasty stuff and see more of the fun stuff? You did that because Hello Monday built it.
There was a huge amount we talked about and learned during our time, but three highlights standout:
1) International expansion is both difficult and easy.
Q: “How did you establish the New York Office?”
A: “I took a plane, I rented a desk, I emailed a few friends. I think we got one small piece of work. Then another. And then a bigger one. And that was it really.”
Of course there was more to it than that, but the essential simplicity of choosing to head out to a new territory, keep costs low, network and make connections to grow steadily whilst managing risk was a breath of fresh air to have affirmed.
2) “The work you show generates the work you do.”
Andreas reminded us that the case studies you have on your website are crucially important. They form the dominant part of your narrative establishing the level of authority you have with prospects and future partners. If you show a lot of kids projects, you’ll attract more kids projects.
However, there’s also a beauty in unexpected connections between projects. By way of example, Hello Monday have a portfolio which – on the surface – looks like work for different types of clients in different sectors, but all share a common theme. Calico are engaged in DNA research to extend human life, whilst NASA GeneLab are examining DNA in space. J.viewz and Residente have created music through DNA, whilst Driver are on the cutting edge of looking at stage 4 cancer treatment through DNA analysis.
So the point here is that case studies are important, but don’t be limited to expecting “one for one” results. A couple of great photography websites will probably get you more business from photographers. But with a some savvy, networking and a little bit of luck; suddenly you move into working for high-fashion brands. And from there into media & publishing. And so on…
3) “We’re human beings. So are our teams. It’s important to resist the illusion of machine like efficiency.”
Everyone was inspired by the team’s commitment to honouring each other as human beings. Andreas put some street clothes on the sometimes airy-fairy Danish philosophy of hygge. Well-being and work-life balance shone forth. A key slide from Andreas’ presentation was how the company was committed to having their business “be a playground not a production factory”.
- They do stop and have lunch together. Every day.
- They express their creativity by encouraging experimentation. Even if it makes the studio a bit messy.
- They build long-term relationships with clients by intentionally going above and beyond the brief, delivering intentional moments and features that surprise and delight.
- They deliberately have team members from the different global studios collaborate on projects using skype and file-sharing. And this happens with an explicit intention to drive togetherness and a broad-minded creative perspective, rather than slipping into becoming tribal or geographically insular.
And when your mission is to make work a place you really want to come on a Monday morning it all makes sense.
So what about you? What does this make you think about in your own business? In particular, what do you do to promote the human factor in your business?