26 June 2023
D&F – the 8 year review
So here we are, eight years on from where we started. Did we make it? Yes we did, but let’s consign those rose tinted spectacles to the bin for this piece, as we bear all for the gruesome reality of having what it takes to survive in a fiercely competitive industry.
Let’s start with where we are today. We’ve ripped our humble studio on St Peter’s Street in Canterbury, the high street to you and I, to pieces and have invested in creating a new, state of the art creative space in order to allow us to meet the growing needs of our clients, solving their problems, facing their challenges head on and providing them with somewhere to experiment with us, regardless of where they are in the world.
We’ve built our war chest, identified where we bring the most value to our clients and planned a future strategy around our people and how we execute as one.
Yet it only seems like yesterday that Jon was trying to create a rustic vibe by sticking charred pieces of wood to the wall with silicone (he would later resort to a staple gun after whole pieces fell off on unsuspecting passers-by), we all jumped at the 30-minute-mark of every Canterbury Escape Room game as a huge iron gate crashed to the floor right above Michael’s head and, more recently, our basement and so meeting rooms filled up with water and sent us all packing for our home-offices.
But how did it all start and, most importantly, what have we learned on our journey to being eight?
When I look back on that first year we were a combination of naivety and self-doubt. I reviewed some of our earliest decks before writing this piece and what stands out the most is the depth of our discounts! But I’m going to cut us a bit of slack; at that point we knew there was a market for what we could do, but we didn’t know if there was a market for us – and our hunger for every lead that crossed our early path whiffed just a smidge of desperation.
One of the first things we realised, thank goodness, is that it’s not about being different. Yes, everyone needs a USP, but that’s about knowing the market, not being different for the sake of it. It’s about being good. It’s about being the one that your client trusts to get the job done, no matter what, without showing them up or letting them down. Bulletproof resilience coupled with creative brilliance. That’s what counts.
So, once we’d established that being Dodgems and Floss wasn’t about being a fairground but about using it as a metaphor for what we offered we started to gain some ground. Like many start-ups, we learned about the importance of communication, transparency and the brutal costs of underestimating in order to secure paid work.
After we’d figured out those fundamentals some other realities started to set in. We’d actually started out with some start up capital, something we’d burned through by the end of Y2. Our clients had enjoyed the benefit of subsidised work, but paid for it through our own learnings. But learn we had, and we quickly found our stride doing profitable work across our disciplines of branding and web work, also identifying our strength as that partner that can mesh into an existing team and provide the hands to help with the heavy lift – such as a multinational rebrand rollout or a significant web rebuild.
To anyone starting out now I have this advice. Don’t try and wing it with your 2018 Dell laptop and the promise of being full service thanks to the two other creatives you met at the WeWork. If you want to be taken seriously, spend more time planning and get some money behind you so that what you’re producing is of high quality. Establish a balanced team, and take the time to go out there and find the people that make it work.
Don’t think that anyone is going to do it for you.
It worked for us, it really did, and we’ve concentrated on equipping our incredible people with incredible kit ever since. Focussed as we are, we’ve also honed in on complementary skill sets that overlap enough to give us resilience without creating needless duplication. And, most of all, we’ve understood, or perhaps even only started to understand, how to market what it is that we bring to the table.
You are not branding, you are not web design or development, you’re not business strategy, marketing strategy or PPC. Your value proposition is related to your skill set, but is also about your positioning, your ethos and the confidence that you’re able to inspire in your client. Giving others the confidence to excel unlocks incredible potential. Just make sure you’ve got what it takes to back it up.