Undoubtedly, from a student’s perspective, the most daunting thing about starting a business is just that – starting it. For all you know you could end up not signing the right forms, not keeping your accounts right and in jail for tax evasion. Oops. So why not ask somebody who’s already done it. Even better, talk to somebody who’s done it well!
Recently a number of other students in my class and I were lucky enough to visit Edinburgh-based design agency Elastic Creative. We were met with founders Alex Kirby, Guy Connell and Lauren Rennet plus their newest employee, recent DJCAD graduate Stephen McKay. All three founding members, if we wanted to know how Elastic started I think we came to see the right people! We sat in the area they usually conduct client meetings in. They generously gave an afternoon to show us around the studio and tell us their story.
We tackled that daunting process of the birth of the business first. Elastic started with Alex, working from living room with a couple of macs. The inception of Elastic as we know it today was almost overnight. Lauren and Guy came on board to offer their much needed early expertise and the decision to start a company required a startling amount of confidence and spontaneity. Lauren and Guy both came from creative director positions in large agencies and used the connections made in this background to bring a strong client base early in the history of the company.
“The inception of Elastic as we know it today was almost overnight.”
This may sound like easy-sailing, but the risks were plenty. For one the founders used no external funding to start Elastic. The big worry was how the folk at Elastic could pay themselves and keep their cashflow consistent. From the experience of working in a large design agency they saw how their seniors in those companies made decisions with the luxury of it not being at their expense. This changed now they were the company owners – corporate responsibility (which is hopefully a lot less scary than it sounds)
Yet here we are in 2013 and Elastic is stronger than ever. I asked how they kept attracting new clients, and seemingly most clients come from good old word of mouth. The way word of mouth works is changing, thanks to social media, but currently good work breeds new work and recommendations. More importantly many clients come back as they feel they’ve built a rapport with their creative director. They feel as if this representative of the studio ‘gets’ them and knows their taste.
This personal touch is a real advantage in having a company of this size. It also allows unprecedented flexibility, a concept core to the Elastic brand. The core concept of Elastic has always been about the client and in 2013 their brand collateral is now reflecting that more than ever. What does the client want? What are they getting out of design? Currently Elastic are collecting figures of the benefits their work has brought companies. This gives something tangible for companies to see the importance of design, an important way of educating clients of design’s power.
Yet despite Elastic changing so much they wouldn’t go back and change how they did things in their inception as a company. Mistakes help you grow as a designer and creative. And in the end this can help you achieve what you want as a creative. But what is this for Elastic? Why do they design?
To make a difference. To come to work and have fun. And most of all a kind of buzz you get from seeking the answer to a client’s problem. It’s all reassuring stuff to hear, as it articulates stuff reasons I design I’ve been trying to put into words for a long time now.
The final presentation comes tomorrow, and hopefully we look to record today’s rehearsal and send it along to Elastic. The mere act of doing that is demonstration of how students and new designers can put themselves out into the market and find contacts. This whole exercise has been, and it’s been invaluable having an innovative company like Elastic enable us to discover this. That and they let us steal some cookies at the interview. I think a fair bit of thanks is due!