After a successful first year for Formulate, the partners, Dan and Theo, took some time out to reflect and look back over the last year and the trials and tribulations of starting a branding agency in Dubai.
1. What was the motivation behind starting Formulate? And since a year ago, has the company culture or mission changed at all?
After a few years of freelancing, it felt like the next progressive step to take. Both myself and Theo have built a reputation whilst we’ve been in Dubai, and we wanted Formulate to continue to expand on that.
We’ve both worked within agencies in the UK and the UAE, and the experience we’ve gathered over the years (both good and bad) has definitely motivated us to create an agency that delivers the highest quality work on a consistent basis.
Alongside this, it’s been important to both of us to build a strong team of creatives and collaborators that are passionate about what they do.
Creating an environment where our team can learn and grow within the agency and be rewarded for their time and effort is incredibly important.
When the agency does well, everyone should win.
2. What's been the most challenging aspect of running an agency, and how have you overcome or learnt from it?
The switch from thinking like a freelancer to an agency owner. That was challenging at first. Because it’s not just the work that needs to be taken into consideration. There’s running a team, handling the overheads and dealing with a lot more on the admin side of things. At the beginning, it felt like a real rollercoaster.
Building an agency through a pandemic came with its challenges. Some days were definitely better than others… But we’ve been fortunate in that we’ve managed to keep busy with clients and continue to grow as a team.
One thing which we wanted to make sure of from the start is that anyone we employ gets looked after. They’ll always get paid on time, always be respected, and they can have the creative freedom to really make an impact and be innovative on the work delivered by the studio.
Right now, it’s important to balance the pipeline of work and manage the workload properly. Otherwise, this could become a real challenge in future. Fortunately, Dan and I both hold this in high regard. We don’t want to take on too much and have the quality of our work slip. That’s not what we’re about. And we definitely don’t want to spread the team too thin, either.
3. What's been the most rewarding aspect of running an agency? Can you pinpoint any proud moments?
Winning our first creative pitch against a number of larger or more established agencies was a real high point, and so soon into our story. We worked really hard to deliver and ended up winning the project for a very high-profile hospitality brand here in the UAE.
It’s always great when you win a competitive pitch, especially when you’re up against established international agencies. We were an underdog from the start. That was a proud moment for us. And it goes back to us wanting to produce consistently excellent work.
We have since gone on to build our relationship with the client and deliver further high-profile projects for them. Key project wins have included government entities, large regional and international clients, as well as a number of ongoing retainers.
When we started the business, we also had ambitions of maybe being three people by the end of our first year. But we now have five, and we are looking to build on that, which is way beyond our initial expectations.. But we’re incredibly happy with the organic growth of Formulate thus far. Our team is our biggest asset, and we never want to be in a position that may have an adverse effect on them.
4. What is the one misconception about running an agency? And what advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own agency?
It’s going to be stressful at times. There will be times when you’re worried about the next big job coming in.
If you’re good at what you do, the work will come. We’re lucky in that a lot of our work comes from recommendations.
5. What does the future hold for Formulate? And what are you most excited for in the upcoming year?
We want to continue to grow, we have exciting projects in the pipeline, and our aim in the next 12 months is to get some awards under our belt.
Our aim is to continue to concentrate on what we do best to a very high standard, with creativity at its core: We want to continue to grow but without losing that personal, friendly, hands-on approach. We never want to be an agency with layer upon layer of admin and management that are out of touch with our client base.
Dan and I are creatives at heart, and that is what we want to keep on doing. We are passionate about design and that's where our real skills lie.
And finally, two truths and a lie…
- My biggest fear in life is jellyfish
- I was once mistaken for professional footballer Fernando Torres, and had drinks bought for me the entire evening
- I’ve landed a plane with my eyes closed
- I once played cricket in Richard Branson’s Garden
- I have six siblings
- I performed at Glastonbury