I understand that larger agencies serve a different market. For example, Mercedes, as a global organization, requires a large enough agency like Razorfish to service all their regional websites through a custom enterprise CMS. That scale of work requires many teams to create content and manage updates, releases, and global deployments, etc. We aren’t well suited for that kind of work.
We start taking business from bigger agencies on almost every smaller project—and there is a huge industry shift where smart clients are seeking smaller, more agile teams with less cost overhead.
What's happening is effectively a race to the middle.
Large companies are struggling to be more agile, while smaller companies are eating their lunch. In our first year we worked directly with clients like American Express, the United Nations, Calvin Klein, and had ads running in New York City’s subway system for three months.
Clients are now more aware that they don’t need a huge agency in order to be successful.
One of the criteria that we use to decide whether we take a project or not is whether it could win an award. We’ve naturally built specialties around industries that thrive in NYC, but we can still afford to choose which clients we work with.
We don’t have to take work just to keep the lights on, which feels like a very fortunate position to be in.
One recent project that everyone loved was Subway Reads. We worked with the NYC Metropolitan Transportation Authority in partnership with another company, Literacy Partners. It was a program in which publishers like Penguin and Random House donated the first chapter of hundreds of their books. Anybody on the subway’s Wi-Fi could read them for free. So they’re essentially promoting literacy.
One of our oldest clients is the Robin Hood Foundation in New York. They do incredible work to combat poverty. We redesigned their website, built their donation platform, and helped streamline their charity workflow. We get to be involved in some of the interesting things that they do, like being part of the marathons they sponsor. It feels better to do that kind of work than, say, build a workflow application for a financial institution. It allows us to escape from what could otherwise be very grinding.
To our credit, everyone on our team has been with us for years, and even our new hires have been in our network for years. So we have a very tight group. And I think it’s the constantly fluctuating mix of projects that hit on all these criteria that keeps people interested.
We used to play a game where I would nominate someone to be a “Happiness Master.” They were given a budget of $100, and they would have to go spend that on a gift for everybody at the office. The catch was that the happiness master couldn’t reveal who they were. And if someone guessed and proved who the happiness master was, they became the next happiness master. People bought super fun stuff like hot sauce, small plants, etc. We recently started doing company Dungeons & Dragons night, and that’s been insanely fun.
We actually talk about this a lot during our company retrospectives and reviews. I’ve started to refine—not my egotistical dream company—but what’s the best format for ATTCK. As far as the basic elements of our brand go, we focus on quality, the craftsmanship of the work that we do, and the relationship we share with our clients. Given that, and also the fact that we can’t scale easily because it’s hard to find people with as much expertise as ours, the company inherently can’t be very large. We’ve got basically two practice areas: design and development. For a perfect company, there needs to be a creative director as well as a technical director. So we need to work to finalize and hire a technical director to oversee the development side of our work. The ideal company would maybe have a couple people overseeing UX, since UX can also be split into strategy and implementation. Our art director is both a conceptual strategist as well as someone who can execute, but we’d like to split that workload.
We’re also expanding more into marketing and content production. We’re starting to take more responsibilities like brand positioning, branding, logo design, marketing copy, language, and even package design. It’s essential that the team be very small and tight, and I don’t intend to grow just for the sake of growing. I tend to grow with the right people, and if we don’t find them, we won’t grow.
We’ve had those offers, strangely early on. And I really hadn’t realized what I myself wanted to accomplish with the company structure. I’ve seen companies get acquired that are still able to retain their company culture. They also get the advantage of the logistical benefits of being in a large company.