Today, start-up is a buzzword. The government itself is encouraging entrepreneurship and offering sops and tax breaks to start-ups. These days it’s not too difficult to get funded by an angel investor. And clients don’t frown when they hear that you are not part of an agency network. In fact, quite a few of them are start-ups themselves. Things have changed in the last 10 years, and how!
Earlier, it was the established network agency that offered competition to start-ups. But today if you are pitching for a business, there’s a good chance you will run into another start-up agency at the corridor as you walk in to make the presentation.
While it’s still not a level-playing field, at least the game is no longer heavily loaded in favour of big agencies. Clients are open and receptive to engaging with start-ups now, more than ever before. A lot of them realise it’s not the size of the agency that matters; it’s the size of the ideas. Some of them even prefer to work with start-ups as they are quick and nimble.
Another thing that has changed is the people who are behind the start-ups. It’s not just seasoned veterans who are setting up shops today — though a lot of them still do — but also greenhorns. This is particularly true for agencies in the digital and social domain. Anyway, the term social media veteran is an oxymoron, considering how new the practice is.
No doubt, things have changed and changed for the better, for a start-up agency. However, the more things change, the more they remain the same. To quote the immortal words of Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” If you are an adman/adwoman who has just been bitten by the start-up bug, the exercise will test your energy, patience, persistence and leadership skills. So get ready to embrace chaos, to leap into the unknown, to live on the edge.
Also remember, it’s a full-time job. If earlier, all you needed to do was manage a team and a few clients, leading a start-up means getting involved in every aspect of business — from administration to office security. Welcome
to the world where you have to pay electricity bills and salaries, figure out service tax issues and worry about office maintenance. Your teammates too will have to wear many hats; so do not hesitate to delegate inventively. A good, seasoned creative person can easily do basic account planning as well, and with a little encouragement, your finance guy can also look after administration.
Realise that there will certainly be cost overruns. Always assume that you will exceed the budget you had in mind by at least 25%. Be prepared to make up for the lack of resources with resourcefulness. We are in the ideas business, and they are still our best resource. If you have to compromise, compromise on non-essentials. Do not cut corners when it comes to hiring talent. Get the best people in the business, but go for a location that is less upmarket if you have to. And think of ways to stay in the news. Enter for awards and win big; it’s still a place where you can beat Goliaths, and you could do with the PR that a prestigious win generates. Network, and use your contacts to generate leads.
As you need to be prudent with resources, choose which businesses to go after. There’s no point in pitching for every client, as you will only spread your resources thin. For instance, a multinational client will
require a proven track record, pan-India presence and extensive market research. You have as much chance of winning the account as the Dettol TVC winning the Cannes Grand Prix. Instead, chase businesses where you find a fit. In my experience, you have better chances of winning homegrown businesses. A lot of Indian entrepreneurs may not appear slick, but they are street-smart and hungry for good work. They are good paymasters as well; only they have to find value in what you offer.
Finally, don’t jump in if you don’t have the stomach for it. Not all the mushrooming agencies will last; a lot of them will shrivel up in the cold light of day. For every Droga5 that makes it big, there are a hundred that will crash and burn.
Sure, it’s an exhilarating ride and you may get to live the dream, but remember you have to prove yourself every day, and be in it for the long haul. As the Rolling Stones sang, “Give it all you got. You got to never, never, never stop.” That’s the one thing that will not change anytime soon.
The author is co-founder and chief creative officer, Out of the Box