7 Lessons From Setting Up a New Studio
The Sydney studio launched in October 2014. Since that time, we’ve built a team, moved studio, met new clients and delivered some amazing work. Here we talk to the team about the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
1. People - Hiring
We quickly learned to look for people who genuinely want and are excited to come on the journey with you, as building a studio from the ground up isn’t for everyone. You don’t have all the luxuries you might have elsewhere and you’ll be expected to get your hands dirty, taking on tasks that are outside your job description. Before saying yes to anyone coming aboard, we make sure to ask them whether they’re up for joining what is a really unique and sometimes challenging experience.
Hire locals right off the bat. A diverse range of international experience is a huge bonus for us, but it means nothing without having colleagues that have had boots on the ground and local knowledge of the market and industry we work in. Without them, the inability to appreciate such nuances would stunt our growth as a new studio and undermine what it is to be a truly Australian ustwo.
From recommendations for great coffee shops, to knowledge about all the different product/UX/dev meetups in Sydney, to understanding the peaks and troughs in the corporate calendar; the Sydney-siders are our “flagship ustwobies” in a way. Understanding the business landscape of a city is not something that can be Googled or learned overnight. Although some of the Aussie contingent are from Brisbane, Melbourne, and Kilcare, they have all lived and worked here and know the lay of the land.
2. People - Support
When you’re starting out a new studio (or business) there WILL be tough times. Forming strong bonds within the team and making sure we are all emotionally invested and open is crucial to make sure everyone gets through the tough times without jumping ship. A tight team means honest, open dialogue and, most importantly, progress!
Every Friday morning, we head to a local cafe as a team and debrief on the week that was (we also tease each other’s breakfast choices and gossip about what’s happening on the weekend). Studio Catch-ups are held once a fortnight so that we can share learnings, successes and frustrations with the team and hear about the progress of the studio. And when we need to unwind? Karaoke, every time.
3. Finding the right clients, partners and projects is key
One of our studio-wide goals was for our client work to be driving us to new places. This might mean that we’re looking for work that is innovative and new, or it could mean that we will be working in a new industry, and sometimes it means taking something on in order to build client trust.
Culture is bolstered hugely by the pride that the team takes in producing high quality work, and client partners need to see the vision and identity of the studio coming through in each project. We look for client partners that want to go on a journey with us, discovering new ways to build beautiful products together.
4. Product-Market Fit
Like any good product, understanding who your ‘user’ is, is vital to ensure we’re providing value through services that people actually need. Simply assuming that your offering in one market will work in another is dangerous. Having local talent to assist in this understanding of the market is important so that we can tailor our product to the market’s needs from day one.
Our creds deck is a huge area of focus for us when we’re talking to potential partners that might not have heard of ustwo; we need it to clearly communicate our strengths and points of difference. It has has been an almost ever-changing organism in terms of how we’re highlighting these strengths and how our approach can benefit the partners we are talking to. Every conversation furthers our understanding of where our potential partners are in their own journey of making digital products, and we remain flexible in our approach so that we can provide the most value we can in every engagement.
Another aspect of our approach is that we spend time with our clients working on-site so that we can learn first hand the challenges they face in bringing products to market. This allows us to tailor our own methodology throughout an engagement in order to achieve the best outcomes.
5. No baggage
A huge advantage for us was having 10+ years of trial, error and learning done for us already. Starting things out the right way helps to avoid heaps of potential mistakes and challenges. This was awesome, but we also had the opportunity of a clean slate to build the best studio we could.
For example, within our first year we started thinking deeply about diversity and inclusion initiatives. This is something that ustwo globally has only recently begun to focus on to and figure out how to tackle. In Sydney, we were able to instill this value as a seedling studio. It has already set the right self-aware attitudes internally, which are reflected in our recruitment processes, and it’s helped us to become more knowledgeable, considerate, and inclusive colleagues.
6. Client Collaboration vs Studio Wellbeing
Having a small, barebones studio to operate from can reduce the appeal of collaboration in your space. In turn, this can mean that in order to have a truly collaborative process means distributed product teams in various client spaces around the city. For a company that prides itself in its ability to share and learn from one another and foster a sense of community, this presents a challenge. Balancing quality product development client-side and bonding as a studio in our space, has been an ongoing balancing act. We use Slack and regular physical catch ups to make sure that all the learning that’s happening across clients is shared. Sometimes we also have the opportunity for, say, a UX designer to jump onto a project with a dev team, which is great in terms of new perspectives and spreading new ways of working.
7. Get your hands dirty
In the early stages of any company, the physical space you’re working in will always have an air of chaos about it. We have embraced that that and take pride in the fact that we all have a part to play in the space becoming our own. Every person adds something different and new if they roll up their sleeves and get truly involved with every aspect of building a new studio. A new studio space develops its vibe from the people in it – they’re the most important thing. We’ve grown accustomed to working out of some pretty odd spaces, but we’re ok with that, as long as there’s mutual support.