How I Started a Branding
Design & Strategy Studio
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, my name is Gordon Reid and I’m the founder of Middle Boop Studios. An agile brand strategy and packaging studio that works directly with startups from bootstrap funding all the way to startups within larger corporate incubators…and everyone else in between!
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I started out as an illustrator, straight out of uni working predominantly in the music industry and creating editorial work, which is where I honed my art of working directly with clients.
I then worked for many years in advertising for pretty much every large corporate client you could name at one point or another, as a freelance designer, art director and consultant as well as continuing to take on my own direct clients and around 2017 realised conventional advertising was very much on the way out.
The large agencies were stripping further and further back, good creative work was becoming less and less and felt like opportunities were more sparse. This coupled with the fact I was unhappy working in advertising but loved working directly with clients where I could add real value to their business and see them grow, I knew it was time to change things up and it felt like the perfect time to re-evaluate with a new proposition.
I realised there was a large gap in the market for a smaller studio setup with much lower overheads that specialised in helping startups in their full journey from the initial spark of the idea to getting their product to market, raising funding and growing. I had all the skills to make this achievable as I had not only done this myself but had done it countless times for people.
On top of this, I had a huge black book of contacts to work with from strategists to creative, packaging experts, performance marketeers etc. After interviewing previous clients of all sizes and hearing the frustrations they had with dealing with larger agencies and not getting the value back or dealing with one man band setups or smaller studios who would just deliver work then leave the client to it, without helping them through the entire journey, I had found my USP.
This would be the new Middle Boop proposition, to be there on the full journey with our clients. To be agile so that if we were working with larger corporates, we could build a team and work directly with them or work from our studio in Shoreditch/ from home.
Basically build the job around the clients needs to ensure they get the best value. We would not just be a branding studio or a design studio, we specialise in being with our clients every step of the way to ensure real growth.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
The challenges at first were adapting to the new way of working and more importantly, making sure our clients understood our new process so that they could get the best out of us.
The first year was really tricky (as with any new venture) and we took a lot of much lower paying work to assist in building a portfolio that would ensure anyone engaging with us could see the case studies of smaller startups we’d helped develop (our research informed us a lot of startup owners were getting put off by the larger, more known brands on our site and thinking we’d be out of reach in working with them.)
Then, very fortunately we made two contacts within incubators (Unilever and HSBC) who totally got what we were all about and loved our strategy-led direction and commissioned us to develop their startups.
Another challenge was starting again with our contacts as really, most of my contacts are from advertising, exactly the work I was trying for us not to do. So this also took a while to build up a new list of contacts, marketers, CEOs, founders, etc. This came from expanding our team, working with a fantastic business development team and great freelancers.
Who is your target market?
Our target market are startups from bootstrap funding all the way to series a,b and c investment rounds. Our specialist strategic-led skillset is geared up to tackle any sector.
Tech, FMCG, Banking, B2B, B2C, DTC and many other acronyms. We don’t have a typical customer per se but the link with most of them is that they’re either marketing or running their own startup.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Thankfully we’re a lot of our favourite jobs are mostly word of mouth now but we wouldn’t have got to this point without heavily marketing the studio in various ways. Linkedin has become a hugely useful tool for us, Instagram too has given us a nice and platform and loyal followers.
I do a lot of talks and did a speaking tour that took me to mad places like Manila and Cape Town last year. I do a lot of work and judging for awards and charities in our industry like D&AD and Design Week.I lecture at universities all over the country and world!
We also launched the Weird World Cup for the Football Beyond Borders charity last year which gained international press (Guardian, MTV, Bleeker Report, etc) and raised thousands for the charity which was a pretty unconventional method but got us noticed in mainstream media.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Customer retention can be a tough one in our field as clients can come to us for one specific thing and then either not have the budget to continue working or want to move in other directions but my masterstroke of client retention has come with the development of our performance marketing expertise.
So once we have branded, packaged and developed the strategy for our startup, a lot of studios would leave it there, but we aim to retain ours by then developing the brand further through setting up a performance marketing strategy involving a/b testing, CRM, etc so we can live test what works and doesn’t quite communicate well for the clients demographic. We can then learn and develop the brand together to set them up for success.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Culture is hugely important to us. It all comes from me really and because we mainly work with freelancers, but have a regular core team of people and those are all people who are fun, no egos and dedicated to creating the best work.
We believe in full immersion with our clients, so we go deep into strategy to find out what makes our clients and their customers really tick. We also believe in collaboration, no one knows about their brand or product as much as the owners, so we believe in working closely with them every step of the way.
The team can be anyone from myself and one other person to teams of five or more depending on the size and scale of the job and because we’re agile, there isn’t one hub that everyone works from. We’ve got a small space in Shoreditch but most of the time we’re out and about, anywhere from We Works, big offices for our larger clients like Unilever to working from home (which of course right now it’s 100% of the time).
I try to make things as relaxed and fluid as possible to ensure the team and myself are free to express ourselves through our work.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way over the years but I’ve certainly learned that every job is different. Each job that we take on whether that’s launching a new coffee brand or an out of home poster campaign for a big corporate will be full-on, challenging and unpredictable. But that’s half of the fun!
If I’d have started today I would have most definitely taken time straight away to learn strategy and learn the importance of bringing people in from the beginning of a job so as to not overstretch myself. That way we can create better work and the clients are happier.
I’ve learned to definitely trust my gut and learned when and when not to argue what I feel is best for the project.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
To be able to dictate (to a degree) my own trajectory. The pressure’s on as it’s all on me but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have the freedom to pick and choose who to work with and the freedom to sell my own ideas in and in turn get to see the full benefits of the impact the work we’ve done has had. I have the freedom to try and make my ideas a reality if I want to or just focus purely on client work if that’s what’s best too.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I don’t really have a least favourite aspect but if I was really pushed I guess it would be the uncertainty and the lack of security that you wouldn’t get with a regular 9-5 job…..But that doesn’t really deter me too much as if finances are down, that usually encourages me to put more hours in and think more creatively about how we can get new leads and new exciting work.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I’d love to have a slightly larger regular team and to have retained our great regular clients currently and in doing that have scaled larger meaning we’re able to take on more fun projects. It would be great to try and scale internationally too.