Recently, I decided to close down my agency in favour of a full-time role. I’ve been asked why I would consider doing this by literally everyone (even teams I was interviewing with) since the agency was becoming more profitable by the month, even through COVID and lockdowns.
So I thought I’d cover it here.
On last week’s episode…
Starting an agency wasn’t entirely intentional. I come from a background of working directly on products, helping ideate, build, launch and grow them.
Before Jellypepper, my last full-time role was Head of Design and Product at Spaceship, a financial services startup here in 🦘 land. Before that, there was a brief internship at Palantir and lots of work for Sydney-based startups.
After Spaceship, I wanted a bit of time to figure out what I wanted to do next. I figured this should only take a couple of months at most, so in the meantime I’d do some freelancing to keep my head above water financially.
Spaceship, having recently received a fair amount of news coverage and positive reception in the startup industry, ended up giving me a great launchpad (pun intended) to start working with other startups… which is a cleaner way of saying many of my early clients “wanted what Spaceship was having”, so to speak.
Plus, I’d hoped that freelancing would give me a moment of clarity between the fast-paced startup environments I was used to.
Out of the frying pan…
While my focus was product and website design, many of these companies were in the market for a lot more. Once I got started and proved my worth, no sooner was I being asked for help with branding, product development, strategy, videos and all sorts of creative collateral I hadn’t set out to do.
It’s always been hard for me to say no to a client, not because I find it generally difficult but because I loved the idea of helping them out as much as I could and seeing how far we could take the relationship.
So, lacking the capacity to handle all these tangential creative requests, I ended up subcontracting a lot of work to folks I’d collaborated with in the past, either at previous roles or just friends. This ended up working really well until I noticed that pitching “Hayden and friends” wasn’t particularly clean, plus the demand was continuously rising.
I guess, as Douglas Adams so eloquently put it, “I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.”
So I decided to incorporate as an agency.
Sticking with it
Without diving too deep into my life story, the agency path was really cool as I got to meet lots of people, see how different industries worked, contribute to a lot of amazing products, brands, websites which is exactly what I wanted. Plus, with everyone having come from a startup background, we ended up filling a gap in the market for a reliable, end-to-end agency for startups that didn’t feel like you were working with an agency.
But there was always an underlying issue — the second-degree relationship we had to the client’s product. I like actually investing in the products I work on (literally and emotionally) but you can’t do that with an agency, not really. Even if you find a product you really like, there’s a hard start and end to your involvement in a project and you’re always limited by the budget.
We recently released a rebrand for Jellypepper that led to some incredible results. Things have been going really well, but seeing these great products come and go, I realised that I’d prefer to be working on a single product suite and brand, making them the best in the market. Something I can really invest in.
Having said that, I figured if I don’t step away from things now, I likely never will. There’s no perfect time to change tacks, so it’s better to just get it done. So, I had a think about some of the products, problems and teams I worked with at Jellypepper and which ones I could see myself working on every day.
I had the answer before I even asked myself.
So… what’s next?
I’ve joined Corellium, pioneers of an incredible ARM-virtualisation platform, as Chief Design Officer where I’ll be shaping the brand, product design and community, blurring the line between real and virtual.
There’s a lot to do. Part of it is obviously ensuring the maximum visual appeal of our brand and products, but as I’ve seen from all the startups I’ve worked with over the last few years, there’s so much more to a design team than just (as jennifer gergen puts it) hitting our products with the “pretty stick” as they go out the door.
I hope to create a process of learning-based, iterative and scalable design, as well as a general sense of design culture and appreciation throughout the company (which, from the fact they hired Jellypepper for an initial brand refresh in the first place, I doubt will be too difficult).
I’ll also be working to create a larger design team (get in touch!), establishing a creative and product vision for the future based on a combination of data and insight; and, through a stronger, more approachable brand, create a tighter relationship with our users and investors.
Anyway, that’s probably enough reflection for now… and hopefully that answers your question. I’ll post updates on the Corellium life on Twitter, so make sure you hit that follow button 🙃