17 years a digital agency. How do we prosper?

Connected was founded way back at the start of the Internet, in 1996 to be exact.

I was reflecting today, after approving the re-registration of our domain name, that when the new period expires, Connected will be nearly 30 years old. To give this some context:
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  • When we founded, the most popular search engine was Alta Vista
  • The standards governing body, W3C, was just 2 years old
  • Amazon (US only) and eBay (as AuctionWeb) were just 18 months old
  • Google incorporated a year after we started
  • Skype appeared in 2003
  • YouTube launched in 2005
  • 2006 saw both Twitter and Facebook (public) launch – 10 years after we founded
  • Steve Jobs invents the smartphone (sic), launching a whole new paradigm

The web really only took off in 1998, despite being opened out to the public in 1991, and was a fairly flat place and we sorta meandered from site to site driven by curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. Some ecommerce existed but mostly it lost money or was a poor cousin to the existing retail model – Oh, has that flipped round.

The high-streets were still full of shops, and you still bought books from Waterstones. The internet over the last 15 years has been the bearer of the greatest change of social structures, consumer purchasing, working practices and knowledge since the beginning of mankind itself.

And this rate of change is accelerating, so quickly that traditional digital agencies are getting seriously into technology arrears and companies themselves are starting to drive innovation – this, we think, is a good thing and another example of how the traditional market dynamic is changing forever.

How then, have we survived in the most hostile technology space ever?

For every Google, Twitter and Amazon there are a thousand failed companies. The first great search engine, Alta Vista folded last year after Yahoo saved it and then killed it. Gone also is Beenz, SixDegrees.com, Ask Jeeves, Pets.com, Boo.com, Go.com, GeoCities, MindSpring … and the list keeps being added to every day.

Fundamentally, we keep it real, don’t get carried away with success and have learned to adapt, quickly.

We have no external funding and zero borrowing, not even an overdraft. This is a double edged sword, it slows growth but also allows the business to maintain control and permits the management team to exert financial restraint. Growth is NOT a goal we blindly seek, long-term stability for the business, it’s staff, partners and clients is what we’re built on.

We’re quite picky about who we work with. We don’t work for money, money is a by-product of good service and allows us to have nice houses, cars and holidays. It also pays for the time folks need to stay up to date with technology and to maintain an excellent work-life balance. Our gratification is a sense of happiness.

We found that most long-entrepreneurs are comparatively frugal and that seemed to fit well with our ethos so it’s bred into what we do. Lower overheads and fewer luxury goods means we can focus on what we deliver to our clients and not sweat about payments on the fleet of company Lamborghinis!

By Martin Dower

Despite our almost epoch-levels of experience in the digital marketing space, we’re still humble enough to realise that we need to invest in our skills and experience. We do that through direct financial investment and in leading others to grow – they then ultimately move on and create greatness elsewhere, as a direct result of their time spent with Connected; this is one area I am most proud of.

We create things, “the sweat of your own brow will rarely make you rich” so we create software platforms and curated environments that act a vehicle to generate sustainable income. These used to be proprietary platforms, but more and more it’s curated frameworks and processes that are driving the long-term value and success of what we do.

We’re no longer interested in “locking clients in” to legacy applications and frameworks and use an altogether more open currency, trust. And that’s what our clients buy-in to, the value of really working together towards a common goal.

Focus on what matters. We’re not keen to engage in ancillary activities that distract from what we should be doing. This includes politics, heavy-handed HR, micro-management (=middle management), toxic meetings and old-fashioned project control concepts. Our reason to exist revolves around providing world-class solutions to companies that need help in the digital space, thats what we focus on.

It helps us enormously to see the world in a positive light, we find pessimists make poor colleagues and we want to foster entrepreneurial spirit, not time-clocking.