Big Monocle We firmly believe that the agency having the most fun will also produce the finest work, and we are betting on it.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
Becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t something I always planned or aspired to. In May of 2012, at age 32, I quit my job as VP of Creative at a large design firm and spent the summer with my 2-year-old son. It was a beautiful way to recharge my creative fountain and plan for my next career move. In late August, someone I had worked for before started a job at Intel. They were working on Ultrabook messaging for a millennial audience with a big agency, but they were feeling stuck. The client decided to double-hire on the project and get some fresh perspective from a millennial, and I was their choice. And just like that, I came out of retirement. I spent the next three days getting my company officially set up and launched into the project. Our work was superior to the incumbents, and we spread word of mouth and struggled to keep up with demand. It took me a while to realize that I had started playing a completely new game. I wasn’t just a designer; I was an entrepreneur. I enjoy learning and growing my skills, and business has been an opportunity to do that. Right now, I’m fascinated by finding ways to love the work.
How does your company differentiate itself from competitors in serving clients?
One of the key features of what we do at Big Monocle is the brand Sprint – a fast and effective way to tackle the most challenging aspects of brand development. We bring our clients to our sprint cabin in Sundance, Utah, where we hold in-person, multi-day workshops. This creates an unparalleled space and place to do the kind of visionary work that is brand development. We start with the customer at the heart and leverage user feedback and testing throughout the process as well, ensuring their clients achieve the best possible outcomes from the very beginning.
We’re passionate about loving the work. We do things the fast and fun way because it creates the best result. Who wants a project that drains the energy from our respective teams, suffering death by a thousand meetings? So, we pay the price to put insane attention on our clients’ needs and the needs of the project from day one and ask our clients to do the same.
What is your vision for shaping the industry?
Traditional agencies idolize the grind, working long hours under high pressure, only to talk about the importance of work-life balance and the need to “recharge” after being ground down by soul-draining work. We reject the entire concept of worklife balance. There is no clear division between “work-life” and “life-life” it’s all life. One of our company values is “The Work isn’t Work,” meaning it’s play. Or at least it can be. We understand that individuals produce their best work when they genuinely enjoy what they’re doing, even love it. We firmly believe that the agency having the most fun will also produce the finest work, and we are betting on it.
How do your clients react to your methods and work philosophy?
They react with interest—when we tell them we’re going to have a good start with insane attention, they generally want that. There can be hesitancy because they weren’t planning to travel as part of the project. It’s not something they’re accustomed to when hiring an agency. We also require all the key stakeholders on a project to be present at our sprints, and for some of our tech startup clients, that includes the CEO. And we get it—every other agency they could have hired would have been perfectly fine kicking off in a boardroom or via Zoom, only bringing in those key stakeholders further down the line.
But what happens every single time is that hesitance quickly gives way to utter delight, and they find themselves accomplishing more in a couple of days than they could in a couple of months by doing it the way those other agencies would have. They start to plan more sprints for the duration of the project because they see the value. We consistently hear feedback like, “I never expected so many insights to come out of a 2-day sprint,” as the CEO of a real estate company said of his experience.
Loving the work, working the fast and fun way–that all sounds great, but how do you actually make that happen? One of our values at Big Monocle is “insane attention,” meaning whatever we’re working on, we want to give it everything we can at that moment. To actually facilitate the ability to focus on each client, we only conduct a maximum of four sprints each quarter with a project minimum of $100,000. In other words, we limit how many clients we’re working with at any time so we don’t get bogged down in so many projects, attention shifting several times each day. This protects the quality of our work and respects the client’s time and money.
“One startup CEO told us doing our sprint was ‘one of the top five business decisions’ he had ever made”
What’s your vision for your company and how has that impacted your success?
Our vision is to create beautiful lives for our clients and employees, one in which we love our work and it fills our cups. That might sound strange for a branding and marketing agency to say, but it’s the good we want to do in the world.
I’m sure most readers here have been or are currently at companies with a generic company vision that could just as well be applied to every other company in their sector, like “lead the world in innovation,” and company values like “accountability” and “passion” that could be used for any company ever. They are meaningless to everyone!
There’s something really powerful about finding a unique vision and values that capture, inspire, and guide the business decisions of everyone in the company from CEO to intern. Our vision is “Be Ease.” We don’t mean ease as in easy. We still do many hard things, day in and day out. We mean that we reject the grind and prioritize flow. We know that those hard things we do can be done in a way with less friction, more joy, and more creativity, and that this approach always, always leads to better results.
A valuable vision, mission, and values architecture have become so important to us that it’s now one of our key offerings—we help our clients create, identify, and revise their vision, mission, and values, creating an essential foundation for a unique and durable brand identity. One CEO of a startup tech company, a successful serial entrepreneur, said after a visionfocused sprint with us that it was “one of the top five business decisions” he had ever made.
How do you help your employees perform at a high level?
There is so much to say about this topic, so for brevity, I’ll just give a few things that have been working for us. First, while our company vision is integral to everything we do, we also recognize that every individual has their own vision for their life, and so we try to respect and honor that by literally bringing it into our work process.
Once a year, each employee maps out a personal vision—everything they want to do, accomplish, work on, and spend time on over the next year, both personally and professionally. They present their personal visions to their team, and then in our Monday meetings where we discuss tasks for each of our clients, we also have each team member share how they are going to live their personal visions in the upcoming week. This has powerfully helped our employees feel seen, our teams understand each other better, and create a culture of constant progress and growth.
Another area of focus has been our values of “Full Cup” and “Pro Ball.” By “Full Cup,” we mean doing things that “fill our cup” with energy, creativity, and vitality. This could involve taking necessary breaks, engaging in work that energizes us, and making time for family, hobbies, and passions. We recently successfully piloted a fourday work week and discovered that our employees had more time to “fill their cups,” resulting in the same or even better quality of work in less time throughout the week.
On the other side of the coin is “Pro Ball,” which means that, like a professional sports team, we expect our people to consistently bring their best. They are encouraged to hone their craft, understand and fulfill their roles, and never drop the ball when it’s passed to them.
“We want to throw the whole paradigm of work-life balance out the window. There is no distinct ‘work-life’ and ‘life-life’—it’s all life.”
“Our vision is to create beautiful lives for our clients and employees, one in which we love our work and it fills our cups”