Packing up: From London to Mexico.
Originally posted on Net Magazine
With more agencies ditching the traditional studio model, we find out how Kickpush manages a team that’s always on the move
Does an agency really need to be based around an actual physical studio? Today’s tools make it easy for teams to work together regardless of where they are, while the cost of maintaining a workspace in a client- friendly location can take a big chunk out of your bottom line. It’s no surprise, then, that many studios are choosing to operate along more distributed lines and take advantage of the flexibility such a setup offers, and this is the option that Kickpush (kickpush.co) decided to pursue at the beginning of 2017, after three years based in a Shoreditch office. We spoke to co-founder Alex Deruette to find out how it all works.
Can you tell us how Kickpush originally came together?
My co-founder Sam [Applebee] and I used to share a room in Shoreditch back in 2010. We both worked for the same music magazine, making little to no money and decided to start a side business to help us financially. Sam was a great salesman, and I could design cool stuff. We launched Kickpush, offering flyer and business card design but never got a single client, so we abandoned the project. We both left the magazine, Sam went back to school and I started working for agencies, specialising in app and website design. I tried to convince Sam for years to start an agency with me; eventually he accepted and we set about reviving Kickpush from its ashes.
What would you describe as being your defining principles?
Just keep it simple. I’m not only talking about our designs but also the way we interact with each other, the way we talk to our clients, the way we define and sell our services. We try to keep everything human sized and focus on the relationships we build along the way. We’re just trying to be ourselves and do great work for great people.
What projects do you have on the go at the moment?
We have two projects; one related to cryptocurrencies that I can’t talk about just yet and another called Trippin. It’s going to be the coolest travel app of 2018. I can’t say much about the product itself, but I can talk about their team. I met Trippin co-founders Sam, Yasmin and Kesang at the end of 2016. They sent us an email saying:
“We’re young, bold and want to make an app with some balls, and from our online stalking it looks like that’s your vibe too. So what do you say, coffee?”
This is the kind of enquiry that gets me excited. They came to our office, we chatted, we got along and we got started with Trippin a couple of days later. They had limited budget at the time and could only afford a week’s work. We spent the entire week together in their office, working day and night to come up with their initial brand and product. They inspired what we call today our Express Product Design.
You provide a 10-day product design workflow; how does that work?
As I mentioned, Express Product Design was inspired by the Trippin crew. When the relationship with someone is right, you can get a lot done in a very short amount of time. The first step is to select clients who are a good fit. They have to be open, friendly, motivated and be real. We either go to them or they come to us and we spend one to two weeks together to get their product done. If there is full focus from both parties, you can speed up the design process significantly, getting solid results after five to ten days. That’s the upside of being a lean agency. Each designer is in charge of their project, managing their timelines, deliverables, feedback and so on. There’s no time wasted in internal communication so if the client is reactive, feedback loops can be very short and we can iterate a lot quicker.
This year you abandoned the traditional agency model; what brought that on?
We were craving freedom, I think that’s about it. We tried to be ‘The Traditional Agency’ — we got a nice office in Shoreditch, were all working 10 to 6 and going to networking events. But it just didn’t feel right. At the beginning of 2017 one of our designers, Simon, said “I’m going to leave the country and travel around the world”. It took the rest of the team less than a day to make the same decision. So we handed in the keys of our office, sold all our stuff and left London in all directions. Right now we’re spread between Argentina, Portugal and Chile but we’re always on the move, following client projects, opportunities, or just an endless summer.
How does Kickpush operate now?
Pretty much the same it always has. One designer per project, handling all project management, account management and design work. Now we’re more mobile, we get to travel a lot more and follow our clients wherever they are. First we talk to potential clients, either over video call or in person, and get a sense of the amount of work required. Design is easy to estimate, unlike development. After a one hour conversation I’m usually able to estimate your project — we don’t get involved if the project is under one week. This keeps admin work light and payment structure simple. Typically, our projects range from two to eight weeks, rarely more. We start the project with little to no preparation, favouring conversations rather than lengthy briefs. We want to get to the bottom of our clients’ drive and passion, to understand what made them start their venture in the first place. Then as the project progresses, we involve our clients all the way through, they help us design their vision. We’d never claim we know more than them about the specific problem they’re trying to solve, and that’s why we need to get as much input from them as possible. We catch up with them every day by email, Slack, call or whatever works best to get feedback and adjust as we go. The result is that our clients feel like they’ve designed their own product with a little bit of help, and that’s really the case. Thanks to this process, we never go wrong and we’re always aligned with our clients’ vision and expectations.
What do you think are the benefits and drawbacks of your distributed setup? Is it for everyone?
The main benefit is freedom. If every team member is able to live the life they want, there should be no frustration moving forward. Not having everyone in the same location can be challenging, but as I previously said, each designer is responsible for their own work, so there’s no management required from me. I don’t think it’s for everyone, at least not every team. The only reason it works for us is that we’re very close friends, from way before Kickpush, and I’d trust every one of the team members with my life. I know they will deliver top quality work on time, every time. We don’t need to communicate that much to make things work so it keeps the whole process easy and stress free for everyone.
What attracts clients to you?
Probably the fact that we’re approachable. We always get back to everyone right away and keep communication flowing at all times. We try to keep things real and talk to our clients the same way we’d talk to a friend. Cutting all the business talk goes a long way. Our goal is to make it fun and stress free. To achieve that, we have a few rules that we all follow: Always get back to people right away. The time when clients are waiting for an answer is when their anxiety and stress builds up. We don’t let this happen. Always show your face. Even if the person on the other side of the call doesn’t turn on their webcam, we always show our faces. It’s important that our clients see our passion when we talk about their product and our work. Always do what you say you’ll do. In three years we have never missed a deadline. Our core principle is to be reliable at all times. It’s all part of building mutual trust, which becomes part of building a healthy relationship.
Where are you off to next?
Off to Monaco for an Express Product Design week, then Lisbon, London and most likely Mexico again.
Key dates in the world of Kickpush
October 2014 Officially registered Kickpush ltd. in the UK. April 2015 Rented a flat in London with the team, made it our office and started our operations from there. September 2015 First client trip in New York with the whole Kickpush crew. April 2016 Got a proper office in Second Home in Shoreditch, London. June 2016 First VR breakthrough and beginning of The Economist project. November 2016 Revealed our VR design process to the world at The British Museum and impacted the design industry for the first time. December 2016 Our first unplanned Express Product Design project. January 2017 Decided to become location independent and discover the world individually while doing what we love. October 2017 Mexico trip with the Trippin crew, designing their app from Zihuatanejo. That was the realisation that we work better when exposed to new cultures and environments. -- Peace and love, Kickpush