Why I Decided To Leave Creativity To Focus On Business Design.

2 years ago I decided to set aside my Creative Director position at Sehsucht and become (inside the same company), a Business Development Manager.

I’ve had mild successes there, I opened new markets in China, the UK and the US and brought projects for The Boston Celtics, Oppo, and Bundesliga.

I even got an Executive Master’s Degree from a digital university on my free time the same year my son was born and I had to spend almost the whole first year dealing with family issues.

Whenever I tell people about my shift, they ask me why did I decided to change, and I really don’t have a concrete answer for it.

I couldn’t see myself as a white haired guy, going to work everyday to sit down in a computer and crunching dubstep for 8 hours, spending my free time keeping up with the latests design trends and plugins, and tools, etc.

I wanted to be more in touch with something more human.

On the other hand, I realised after 10 years experience, for very rare exceptions, very few businesses actually are run as a proper business. We had a dry spell that lasted around 3 months and in that time my friend Mate Steinforth and the producer at the time ran some internal workshops to try to figure out what was wrong with the company, we contemplated starting a new brand, new departments, crunch out personal projects.

During that research, I got quite excited with the whole business and planning aspects. We came across with the concept of “Sales Pipeline” and that was something that was lacking for us.

We were living mostly of our reputation in the market, and Mate’s expansive professional relationships which he cultivated of years of creating work that set up the standard in the industry and the network he developed after giving talks all over the world.

I told him I wanted to test the ideas that came from the workshops and he gave me the go ahead, so I dived right in. I started reading everything I found about sales, found some great reddit communities and essentially started prospecting (which is modern sales terminology for cold contacting, aka. spamming the hell out of your Linkedin network).

I got lucky quite fast, got some portfolio worthy projects inside and developed great collaborations with people such as Gustavo Karam and Chris Coleman from Final Frontier, Christopher Scheimann from Gradient Pictures (which I did a podcast together) and lately with Corin West from The Visionaries.

The pandemic changed the game, it accelerated something I have actually predicted would happen:

  • Business Development Digitalization
    • When I went to Cannes Lions for the first time, I saw people that have been going to the festival since 20 years, running around confused, the landscaped changed. Big tech dominates now the space and the way to do business is not as it used to (so having drinks at a bar with your old buddies, most of them are retired, retiring or on the same boat as you: completely lost).
    • Now Linkedin is flooded with Business Devs pitching the second they add you without clear offer or value.
  • Budgets are going down and will never recover.
    • At least in my particular industry budgets are going down.
    • All the budgets are going to influencer and digital advertising because it’s measurable and predictable. Less dependant on great visuals or idea, more based on CPC and CPMs.
  • Without a powerful combination of sales and marketing you are doomed.
    • It’s very easy to fall in the trap where you think that you are running a creative studio, agency, or production company and because somewhere in between there are creative involved you know how to create good brand and marketing strategies. These are disciplines on their own.
    • You need a competent person that can create digital strategies, set up funnels, grow your audience, master your mailing list and be able to secure that repeating business and position your brand in its rightful market place.
    • You also need a sales team that works in unison with Marketing that is helping you get those meetings, and take care and add value to your customers. Selling nowadays is about providing valuable solutions and developing long term synergic relationships.
  • Old things that kind of worked are not cutting it, Joe.
    • What worked 20 years ago, is not going to work today. Perhaps you should review your business strategy and think that where you are right now, is because of things you did 10 – 15 years ago where your product-market-fit (including competence and access to technology) where on point. Perhaps you got lucky, you didn’t know it, now you are starting to realise it as desperation creeps in cold night sweats that make you wake up at midnight with a feeling of having an unanswered question, but you can’t even conceive what that question is.
    • Nowadays data is everything, you need to track and create models, even if they are basic to understand and be able to make business decisions. Understand where your business stands and also be able to understand the true cost of things.
    • There are great frameworks to mitigate these decisions, and create systems for developing innovation.
  • Innovation takes time and commitment.
    • Even if you decide to run a couple of workshops because some young guy managed to sell you “what all the startups in Silicon Valley are doing” (10 years ago too, but look at them today). The workshops is going to feel like taking a holiday to Disneyland. Everyone smiling and having a nice fuzzy feeling in the chest that everything is going to be all right. If you don’t commit and take serious the implementation, then you just wasted everyone’s time.
  • Your competition are your employees.
    • As technology gets cheaper and cheaper, it is very easy that with little investment your talent pool can pull off the same work at home that at the studio for a fraction of the cost. They are just one Instagram account away of destroying your business.

So now the companies that got some backup resources are faced with the pressure of shifting their business models and their strategies for digitalisation, but without commitment and vision, they are going to fall faster, perhaps before 2020 the expiration date was 2027, but now, it looks more like 2021/3 depending on where you are located. It is not the same being hit with the pandemic in the US where half the creative companies ran out of business, and the other half is thriving, or in Germany where, for example, the state with the furlough scheme (kurzarbeit) is cushioning the blow, but at the same time, keeping these zombie shops open for longer.

I am happy that today after being through a business education and a career pivot, even though sometimes I feel a bit over and underwhelmed because I am not a senior (so people don’t think what I have to say has much value) and I am also not a junior -even though I carry 10 years experience in another discipline- as I keep going day by day both disciplines start to connect. My presentations look great and I can use video editing tools and communicate my ideas much better.

I will always be designing, even though I don’t feel much passion for color palettes as I used to, my background and knowledge and creative thinking, allow me for finding new solutions in the business space.

As from my business education, I feel I can now see the world with a different lens. I understand how things are connected beyond the golden ration of a typography in a design system. Perhaps if a butterfly flaps its wings in Japan, a hurricane in China makes the workers delay iPhone production and I would miss that Pinterest reference popping up in my feed while I sit on the toilet that would have made me win the next big design award (spoiler: never won anything).

This has been fun see you around next time.