13 June 2023
Co-founding and carpet choices: reflecting on the first three years of Boldspace
Three years, two co-founders, one agency. With the recent move into a larger and bolder office space, I thought it was high-time to reflect with co-founders Mike & Nick on their Boldspace journey up until now.
As a reflection on the last three years, let’s go back to the beginning. When you were sat in a Harvester in Berkshire, coming up with the business plan, has Boldspace turned out the way you planned it?
MR: So far, so good. While we are three years in, it really does feel like we’re just getting started. Now with more than 50 people across all the core specialisms we need in order to do what we set out to do – unite data and creativity – there’s definitely a feeling that we’ve got the scale from which we can make a real dent.
NFY: I don’t think you can ever expect something to go to (business) plan, but this pretty much has, which has been a pretty wild ride, because business plans are normally a best-case scenario. It has however been both more difficult and more fun than planned. And that nets out as a good result.
Can you give me some highlights and low points from your Boldspace journey? Is there anything you would change?
MR: Starting and scaling a business like this is a roller coaster ride, with highlights and lowlights every day. But there have undoubtedly been more of the former – and the overall highlight is being sat here today looking at the incredible team we have been able to convince to join us. Not only are they brilliant at what they do, they are – person for person – just a cracking bunch of human beings.
NFY: Highlights – working with such varied, incredible brands like Post Office, One&Only and TGI Fridays to name a diverse three, and also watching all the amazing people at Boldspace work together, come up with ideas and create friendships. Lowlights – all the stuff you’d expect. Tough decisions, a few sleepless nights and many a late-night Sunday – but nothing that doesn’t come with the territory. I wouldn’t change a thing.
As a co-founder, I can imagine you might deal with a lot of imposter syndrome. How do you deal with doubt and question if you’re doing the right thing in work?
MR: Thankfully the imposter syndrome is usually confined to the things I’ve never done before, which is predominately the back-office stuff. The key to that is ensuring you have the right team and advisers around you – people who have been there, seen it and have the battle scars – to guide you through the unknown. Our Chairman, Simon Sherwood, is a huge part of that – having been Global CEO of BBH, there’s no issue in agency life he hasn’t encountered and dealt with.
NFY: I think it’s a very real thing. But you learn to trust your instinct (which always comes back to be right), make sure the best ideas win, not the loudest or most senior voice in the room, and ask advice from great people, all the time.
How do you avoid burnout? It’s easy to say, ‘take a break’, but as the leaders/champions of a company, how do you keep moving forward even when sometimes, you don’t feel up to it?
MR: Share the load, trust the team you’ve put together and ensure not every problem sits on your shoulders. The first year or two were harder as we were building the team, but today I have total confidence in our team to deliver.
NFY: I definitely think you have to find a drive inside you that gives you a hunger, passion and excitement about the work (or something!) even in the hard times, but the bigger you get the more you can also rely on others to make good calls. As well as using exercise as a necessary escape as much as possible.
What are your non-negotiables for starting a business?
MR: Do it with someone you know and trust. I have immense respect for people who have done this alone.
NFY: What Mike said. I couldn’t agree more. Having someone to give your honest opinions to, listen to theirs, work out problems together, give each other perspective, have a laugh, and most importantly know that when you’re in the trenches they always step up and perform is key. And we’re lucky like that. A great co-founder is a non-negotiable.
What advice would you give to start-ups at the beginning of their journey?
MR: Don’t be afraid to take risks and back yourself. For start-ups in other sectors this might sound obvious, but marketing and PR has always been more risk-averse in my experience.
NFY: Surround yourself with people who are good at the things you’re not. Find a great angle, create and manufacture all the buzz you can, and once the train starts moving, put your foot down. Be constant, consistent and relentless. And understand that every meeting and every interaction is crucial, they all build on each other.
Boldspace has recently been made a certified as a B Corp. Was sustainability always part of the vision? Is this a given for start-ups going forward?
MR: Yes – from day one we always said that one advantage of starting from the ground-up is being able to embed this in the business from the very beginning. I have always believed that business, done in the right way, can be a force for good and have an untold positive impact on the environment, culture and society around us. But ‘done in the right way’ are the key five words there, which is why I’m so proud today to be able to call Boldspace a B Corp, which gives me the confidence that we are one of those companies getting things right.
NFY: It has been the aim since the start. Not just for all the crucial sustainability goals we have, but because it is simply the way to do good business.
Before owning a company together, you were good friends (and massive Harvester fans), how do you separate your work relationship from your friendship? Has there ever been any massive fallouts? Why do you work well together?
MR: One benefit of knowing each other for a long time is that we knew we got on personally – which you could never be sure of if you only knew someone professionally. Work and personal is totally blended for us and it works very well, and no massive fallouts yet – other than choosing the colour of the carpet in the new office. So we’re pleased to be able to restrict the fallouts to issues of critical importance.
NFY: We’re incredibly lucky to be mates with different professional skillsets who let each other win daily, in our own respective areas. Bar the carpet choice.
What is your favourite/least favourite part about being a co-founder of a start-up?
MR: The best part is seeing the outcome of everything coming together at once – a great team delivering great work, and in the backdrop of an agency that has a truly different approach that more and more people are buying into. The worst part is the amount of time spent on administration and making a company like this run – I will never question what my old CEOs were doing with their days again.
NFY: The best part is still creating work you’re proud of, but that’s even better, and you’re even prouder when the agency is something you created. The worst part is that for every 3 great things that happen, another 3 big problems arise to be solved. But once you accept that, it’s not so bad.
Where do you want to see Boldspace go in the next 3 years?
MR: We’ve come a long way in three years but, as I said before, we’re just getting started. I want to see bigger, better, more game-changing work, and deliver on the promise of BoldLens and everything it can deliver for clients.
NFY: Changing the face of how agencies solve briefs through creativity and technology. And do it with a lot of incredible people.