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I started a digital agency at 22 now 9 people strong AMA

over 5 years ago from , Director / Univers Labs

Started with my younger brother now 19 a programming genius after completing a course in computer animation.

We started univers labs from our bedroom in 2012. Up to now we have released several apps some holding best new app in iOS uk rubbing shoulders with Facebook messenger. We also created developed the successful interactive graphic the evolution of western dance music. We started our oxford office in 2013 and have been enjoying great work and building an amazingly talented team. We learn hard and fast!

We have worked past building cash flow to pay salaries , hired a great team. Dealt with setting up vat. Dealing with challenging clients and the commercial realm in general. With no previous experience in this industry.

This is not a plug but if anyone is interested I might be able to give advice and talk about our journey to this point!

13 comments

  • Gabriel GarridoGabriel Garrido, over 5 years ago

    I'm 19 and for the past six months I have been doing freelance design and development for a real estate company. Eventually, I would like to run my own digital agency, but the gap between freelance and agency seems somewhat a stretch. What would you recommend for someone who seeks to grow into an agency?

    1 point
    • Louis EguchiLouis Eguchi, over 5 years ago

      The fact that you are doing work for a company is a great start. All you have to do now is pretend you are an agency. Change your site so it appears like a company etc. I lied in the beginning and told clients there were 5 of us when it was two after meetings I always said I was off to see another company even if I was not. I had to keep notes on who I had told what encase I messed up.

      It got us into the mentality and also our clients. To become an agency and to employ you need money and enough work to validate needing to get someone in to help.

      Finding new work can be the hardest part because there is no formula. But basically you need to swamp yourself with work never say no and worry about how you will do it later this will force you to grow and become an agency.

      Some points

      win more business than you can physically complete deal with it by calling in a friend or working late.

      you must look into the realistic monthly costs of employing and renting an office adobe licenses etc then work out how much your day rate would be and how much you would need to bring in a month to make a profit on that. Cashflow is soooooo important and will be scary when you see the numbers but something to aim for.

      learn the game. How do agency's work? It's all about a company thinking you are An agency, put together standard terms and contracts when carrying out work these are easy to google for and adapt. Do things like 40% upfront on order payments and payment stages.

      Hope some of that helps

      1 point
    • Louis Eguchi, over 5 years ago

      Sorry also save your money become a limited company very simple to do this will also allow you to work for bigger companies the stakeholders will be like oh you are a director of a real compny they are more likely to take you seriously and take you on for bigger and higher paying work.

      Save a buffer of 2-3 months your running costs and use this to make pulling a salary easier and eventually be safer to employ people. Money and Cashflow is so important money is freedom without it it is difficult to do anything as an agency.

      1 point
    • Visnja Zeljeznjak, over 5 years ago

      Another agency owner here, hope you don't mind me answering your question as well :)

      In short, this is what you can expect to change once you start transitioning from a freelancer to an agency:

      • Shift in your mentality from owning a job to owning a business. Challenge: it's different to own a business, your role will change. Solution: being ok with the change.
      • You will have mouths to feed. Challenge: making it so that enough money comes in every month. Solution: charge much more now, create recurring revenue streams and learn how to sell and market yourself.
      • Working on only one project at a time will become a thing of the past. Challenge: to manage ever-growing work profitably. Solution: creating protocols, processes and using professional software to aid you in business organization.
      • Your clients will require that you provide an ever-increasing scope of services. Challenge: you're now used to provide a narrow scope of services, but the clients will want more from you, and your agency will need to provide more in order to stay in business. Solution: start offering a full range of services now and get used to creating recurring revenue streams from what you're capable of offering.

      Your question was great, it intrigued me to turn it into a more comprehensive answer on my blog here where I keep a growing list of questions and answers about the business of website development.

      2 points
  • Camilo SanchezCamilo Sanchez, over 5 years ago

    Hi Louis, I have been working many years now at many digital agencies. One of the more difficult things in my experience is dealing with clients that don't know anything about the things they are asking, which makes really difficult to work with them. I haven't pursue that kind of enterprise because the fear I have to these kind of clients. That's the part I really hate about working at a digital agency. Do you have that kind of problem?

    0 points
  • Ernst LeetErnst Leet, over 5 years ago

    If you could go back in time when you started and tell yourself one thing; what would it be?

    0 points
    • Louis EguchiLouis Eguchi, over 5 years ago

      To believe in myself, for all the dreams I had for the company that I have achieved in someway there was always a certain 'I am not sure I/we could do that' some of these things I have not over come yet and it is only due to holding back and being in confident.

      That and try to always listen to clients you achieve nothing through negativity and getting frustrated because they made a bad decision or won't listen achieves nothing think of something contrastive to solve it.

      1 point
  • Luke VellaLuke Vella, over 5 years ago

    What was the hardest part of growing your business? With 9 employees do you still find yourself working on projects or has your role become more management oriented?

    0 points
    • Louis EguchiLouis Eguchi, over 5 years ago

      Yes I do find myself doing more management but I try to employ someone to do the parts that I do not enjoy or not the best use of my time or delegate elsewhere. I rarely open up illustrator anymore but I do work closely with our developers and designers during interesting and progressive projects to help with direction. Yes a lot of my time is spent in Google docs!

      On hiring our third developer I wrote my last class of JavaScript that was used in a commercial project he took over and that was that, I rarely practice code but knowing how it all works is integral when I comes to new business and helping with proposals.

      the hardest part was learning the game. Being young it was hard to be taken seriously and for clients to give us work or believe we could meet their expectations. I lost a few jobs because a stake holder would suddenly notice my contract nearly getting an order and look us up and decide we where not credible.

      During meetings I had to stop taking my brother our technical director as he just came across to young .

      Very quickly we over came this by just talking the talk learning the procedures of contracts and all the formalities of standard terms and sla etc. even just 3 months ago we near Y lost a big contract that we spent over a year on because our website was not updated and had amateur uni projects on it. I had to hold a phone conversation with the director involved and convince him we could do it.

      I am rambling but just to add a It of our work for seo agencies was white label and bound by NDA and so it was difficult to have a full looking website until some time had past.

      1 point
  • Sam SolomonSam Solomon, over 5 years ago

    Hey Louis,

    I'll shoot first. Who were your first customers, and how did you go about getting them?

    0 points
    • Louis EguchiLouis Eguchi, over 5 years ago

      A friend did an internship at an seo agency . He worked on a project and they didn't know anyone who could do complex canvas and HTML 5 stuff. We did a good job and this got our name known and the start of a portfolio that was more commercial than pub and local business websites.

      From then I went to events in London and name dropped our work. Cold call and emails never work I never do it.

      I got my fot in the door by making friends offering to do videos of events for instance to get talking to founders of branding agency's some who never gave us work but recommended us to their network of businesses who would need us.

      I do some work on open tenders.

      And some people find us by searching for our content marketing work.

      1 point
    • Louis EguchiLouis Eguchi, over 5 years ago

      This is getting me thinking but all in all sales with me works by trying to do a good job then we get recommended when the clients talks about our work to other people. Who helped you build that etc.

      When I get invited to meet a company I will put a keynote presentation of our portfolio (this is much larger than on our site, a lot of our work is white label and NDA bound) I will tailor the presentation to projects which might be relevant to the business or their clients.

      Sorry I forgot to say who our first clients where. The first where seo agencies and branding agencies people who handled the end client but needed us to build and design, we are slowly handling our own direct clients.

      Starting with agencies first was great because we where cheap and we could help them offer superior development and design that they where not initially setup to offer to their clients.

      1 point