Starting out as a marketing consultancy in its founder’s back bedroom in East Putney in 1991, Basis Research is now a prominent full service market research agency, providing both quantitative and qualitative research and working with some of the world’s biggest brands, including Google and Disney.
Andy, the Chairman, has a rich career history. Starting at Unilever, he moved into brand consultancy and then to a creative advertising agency as a planner. He also worked for a design agency as their very first strategic planner before setting up Basis.
Winning our first big international project. Even though I’d been trading for a couple of years, primarily doing freelance marketing consultancy work, the scale of the project was a clear step up from anything that I’d done before. The project was for Levi’s and I had to talk to teenagers in Germany, Sweden and the UK about MTV and how advertising was consumed on the channel. The project was both more interesting and lucrative than anything that I’d done before so from that point on I put all of my efforts into winning research projects for end clients rather than selling freelance time to other agencies.
After five years of working out of a back bedroom, moving into our first office was another real milestone. It was a little mews building just off Marylebone High St and there were only three or four of us then. We then moved to our current offices in Margaret Street and have reached the giddy heights of having 35 members of staff.
I’d also consider winning large pieces of business (especially when in competition against larger agencies) as milestones. In the last couple of years we’ve won some very large contracts for Tesco, a global brand project for MTV and have an increasingly close relationship with Google. I was recently presenting to Google’s global head of insight and it did cause me to reflect upon how far we’ve come in the last twenty years.
We’re good at celebrating our wins here and we’re fortunate to have so many great bars and restaurants close to the office. This autumn we’re taking the whole team to Barcelona for a weekend. I’m a firm believer in the ‘work hard, play hard’ philosophy.
To be totally frank with you, we’ve never had any massive ‘what are we going to do?’ moments. We’ve had pretty continuous steady growth and no terrible setbacks.
However, inevitably, there have been a few instances over the years when we were growing very quickly and we made some bad hiring decisions. We quickly realised that their ethos and values didn’t align with ours which created a number of tensions in the business which we had to resolve. But we’ve learned from it and we’ve identified a number of core ‘Basis’ values that any prospective candidate has to tick, this is especially important now that a wider group of managers are involved in hiring decisions and I’m more removed from the day to day recruitment process.
On another front, It’s taken us 20 years to finally accept that ‘new business’ demands real commitment and investment and our on-off piecemeal approach wasn’t really delivering the stream of new accounts that any business needs. In the last two years we’ve totally changed our approach, hired a new business agency, ramped up our PR and we’ve seen some impressive new wins on the back of that investment.
We started as a qualitative research company. Quantitative research wasn’t really our remit – data, stats and modeling is very much a defined skill set. But we started to get briefs for both qual and quant and cracks started to appear in an alarming fashion, we were definitely operating outside of our comfort zone! So even though we only had a limited amount of quantitative work we took the plunge and hired a senior team ahead of the curve. Our gut instinct was that we’d be able to cross sell quantitative to our existing clients and this certainly proved to be the case and quant is now accounts for 50% of the business.
Another personal risk I’ve taken was setting up my partner business, also in the world of research: Wyoming Studios (http://www.wyoming.co.uk/). It’s a viewing facility (like those two-way-mirror scenes you see on detective dramas). I set it up in 2000 when the dotcom boom was in full swing and companies wanted to research their websites and conduct usability tests. Wyoming was the first studio in London to combine really fast connectivity, advanced audio visual technology, and client viewing. At the time most studios were rather dated and service levels were adequate rather than really top notch, so, as well as all of the tech, we went for a funky contemporary aesthetic and spent ages hiring staff who innately understood how to keep our clients happy. It was an immediate success so, even though the set up costs were pretty steep, it was a risk that definitely paid off.
In the early days when I was working from home, it was difficult to move away from work. I’d get up at 7am and check my emails (or faxes!) in my pyjamas and would then find myself at 11 o’clock at night working on a document. I went through 15 years or so of working pretty flat out as the business grew, I was doing all of the admin and finance, looking after the office, hiring new people, heading up client accounts and then running focus groups in the evening – it was madness and in retrospect I probably should have hired some office support earlier on.
However we’ve now got all of the support functions in place and I’d say that my work life/balance is pretty good; I moved away from being the MD last year and have a senior management team who run the business day to day. I’m now the chairman although I do still work on new business and run the odd focus group to keep my hand in. I work Monday to Thursday in the office and spend my Fridays cycling. I’ve got the business in a good place.
A lot of the core values of this company stem from my time at university – I went to Oxford and the system of working there was that you had to deliver two well considered essays a week, every week, with very little help. I think that principle of working independently, working hard and working quickly really influenced me.
The other sources of inspiration were my first two bosses: Ambrose at Unilever and Nick at Conzept the marketing consultancy. I just thought that both of them were amazing – they had pride in doing a great job, going the extra mile and working really hard. They both had that ethos of over-delivering against client expectations and I’ve upheld that ever since.
I must also mention another of my bosses, Harriet, who ran the planning department when I worked in advertising. It was the heydays of the 1980s and she used to have these elaborate tea parties in her office once a week – she was a great character. I guess the lesson I learned from her was that one could actually have quite a lot of fun at work and that it’s really important to look after your staff, no one wants to work in a slave shop.
So it’s a combination of University and inspirational bosses in my first few jobs that have shaped the way my company is today.