"I’m anAntipodean / British hybrid; born in New Zealand but educated mostly in the UK.I was really dyslexic as a kid and struggled at school in the early years. Thiswas back in the days when dyslexia wasn’t really a thing, so my teachers justassumed I wasn’t that bright. My incredible Mum wasn’t having any of it, andworked tirelessly to make sure I got the support I needed and thanks to her(and some amazing teachers and friends), I managed to get to university. My mumand dad cried the whole way through my graduation, I can still see their facesnow – it gives me goose bumps every time!"
After graduation,Pip (now 37) looked forward to carving out a similar path of her fathers.Surrounded by creatives as a child she shared a passions for creating andfostering better ways of doing things; ideas that could make lives easier anddo so creatively. "I was lucky to have a father who worked in the CreativeIndustries and extensively across Europe, Asia and Australasia, so we spentmuch time travelling and experiencing all the amazing things that go withdiscovering new cultures and people. We were never living in one country formore than four years; and maybe goes to explain why I’m endlessly curious, lovemeeting new people and embracing change – it was ingrained into me during thoseearly years." She said with a shy sigh, that after graduation she joinedthe UK Government thinking of ways to inspire on a larger scale. After years inshifting paperwork, she stuck to her creative ways and decided to positionherself in a creative outlet, MTV.
MTV said to inspiredThe Dots, and allowed Pip to learn how to find talent, work within a budget andmarket grand ideas with only pennies to spend. Talking to Pip we come to findthat creating a product is much more than just a design you upload to Invision.It is about the thought process behind it. And she tells us that the up's anddown's during the journey is what makes the product at the end of the day somuch richer, (like thickening chocolate):
Do you remember a particular time when you knew thatCreativity and contributing to the web was something you wanted to enter orpursue? Thanks to my father, I had this wonderful upbringing surroundedby creatives – it was our shared passion and my family just assumed that I’dfollow the same path. However, my (slightly strange) rebellious nature led meto do an Economics degree - maybe I wanted to just prove that I could make iton my own. After university I joined the UK Government as a fast streameconomist as I had somewhat naive aspirations to change the world. However, Iquickly realized that an economist’s role in Government is often to produceresults that justified political policy, not inform them. So I jumped ship andfollowed my passion (the creative industries), working first for the BritAwards in London then in various roles at MTV around the world.
Did working at MTV or another employer provide theexperience you needed for creating The Dots?
Absolutely, it wasMTV that inspired The Dots. I joined MTV Australia when I was 24 and only twoyears later they relocated me to Auckland as Head of Marketing to help launchMTV and Nickelodeon into New Zealand . It was both terrifying and exhilarating!We were this group of twenty-something-year-old kids running a TV channel! In away it felt like a young startup, just that we were part of a majorinternational brand. There was no real budget, just grit, determination, andpassion. Within two years we’d turned it into the most profitable MTV channelin the world by margin. It taught me the importance of branding and strongcreative strategy, how to build relationships, and how to be entrepreneurial.
I was constantly onthe lookout for talent to work on projects, but existing networking platformsjust weren’t working for me. As with most other creative businesses, theeasiest way for us to find full-time and freelance talent at MTV was to hirefriends and friends of friends. The inevitable result was a lack of diversityin thinking, skills, and background. Our creative output became predictable.That's when a colleague and I came up with a 'LinkedIn for the creativeindustries'.
Our vision was tocreate a platform where everyone involved in the creative process could promotethemselves online but most importantly – to connect them to something thathelped their careers– be it a new contact, client, collaborator, freelanceopportunity or job. There are plenty of places to show your work online thesedays, but what I’m most passionate about, is helping our incredible communityconnect to opportunities and businesses they really love. Not just showing, butconnecting.
How did you start the development of the application,conceptually? To be honest, I never saw myself as an entrepreneur. Ijust wanted to solve this problem, and the product developed out of thatmindset. When we started the platform in Australia 6 or so years ago, therewasn’t really a startup scene and we had absolutely no idea what we were doing.These days there is an amazing wealth of startup advice online, great books,mentor programs and incredible tools like InVision (prototyping), Jira/Trello(project management), Xero (accounting), HotJar (Heat mapping) etc. But backthen it was all trial-and-error, before hit-and-miss was a thing (!). So we’doften just have to make it up as we went along.
We started bymocking up the idea for the platform; doing wireframes in Illustrator and thensticking them up on my (then) business partner’s bedroom wall! We’d sit there for hours trying to work outuser flows and piece together how the platform would work. We briefed this intoan agency via a pdf with annotations, and it took us 9 months from concept, todesign, build and launch - which looking back on it, is completely ridiculous.What we should have done in hindsight is build a Minimal Viable Product – butthe term hadn’t even really been invented then. We funded the project out of our life savings (which wasn’t much as MTVsalaries weren’t great!), but it was so much fun.
In the first weeks of launch did you use a particularsource of social sites? How did you first market the application? Did thisstrategy work? We wrote a strategy, but it evolved constantly. Initialgrowth came through friends-of-friends and we tried loads of promotional ideas;mainly online via Facebook, Twitter, SEO, content, PR etc. as they are easierto track what worked and didn’t. I don’t believe in just throwing money atadvertising, unless it is showing amazing results. I was lucky to have a background in Marketing(thanks to MTV), so I’d learnt how to promote things on a bootstrap. MTV’smarketing budgets were tiny.
These days, I’m acomplete data geek when it comes to marketing and community building; usinggreat tools like Tableau that pulls in data from our various sources includingGoogle Analytics, our backend, Facebook, Twitter, our accounting software Xeroetc. This helps us track what’s working and what isn’t, and to tweak thingsaccordingly.
Within a week oflaunching in Australia, I got an email from a freelancer, saying that they’dlanded their dream job on the site. I can’t tell you how amazing it felt - to not only launch something - but that itwas working!. I’m really chuffed when we get emails like that – it gives megoosebumps every time.
The business your started in Australia is called TheLoop and here it’s called The Dots, why the change? In 2014 I hit aclassic startup hurdle in Australia, with my business partner and I wanting totake the business in different directions. My sights were firmly set on globalexpansion. So I made one of the hardest, but in hindsight, best decisions of mylife. I exited the business in Australia, acquired the global technology rightsand moved back to the UK to start from scratch. I sunk everything I made inAustralia and started the business from Horace our Houseboat – and The Dots wasborn! The Loop and The Dots each nowoperate as completely separate businesses.
It has been the mostinsane roller coaster ride, going from startup to scale-up, back to startupagain. But boy, it’s been worth it! It’s so rare that you get a second chanceon the same business. All the mistakes I made in the first version of the business,turned into valuable lessons that helped accelerate The Dots.
The Dots boast a diverse team. Can you expand on theearly creation of finding people that were equally inspired by connectingcreatives as you? Is your team mostly remote or under the same roof?
Team is everythingwhen you start a business. Many founders focus on culture but I came to realizethat only hiring for culture fit isn’t the right way to go about it. When youonly hire for culture fit, you invariably hire people that you’d like to go tothe pub with. This can lead to team homogenization, with a lack of diversity ofskills, background and thinking. In the end if everyone thinks the same, howcan you innovate? There is endlessresearch out there showing that diversity is good for business. A HarvardBusiness School study found that teams with workers from different backgroundsand experiences come up with more creative ideas and methods of solvingproblems. Another study by the London Business School found that moregender-balanced teams better promote an environment where innovation canflourish. Work by McKinsey & Company found that the most racially andethnically diverse companies are more likely to have better than averagefinancial returns - the list goes on.
So when it came tobuilding a team, my focus is on hiring people with shared values, not culturefit. Shifting your focus to hiring people with shared values acts like a gluethat connects the team and aligns them around common goals. Our business valuesare Creativity, Diversity, Collaboration, Purpose, Curiosity and Positivity –with positivity being the most important of all. Starting a business is aninsane roller coaster ride of highs and lows. I found that the trick toweathering the hard times, has been to hire happy, positive people thatnaturally focus on solutions not blame. It’s an inherit characteristic that I don’t think you can teach andleads to a very productive working environment.
Most of my team workhere with me in London, but we also have team mates that work remotelyincluding my SEO god in Leeds, Lead Curator in Byron Bay Australia and backenddevelopers in Sri Lanka. I’ve been so blessed that a number of my team from theprevious business in Australia, relocated to London to start up again. In theend, when I find good people who share my vision, I do everything I can to keepthem - and if that means they’d prefer to work remotely, then I’m super open tothat. When it comes to finding them, well that’s the joy of having aprofessional creative community at your fingertips – I just use The Dots :-)
The Dots underwent a redesign to the platform, couldshare any difficulties in redesigning the platform, was it outsourced, all inhouse or a hybrid of talent. I inherited the technology from my previousbusiness in Australia, so the code base was old and needed updating. No onereally talks much about what happens in a post-agile age; with two, three oreven four years of continuous design loops under your belt - I can tell youwhat happens - it’s like SPAGHETTI in a bowl! You change something over here,but everything breaks over there. Improving and iterating the site becameincreasingly hard.
We’ve grown so fastin the UK, that the site was really creaking under the strain of new usersjoining. Most problematic of all, was that we didn’t work well on mobile.No-one wants to look for a job on their screen while at work, in case your bossmight see!
So at the end oflast year, we raised money to improve our tech, in an investment round led byadvertising legend Sir John Hegarty. Wedid the entire project in-house with a mix of full-time staff and someincredible freelance contractors. In order to really address the nextevolution, we went right back to basics and took the time to research what ourcommunity loved (and also didn’t love) about the site. We then kicked intodesign sprints, doing rapid prototypes and testing those prototypes. We thenworked through UX, UI and more and more (and more) testing. Before undertakinga beast of all data migrations.
I think the biggestchallenge was the migration; transferring all the data from the old site to therebuilt, new site. We had to map 100,000s of users, over 2.5 million pages ofcontent and endless interactions like who has followed who, who liked what project,who applied for what job etc. It still fries my brain to think that thatactually we pulled it off!
Finally, what is next for Pip and The Dots? What areyou currently getting your hands into, is there any new surprises for theredesign? It’s been magic watching the new platform spring to life. Ourcommunity has always been hugely diverse; not only in background, gender,ethnicity, sexual preference but skills too. Up until the re-launch, we did agood job of looking after the pure creatives (designers , photographers,illustrators, motion graphic artists, UI designers etc), but we also had a hugecommunity on The Dots that weren’t necessarily “on the tools” and creatingvisuals but were fundamental in coming up with and executing on creative ideas(strategists, marketers, planners, creative producers, UX designs, andcopywriters). All portfolio sites to date are focused on the shiny, beautifuloutput at the end, but creative projects aren’t just about how pretty somethinglooks - It’s about the ideas, creative process and teams that make the ideashappen!
So we decided toreinvent how a portfolio works online, by allowing people to tell the story andcase studies behind their work, their individual contributions to a creativeproject. They can then tag the people, team, brand and suppliers that werefundamental in helping bring those projects to life. In essence we have createda giant living wiki of the greatest creative projects; how they were made, andthe people and teams that made them.
Our industry createsincredible work all the time, but there is no living archive of human creativeendeavors documenting why we created things, how we created things and who iscreating things - a way for everyone to get credit for their work. What’s beenmagic to watch, is that since the re-launch, The Dots is quickly becoming aplace where work (and the people that created that work) will live on forever.
This is just thebeginning of the journey to roll the product out globally. What is so exciting,is that we are entering an age of automation. Soon machines will drive, servecustomers, do our accounts and legal paperwork. Over the next twenty years, wholewaves of traditional industries will almost disappear as they becomeincreasingly automated ... finance, accounting, manufacturing and more. Butthere is no algorithm for creativity. So if we want our children andgrandchildren to have jobs and our economies to thrive, we need to support theMakers, Doers, Fixers and Dreamers that bring creative ideas to life. That iswhat The Dots is all about; connecting, supporting and championing the people,teams and companies that make ideas happen.
3D Designer and Freelance Artist for clients such as, Bloomberg, Businessweek, Giphy, Macy’s, Microsoft Outlook, The New Stand, Vox and more, Blake Thomas laughs as she remembers her childhood, cruising on her skateboard, gymnastics and Nintendo.
For Chris, since he started on the web, he has always represented his "finished work" as "teachable work" and produced products that were beautiful and contained inherent lessons.
Our phone call started at 5 AM Mountain Standard, hearing Jan running from the office to the gym, we decide that we will postpone the interview until after work. There is a consciousness he seems to have for schedule. The only schedule he breaks is his nighttime routine, where sometimes he goes to bed at Midnight, while other nights he doesn’t get into the covers until after 3 AM. During these nights is where the magic occurs.