As we turn 3 today, we decided to have a quick Q&A with our Founder and Principal #3399ff, Nav Chatterji about how the company got here and what the plan is over the next year. He's a not typically a fan of talking about things "since nothing is final, and always wet clay - blah.", but fortunately we caught him a day before the beer debauchery to give us a picture of how Lazy Eight has got here. The conversation was fun. Enjoy.
"How would you break down the last 3 years of Lazy Eight"?
A blur, a rollercoaster. ha. I would put year 0-1 as the exploratory phase, year 1-2 as the experimental phase, 2-3 as the edit phase.
"Let's dig into each. How was year 0-1 like"?
It was the early days of Lazy Eight. During this time we were a small team (3-5 flex team), and the idea was to see if India was ready for premium design services. We focussed on UI/UX and the aim was to work with 20 out of the top 100 digital brands in India. We managed to work with 5 (for us a win). We operated very much like a traditional creative agency. Our aim was to build a portfolio and not shake things up......yet.
"And year 1-2 "?
This was a fun year. Since we weren't building Lazy Eight based off of a rule book, we figured we'd experiment and sort of write our own. 9 months in, we had about 50 clients. Our clients were liking the quality of our work - which was key, allowing us to now experiment with models, processes, teams, technology ...etc.
"What were these experiments and how did they pan out"?
Plan was to measure the tensile strength for as many traditional agency concepts, processes and ideas as possible. Some were as simple as refusing to Pitch and some as bat shit crazy as having a bot take care of the entire lead qualification process. From a business model perspective we had about 10-12 business and billing models we tested (many, many excel models). Some traditional, some very, very left field. Our learnings helped us in inventing our own, based off of a currency of time, we now call the Lazy Eight Hour. We experimented with team members, hiring folks based purely on cultural fit vs skill. Some worked really well, others unfortunately failed. We also experimented with company structures, those experiments led us to setting up a fully flat organisation consisting of only Principals, no ECDs, CEOs, etc... Everyone at the company has a voice, we today don't have any "C" level positions.
"Was it during this period you guys introduced the bot and the pro-data angle"?
Oh yea, completely forgot about that. Yup, we introduced our bot "Acht" during this time. The initial version was a simple time keeper allowing our Principals to measure hourly input, this was key in helping us figure out our business model. Now the bot has evolved into "8" and does a bunch of really interesting things like auto-payroll, tipping, reporting.... etc. 8 allows Principals to "tip" other Principals on great work and has a personality, ie. 8 offers you Asprin and Gatorade if you are working on a Sunday morning (assuming you might be hungover). It's pretty cool.)
"What was year 2-3 like"?
This was an interesting growth year for the company. We crossed about 115 clients at the start of the year, but as a boot strapped company, we were starting to feel the consequences of Demonetisation and the new GST taxation scheme (payables were starting to squeeze). I like calling this our "Edit" year. As a startup, we started growing up and operating more like a company basing decisions on core KPIs vs. gut and hedging payable risks. We shrunk the team down, honed into a business model, killed/continued some of the experiments, but most importantly focussed on the fundamentals helping us lay down a foundation that was sound, resulting to where we are today. We are ending year 2 and going into year 3 with over 200 clients and a Gross Margin of about 70%, in this space that is unheard of. All credit for this goes to our team, which ignored the noise and kept their heads down. I will be perpetually grateful for this and be celebrating with them tomorrow with a beer or 10. ha.
"What is the plan for year 3-4, since we are playing off of Es, is it Expand"?
I would have liked to say "Expand". But as an early stage company I think that is constant. Our year 3 will be about "Enabling". We will be pushing out a few exciting programs and experiments we have been working on over the next few months. This will broadly include enabling other agencies via knowledge, startups, reachability of employable categories, senior designers, junior designers, and brands here in India. This year will be around enabling (broadly speaking) design in India. Our focus will be finding, assessing the best design talent in this country, providing a work environment they have never experienced and most importantly allowing them to work on and with some of the best, forward thinking brands here in India and globally.
"Any previews of the new 'Enabling' programs?"?
haha. Sure. We have a few in the works. But over the next month or so we will be announcing two programs. Our first program is a Fund to better enable startups. We are calling it the Lazy Eight Infinity Fund. We essentially take over the branding, product design and marketing for interesting early stage companies. We engage them early, and spend about 6-9 months with them, the founding team focusses on the business and we take care of the rest. For this we take minority equity stake of 1%-4%. We currently have 7 startups in this program, and all of them are enjoying it thus far. The second program will be what we are currently calling (working title) "Operation: Momma Bear Whetstone". It's an interesting experiment where we are aiming to hire at home mothers as core operational Principals within Lazy Eight (HR, Accounts, Staffing, etc). These Principals (as per our pro-remote model) will not have to leave their homes and will be expected to spend 5-10 Lazy Eight Hours per week on their responsibilities. There are some super interesting things we will be doing throughout this year to not only rethink creative agencies, but the perception of work. Thank you, assuming we are done here, I'm going to go have a beer now..... you want one now?
-(sans beer) Interview by Principal #ff00ff