Tagfounding

Third Wave: We Can Has Website!

T

Third Wave - digital strategy consultancy

A screenshot of our freshly launched website (www.thirdwaveberlin.com). Thanks and big props to Yourneighbours for the design and Fabian Mürmann for the development!

It’s official: We just launched the website for our company. As is usual, work kind of got in the way of launching earlier, but we wanted to get it really right before launching something half-finished. So, some four months after we got to work for our clients we now have a website, and it turns out to be quite the beauty I think – thanks to our friends and neighbors Yourneighbours (design) and Fabian Mürmann (development)!

Judging by the attention from design blogs the site has gotten already, it seems like we’re on to something there. (Yay!)

So what is it all about? You’ll find important announcements (highlighted blog posts) on top. At the time I’m writing this it shows the very first highlighted post, a quote by William Gibson. The photograph, believe it or not, shows Mr Gibson at very young age. Yes, we’re that nerdy. And I love it.

Below, there are two blogposts (sticky), then a line of brief background info about what we do as well as some links to learn more about us. This is followed by another four blog posts (chronological), a cute bird announcing our most recent company tweet as well as the search form and (if you’re into that kind of thing) a newsletter registration form.

We try to keep the site as simple as possible and evolve it from here.

It’s official: our company has a home now. Like.

Third Wave, 4 weeks in

T

your report sir

It’s been four weeks since we started our small agency Third Wave — four weeks and a few days, actually — and it’s time to pause for a moment and reflect: Where are we now, after the first month?

Note: There’s also an invitation to our launch party at the end of the post ;)

One, the first few weeks have been very exciting, and I’m as confident about where this whole gig is going as ever. That’s quite a relief: Even though of course I wouldn’t have founded a company with two partners without the confidence that this is going to work out there is always a certain chance to screw things up. (And I guess there always will be.) So far, no screw-ups of any major scale have been noticed ;)

Two, we’ve been incredibly lucky (and glad) in terms of new business. After four weeks we have five fantastic clients from four completely different fields, and a number of new projects lined up. (Once our website is up we’ll list them all there.) It’s this diversity that I find particularly interesting, as it captures to some degree the wide variety of things we like to do. And I wouldn’t have dared to dream that we’d manage to wrap all that up right from the start.

So who do we work for? Two big agencies, Deutsche Welle Global Ideas, my old client Netzpiloten as well as SinnerSchrader’s Next Conference. In other words, there’s “classic” agency work, it’s web strategy for a broadcaster, it’s ongoing work with an online magazine as well as curation work since we’ll be curating an hosting the “social” track at Next Conference 2011.

Where do these clients come from? This is where it gets interesting. Almost all of them approached us based on former work or other relationships, i.e. all of our business so far is based on our networks: word-of-mouth recommendations of the purest sort. This is the biggest compliment we could possibly get, so I’d like to say a big Thank You! to all of you who’ve been recommending us. You rock!

Three, on to learnings: What are the lessons I learned so far? (Apologies for the clichés.)

Communication is key. There’s nothing as important as making sure that everybody is on the same page, to bring up any potential conflicts early on, and to coordinate. We’ve all been traveling a lot, so we’ve been doing a lot of our work remotely, via email, chat, skype, phone. This adds an extra layer of potential pitfalls – make sure to allow for enough face (or at least voice) time.

Define clear roles or responsibilities. We were told about how important it is to make sure everybody has a clear role (or clear roles). Particularly since the three of us have comparatively similar profiles (i.e. we aren’t one coder, one finance guy and one designer, but rather three strategists of some flavor or another) it’s important that someone wears a certain hat. We’ve been trying not to restrict ourselves too strictly here, so we’ve been working with leads: Every project has one lead person to hold things together, every field we identify as relevant has one (accounting; CEO-style paperwork; website; branding etc). These might (and hopefully will) change over time as we learn more, but for the moment this is how we proceed.

Prioritize & experiment. Paperwork and overhead takes longer than you expect. Much longer. And I expected to spend a lot of time on overhead, but there’s always something that needs your attention. Prioritize. Try to find a good balance when it comes to redundancy: You don’t want just one person to know about important things, but you don’t want to waste a lot of time on redundancy either. Experiment. Still, it’ll take quite a while until your paperwork is complete, no matter how well prepared you are.

Four, launch party! We have a launch party at our office this Friday (Facebook event). Feel free to swing by!

Image by Goopymart (some rights reserved)

startup tools for collaboration and mobility

s

Being a bit of a geek, I’m always interested in which tools & techniques people use to go about their things. So it’s only fair I also share mine. Here’s a quick snapshot of how we’ve been organizing our company. Keep in mind, what works for our agency of three, Third Wave, may or may not work in your context.

For us, collaboration and mobility are key requirements, so besides a few exceptions working exclusively local isn’t really an option.

Experiment & share your experiences!

Email: Nothing beats Google Mail at this point. Period. Google Apps allow you to use Gmail with your own domain.

Project management: That’s a much more tricky one, as different needs and preferences both inside and outside the company play a role. We’re betting on Basecamp, the web-based project management tool by 37Signals. It’s relatively light-weight, has a fairly comprehensive UI and it’s heavily based on email, which makes it easy to use even when you’re on your phone or extremely low bandwidth (think train rides). This also makes it easier for clients to get involved if they choose to. Hands down the only annoying thing I found so far is that you sometimes have to change through several information layers when moving from one project to another – but it’s doable.

Contact management: Again, we’re going with 37 Signal’s Highrise. Not sure how happy I am with this solution yet. Then again, I don’t know anything better either, so there you go.

Chat & ongoing discussions: There’s always some things that require some discussion, so you need some kind of chat. Skype is very powerful, but also quite invasive. For good measure we’ve been using the third 37Signals product, Campfire. Not all that powerful, but it does the job. Of all the 37Signals tools we use, this is the first I’d give up, but it’s really ok.

Fluid: With all these browser-based services, the tab overkill gets even worse, so you might want to pull some of them out of the browser and into their own app. Fluid for Mac does just that. Make sure to learn how to work the settings and customize them to your needs. If you don’t it’s the software from hell, but once it works it’s a charm.

Phone: Still looking for the best Voip solution, particularly since all of us will be traveling a lot. So far, we’re old school: landline and cell phone, occasionally a Skype call.

Twitter: We have a shared Twitter account (@thirdwaveberlin), but everybody uses their own preferred tool to manage that one.

Files: Dropbox can be very useful in sharing larger files while working on a project.

No big surprises in the whole thing I guess. Always keep in mind that certain projects have security requirements that may not be met by cloud services. Where that isn’t an issue, the setup described above can be enough to get you going.

Our company name: Third Wave

O

Bonanza Coffee Heroes

We thought long and hard about a name for our new company, and I think we found a good one – it certainly resonates with us, if that’s any indicator. The name is “Third Wave“. Why that name?

Third Wave

In coffee culture, Third Wave is the philosophy that says the very best coffee comes from focusing on simplicity, best ingredients and letting the coffee speak for itself.

We at Third Wave believe that great coffee and digital strategy have a lot in common. A good strategy is as pure as possible, based on in-depth knowledge, experience and craftsmanship. And in the end it should spark great conversations, just like coffee.

That is why we work closely with you to develop strategies for digital communication and beyond, provide trend scouting and research, and create inspirational events.

There are a number of other things referred to as “third wave” (Wikipedia). Our inspiration, though, was clearly third wave coffee, as it’s celebrated in spectacularly good coffee shops like Bonanza’s.

It’ll be a few weeks before we launch our website. Feel free to talk to any of us directly, though, if you’d like to work with us or bounce some ideas. You’ll find our email addresses on the temporary website or you can just ping me directly.

brief intro: my two partners

b

meet the crew, igor schwarzmann, johannes kleske, peter bihr

Just to get everybody up to speed on the new boutique agency I’m setting up with two friends: We can now officially announce all names involved.

So besides me it’s going to be two close friends of mine:

Igor Schwarzmann (at the moment still at KetchumPleon‘s Düsseldorf office). Some links to introduce him:

Johannes Kleske is currently at Neue Digitale/Razorfish Frankfurt. Some might have seen him recently on a BrandEins cover or in the German Apple ad. Some links to introduce him:

Not only are they two close friends of mine, they are also two of the fittest people I know in the industry. Needless to say, I can tell you: I can’t wait to get this thing rollin’.

Images (not to be taken too seriously): Rajue, myself

notes on founding a company

n

As I mentioned before, I’m in the process of founding a company. By ways of documentation, and because it might help others in the future, here’s a few of the bits & pieces I’ve learned so far, in no particular order:

There is no right timing. Move. Move now. When you’re ready to go, you go. There’s always something in the way, at any time: a conference, something you organize, a pitch, a client project, a move. Do it anyway, now, because otherwise you’ll just keep postponing.

For example, between my two co-founders and me we have on our list: organizing a conference (two, really), two moves to Berlin, potentially another one within Berlin, work, vacation. Just to name a few.

When the time is right, it’s right. You’ll know it. Do it.

Parallel processing is key Sounds awkward, what I mean is this: Setting up a company (at least in Germany) means having to do all kinds of paperwork and organizational stuff. There’s the founding contracts, Terms of Services, work contracts to draft. You have to choose the type of company. Branding and website. Client acquisition. Your regular work. Maybe funding to find. Also, while all of this is going on, you need to get into your workflows, so it’s a constant negotiation with your partners about who’s doing what and how. This is the practice period. Use it to learn about each other, to get to know each others’ workflows. Establish the best communication channels, particularly if you don’t work in one spot at the beginning. At times it will feel like juggling with a few too many balls. Then one by one, the pieces start falling into place. When they do, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Inform yourself I can’t over-stress just how important this is. Before you embark on a business journey with others, inform yourself about the implications of what you’re doing. Learn about pros and cons of different types of company. Learn about your duties and rights within these types of company. Learn about insurances. Make damn sure you know about your strengths and weaknesses, and your partners’. (Also make sure they know about yours!) If you fumble later because you didn’t inform yourself, don’t come cryin’, it’s your responsibility, and yours only.

Stick to your plans. Screw your plans. Uh, right. Here’s the thing. You’re moving fast, because you have to. That means you won’t always have the time to really explore all the options you’d like in-depth. Sometimes you have to make a call with limited information. That’s fine, it’s how it works. Don’t let yourself get too distracted or intimidated by others’ horror stories. You made your decision, you stick with it. Chances are it’s a good call. But every now and then you’ll learn something new, either because the circumstances changed or because something just slipped by unnoticed before. In that case, don’t be stubborn: re-evaluate, make a new decision. Your plans are guidelines. Adapt them as you learn new things. (We went full circle on the type of company we are setting up, yet now we’re ready to go and I wouldn’t want to miss out on the thought process that lead here.)

Plan ahead, then improvise. The better you plan, the more steps you can anticipate and lock in, the easier and smoother the process will be. There are plenty of touch points with folks and organizations outside your company. Make sure there’s enough time buffer for them to do their job. This is especially important for those who are helping you! (Don’t stress them out, they deserve all the respect you can give them.) You’ll find it’s a lot of touch-and-go.

Example? Before reaching certain milestones (signing a contract, opening a bank account etc) you can’t do certain things. Before the process of registering your company is kicked off – which happens surprisingly late in the game – you can’t really sign any important paperwork or contracts without getting into serious legal grey area. That’s something you want to avoid, right? Well, yes. On the other hand, you can’t sign any client contracts either, as your company doesn’t legally exist yet. Again, it’s touch-and-go: you talk to those clients, you explain the situation. You sign letters of intent. As soon as you’re good to go, you sign the contract. Not having these contracts signed and sitting on your desk can be somewhat stressful; don’t sweat it, there’s nothing you can do at that point. Relax and make sure to work only with great clients.

Don’t demand support. Accept and embrace it. One thing is incredibly important to remember: during the founding period there’s a certain chance that you’ll annoy the hell out of your social environment. You might be nervous, or stressed out, or constantly focused on your own business and not realize that others have stuff on their minds, too.

What does that mean? First, try to go easy on your friends and family.

Second, don’t demand support. There’s absolutely no god-given right to receive support from others, mental or other. Asking others support is one thing; demanding is a different thing altogether.

Third, if someone offers help of any kind, treat the folks helping you with the respect they deserve. Someone just went out of their way to help you, just because they decided you’re important to them. Show them all the love they deserve. Thank them, and make sure you don’t forget it. We’ve been incredibly lucky that way, getting so much support from so many people in a whole lot of ways. I hope I can make up for all of it someday. Until then, I’ll try to just stay grateful. Thanks, guys!

Oh, there’s one more thing. The probably most important of all, a mantra to get back to if things are getting too hectic (I stumbled over it on Alexander Ljung’s tumblr):

everyone calm the fuck down

Personal life update: There’s a new shop in town!

P

meet the crew

meet the crew, igor schwarzmann, johannes kleske, peter bihr

Big news (for me) – I’m founding a company. More concretely, I’m setting up a boutique agency with two partners. And heck, I’m excited!

Basics first:

Who? At this point I can only name one of my partners – my long-time co-conspirator and close friend Igor Schwarzmann (@zeigor). Our third man is still bound by contract so we cannot disclose his name until the last minute. But worry not, he’s a heck of a guy too. Update: Our third man is our good friend Johannes Kleske (@jkleske). Update: The company is going to be called Third Wave Berlin, referring to the third wave in coffee culture.

What? A strategy and trend agency.* Not to go into too much detail yet, but think hand-crafted web strategies: top quality, very personal. Our biographies give you an idea, so yes, Social Media will be part of our service, too. (Personally I think that in just a few years Social Media won’t be a separate column any more, but instead be a natural part of all services and products. So certainly we won’t be focusing on building anyone’s Facebook pages ;) (* edited for clarification – yes, it’s a consulting shop, in case I didn’t make that clear enough ;)

Why? It’s an idea whose time has come, so to speak. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed freelancing over the last few years and really consider myself lucky it’s been working out that well. (Much better than I ever dared to expect!) I’ve been offered great jobs over the years, too, and feel particularly lucky that I could always afford to turn them down to pursue a self-determined career on my own. Now I’ve reached a point where I had to make the call: stay freelance or build something bigger? This is the decision. When the three of us – after a lot of joking around – realized we all had the same urge it was a done deal. My personal goal is not to just start and grow this business, but also to do a few things better than many agencies these days. Most of all, to run an open, honest, no bullshit firm (which in this environment isn’t all that usual, sadly) while having a great deal of fun exploring all possibilities and taking all of this to a new level. (Wondering if we’re serious? Both my partners quit their very good current jobs and are relocation to Berlin for this gig.)

And I can’t wait to work with all the interesting folks out there. This step hopefully allows us to kick off a whole bunch of cool projects, both for and not for profit.

Where? We’ll be based in Berlin. We’re also likely to do a fair bit of traveling. Actually, our office is already all set. Our neighbours are Yourneighbours. (Where I already set up shop today!)

When? We’ll kick off in October. That’s when my partners finish their current contracts. Interested in bouncing some ideas before? Feel free to ping me anytime (my current contact details).

Thanks! We got an incredible lot of help and feedback though out the early stages of our preparations. Thanks to our friends and mentors in all this. You know who you are. We owe you one.

What else? Some great folks are working on our logo and all, and we’re in the middle of the paperwork necessary to register a company. Once we’re set we’ll have a name for you. F*ck yeah, this is going to rock!

Here’s what Igor has to say about it all. Update: Here are Johannes’ thoughts.

Images (not to be taken too seriously): Visualbug via DefiniteTouch, Rajue