The Santander Small to Medium-Sized Business of the Year Finalist Focus: Steve Waring

Tell us about your business.
101 is a 3 year-old 40 people-strong creative business dedicated to brand invention and reinvention. Founded by the team behind the Cadbury’s drumming gorilla, the Sony ‘Balls’ commercial, the resuscitation of Skoda, and Stella Artois’ ‘Reassuringly Expensive’. An advertising agency with a twist. While the industry around us has arranged itself into siloes, we believe the business of branding is best done more holistically. We rove across those siloes, in the interests of effectiveness for our clients. We labelled ourselves a ‘free range creative company’ at launch to cement our approach. We solve client problems with new products as well as new campaigns.

How did you fund your business?
As a group of second time around entrepreneurs, the business has been self funded by the founding partners of the agency without the need for external or bank finance.

What is the biggest challenge SMEs are currently facing?
The need, due to the increased pace of technological change, affecting all industry sectors, for businesses to be in a cycle of perpetual innovation. Paradoxically this is also the biggest opportunity.

Can you give any advice to others starting up businesses?
Stay true to your vision and purpose whilst being prepared to adapt and change all other aspects of your business.

How do you foster innovation throughout your business?
I think this is principally culturally and values-led. It needs to be embodied by the leaders of the business, creating a culture that fosters risk-taking and doesn’t penalize failure; one which believes on occasion that ‘done’ is better than ‘perfect’; and which stays nimble enough on behalf of its clients to react quickly and effectively to changes in competitor base and media landscape.

How are you managing the challenges associated with fast growth?
In a business like ours, long term we’ll only thrive if we attract an unfair share of the best talent versus our competitive set. And to attract this talent we need to say “no” a lot, to both people and prospective clients. Paradoxically, saying no a lot is probably the single most important factor in the pace of growth of our own business.