A short story
February, 2017, was a big month. After months of uncertainty, we had made a difficult decision to move on from Velvet Onion (our focus for the previous 18 months). We had trained for - and competed in - a triathlon. And, within 28 days, found ourselves in separate, remote parts of Australia - myself in a converted Toyota Hiace campervan somewhere in Tasmania, Paulus camping on the New South Wales south coast - wondering what to do next.
Paulus and I met in late 2015. He had recently finished up with Reborn - a Sydney-based creative agency - where he was working as an Executive Producer, and had agreed to lead operations at Velvet Onion after a chance meeting with the agencies founder who was renting a desk in the shared workspace near Reborn's Sydney office at the time. I had been picking up short contracts with Commonwealth Bank, MYOB, and others, with the intention of joining Velvet Onion when the time was right, which I did not too long before Paulus.
Despite having not worked together before, we quickly discovered a shared set of values around work and life that would define the projects that we worked on, and the relationships we built with our clients. Back to 2017, and it was these relationships which served as a guide. We continued to focus on these projects as far as we were able, ensuring that their businesses weren't affected. Pretty soon, though, the idea of setting up a new company came up, and we began discussing what type of company we might like to create. Not too long after, Oppo Studio was born.
The word Oppo means ‘friend’ or ‘colleague’, and this is exactly the type of relationship we wanted to have with our clients. Thinking of ourselves as an extension their team, we made sure that our goals were always in alignment with those of our clients, and their customers. As designers, we weren't in the game to stand up on podiums and earn accolades – seeing our clients succeed (and knowing we’d played a part in that) was quite satisfying enough. What seemed like a simple sentiment at the time turned out to be a foundational principle, with implications for almost every other aspect of the company.
While we had previously spent a lot of time pitching for work, we found that this didn't leave much time for the work itself. Instead, working directly with our clients meant we could become truly immersed in the work, at the same time reducing our costs by removing the necessity of layers of project and account management which are common in more traditional agencies. As we often worked from the offices of our clients, we rented a few desks from a friend in Surry Hills with underrated views over Sydney, and avoided an expensive lease of our own.
Decisions such as these granted us the flexibility to truly align our goals with those of our clients, and their customers. We were able to spend more time at the beginning of a project thinking about the big picture, before carefully prioritising to find a logical place to start, taking small steps, learning, and adjusting our plan as we went. All the time, our clients were by our side, and we were completely transparent in our progress. We even built our own product on top of our time tracking tool, giving our clients visibility into how we were spending our time on their projects, and how this aligned with the project goals.
In the two years that followed, we had the opportunity to develop our ways of working, collaborating with friends and colleagues who shared our values. These included long-standing relationships with clients like UNICEF, Rent a Space, and Umano, as well as new like RedBalloon and Tinybeans.
At some point in late 2018, as projects were completed, we found ourselves spending less time trying to replace them. Instead, our attention was becoming focussed more and more on a particular client. We made the decision to join the Umano team and focus on bringing their vision to life. This was a big decision for us, but a realisation of the type of relationship we wanted to have with our clients when Oppo Studio was created.