We see more and more big companies seeking out firms like ours that specialize in digital product and service innovation.
These engagements usually focus on conceiving and creating one of two things: an extension to an existing product or service or an entirely new line of business. In either case these companies are looking for a new and uniquely digital perspective on their business.
Odopod has successfully completed a number of these collaborative innovation engagements. Along the way we've learned a few lessons that may help you avoid common pitfalls to get more out of these collaborations.
Ten years ago we created a new agency. The idea was pretty simple. We wanted to marry the culture and practices of Silicon Valley startups with those of creative agencies.
Our first assignments and clients were incredibly diverse — from designing software for startups to creating digital campaigns for big brands.
Back then, this made Odopod an anomaly.
It took about nine years longer than we expected but the landscape has changed around us. Now clients seek us out for our unique combination of expertise with software design and brand thinking. Increasingly, they see it as essential for everything from product innovation to marketing.
As a result, we're enjoying the best years in the company's history and producing our best work ever.
Now it's time for us to make our next big move.
For the next ten years, we want to charge ourselves with a new ambition. We want to raise the bar even higher — for the work we do and for the clients we engage.
And we're not doing it alone.
Today, we're officially announcing that Odopod is merging with Nurun, the largest independent digital agency in the world.
This merger gives us the platform we've been looking for — one that enables us to do even more innovative work and to deliver that work anywhere in the world.
Nurun's outstanding technology pedigree will help us innovate across even more platforms. Their international presence and leadership will help us expand into new markets alongside our clients.
Together, Odopod and Nurun have an impressive combination of reach, depth and talent.
We're genuinely excited about the next ten years and are looking forward to starting this new chapter with the Odopod team as well as all of our clients, partners and friends.
Last year at this time, I wrote a post entitled If you want a Job at Odopod, go to RIT.
A year later, I’m just back from my third trip to the Rochester Institute of Technology for Creativity: Careers in Motion and everything I wrote in that post still stands.
I was attending and speaking at the event. It’s a forum for students in RIT’s new media program to meet prospective employers and get feedback on their portfolios. Although it’s not billed as such, for almost everyone attending it’s a recruiting event.
The reality is that it’s a feeding frenzy.
From my perspective, it’s fascinating. Imagine a gymnasium full of representatives from the best new media companies in the world, as well as some big ad agencies and PR firms — all sitting at identical folding tables, all feverish to recruit RIT’s latest group of new media graduates. Many of these companies were making offers on the spot. Some even arrived a day early to meet with, and try to scoop the top students.
That’s because RIT is producing the best new media talent in the world.
As I described in last year’s post, the students graduate with a focus either on design or development. The program is designed to have them work both independently as well as in teams, very much as they will when they come to Odopod.
As a result, almost all the students are remarkably well rounded — many of them with abilities in both design and development. I can also tell you from past hires that the rigor and intensity of the program teaches them the value of hard work and independent initiative.
They emerge from RIT with the skills to do exceptionally well in a challenging and fast-paced company like Odopod.
My only lament is that there aren’t more of them graduating, either from RIT or other schools in the US. We need more RIT graduates and more schools producing graduates of their caliber.
I just returned from a recruiting event at the Rochester Institute of Technology. It was a forum for students in their third and fourth years of the school's new media program to meet with prospective employers.
I was super impressed. It was clear that RIT is producing the best new media talent in the world, rivaling Hyper Island.
The program offers two degrees. Students can pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in New Media Interactive Development through the Interactive Games and Media department or a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in New Media Design and Imaging through the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. As a result they graduate with a focus on design or development. However, almost all the students were remarkably well rounded.
I don’t pretend to know exactly what they’re doing at RIT but a few things are evident.
The students I met had a real appreciation and understanding of all the roles required to make great new media productions. This appears to be a byproduct of the school’s collaborative, team-based approach to learning. It also maps closely to what these students will find in the real world upon graduating.
In addition to a broad understanding of how new media is made, many of the students have a nice mix of talent, experience and confidence that I wish was more common in new graduates from other schools. The confidence is especially important. Having worked with a couple recent graduates, I've noticed that these students have the confidence to assume that they can figure out the problems they encounter in a project - and they have a solid enough foundation to make that true.
I'm always excited to hire and work with RIT grads. I only wish there were more schools in the US producing students as well equipped, but I'm hopeful of emerging programs and students from other places like Boulder Digital Works. We're keeping a close eye on the future of digital education.
It is with no shortage of nostalgia, warm feelings and gratitude that we announce our good friend and long-time business partner Jay Wolff is leaving his role as President of Odopod.
The move comes at the right time for both Jay and Odopod.
When we asked Jay to serve as an advisor in 2003, we had already known him for many years as a business partner and friend. At the time, Odopod was little more than raw potential. We had enthusiasm and talent. Jay guided us on the fundamentals of how to build and run a successful, well-organized agency.
It didn’t take long for Jay’s role as advisor to expand into that of President. His natural charm, entrepreneurial drive and deep well of experience helped to fuel Odopod’s growth from seven to forty-five. Along the way, he never lost sight of what makes Odopod unique — a culture of thoughtfulness, inventive energy and craft. He knew that this would always be our source of strength.
For the past two years, Jay has worked closely with us to lay the foundation for Odopod’s next chapter. He recruited Guthrie Dolin to lead and formalize our strategy practice. He enlisted Johnathan Tann to deepen our client relationships. He led Odopod to become a charter member of the Society of Digital Agencies. In doing so, he formed invaluable cooperative bonds between Odopod and its most respected peers.
Together, we reshaped Odopod from a design studio into a digital agency – positioning us for our current success.
Last year, as Jay’s plans for Odopod took shape, Johnathan began to assume Jay’s day-to-day duties. That transition was complete this year. As you might imagine, Jay’s entrepreneurial bug kicked in and he began to consider his next adventure.
After some time off, Jay will return to his role as advisor to Odopod.
Although we’ll miss him here in the office, he will continue as a tireless promoter of Odopod — seeking out strategic partnerships and continuing to be an ambassador for the agency he helped to build.
On behalf of everyone at Odopod, we wish Jay even more sunny days and big ideas and will watch with excitement and anticipation for his next project.
Tim, Dave & Jacquie
Brands and their advertising agencies are choosing to create software as components of their marketing efforts. Whether it’s an iPhone app or a service like Nike Plus, these are essentially software products.
The traditional agency process is not very well suited to the creation of software. In fact, in many cases it may be counter-productive.
Let's take a closer look at one of the more successful models for software creation, the startup, to see how agencies and their clients can make some minor changes that lead to better apps and less friction.
Are you a Brand Marketing Manager or an Agency Account Person?
If so, here are some insights that may help if you choose to create software on behalf of your brand.
CLIENT APPROVAL vs. FIRST-MOVER ADVANTAGE
The startup’s primary goal is to gain first-mover advantage by delivering the most minimal, yet viable, Beta product they can, as quickly as possible. As a result, startups are fluid environments where regular adjustments are made to the feature set based on new technical, design, or business discoveries. In the best startups, design and technology both have strong voices in this process. Advertising agencies, on the other hand, are geared for “selling work” to clients. When a client “buys work” it is a critical event. It means production and media budgets are unlocked. There is a big financial disincentive to re-open the conversation about scope or features after this point. Suggestions to agencies: » Sell the app, not the features. Selling features prior to performing an engineering audit can lock you into costly development efforts that may be non-essential to reaching Beta.
» Try to introduce flexibility. Establish milestones where you can discuss modifications to the feature set with your client.
PLANS vs. PRIORITIES
Advertising agencies tend to prepare complete plans then execute against them for both creative and media. These plans tend not to change dramatically once production is underway. Startups are constantly adapting to new information. They must be willing to cut, modify or add features based on new discoveries. They do this by working against priorities rather than rigid requirements. Most often they use a Product Requirements Document (PRD) to help with this process. Suggestions to agencies: » Use a Product Requirements Document (PRD). The PRD is a ranked feature list. Features are typically ranked 1 for mandatory, 2 for highly desirable, 3 for lesser priorities and X for items that have been intentionally deferred to later versions.
CAMPAIGNS vs. PRODUCTS
Traditionally, advertising agencies create campaigns. The typical goal is to achieve a ramp-up of awareness that leads to action. While these campaigns have grown more complex they tend to be built around the synchronized and scripted launch of a series of ads and other brand experiences. Startups primarily create new software products. Their goal is to get the most minimal, yet viable, version of their product to users as quickly as possible. Additional features mean a later release date. Additionally, each feature becomes a piece of the product’s foundation and comes with an implied commitment of ongoing support. Suggestions to agencies and clients: » Start with the simplest app. Think of the first version of your app as the minimum set of features you can deliver and still have a viable user experience.
» Let users influence future versions. See how people use the product, what features they love, what they request, then build additional features from there.
MARKETING MANAGERS vs. PRODUCT MANAGERS
When brands release software products to the public there is an assumption on the part of many users that the software will be supported, repaired, and developed over time. If you embrace this perception it comes with long-term personnel commitments. Suggestions to clients: » Tech Support. Be prepared to respond to people having trouble with your app. At the very least, this should be a FAQ that is kept current. Better yet, use twitter to monitor and respond to complaints or problems.
» Bug Fixing & Future Development. Products need to evolve in order to stay relevant and competitive. At the very least, bugs should be fixed promptly. Better yet, begin work on future version following your initial release.
» Product Management. Hire a Product Manager to plan and manage the product. Within startups, Product Managers are the keepers of the PRD and the shepherds of each release.
I just wrapped up work as a member of The One Show Interactive jury. The judging took place in New York. It was a humbling experience to be in a room with 30 of the best digital creative directors in the world talking about (mostly) great work.
Our temporary home for the week was on the top floor of the IAC building designed by Frank Gehry – an added treat for this reformed architect.
We spent four days reviewing the best websites, banners, apps, campaigns and other unclassifiable interactive productions of 2008. Through the course of the week it became clear that the numerous submission categories were becoming increasingly unclear, and possibly irrelevant.
Our work had begun weeks ago as we whittled the thousands of entries down to a manageable few hundred. It was this shorter list that we spent more time with in NYC. The first two days were spent silently and feverishly scoring all the projects on a scale of 1-10. After this round, half the work was removed from consideration. The remaining work would be included in the annual.
The last two days were spent in an open forum. We went through every piece and discussed them. Then we voted using anonymous wireless voting devices. The goal at this point was take a final pass and to ascertain which projects deserve to win bronze, silver or gold pencils.
One curious thing about this part of the process is the social dynamic. Many of the projects under consideration were created by people in the room. That means not pulling punches but choosing your words very carefully – at least for me it did.
The week culminates in the “Best In Show” discussion. These can be pretty contentious. Not this year though. It was fairly unanimous and over quickly. I can’t say that’s because the selected piece was astonishing or brilliant. Instead, it was very smart, forward-looking and a clear stand out.
As judges we don’t know who the pencil winners are until the awards show. I’m looking forward to seeing how we did.