| 12 min
March 16th, 2018
This month, Brave celebrates it’s 18th Birthday and is now one of the longest standing agencies in the region, and proud of it too. Founded in 2000 by Tony Conte, who swapped his last days of being an employee at Emap Digital (now Bauer Media) from a career which started in creative communication, and switched over to build an agency. The company has so far had three office moves, rebranded three times and built a strong list of specialisms over the years such as branding, ecommerce, web and software development, CRO, Technical SEO and Google Adwords (now Google Ads) to name but a few – all with a strong results driven approach for its clients.
We managed to pin him down to get the lowdown on how it all happened and how he pieced it together over the years:
Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty in 2000, starting another new business way back then (dot-com bubble/Y2K etc) would, in some people’s minds, have been thought as risky – in many ways this presented me with what I thought was a challenge and an opportunity at that time. I’d already been here before, back in the nineties I’d started a design agency right in the middle of a big recession – this taught me a lot about opportunity, hard work, resilience, accountability and determination. Although it didn’t technically fail, it simply wasn’t gaining enough momentum or traction for the effort I was putting in, in my opinion. It was hard to sell marketing and design with all the uncertainty of the recession so I decided to close that business and I went back into employment and use that experience to thrive within a corporate environment instead. It had made me much stronger and I’d gained the tools needed to progress and I felt pretty invincible moving forward from that point onwards
I was always taught by my mentors over the years that putting yourself out there with marketing when others are being cautious is probably one of the best things you can do to gain an advantage. In 2000, I decided to have another go. What did I have to lose, I thought?
I certainly learned a huge amount in the first couple of years, and anyone who starts an agency can probably agree with this; it’s the amount of time and commitment you spend either at the start or midway that can at times feel like you simply can’t cram enough hours in the day/night to spin enough plates. Your personal life also takes a hit and you have to be prepared for this. You’re wearing so many hats some days, especially right at the beginning, that it can feel like an uphill challenge to get anything done some days – everything is on you. When something goes wrong, you feel it directly, personally and in your pocket and that makes you look at the detail more to make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice.
The plus side is that you quickly learn on the fly how to become everything to everyone and quickly be super efficient and accountable. Nothing has really changed over the years if I’m honest – everything just gets more complicated and more diverse. Even now, you still have to support the team around you in different ways and try to condition yourself to letting go, occasionally more often than you would normally feel comfortable with – (this is hard by the way).
Going back to that year of 2000, companies were not being overly aggressive when it came to investing in digital or marketing, but were generally being careful about the future and, in particular, the various digital platforms which were being launched. The dot-com bubble really left a sour taste out there as way too much money was invested and a lot of agencies got a bad reputation for this – which made it harder, I think, for the rest of us to sell our digital services. It also created a level of scepticism regarding the feasibility of being able to develop digital brands and platforms which would work with the connectivity issues and infrastructure available to us at that time. You simply couldn’t get enough speed or bandwidth to do anything too fancy.
Internet speed and technology would take some time to catch up still. Remember that this was the year Broadband was launched by Telewest, but we only had 512kbps which by today’s standards would hardly be able to open up the homepage of YouTube. So as a business, if you were clever enough and understood how this restriction could be overcome, you could see an opportunity and build suitable digital products and get to market fast and get momentum. This would help you gain traction above your competitors and build a large enough gap between them and you to stay ahead. Having a head start and protecting your brand was key, I think, which is why many brands today are way ahead of others and remain at the top.
I remember my first big client at that time; we discussed whether they should reduce or cancel their magazine print advertising spend and push online 100% or just dip their toe in the water. They were a significant advertiser at that time, probably the biggest spender in some of the largest magazines in the sector.
For me, being someone who had partly developed their career in magazine publishing originally, it was, in some ways, very hard to categorically say yes. We discussed the pros and cons, and the potential opportunity and the decision was made to get moving and be the number one online retailer in their sector within 3 years. We didn’t just drop print overnight of course; I thought this would have been suicide. Instead, we reduced it over the years to ensure it was still getting brand exposure.
So I pulled together with a host of people who had high creative and technical skills and we helped them achieve this goal – they became the leaders both online and offline, and we assisted them over the years to develop their brand. Even today, they still remain at the top of their game. The journey really was a rollercoaster of a ride and gave me the experience to really understand how hard it would be in the future to attempt to launch brands online.
They were ambitious, wanted results and because of this, it suddenly twigged in my mind that I needed to work with clients that were all ambitious, whether that be startups or established brands – this is where the success came from. We had, and continue to have, a way of making and building brands, getting results and ensuring that they have a strong chance of succeeding. The way we do this is with honesty and transparency, right from the start of the relationship. This is when it really did dawn on me that I needed to build an Integrated Agency which allowed me to have all the expertise a client would want in one room and all collaborating with each other all day long for our clients.
I’m so proud of everyone who’s worked for me over the last 18 years; they’ve all been part of this journey so far, given their all, and each one has made Brave what it is today. I really do mean that, especially as my ethos has always been about employing people who have a similar ethos or mindset and care about what they do, what they learn and how they deal with our clients. This fuels a real passion for what you do and means it passes onto our clients either directly or indirectly through the great work we all strive to achieve. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t always get it right and we’ve had our fair share of challenges over the years. The key is communication internally and externally and being able to hold your hand up when things do go wrong and put things right.
So what was happening way back in 2000
We thought we’d go back and remember what was going on in 2000, what influences might have had on Brave’s inception at that time by pulling together some of the key pointers of that year way back then…
Y2K – Millennium bug
Entering the new millennium seemed to spark fear across the world with mass panic that all computers we relied on would malfunction and change the world as we knew it.
To save memory space and money, computers would use two digits for the date instead of four, eg 1998 would be saved as ‘98’. The panic was that when we reached 2000, it would assume the year was 1900 reverting computers back a hundred years.
Y2K or also known as the Millennium bug was both a hardware and software problem, the simplest way to resolve the issue was to expand to a four-digit number. It is estimated that $300 billion was invested in upgrading computers.
The world woke up to find that only small issues had arisen and most people dismissed the whole thing as a hoax.
Google Adwords was born
It’s incredible to think only 350 advertisers were using Adwords when it entered the world in October 2000. Back when it was launched, ads were sold on a cost per impression model, rather than cost per click which is used today. Back then adverts would cost you from £10 for a thousand impressions, with adverts showing only on the right-hand side. Crazy right?
Surprisingly, this was not Google’s first advertising program – a few months before they had launched Premium Sponsorships. These adverts were placed at the top spot in the search results. It didn’t take long for Adwords to take the leaderboard and for Premium Sponsorships to vanish off the face of the earth.
March 2000 saw the dot-com bubble burst at a rapid speed after three years of substantial investment. Back in the day, when the internet was new and exciting, masses of investors began throwing money into internet startup companies. Keen to invest in this growing market they ignored traditional metrics and didn’t bother to see if the company would actually provide a profit.
The bubble started to collapse in 2000, with companies such as Pets.com only taking 268 days to go from £300 million to £0. There were some survivors from this unfortunate time, such as Google, Amazon, eBay, ARM and Adobe who all bounced back.
Adobe Photoshop 6.0 is released
The creative world was crying out for a new update from Adobe after waiting for two years, and boy, did they deliver. Photoshop 6.0 featured new image editing features such as vector shapes (which we now take for granted), enhanced layer management, easier access to tools and direct text entry. This last feature meant that text could also now be typed directly onto a picture, rather than before being typed first into a text box. All of these updates gave us designers a host of new options for creativity and improved efficiency.
One of the most impressive things about Adobe was the fact that one smart (gifted) family, consisting of an engineering professor, a PhD engineering student, and a special effects whiz-kid working at a company called Industrial Light and Magic came up with the main idea of Photoshop.
In 2000 BP replaced their strong iconic shield logo that had been with their company for 70 or so years and replaced it with the “Helios” – which if you didn’t know, was the name of the Greek sun god. The brave move was to only retain the colour pallette of the original logo, something we believe here at Brave can work when redeveloping an established brand. The estimated cost? A whopping $211,000,000, which obviously included it’s rollout, but still… The company apparently spends up to $125 million each year on improving their brand and marketing.
Broadband was introduced
Broadband gave us a new life on the internet in the early 2000s by allowing the signal in one line to be split between telephone and internet. Yes, this meant we could be online and make phone calls at the same time! This progressively led to much faster connections, making it easier to browse the internet and download files.
Broadband was officially launched in March 2000 in the UK, with Telewest offering cable broadband with maximum speeds of 512 kilobits per second. At the time, this was amazing since we were used to only 56k. This, in turn, meant we could develop more complex web applications which also meant websites got bigger and more interactive. The digital economy started to grow from this point.
The ILOVEYOU virus
Remember when, back in May 2000, a group of students released the deadly ILOVEYOU virus into the computer world. The virus was sent via email and contained an attachment that, when opened resulted in the message being re-sent to everyone in their Outlook address book. The more severe impact was It also destroyed file types like jpeg and mp3 on the recipient’s hard disk.
The virus spread so quickly that large corporations such as Ford were left with no other choice but to shut down their entire email system. It is estimated that the virus reached over 45 million users in a single day and caused over $10 billion in damage.
Wallmart.com launched in 2000
Walmart.com was launched in the year 2000. Today, more than 17 years later, Walmart.com accounts for less than 3% of Walmart’s total sales. They also admitted their website strategy was a big mistake by buying Jet.com, an internet site that was launched further down the road in 2014, for $3.3 billion. Apparently, not being able to make the same profit as Amazon has caused them a real issue, whilst jostling with matching their prices is a massive challenge – not easy!
The hands free earpiece
Jabra launched their weird looking earpiece in 2000 which seemed to freak us all out at the time. It was as if everyone was suddenly walking around talking to themselves, but ultimately it also saved lives, freeing peoples hands so they could steer their cars safely. It might just be us, but hasn’t it seen a decline in recent years?
First camera phone launches
The J-Phone J-SH04 camera phone is launched, manufactured by Sharp and built by Sony. The camera itself had a whopping resolution of 0.11 megapixels, a 256-colour display, and photos could be shared wirelessly. Yes, you heard that, wirelessly! After its success, it quickly expanded and a flip version was launched within a month which saw the start of cameras becoming a significant part of the majority of phones within a year.
Apple launches the Power Mac G4 Cube
Anyone else remember the Power Mac G4 Cube? This was designed by Jonathan Ive, its cube shape made a statement at the time for being different, quirky and eventually became a bit of a cult of things in the Apple community even though it flopped after a year! Although it looked absolutely stunning and unique, Apple’s massive hype wasn’t enough at the time to drive enough sales, demand just wasn’t there, it was more expensive than it’s equivalent standard machine and Apple walked away. Shame as it really did look cool in the early design agencies of that day.
Sony Playstation 2
A constant debate here with the gamers of Brave is Xbox or the PlayStation! The PS2 represented a big change in the concept of game consoles as it allowed for DVDs to be played as well as games which, in turn, developed the console into an entertainment centre.
It’s a known fact that many just bought the PS2 for its DVD player since the PS2 was cheaper than stand-alone DVD players. This was pivotal to an increase in consumer adoption for the DVD format and over more than ten years in active production, the PlayStation 2 has sold more than a staggering one hundred and fifty million units, making it one of the most successful game consoles ever released. Stick that in your pipe, Xbox lovers!
The trusty USB Flash Drive
Yep, we all (well, some of us) still use them from time to time to transfer files, be it photos or data, or use it as a portable backup device. In 2000, these were introduced and instantly revolutionised portable storage. At the time, many loved the fact they could not be scratched like optical discs and were resilient to magnetic erasure, unlike floppy disks. This little device prompted the end of these other formats.
Internet Statistics of 2000
Brave is a bit of a data junkie, as many of our clients know, so we thought we’d share a few stats from 2000:
43% of internet users said they would miss going online “a lot,” up from 32% in 1995.
There were only 361 million Internet users in 2000, in the entire world. For some perspective, that’s just two-thirds of the size of Facebook today. There are more than five times as many Internet users now (2017) as there were in 2000.
In 2000, the top 10 countries accounted for 73% of all Internet users. By 2010, that number has decreased to 60%
Back in 2000, Asia, North America and Europe were almost on an even footing in terms of Internet users. Now, Asia has pulled away as the single largest region, followed by Europe, then by North America, and a significant distance exists between the three.
And Africa see’s the largest growth of internet users since 2000, 106.4 million users since 2000, which is 2357% of relative growth! Astonishing.
Reflecting on 18 years
The last 18 years has been a roller coaster of activity for the agency, it’s seen a lot of change, challenges and advancements which has made its experience and expertise strong. What started out as a creative agency has developed into what is now a full service integrated agency. One which fuses creativity with technology, driving results driven projects for its clients. Something which was an ambition from the start and is now a reality.
Brave believe that you should never stop learning and that at the core of every developer, designer or marketeer should be someone who is curious, who is ambitious and someone who challenges internal and external relationships for the good of the objectives in hand. As a team, Brave Agency are passionate about promoting the importance of being inquisitive and we encourage our team to be the best, to learn as much as they can and to put themselves out there. From development collaboration to simply absorbing the world of design and ideas that are around them all day long, we encourage our team to act like sponges and incorporate this all back into the agency