Imagine that you could create a company that was fit to your needs. Imagine that you could fly to a new country every week. Imagine that you could work with brands like Facebook, Coca-Cola, YSL and Condé Nast. That is exactly what we, six Hyper Island students did.
It’s still hard to believe how many things have changed since the first hint of The Pop Up Agency came to our minds. A beautiful Swedish summer afternoon in Stockholm, warm but nice, and the sun was still out. I was getting ready to play football with some mates from my school, Hyper Island, and my phone rang — it was Abraham.
“Hey, Alejandro, I wanted to talk to you about kind of an idea I have. I’d like you to join a team with me and others at Hyper and do this project together.”
On the other end of the phone, he planted the seed for what would grow into a nomad agency — a multidisciplinary Agency without a fixed location, that could pop up in different cities and allow us to work with clients for 48-hour-long projects. At the time, I didn’t know that much about Abraham; we had met each other only five days before that call, but I had a feeling I should say “yes.” - Alejandro Masferrer
How it came about
We (the Founders of The Pop Up Agency) had just started studying at Hyper Island in Stockholm and the energy was electric. There is no better way to describe it than calling it a ‘honeymoon’. Two weeks into the program we had the urge to start a side project. What we did was to reflect on our needs and values. We wanted to work globally, shorter projects, no roles, a dynamic work environment and so on.
When we boiled down our needs and values, the tailored outcome was, and still is, The Pop Up Agency. Our why was nothing short of wanting to ‘challenge ourselves and the creative industry’.
From Idea, to Reality The core idea was an agency that focused on ideas and concepts. Traveling all around the world and solving briefs in 48h. From the beginning, we believed in it however, we had to try it out. To prototype it. Thus, we reached out to friends and family to get our initial clients. The first client was my dear friend Hoa Ly, CEO of Hoa's Tool Shop — a start-up in Stockholm.
As we began the brief, we brought with us a camera team of three people to document our process as well as we live-streamed the very first 48h Pop-Up session to our client. Halfway through, we realised that we had not thought things through and had too many distractions.
This lesson was very valuable for us and we realised two things that proved to be crucial moving forward:
A. If we were going to be an Agency that delivered ideas and concepts, and we wanted to have ‘eureka’ moments, we needed a clear process.
B. We needed to get out of our heads and start testing things, i.e. prototyping. Therefore, the whole first year was all about prototyping and experimenting with agency concept.
In year one, in total, we managed to work with 27 different clients across 16 countries as well as graduate from the Interactive Art Director program at Hyper Island.
Launch and Continue Prototyping
We needed a way to launch the agency. Knowing that we wanted to do something big while also strictly sticking to our now somewhat developed methods, we came up with The Pop Up Tour. A tour that spanned 15 weeks, working with 15 clients, in 15 countries. This was a way for us to launch but also, more importantly, to continue prototyping it. We knew early, as early as working with Hoa’s Tool Shop, that the real value for us was in the experience and the chance to prototype Pop Up.
You may wonder why we choose 48h and 15-week tour? It’s pretty simple —
A. We were students and only had weekends to work thus the 48h.
B. 15 weeks was the length of our internship period. So instead of taking a traditional internship, we saw this as an opportunity to develop our side project, aka The Pop Up Agency, further.
As we were landing clients, we made it very clear what our value proposition was and what we needed in return for our services. We clearly communicated that this was an experiment, that we would solve a brief in 48h and that the output would be an idea or concept. In return, we needed our expenses and accommodation covered. Basically, we made the threshold very low — it was easy for the client to take a chance on us. As we learned from our first 48h session, we needed to prototype everything. We didn’t know if the service we provided would serve a specific need and who it would fit. Thus we aimed to work with as wide range of companies as possible.
The launch video (2012)
Getting a Foot in The Door
Initially, everything was a challenge. We didn't really know where to start or who to contact — the goal was 15 countries, 15 clients, 15 weeks. Great idea, but easier said than done.
The original idea was to have the tour booked with a client at every stop before it started. But what happened was that we only had 5 booked and 10 empty slots just before departure. Doubting for a minute, we decided quickly to go ahead with the tour and hoped the press would pick up and that it would help us. To our surprise, we did, in fact, receive a lot of press coverage — we were mentioned in over 20 countries and across multiple outlets per country. However, to our disappointment, it didn’t really get us any clients.
The reality was that, as we were solving client briefs, we had to also allocate time to finding new clients for the coming weeks. Our strategy quickly became to focus on recommendations as we realised that one CEO knows another. Adding to that, another key factor was social media. We frequently shared and updated on our journey, which resulted in people from our community helping us with both clients and housing.
The Creative Process in Praxis (48 Hours)
The first step is always to review the brief and see if it is something we can take on. Clients book us for different reasons but the ‘on-demand’ aspect plays a big role. Therefore, the next step is to find a date as soon as possible. After accepting a client, there is a ‘prep’ day and that always happens the day before the 48h session starts.
There are three objectives when doing this:
- Re-brief with the client and break down the brief into one sentence.
- Clear expectations from each other and define the framework for delivery.
- Collect insight from the client.
From there, we’re ready to start the 48h session the next day and that is something we ALWAYS do onsite.
We frequently face questions like ‘Why do you Pop Up (work on-site)?’. Our answer is that if we need to create a good solution, which we exist to do, we need to be present with the client. Yes, we rely on digital tools for initial meetings, but when it’s time to do the work, we need to meet you, see you, feel you. That’s why we ‘pop up’. We invade your space, we demand attention and we ask you a million questions.
In the middle of the 48h process, we invite the client for a mid-presentation to get some feedback. When the 48h is over there are only two things remaining: the final presentation and, based on the feedback, we create a treatment and send it the week after.
Illustrated below is our 48h process. It’s not revolutionary in any way. The only real difference is that we do it all in 48h.
Pop Up Tour I could write a book about this part of our journey but I’ll try and keep it short. It is and has been, by far the most intense experience our lives. We had highs and lows throughout the journey. Everything from working with clients such as Facebook and Nissan and getting canceled several times to going from living at the Roosevelt Hotel New York to sleeping on the office floor in Belgrade.
And finally, being completely homeless for a couple of days. At the end, we managed to complete the tour and actually exceeded the goal from working with 15 clients to working with 20.
Here is a documentary that we did about the tour.
Reflections I have some key reflections that I'd like to share with you for now:
At the state we're in today, I've learned that you need to be naive enough to believe in what you do and stubborn enough to see it through. With that said, like everything in life, balance is key. Having input from people will take you further - even from the doubter and believe me, we had and still have a lot of those. While you need both, I recommend to mainly surround yourself with people who believe in you. That will take you far.
It’s simple, it’s not about the lone wolf or a creative genius. By working collaboratively you can become more efficient, take advantage of multiple skill sets and accelerate projects to reach bigger goals.The answers definitely lie in the team.
There's value in prototyping your way - aka experimenting. And to continue with this mindset even when building a viable business is absolutely vital. I'll share that part of the journey in the next post. Stay tuned ;-)