It is a no-brainer that brands can benefit from startups, but this proposition is easier said than achieved. Some agencies in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region realized this the harder way. Mindshare, nonetheless, gave it an all-out push when it joined hands with Step Group to set up The Startup Studio in May 2018.
From its inception, Startup Studio has aimed to build an identity distinct from that of the agency with the objective to go beyond the brief for existing clients and serve as conversation starter with non-clients.
The agency’s game plan for The Startup Studio was simple – collaborate with an established entity well versed in startup domain, like Step Group, connect the corporate and startup worlds and create solutions within fintech and martech/adtech verticals. It created a three-staged program to ensure all parties entered the relationship well-informed and, and therefore, well assured of the path and milestones to success in results.
The first phase was more educational in nature in the form of workshops with experts. The second included client briefs being addressed by three different startups in a speed-dating format. The final stage was engagement, where the startup/s would be zeroed on, and terms such as requirement and scope were discussed.
Initially, the program required a cohort of like-minded companies that balanced the demand and supply. In its journey since launch, one of the first things Mindshare realized was this requirement would have to change.
“The Startup Studio is not going after media dollars, which is why it is not limited to Mindshare clients. While this was a brilliant program, it wasn’t easy to get a cohort going. Every company we met was open-minded to point of offering viewpoints on how they want to engage.” recalls TJ Lightwala, Head of Future Adaptive Specialist Teams (FAST) & Performance, Mindshare MENA, adding, “The education-based program should have led in to solving business problems but we realized that each client wanted their own version of The Startup Studio according to their requirements.”
The Startup Studio’s structure hence had to change to cater to multiple companies at the same time.
“This was not a setback but instead an impetus to move into an adaptive version of what The Startup Studio could mean to clients independently. Our dialogue became more one-on-one and our efforts became more focused on making startups and corporates speak the same language, bridge innovation gaps, and find disruptive ways to create cost-effective tech solutions,” she explains, adding, “The fact we adapted and so quickly only re-emphasizes one of our core values – Speed – and how as an agency we believe agility is a key ingredient for success in today’s rapidly evolving world.”
Opening New Doors
The change worked. Mindshare has engaged seven different companies, two of them not on the agency’s client roster, with briefs that are as varied as workforce and productivity solutions to simplifying use of internal customer data to employing artificial intelligence for better customer experience. The agency is gearing up to gradually rollout the offer into Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well. The Startup Studio has also managed to engage companies outside MENA.
“We were anxious. After putting in so much work, would it pay off? I am hence particularly proud we have these many briefs and we are confident of growing into newer markets. We invested all summer to get this right, and now we are busy solving each of these briefs to become case studies by Q1 2019, which will further validate this offer,” Ms Lightwala informs.
The agency is seeing Startup Studio as a clear differentiator. “Just about everyone is talking data, technology and talent in different formats. No one is really engaging with startups or creating a network within private equity and venture capital space or tapping on a whole new economy of different talent who work in creating and delivering customized tech solutions. It has taken us about nine months of getting to know the business, immersing ourselves, and reaching here. This gives us an advantage,” she observes.
The Big Picture
Ms. Lightwala points out The Startup Studio has made a larger impact on the Mindshare offer. “Clients are not only talking to us in media language but in terms of business situations, challenges in markets like Egypt, issues in productivity, automating platform from ordering to delivery and so on. All this rests in the broader realm of technology. To us this is a significant step in growing forward,” she says.
Mindshare is very cognizant of the experiences of startup-agency attempts that have not taken off. The agency’s two-part answer to ensure it stays on track is “don’t stop the hustle” and take advantage of the timing. “UAE Vision 2021 and the five pillars it is based on, makes growth through technology and startups fundamental to the market and to the region at large. The government’s support and leadership to drive entrepreneurial thinking and creativity is noteworthy. The momentum is palpable,” Ms Lightwala says.