Resigning from a company that you have worked with for 15 years is difficult. But when that company is the design giant Tayburn and what lies ahead of you is the uncertainty of a start-up then making that decision is even tougher. But that’s what Campbell Laird, Nick Cadbury and Gary Fortune-Smith did in 2004 when they left the security of Tayburn to launch their own consultancy, Three Brand Design, in Pathhead in August 2004.
Like me, you, no doubt, have some questions you’d like to ask them. Firstly, why leave behind the nice salary and company car? Secondly, why risk it all on a start-up and thirdly, where the hell is Pathhead?
Three Brand Design’s MD Campbell Laird tackled the first question first: “We were all at Tayburn for around 15 years and worked very closely together to develop a really strong consumer brand portfolio. But we reached a point, like many people do, that the time was right for us to move on and we felt confident that we could build the type of consultancy that we wanted.”
On leaving Tayburn Laird, creative director Cadbury and operations director Fortune-Smith were immediately faced with the problem of restrictive covenants which demanded they steer clear of former Tayburn clients for at least six months – a rule they stuck to rigidly. So, the problem was they needed a client and they needed it fast.
“It is difficult when you resign from a company like Tayburn,” says Laird. “You wave goodbye to your salary, you hand back your car keys and you stare out into the wilderness. We did not have any great plan, but we had an ‘all for one and one for all’ attitude and that is how we operate here. Being subject to covenants actually helps you as a new business because it forces you to go out there and find new clients in a way that we had never had to do before.”
The first client they bought on board was Belhaven which got the team up and running and hungry to bring on more business: “After the first six months passed, we were surprised how many former clients called us up and began working with us again. It has been quite humbling to have the marketing director at Diageo call us up and say that he wants to work with us again. We now have around 30 clients which we feel is immense.”
And when you consider the calibre of those clients you can understand why Laird and his team are bullish about the future. Current clients include: Diageo (they have completed work for the Johnny Walker, Baileys and Smirnoff brands); Baxters; Scottish & Newcastle International; Virgin Drinks; Sandford (the Paris-based owner of Parker Pens); G. Collins & Sons, the Queen’s own personal jeweller; Scottish Enterprise; Caledonian Brewery and interior design company Zebrano.
The development of Three Brand Design has been shored up to a degree by the appointment of a non-executive director in the form of entrepreneur Tom Cox. His appointment, as Laird explains, has been an integral factor in their ability to focus on what they are best at – design. He says: “Bringing Tom on board has given us a financial stability, which has allowed us to focus on our core business. Financial stability, or a lack of it, is a major barrier to new business especially when talking to major clients.”
What Laird, Cadbury and Fortune-Smith are keen to develop is a ‘no bullshit’ design consultancy, as Laird explains: “Too many consultancies go for a complicated process, but we try to keep it simple. All our clients have gotten fed up of the bullshit from other consultancies.”
Despite a desire to remain mid-sized (around 20 people), Laird admits that the consultancy has international ambitions. He is keen to develop a number of strategic partnerships with companies across the UK, Europe and beyond to enable them to handle clients in more far-flung locations. And speaking of far flung locations, why did the three founders decide on a converted farm building around 10 miles south east of Edinburgh city centre as their HQ?
“It is basically about geography,” replies Fortune-Smith. “We all live in easy driving distance of Pathhead. We all have access to parking, there is no traffic and it is a clean and fresh environment to work in, which we feel breeds creativity. We also get to see cows, which not many consultancies can say. We would like to have some sort of London presence sooner rather than later and we we’d also like to build a network of like-minded companies that we can work alongside.”
So, what’s been the biggest contrast between going it alone and working at an established consultancy?
“In a big company someone will always be there to do things for you. You quickly realise that if you don’t order the paper for the photocopier then nobody will. Working in an established company you get spoilt to a degree. When you come out of that you do have to re-educate yourself quite quickly about how things work.”
“At this point we cannot afford project managers so we are still very close to our clients. The big challenge for us is how to put in that extra layer of management as we grow and still remain close to all out clients? That is where we were successful at Tayburn and we want to achieve that here at Three Brand Design also.”