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Creative Cities

Newcastle’s Komodo Digital on how to stand out in a competitive marketplace

June 29, 2015 | 7 min read

Newcastle based company Komodo Digital has come a long way in twelve years.

Andy Greener

Early practitioners of responsive web design, the agency, led by MD Andy Greener, also recognised the clear opportunity presented by a booming mobile app market and moved swiftly into the world of app development ahead of most of the competition in the North East. In doing so, the agency quickly caught the attention of big clients like ITV.

Creative England asked company MD Andy Greener to share his thoughts on how to succeed in an overpopulated marketplace and how start-ups should approach working with big clients for the first time.

Web design is a very crowded market – what’s the key to survival and standing out in the crowd?

Newcastle and the northeast is a very competitive marketplace with some great talent in it. We have been surviving and thriving within this hotbed for a long time and I put it down to a number of things including our approach, professionalism, quality and thirst to learn. I think these elements are a pre-requisite. Also, if you haven’t got a basic ability to deliver and get on with something, listen to people and understand what they want, then you’re not really going to get far.

For us, a key part of our DNA is our team’s curiosity and our willingness to take on and learn new things. As an example, we were very early adopters of the mobile application development market. We were one of the first places to have in-house iOS development capabilities, several years ahead of most agencies.

Every website should be responsive now but again, we were very early to the market as responsive web design practitioners which is a core trend in the marketplace today. I think having the ability to see what's going to happen next and make sure you have the right skills to meet that future demand is key to growth. We continue to invest heavily in R&D and looking at new ‘next big thing’ technologies and trends.

Is the ability to take a gamble important to surviving as a small business?

It is, particularly if you’re involved in the technology sector but the same can be said for any industry. You have to be aware of what’s going on and what’s happening next because what’s happening next is ultimately where you are going to create your revenue and if you’re not preparing for it then you’re always going to be playing catch up with early adopters. It’s easy to get wrong too which can be costly.

What advice would you offer a small company about to work with a big client for the first time?

Be different. Have something special. Once you’ve got something that is genuinely different from what larger, more established agencies offer you have to look creatively for ways to get an 'in’. Small companies have a great advantage over big companies – agility. In my experience it’s about using this agility in your proposition and approach and then finding out exactly who you need to talk to and go make it happen.

Working in this field, is it important to be aware of new technologies and brands?

Absolutely. We are constantly looking at new technologies and identifying trends that we feel we would be able to move into easily i.e. those that naturally compliment but extend our current skill set.

People come to us with their ideas and it’s our job to help bring them to life. A good example would be the ITV 'Signed Stories' app that Komodo have been working on for well over two years. The big idea of the app is to assist children with hearing impairment and potentially other learning difficulties learn how to sign and build their vocabulary so they can communicate and interact more effectively.

That's done through the great content that ITV create. Taking classic and modern children’s stories, the ITV Signpost team animate them and provide a professional voice over as well as a signer who signs the story. Komodo designed and built the application that enables this idea.

The signer, audio and video can all be customised and set to a child’s individual needs. The signer can be switched on or off and available in British Sign Language or American Sign Language, subtitles can be changed in terms of size, colour and background to make it easier for visually impaired users and all titles are bundled with games that assist learning. From a tech point of view, we did all of the design work as well as the mobile development.

It’s hard to put down in a short sentence but basically what we do is take an idea and make it real, make it happen and make it work.

Is Newcastle a good place for creative companies at the moment?

Yes, it certainly has been over the last 15-20 years. It’s a highly creative city with a huge personality, you only have to look at some of the cultural spaces up here like BALTIC and Sage to see that it punches way above its weight compared larger cities.

Are there any local companies or events that we should be keeping an eye on?

Yes, there's a really good community here with lots of networking events especially with Creative England and the Creative Cities event that was held in Newcastle recently. We are lucky to have the Thinking Digital Conference that is hosted every May and is now in its eighth year. I've already booked my ticket for the 2016 event.

There's also Ignite 100, which is a hot start-up incubator and accelerator. A start-up that is really going to fly in my opinion is a company called SoPost. It’s a great team of people with a great idea and a great product; and from what I have heard they are really gaining some big traction in their market. The North East is and always has been a hotbed for creativity and technological innovation.

To find out more about what Creative England can offer emerging creative businesses, visit its website.

By Simon Bland, Online Content Coordinator, Creative England

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