This is a part of an agency founder blog series. We interview some of our favorite agency founders and ask for inspiration on how they started, successes, and challenges.
What is your name and agency?
Tyler Leonard of Boundary Digital.
How did you get started?
To narrow it down, my strong suit in life has always been connecting people. I worked on the business side of things at a consulting firm, then moved into strategy and business development at an app development agency in Santa Monica. But between those two stints, I took a trip to Southeast Asia for a little over four months with my now business partner, George Renfro. That’s really where the idea to venture out on my own started. We had the dream of working on fulfilling projects with great people, and decided to take the leap in 2017.
George, our creative director, has always been a rebel of the standard career path. He started freelancing right out of design school and never looked back. He’s sharpened his teeth on all sorts of design and business projects, and after a couple years had too much going on for a freelancer to manage. It made sense for us to join forces so I could work with clients and he could keep his head in the pixels.
It’s funny, looking back on that trip, we actually joked about one day pitching Red Bull. Seemed crazy at the time, but I think we just started our 7th project with them.
Why did you start an agency?
The short answer is we wanted to do things our own way. We wanted to create a culture and process that was unique to us. We learned a lot from other agencies that we either worked for or collaborated with, but that also got us thinking about how we can do it differently. We knew our new venture would be lean, nimble and adaptable.
What were your greatest challenges in getting started?
There are definitely no shortage of challenges. You have build up enough capital (we didn’t pay ourselves for over half a year), having the right contractors in place, the right clients; anyone who has started an agency knows you normally take whatever you can get in the beginning. We were also best friends which always creates for an interesting dynamic and can be risky if you haven’t worked with each enough previously to know it’s the good blend of personalities. But you just take them one by one. I heard a great quote at SXSW a few years ago, “nothing’s ever as bad as you think it is, and rarely is it as good”. Just embrace the challenges and move on to the next one.
What are your greatest successes as an agency?
This is really tough to answer, we’re pretty critical of ourselves, even when something would be considered a “success”. If you ask George, I think he’d say the El Segundo Art Walk. We’ve branded, curated all of the artist and musicians, raised money and really created an amazing experience for our hometown which has helped show off El Segundo’s creative culture and the amazing companies that live there. It’s been an unreal amount of work, but we’ve definitely earned a lot of “soul dollars” in the process.
Some other ones that come mind for me, we had an AR mask get over a million uses. It was weird to think that that many people had tried something we created. Another one was when one of our early projects based out of SF got acquired. The reality is those were bigger successes for our clients than us, but it just felt amazing watching them do well and be apart of it.
What’s the biggest change in the agency business since you started?
It’s not a single change, but the bigger concept that technology and design are continually becoming easier to figure out. It makes it tough because clients expect things should happen faster with a smaller budget.
How did you and your agency adapt to those changes?
We’ve always had the mindset that we’ll welcome change. Whether it’s the rise of the freelance economy or a new technology that makes one of our skills a little less indispensable, we embrace it rather than get bothered by it. Ultimately, we want to be as effective as we can for our clients, so whatever expert, tool or strategy can help us with that, we’ll welcome it in.
What is your proudest moment in business so far?
We love to see when a friend or family member sees what we’re doing and is inspired to try something on their own. We always find a few hours a week to help out our loved ones with whatever they’re working on.
And this is definitely going to sound cheesy but both our dads are fairly old school and really have gone out of their way to say how proud of what we’re doing. They swing by the by the office all the time when we’re working late in to the evening and always scream “you guys still at it?”.
What are your regular rhythms, processes and routines as an agency (e.g. send a client a weekly update), and which ones have been the most helpful?
We still use a combination of analog and digital to manage our projects. Internally we have your normal Monday stand up to talk about project status and create tasks, Tuesday scrum meetings with the devs and then we’ll send weekly emails to clients that update on time and progress. For Software we chat on Slack and use Zeplin, Invision and Jira. That said, we also like to get on the phone with clients to stay in touch about progress on their end and keep energy high. We’ve learned it quickens the pace.
How do you keep your team creatively inspired and not burnt out as they are constantly working with new clients and new projects?
We’ve learned that using duct tape on our employee’s eyes at 3PM everyday gets rid of any burnout. Jokes aside, we like to have team members work on various projects so it doesn’t feel monotonous. We also stay involved with the process and projects (within reason) and get fired up when they create something cool which goes a long way. We really do love what we do and care about the crew so I hope that keeps everyone else excited.
How do you spend your day to day nowadays?
I love to get in and design and think strategy with the clients. We’re not big so it’s definitely still part of my day. But my main focus is getting any road blocks out of the way so that our designers and developers can do their jobs uninhibited, whether it’s talking to a client for them, getting new software or grabbing lunch.
George spends his day touching on pretty much all our active projects, critiquing designers and pushing things along to make sure we hit deadlines.
What’s next on the horizon for your agency? Any projects you’d like to share?
New office! We’re moving in December to some new digs to make space for a few more desk. Aside from that, just excited for several releases and bringing on a few new faces.
Any projects you’d like to share?
Here’s a couple of fun ones. crumbsapp.com, swoopapp.com, elsegundoartwalk.com, themotherfuckerawards.com, meetalfie.com.
How can people get in touch with you?
Feel free to shoot me a message direct at firstname.lastname@example.org.