We talked to Jakob Palmers, founder of Graphiq, about developing creative project designs, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jakob Palmers: I am lucky to say that none of my family members have been affected by the virus. And I believe that is most important. We all need to make our own personal sacrifices for the well-being of society. But I have trust in our local government and hope to look back with pride that we did the right thing.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Graphiq.
Jakob Palmers: I was born in Stockholm, Sweden. Early on, my family moved to Norway. Here I grew up on the peninsula Nesodden. Just a short 25 min ferry tour from Oslo, the capital. In my youth, I picked up used bicycles on the scrapyard, refurbished them, and tried to sell them to neighbors. Later on, I had a ton of jobs, from being a newspaper boy, retail sales consultant, video editor, seasonal Christmas tree salesman, and PR/communication consultant for firms such as Airbnb and Nespresso. It was first after I finished my studies within business development, I founded my current company, Graphiq, with my co-founder Erik Sandsmark. We shared the same values and had strong complementary skills that enabled each other to excel.
Erik’s background was within industrial design, UX, and product design. He had first-hand experience as a freelance designer. I had experienced the challenges of outsourcing when I was a consultant. We both saw a big opportunity to challenge the status quo in the creative industry. In our opinion, the industry has two major problems related to efficiency and quality. And our hypothesis was confirmed after talking to more than a thousand companies on the phone (we actually called them all). They all complained about slow turnaround, long and expensive meetings, uncompleted creative briefs, poor project management, a lot of time wasted in long email threads looking for files that were expired, and the list goes on. This way of working returns mediocre results. But all the companies were striving to achieve great business results. To tackle these problems, we are building a seamless platform where companies and freelancers collaborate. We built our first platform in eight days, closed the first project two days later, and since then, it’s been a rollercoaster ride.
How does Graphiq innovate?
Jakob Palmers: We try to focus our innovation efforts toward improving every creative project’s efficiency and quality. This is how we can create business results for both clients and freelancers. As mentioned earlier, a ton of time is wasted in every creative project when it comes to briefing a project, sharing files, creating proposals and project plans. In the best case, agencies have some processes for how to take a project from A to Z. But we know that these processes are outdated and rarely followed.
At Graphiq, we are building tools to reduce the manual time needed to get the creative job done. This enables us to receive a request from a client and set up everything needed for a successful project in no time. Freelancers can then focus on the creative work, which is what drives business results, and not the administrative part. This way of innovating creates an unfair advantage as Graphiq becomes more and more efficient than all of our agency competitors.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jakob Palmers: On March 12th, the government closed down Norway. Three months prior to this, we started expanding our business to Denmark and the Netherlands. We had tripled our team size in the last 6 months. And when the pandemic started. Almost all clients’ budgets were frozen. Our sales dropped ≈90%, and we were bleeding red.
We had to reduce our cash burn to save as many jobs as possible and the company. Long story short, we were able to reduce our cash burn for a long enough period until the market adapted to the new normal. Things got more positive throughout September and October. And the beginning of 2021 has been a fresh start with a lot of internal company successes in product development and sales growth. I believe we are well-positioned for the next phase with all the measures we have taken.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jakob Palmers: I had been on paternity leave for ten weeks, and on my first day back, it was lockdown in Norway. We had to reduce our cash burn through partially and temporarily layoffs of staff, including founders. The salary was and is our main cost driver. We tried to be open and super transparent with the decisions we made, the reasoning behind them, and the financial model leading to our decision. I wouldn’t say we nailed the communication, and it created a lot of uncertainty and friction within our team.
The biggest learning is that people need certainty and a timeline. To reduce uncertainty, you’ll need to remove as much risk as possible and create a believable timeline. Here we could have done a better job which I believe would have created a more unified team instead of a fragile group.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Jakob Palmers: I embrace a simple management principle from Jack Welch, who highlights customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and cash flow as the three most important measures to follow. These measures can be used to run any company. When it comes to software, we love to automate our work when possible. We rely heavily on Zapier, Webflow, Airtable, Slack, Stacker, Hubspot, and the G-suite. Those are our main tools used to get the job done.
In our management, product development, user adoption, and revenue growth work, we are highly inspired by a couple of books I can’t recommend enough.
- Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love
- Making Websites Win
I can get you a free copy of one of the books if interested. Just shoot me a message on LinkedIn.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jakob Palmers: First of all, the creative industry is gigantic, and I don’t believe there is a winner-takes-it-all-market. There will always be room for different types of businesses and setups. But I believe the industry is going through an evolutionary change driven by technology that changes how we work. I recommend watching this 4 min video from PwC predicting the changes that are about to happen.
And when it comes to competitors, I like the principle of staying true to your own reason to exist. Not watching every competitor and run your business reactive based on what others do. Competitive advantage is created by understanding your own market segment and users and building solutions they love. This is how you will beat your competitors.
But I assume I can’t come around without answering the competition question. Our main competitors can be divided into three buckets. 1) Established local agencies 2) Doing it in-house 3) Finding a freelancer yourself on the web or through an open marketplace. Within these categories, you’ll find competitors such as Anorak, Bleed, Upwork, WorkingNotWorking, and Superside.
Your final thoughts?
Jakob Palmers: I believe the pandemic has enabled a lot of companies to prioritize harder. At least it has for us and for the better. After everything we have been through, we have become more robust. We have created a more integrated team, a more scalable business model and are back to a good growth trajectory. If you are a client in need of a creative service such as a new brand/logo, website, animation video, pitch deck, or more, go to our website to get a quote. If you are a talented freelancer, shoot me a message on LinkedIn to help us grow your business.
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