Malaysia-based digital agency Lion & Lion is opening its offices all around the region. As the agency expands its footprint and capabilities across the region, we find out from co-founders Hugh Batley and Casper Andersen what makes Lion & Lion truly unique.
The agency has also won the Local Hero and other titles at A+M’s Agency of the Year awards across multiple categories. The agency has now grown to over 120 from 70 at end of last year.
“Our dedicated team consists of young, elite, fun-loving and hardworking people across five offices in Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Philippines and Singapore, whom are recruited based on integrity, passion and fit,” said the duo.
“Our uniquely diverse and dynamic team is made up of thought leaders, successful entrepreneurs, digital marketers, creatives, strategists and marketing technologists from 15 countries who are passionate about delivering creative, data-driven and innovative solutions to achieve highly effective results.”
Read their story below.
(Read also: The Independents: VLT by Warren Tan)
When was the precise moment you knew you wanted to do something on your own?
I think to some extent that is something that you as an entrepreneur have always had in the back of your mind. So when the opportunity comes along you jump on it and don’t look back.
Which year did you first start up? Who was the first client you had on board?
We started in the beginning of 2013. Initially we had lots of small projects but our first major client to come on board was IKEA, who we still work with in both Malaysia and Singapore.
How did you put your first team together?
When we started to build our team, we were clear that we wanted to hire people with one, the right passion, two, the right mindset to make things happen, and three, an aptitude to learn things fast. We certainly don’t want just yes-people. We were fortunate to land on hungry young entrepreneurs from around the world, paired with people coming from global agencies and digital media like Google etc.
What was one of the toughest moments in running your agency? How did you overcome it?
The toughest moments have not been to overcome some great challenge – because in that respect that’s when our team works best. The tough moments are more likely linked to our own ambition and keeping up with that. We’ve grown to more than 120 people, full service capabilities in-house and offices in four countries in less than three years.
That kind of growth requires a lot of hard work and a few risks.
For us to get through all these things we needed to create the right team and the right environment – we don’t want “yes” people and we don’t want people afraid of taking initiative…even if sometimes they don’t get the result they expected.
Were you afraid of failing? How did you handle it?
The only way we would have failed is by not doing anything. There is very little time for doubts, but you do have to be very conscious about your responsibilities and ready to live up to your promise to everyone involved, both internally and externally.
How does it feel like to be your own boss? Could you ever work for someone else again?
We don’t think of it like that. No matter which position you have, and that goes for more or less any company in the world, you always have to deliver to someone. At the same time we try to apply a very flat organisational structure. At Lion & Lion no one will ever get a corner office. I suppose that’s not very agency-like, but we believe in creating an environment where you’re equally important no matter if you’re an intern or a director
Pluses and minuses of being independent?
I mainly see pluses.
The downside is that you have to win your own clients, and build your reputation, but the upside is that you tend to be much more agile, and you don’t have to worry about internally competing P&Ls or strategies between subsidiaries, which mean you can deliver much better on an integrated strategy. It also gives you the opportunity to be much more agile to move with the industry as it develops – which in turn means you’re often able to partner with any of the companies around the world that are developing new exciting tools in the digital space.
When you first started out, how did you market your agency? How did you get clients on board?
We get asked this one a lot – because unlike many current agencies we are not a rebranding or partnership of two older agencies, we really have started from nothing. From our external perspective it seemed many agencies wait for the client to invite them over – which is great once you have the volume. We took a more active approach in
getting ourselves introduced. If you have something interesting to offer, most people are willing to lend you an ear.
What was your first experience in the ad world? How do you think that shaped you? (share pics)
Basically our first true experiences in the ad world, was when we started Lion & Lion. We have mainly come from non-traditional backgrounds – publishing, engineering, consultants, startups, etc. We decided near the beginning to do things our own way without looking too much at how agencies traditionally do them.
What have you taken away from your years in the ad world and implemented in your current business?
Not much as we don’t come from the ad world. But we have taken a lot of things from the start-up scene and plenty from the consultancy world.
What is the one thing start-ups need to remember in this market?
Disrupting a market requires a lot of stamina, so be certain that you have something valuable to offer. You don’t need to create a brilliant invention to be successful, but if you don’t bring anything new or different to the game, you shouldn’t step onto the pitch.
What is one piece of advice you’d give anyone wanting to make it out on their own?
Do it right now.
Would you be open to buyout?
We’re not currently looking to exit. We believe there is still so many exciting things ahead of us and our focus is on those right now.
Five year plan for the agency:
Our plan for the coming years is to stay on track to become the leading independent digital agency in SEA.
First team: Young, passionate entrepreneurs from around the world, paired with local talent from global agencies and digital media.
First client: IKEA (Malaysia & Singapore)
Founding year: 2013
Founded by: Nova Founders started the first entity based on marketing leaning they had from building companies across APAC such as Groupon, Lazada, Zalora etc., although, it was different to what the agency has evolved into today. After the initial setup, managing partners Hugh Batley and Casper Andersen are the ones who’ve founded Lion & Lion.