Ready, Fire, Aim!
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Robert Berkeley 0:03
Hello and thank you for joining me Robert Barkeley for a another episode of Inside jobs. The podcast for in house agencies about in house agency leaders are brought to you by the in house agency forum or IHAF in partnership with EKCS. Helping in house agencies do more through outsource production. Now my interview this time took place in an actual office, I was thrilled to be at the headquarters of what3words in London. If you want to know where they are, look up filled.count.soap. I could convert that to a long winded address in London but no need as all you have to do is look on the what3words app and you will find any point on Earth referenced by just three words. Ivan Pols has run their in house agency for some years coming from big agency, and he has earned his spurs flying the planet helping promote household name products.
Robert Berkeley 0:56
Ivan, welcome to Inside Jobs.
Ivan Pols 0:58
Thank you very much.
Robert Berkeleyr 0:59
And please explain what is it you do?
Robert Berkeley 1:01
And for whom do you do it?
Ivan Pols 1:03
Well, my name is Ivan. I'm the Chief Creative Officer for what3words. We're based here in London. And it's a tech company that's focused on geolocation, which I will explain in a second, please do so what3words is an address system that has given every three metre square in the world or every 10 foot square in the world, and address made of three random words. What this allows you to do is pinpoint and share very precise address information to delivery companies, to car companies to your friends. So you can have food delivered to the middle of a park, you can get your package delivered to a specific entrance of your building, or you can navigate it's used by well over 85% of the UK is emergency services to locate people in distress when they don't have any address information that's easy to pass through to the call handlers. It's used by LA Fire Austin fire, but also like really big kind of companies like DHL. DPD, every logistics business logistics businesses, and so while it's a very simple idea that you give every 10 foot square, a three letter address, it's applied across 10 industries, and every country on Earth. And we work in 54 languages. And we do create marketing in usually about 12 languages at any moment.
Robert Berkeley 2:28
Wow, that's that's quite a lot. So you could identify a penguin in the Antarctic?
Ivan Pols 2:31
Well, I mean, I could, yes, if you wanted to, if a penguin had a penguin house in the Antarctic, yes, you could.
Robert Berkeley 2:39
Well, even if it didn't, because the whole thing start because one of the founders worked in the music business and was setting up festivals. And they needed to know where to put the stage in the middle of this expansive space, even right?
Ivan Pols 2:48
Even more basic than that they couldn't get the bands to arrive at the right place or time. So when you're when you are going to a festival, usually as a band, it's the first time you've gone to a location. And and Chris is he was the CEO is very particular about people arriving on time and could not get them to do it to get them GPS coordinates. In which one case the band ended up at the wrong wedding because there is no address, right? It's just a field, it's just a field turn up at the field. Everyone who has kids who played football or soccer will will have gone to like field seven on a Saturday morning. Like where is this thing? And so yeah, it was born out of him just trying to find a solution. And he charities from Mohan, who happens to be a number theorist who was like, have worked out some some maths on the back of a piece of paper. And what we were just born was about nine years ago. And so what we do now is make the system more accessible. Like an explained the idea over and over again, because it's a new idea. And no one is really thinking about what address system they use.
Robert Berkeley 3:55
That's a marketing challenge. But a lot of a lot of people don't have their brands established. It's just a question of, obviously market share, and so on and competitiveness you started nine years ago. And right now you are running the in house team. We're going to come into detail get into detail on that a little bit later. But you have quite a hill to climb, right, in terms of where you're launching what3words.
Ivan Pols 4:20
So like any startup, your base used to be started from, from scratch. And we started very bootstrapping. The when I joined there were 20 people, and basically is a set of business development people and developers. And they would go to these conferences around the world like post Expo and all the rest of it and try and like explain the system one person at a time. Over the years what we've now started to do is become much more development in explaining it to the masses like so using TV radio.
Robert Berkeley 4:50
But you have a focus in terms of the markets you're trying to address.
Ivan Pols 4:53
We do so, we focus on the UK because that's our home market. And culture is so important to be Explain a new idea in language and in the context that people understand is key. You know, we are in Germany and growing there we are in Korea, Japan, Vietnam, India, the United States. And so those markets are places that we feel we can focus on, they've got car companies, they have a need. And, and also helps us to just actually just focus down on a few places, the fewer, the better, because you just get spread far too thin, trying to be everything to everyone.
Robert Berkeley 5:34
With all that, let's have a bit of your background because you're here as creative director, and we want to know how that all started.
Ivan Pols 5:40
You can probably tell from the accent, which might be a little soft is I'm from South Africa. Born in the 70s. My dad is actually from the Netherlands. So I had like a, as an impulse, as impulse. My mother's South African. And I kind of was a kid who was always drawing cartoons, and the kids gets the background of this, I wanted to be a cartoonist and draw comic books for your parents creative. My dad is a software designer software coder, I would call that creative. I will say that is very creative, especially at the time when he was working on like, good old fashioned, like, PCs. He wrote software for insurance companies of all things, but yeah, but um, my creativity is like very visual and like problem solving with language, I think, which probably drove him insane. And the way kind of the way my life worked was, took two years out to become a after high school to be a to try and sell comic books, I drew a graphic novel with a friend of mine, Tried to publish your own? tried to publish my own. But this is before, you know, scanning technology was cheap and easy. And I realised I actually didn't know anything, I needed to go to graphic design school. So remember, these characters you had earlier? Yeah. This cap kept in Africa, like every kid comes up with a captain Africa who had a cape and kind of went around solving the world's problems. I did take him to I took my portfolio to a small studio that was making educational comics, because that's something that South Africans could could sell was you could get money to do that. And they were all very much in the world of Tintin. And so, which is a very specific European style of drawing, I think when they saw my attempts that you are more than hirji. Yeah, they were like, Thank you, but go away. Fair enough. I've been chasing that dream ever since.
Robert Berkeley 7:33
Could it be different if it had been any different person sitting there. But that said, you packing to go and study, Yeah.
Ivan Pols 7:40
So I went to yeah place called technical advertisement, which is in the heart of Johannesburg. And that was a, you know, this was just thinking like 90, like 95, 96, 97. And there was massive like upheaval in the country. So I would walk into from the bus into the campus through the city streets, and I have very vivid memories of there were marches happening, protest marches from miners, and the unions who are trying to get better pay and better conditions for for normal people. So you know, you'd be sitting there with your little portfolio, and your, you know, with logos designed on it. And these minors would come by wanting fair wages. Or I remember one one, once at one one winter's day in Isla streets, there's a there was a park just behind our campus where overnighted went from Park to a squatter camp. So people have been kicked out of their informal housing, and had just arrived. And so you're stepping over people's homes in order to get into class. So I was always very aware of this, and fairness, like, it was just deeply unfair. It was a position that, you know, South Africans would had been black South Africans to be put into so much history involved in that. But also, for me, as I've kind of grown up through my career has been very aware of, you know, how businesses are assembled how groups of people interact and how we we as marketers reflect society, or sometimes how we don't reflect society very well.
Robert Berkeley 9:21
So you came of age really in the in the brave new world of post apartheid South Africa. Yeah. And presumably with a diploma or some sort of graphic design qualification.
Robert Berkeley 9:31
Did you know what you wanted to do after that? Did you think comic books I must call DC and let them know I'm here or, and you're ready.
Ivan Pols 9:36
As you can tell them a very serious old man. And I was a very, very serious young boy oh he really was brilliant being a graphic design school was great course because it's kind of we learned the Bauhaus kind of method, which is you learn about form function, you learn drawing like so that really enjoyed it. I love I love that course. I thought was genius because they also taught you about process, which was is interesting when you think about outputs, like, what is the final product? Well, at the school, basically, the process gets you to a point where there's a deadline, and then you have to hand your piece of work in. And so I learned process from some classic, you know, washed up design creatives. And I thought, I'm gonna go be a purist design, I'm going to design logos, I'm going to make the world a better place, do eco friendly packaging. And while I was just getting up, we used to have a big computer room. And it was just getting up a project. A guy who became my first employer would walk behind me because he was there to mentor some, some other students. And he looked at the thing on my screen, he was like, You should come talk to me bring your portfolio. And his name is Jerry human. And he, he was busy Secretly setting up his own startup agency. And he was he was like, oh, I need some help. So he, he hired me. I was employee number one at a little company called Harrison human, because I could draw. That was a bit bonkers, I guess. Very serious. And, and I knew how to use computer which Jared didn't.
Robert Berkeley 11:05
So live commissions coming in. earned money. Those projects.
Ivan Pols 11:09
Yeah, I mean, I used to do storyboards for. So I was an intern, I would find internships while I was studying in do storyboards for McCann, or any other like ad agency, because I could draw so that I could draw quite quickly that was and we needed storyboards. Like, that was the way you presented anything to clients at the time, and you would draw freehand, or you're drawing computers, and there's all freehand. Yeah, all freehand pencils, paper, markers. So I learned like, that's your craft. That's my craft. Okay,
Robert Berkeley 11:41
so you did go to with it in South Africa.
Robert Berkeley 11:45
You went to an agency? Oh, NM, right. For 10 years or so.
Ivan Pols 11:51
I did. So what happened was Harrison human was brilliant success. We were amazing. We worked really, really hard. And we became best small agency, we were kind of like in the top. I think we've got like number six in the country for creative rankings, helping with us. After about five years, or about 30 of us. wow, small
Robert Berkeley 12:14
No but the agency standards. That's pretty good credit bureau play creative agency.
Ivan Pols 12:18
But then, when we would make anything I would do I used to do? We'd get a brief like, could we design a label for Hardee's cider, we've got this job we've done. We're not a label company. Like we don't do that. But we just did it anyway. And so I learned how to do all sorts of stuff. I never say no, that's very easy. Yes. In house agency. And I'll figure out how to do I learned how to do retouching, learn how to do post production. On a computer, learn how to do get stuff, press press ready, because we didn't have a separate studio like you do in the UK where it goes to the finished art people. I would do it. And then yeah, it'll be bought the company. Oh, right. Cool. So it was a reverse takeover. So I went from doing brochures for like medium sized small companies to working on TV ads,
Robert Berkeley 13:08
working for a bigger company and bigger team after you'd had it your own way for five years.
Ivan Pols 13:13
It was time like I was I was about to walk out the door anyway you like when you are? Well, from from my experience, like I would get bored, get itchy. And then luckily, something in the company would change and I would change my desk. The job would change around me. But I would be given bigger problems to solve. And I love that, like advertising was fantastic. We've been given another problem to solve and the highs and the lows of going through that process.
Robert Berkeley 13:38
But you do strike me you were there for 10 years. And you just mentioned you've been what3words for six, seven years,
Robert Berkeley 13:44
you know, you you don't need to flit like a butterfly from one thing to another, you can maintain your focus and concentration for prolonged periods. So
Ivan Pols 13:52
I think you've in that 12 I was at Adobe for 12 years. It was three years and Johannesburg nearly four years and it'll be Toronto. Yeah. So I got to transfer, which so I did flit if you apply for that transfer, by the way, or did they did they ask you they I put the word out. And, and there was a vacancy, and they interviewed me. And six weeks later, I lived in Toronto. And then three and a half years later, I was asked to come to London to to work here.
Robert Berkeley 14:22
Yeah, quite a big brand. You took charge a bit of a monster bit of a monster really at an interesting time. You can you talk about that a little bit.
Ivan Pols 14:29
Sure. So this was 2010. And Ogilvy, and the brand was Delve, were having some fun. It was like things were fractious. They had the big idea in place right? Campaign for Real Beauty was in place, but how it was executed across the world was an issue. And it had been while the idea was brilliantly in the UK pretty well in the US in places like China or the Vietnam, Real Beauty means something quite different. And there's been a cultural misunderstanding. And I would say, both from Unilever and from Ogilvy hadn't been executed particularly well. But then there was also just the problem of like long relationships, you know, and dove and Ogilvy had been together for a very long time. And I kind of walked into a firestorm of trying to save the account.
Robert Berkeley 15:25
So the relationship had gone south a bit and
Ivan Pols 15:29
It gone south a bit. And it was, it was, I suppose, would have been fascinating if I hadn't been so tired, because basically, for two years, that's where I got all my grey hair from was the kind of trial by fire basically,
Robert Berkeley 15:41
were you were you were you qualified to deal in such a situation.
Robert Berkeley 15:46
I mean, this is kind of high stakes politics,
Ivan Pols 15:47
the fine. The fine qualify,
Robert Berkeley 15:50
I'd had an experience that prepared you for this.
Ivan Pols 15:54
I think, a little bit, I'd worked on global brands, working in Toronto on dove and a couple of other brands. So I had, I'd experienced the US influence on things as well. So I'd been stabbed in the back several times. And had been part of the Adobe system global system for a bit. So when it came to dealing with teams in like credit teams in Germany, and France and China, I, I was I suppose also just brave enough to give it a go.
Robert Berkeley 16:27
Right. And you so you knew what you were letting yourself in for? I have no idea. Okay. So you're brave enough to give a go to something you didn't know what you're?
Ivan Pols 16:36
Yeah. And like, the only time I've seen the global creative director job properly before was, and when I decided that that would be a cool job to have was in Singapore, working on a Heineken brief. In a cool hotel with great dinners. I was like, that's a great job to have. It was a very romantic idea of what a modern global crew
Robert Berkeley 16:56
You think your experience of a global CD is more typical than, than the Singapore experience.
Ivan Pols 17:04
Yes, I think those times have changed. I mean, that particular moment with the lever was a tough one. But we came through brilliantly. It's amazing how a team can come together. And quite a conservative culture can shift. So
Robert Berkeley 17:20
Yeah, well, that'd be we should, we should end that by saying you know, things were on the up. But you did leave and you went to out of money after that. And so that's a different kind of agency from RNN. But still, that's super creative, right?
Ivan Pols 17:34
Most creative company in the world, at the time, and probably similar to send degree the, and also the hotshot in London, so it was great to be asked to go and work with them and lead on their global Unilever project. So a lot of walls, ice cream, pear soap, all sorts of strange things like that
Robert Berkeley 17:53
You did manage to spread around a little bit more rather than have to get stuck into one major brand. So
Ivan Pols 17:58
Yeah, I was kind of like the trade director have a portfolio of their portfolio of like Unilever brands. And so and what I was really keen on there was seeing how Adam and Eve worked and being an agency I was much more independent, whereas the London one London Ogilvy is part of a global group.
Robert Berkeley 18:14
And he felt it all the time. But all of that gave you terrific, big corporate experience. But what3words is only 20 people. So tell us how the gears mashed between your your hotshot creative director straddling the globe with major brands that are household names to suddenly working for a company of 20 people that half of you know, most people didn't even understand what they did, let alone, you know, have a business model that was actually churning through money. So
Ivan Pols 18:41
yeah, so there's that story. It's cited a couple of years before even when I was at Ogilvy, I wasn't that happy with how the advertising industry worked. I was I was not happy with the amount of wastage, wastage of good creative people, talent, the ideas there basically be put into marketing departments of clients, and then they would die random deaths. And you would never really understand why because the marketing team of most companies is on the periphery, from the main business if you manufacture microphones, marketing is like a is a small part of your business, but it's not the core of your business. And I had a I had a pretty good theory that companies pretty much make marketing advertising the way they make the product. So Apple do give you a freaking secret. You know, some companies do a lot of testing. Unilever loves to test the idea of a product before they even make a product and they test the product to death and they test the advertising to death. That's their that's their method. And I have this theory that if a company has understood how to use creativity better, that they could unlock their brand in a much more powerful way and I They did some some, probably like questionable maths, some strategic like thinking and research and realised the companies that were winning all the awards were, over time, typically more invested in creativity and there, and that doesn't mean marketing. That means using creative ideas to solve business problems. And so when I left Adam and Eve, I was quite glad to be out of the vicious circle of like, pitch, you know, like, make an ad get a research to death. Like it's a very service orientated culture advertising. And so I started a little consultancy with with the idea of how do I help businesses be more creative? And what3words I had made friends with the CMO years ago, at Ogilvy jobs, Rhys Jones, and he was like, Hey, we just got some funding, jump in, just hang out and kind of like, see what is worth doing. And so I was great, because I got so.
Robert Berkeley 21:03
He wasn't going with the obvious line of recruiting of finding a creative agency to work with, even though he was from an agency himself. Yeah. Why did he think that was a bad idea?
Robert Berkeley 21:12
Do you think why did he already know from the get go that he needed to have his own creative.
Ivan Pols 21:16
Because Giles's maker, he might be the CMO. But he's also a guy rolls his sleeves up and makes things and so believed there what3words needed to make its own work as much as possible.
Robert Berkeley 21:29
Let's go back then. So this was only six short years ago, that you started, what3words what three words because of this connection with the with the CNN, and you came in? And what were they doing at that point? What did you 20 People, they had the business model in place, I presume they had some funding, the initial round of funding is leading.
Ivan Pols 21:50
Yeah, so the first thing I did was I just came in, listened for a couple of weeks. And I sat in all the team meetings and listened to the business development guys who have been coming back from these conferences around the world, and listening to how they explained the system, and realising that everyone was telling a different story. And that the graphics, very simple, like the logo wasn't reinforcing the story that they were telling. So every time you if I say, there's a square on the ground, and then I show you a logo with that points to a point on the ground. So there's the cognitive dissonance. If I talk about, we're not GPS coordinates, but then I show you classic GPS coordinate imagery. That's a problem. And if, if I am a potential client, and I talked to two or three different people in this room, and they all give me a slightly different version of how the system works, you lose trust, because it sounds like you're all making it up. So my first job as I wrote a brief, that was very buttoned down, I want to do a good job for Giles. And for Chris and everyone else, I wrote this proposal. And basically, what we do is we just start with the basics, we get the basic language sorted out, like how you explain what3words, we get the graphic design sorted out, we find a symbol that we can use to also help people understand the three word code you're seeing is not some beat poetry, it's, it's a code, so like the Add sign or a hashtag, they, they basically trick your brain into thinking, Oh, that's a no handle. That's a name, search term. And so how did we how to do that, which is kind of like information design, rather than brand design, which I loved because it was like, this is completely, like, totally nerd out. And so yeah, I just worked with, you know, the founders, and Giles, and just kind of work through that initial phase of you
Robert Berkeley 23:42
Doing this creative yourself, you don't have with a team or anything.
Ivan Pols 23:44
No, it was great, because I got to like design again, you know, I sat there sketching, you know, and my sketches are projected onto the big screen. And we were like, talking about what feels right. And I decided, I didn't know what any offices thinking was that I wanted to be the creative director of what3words, not the creative director of the marketing team or studio, I want to be that role needed to help everyone understand the direction to creative direction of the company, how the brand worked, and be able to contribute to that. So it was a place for me to put my theories into practice, which, you know, Giles, and Olivia at the time, who was marketing director, support is completely so, you know, I was also very lucky I have a gang of people who were on the same page and we supported each other and in trying to make this happen.
Robert Berkeley 24:37
So you the the team that you built up, actually it seems to have happened somewhat organically in a in a reactive way. Because people like to think that they they strategic and they break out into tactics, they build a team and it says it's another but But it sounds like you just went down a path and you built a team according to how much budget you got and what was required.
Ivan Pols 24:59
We have a One of our values of what3words is ready fire aim?
Robert Berkeley 25:05
How many people would admit to that? I think a lot more people do it.
Ivan Pols 25:08
It's up on our walls. And we're very proud of this one, because so if you're listening to this, it sounds a bit weird. Ready, fire, like, publish, get it out, and then see what happens. And then aim, refine, refine, fix, shoot again.
Robert Berkeley 25:29
That's how it's how it's as well, because they don't they fire them and then see if they hit the target. And then
Ivan Pols 25:33
yeah, you have a spotter and you go slightly left, the and that has that's how we build the marketing team and
Robert Berkeley 25:41
Not many give get that luxury though Ivan right from their leadership is like you missed. So you're fired. And let's get on with the next one.
Ivan Pols 25:47
It's it but it's a comes from a tech background. So printing really Sprint's iteration, it's building on an app, it's building on code. It's making, like everyone goes, make mistakes fast. But it's, it's more about what can you do today. And, and it's the side effect of one of the positives of having runway. So as a startup, you've got your money in the bank, and that every month, you're losing money, that money is being spent, either your company takes off, and you become such wildly successful, or you run out of money and you fail. The whatever you done today is, for me, incredibly motivating. For some people, it's terrifying. But it does force you to make decisions quickly, make something that is ready, get it out, and then learn from your mistakes. And we did that with the whole brand guidelines I didn't, there was no perfect guideline made, I never sat there going, Oh, we these are perfect colours. And you can only write headlines and this typeface, I'd let my designers try stuff. And then we would retroactively go back and go, that's all crap. We focus on very flexible stuff that works. That's our guideline. Now, in a year or twos time, we go back again. And we adjust the Justice standards, I suppose the principles, which is a fantastic way to build a brand because you're not stuck. And you don't end up with this moment of waiting for the brand design company to come back at the presentation, then you look at it and go oh, because because that's exactly what happens. The CEO, the CMO, anyone who comes out of one of those projects, cold just goes, Oh, this isn't us. And part of the reason is, they weren't part of the creative process. I got to do that in in the company. And we got to do it together. At a time when, you know, the tech was being improved. The app was being rebuilt. And we were trying to find our feet are trying to go okay, what are
Robert Berkeley 27:43
your thoughts of those top table discussions as well about how the app should be improved, no doubt right? How the how the, because it's so interesting, and the app and everything,
Ivan Pols 27:50
they all took a while for me to build the trust was a good year
Robert Berkeley 27:55
and a bit and for you to build confidence, perhaps to know how to express, you know what your complete your contribution to these things are in,
Ivan Pols 28:03
and also being very clear about what my contribution was. So the brand experience like that is that I can be good at. And I can translate that into meaningful discussions with a UX designer. But does that feel like what3words what and how does that? I don't know, app, app or feature, then link to the TV and we've just made all too?
Robert Berkeley 28:27
Well, I was gonna say to anyone listening right now you need to put this on pause and look on YouTube for the TV spots. For what3words which are outstanding, I would say we heard about the starting point and how you kind of had this chance to design again. And there have been several rounds of investment in the business. It's growing quite rapidly. When I first met you, which was what, six, nine months ago, you told me that you had seven territories, I think which were very disparate, I think was Japan, South Korea, it was India, it was United Kingdom, it was United States, Germany and one other. And some reason they were stuck in my mind, because I don't know why. But But anyway, they did. And that was a very clear objective. You are tasked with fulfilling that objective. What have you got at your disposal to do that?
Ivan Pols 29:20
So what I've built with everyone else is a marketing team or about 50 people. So as marketing managers, and then within that is 25 of those people are studio makers. The thing that we've always wanted to do is have blended teams that people, teams pick up projects, and now they're part of the planning. They're part of making the part of the the health checking that either worked or didn't work. So responsibility is shared across, across like everyone, but yeah, I've got video editors, designers, kind of more kind of classic art director copywriter. With copywriters as well, I've got a Traffic Manager, I've got two people who work in production. So physical production, as well as, like production. I'd also like building ces events, dance, and merchandise like. So there's a lot of stuff that has to go into the world. So the way we're kind of, I've got people with more experience that I can give bigger jobs to. But what I'm trying to do is train up my junior copywriters to be able to write TV spots, they need to be able to develop in the business, if they can't grow, then there's no future for them in the business. And just as a kind of the ultimate end game of that is the reason why I think it's important that companies have chief creative officers is not so that people like me have a fancy title is that there is a path where a designer can sit in the C suite, our business, and use their skills to improve their business, like fundamentally on a day to day basis at scale, instead of just being someone who gets instructions gives a they're like, here's your PowerPoint presentation. So here's your here's your ad, but has no say in the strategy of that no understanding of how that affected the business.
Robert Berkeley 31:14
And right now you feel that everyone has a voice.
Ivan Pols 31:19
Everyone has a voice. Yes, I think it'll vary depending on what they're interested in. But everyone at what3words in definitely in the studio understands that the brochure that what if they make a brochure why we have made that brochure, what the business impact of that brochure is, if it succeeds, they get praised for it, along with the rest of the team. When you do performance marketing, digital ad, the copywriter came up with that. And the motion designer who executed against that is looking at the results on the Friday that came from the growth team on fitness as a dairy winner, do we not? Not win? Being involved in the company like that? That's key for me, I think that gives you not only career trajectory gives you a lot of satisfaction, because it's not just about that to make a cute, cute thing today. It's even if I made something horribly banal. I know why it was important to the company to do it.
Robert Berkeley 32:17
Okay, It's certainly, it's a lot. It's an approach I think a lot of people would like to take, but I'm not sure they can. And I'm wondering whether that's because it's completely built on your own image from the ground up. And because it's the size it is, if you had 125 people, would you think that you would still be able to take this approach and be achieved the level of productivity that a business actually does demand at the end of the day?
Ivan Pols 32:43
We're incredibly productive? It sounds like
Robert Berkeley 32:45
Though you are at this scale. But I mean, if you were to scale up, would you know the mythical man month and all that, would you be able to continue this line of sorts of creative socialism? It's a great line. But is it? Is it practical to scale up? Or does it enable you to scale I mean,
Ivan Pols 33:00
I, I think enables you to scale because it means that you are empowering many more people to make useful business decisions without constantly asking up for permission. So back to the ready fire aim, you can only do that if you're confident that you're already there, before you pull the trigger. See, the there is a big onus on education. But this only actually works if the CEO, and the rest of the kind of C suite believe in it. The I think when you embrace the story as part of your business model. That's what we've done. And it doesn't necessarily come out and like to refer to when you are, it doesn't come out in very like arty like arty ways. The gang are always always present ideas with marketing managers, and the growth team and BD like, because they are company projects. They are not studio or marketing projects. And that's a conscious decision and something got to work on their customers, not my customers, colleagues, their colleagues. And a copywriter can have as much input as a, one of our analysts in growth in terms of coming up with insights, reading the numbers, they might not be very good at it. But they're allowed to look and they're allowed to input. The trick is how do you give feedback? There's a skill to that. When do you give inputs so that you're not stepping on other people's toes in a in a nasty way? That's that's the soft stuff. That's actually the hardest bit is like learning how to use Slack properly. And then not pistol for this whole family.
Robert Berkeley 34:47
Things things people can be very brave behind a keyboard. A lot more reticent face to face.
Ivan Pols 34:52
Yeah. And and when you weren't operating speed and you're operating with a lot of openness like open docs, you know, anyone could have going up one of the copywriter scripts and read it while they're writing it, that's perfectly available for them to do. It's how you how and when you give comments, that's part of what makes this thing work. So what3words as a way of doing things, they're not necessarily the right way, or the only way of doing things. And they are open to change, but it's your way, it is the way you do things. It's the way we do things. And if you're going to, if you're going to suggest a change, we actually have another brilliant value, which is make new mistakes. So learn the company and then go, oh, we could be better like this. Not I work somewhere. And we did this way that I tried that. That was a failure. That was a disaster.
Robert Berkeley 35:41
I do want to touch on one more thing before we before we wrap up something more operational, which is that again, around the time we first met, you talked about your experience with automation. And I just want to touch on that simply because we're hearing about it more and more and more. And I'd love to hear what drew you to it, what your experience was, and where it went with automation. And you know, what, why were we looking at it in the first place? And how did that pan out,
Ivan Pols 36:07
Specifically? So, so what3words that two and a half, two years ago, we decided to really take performance marketing as in digital advertising really seriously. And one of the things that are these two things that happen in in those campaigns, you are either you come up with a new idea. And then you come up with many new ideas, actually, and then one of them works. And then what you do is you double down on that one idea and you iterate. In our case, what we would do then is do copy tests or image tests, but then we would be doing it across seven countries, it was a very manual process, and we bootstrapped it just because it needs to, it needed to be done, it needs to be done quickly. But it's not a long term solution. You kind of like when people start losing their minds, and start feeling very anxious. I don't like that. I like people to feel good. So we looked at automation as a way of, of trying to ease the burden of multiple sizes for these copy tests, for instance, because you got to create them for these different platforms. So our team went away, did a lot of kind of research in that space, then we try to system for about a year for a year, actually, it wasn't like really enough, to a certain degree, it was useful. But the automation wasn't what was promised it like it was never smart enough to actually know where a headline goes, you can build as many templates as you like, but it still needs a human being to eyeball it, and tweak it to make a creative piece fit. So we tried that for a year. And then we've we've decided that actually that was just not going to work for us because it was so time intensive. And then this whole idea of the billing system didn't completely make sense. So yes, automation, but we started down to charge us a ridiculous amount of money for for automation, and I realised I could just hire a person full time. And they would do that job and probably have two days off. So that was when we kind of close that. And then we, you know, we worked with, with your group just to actually just find a more human way of doing it. And when that can scale with us, because I have no idea what's going to necessarily happen in three months time. Industry moves very quickly. Our opportunities change. Sometimes on a weekly basis, the core of the company is the same, but like where in the world are we going to have to work changes. And so finding a way of being more flexible, actually, weirdly enough, means don't automation, us human beings.
Robert Berkeley 38:49
Right, right? Well, I mean, just just to finish that off, you did work with us. And I think our approach is that we might use automation on your behalf, because we might be better at configuring it and setting it up as long as the end result is what you want. But do you see a future for automation? Do you see, you know, the direction of travel, you've done your research? You've tried something that hasn't worked in 2022? But maybe 2025? Could you see you adapting your creatives to fit well with automation? Or could you see automation, just getting smarter and starting to deliver results?
Ivan Pols 39:18
I think automation will get smarter. I think a lot of the systems have just been are dumb. And so they are and this lady who have been to check
Robert Berkeley 39:27
all the AI in the intelligence really isn't as algorithmic really,
Ivan Pols 39:31
AI is is is badly named is not true. So I think because it doesn't understand what he's looking at. So I don't mind for me what I don't think it's right for us to get good at automation ourselves and have to deal with that. It's much easier for us to deal with a company who might use it as a tool, but it's it's a tool. It's like using Photoshop. It's not the it should not become a full time job to resize stuff.
Robert Berkeley 39:57
No, absolutely, absolutely. Is there anything else you You want to finish with any good books you're reading or anything you'd like to recommend right now before we sign off?
Ivan Pols 40:05
Yeah, there's a book that has always stuck with me, which is the book of beautiful questions by Warren Berger.
Robert Berkeley 40:13
Have I asked any beautiful questions today?
Ivan Pols 40:15
You've asked some very nice questions. Not beautiful, but good. Okay, nice. Yeah. But it was it was a great book for learning how to ask open ended questions and use a question to help people be creative, to find interesting solutions. And not not just advertising. I mean, like product development and all the rest of it.
Robert Berkeley 40:35
If people want to contact you, Ivan, and ask you anything directly about any of this, so you are open to questions?
Ivan Pols 40:43
I'm always open to questions. LinkedIn is probably the easiest way to find me. Just so you listen to this podcast. I also have a portfolio. So if you're interested in what I've made, ivanpols.com,
Robert Berkeley 40:54
ivanpols.com, i v a n p o l s.com. And is the what3words work there as well, their videos and
Ivan Pols 41:03
servers there. But if you want to really dig into if you want to dig into our into our catalogue, just search on YouTube,
Robert Berkeley 41:11
Don't don't switch online, entertainment programmes on your television or on Netflix, you get serious entertainment if you watch these three words. Ivan, I want to thank you so much for joining us.
Ivan Pols 41:20
My pleasure. It was a really good chat now.
Robert Berkeley 41:23
Good chat. Thank you very much.
Ivan Pols 41:24
Robert Berkeley 41:26
Well, I really enjoyed meeting Ivan and hearing all about his early years, and it has so deeply informed his approach to growing and mentoring a fabulous creative team. He's very self effacing. But believe me, he is actually responsible for some of the most fabulously creative work I've actually seen recently. Now thank you to our fabulous partners IHAF and my team at EKCS for their production and editing support. And if you've not come across Inside Jobs before Well, a very warm welcome to you you've missed out on a lot or rather you haven't you can go to our website at ijpodcast.com and see this ever expanding back catalogue of episodes and if you have any thoughts or ideas feel free to drop a comment there or email me or LinkedIn with me. I do try to reply to each of you in person. I love the comments I get and the encouragement do keep the feedback coming. Till the next time.