With Brexit fresh in our minds, it feels harder than ever to conceive a future exporting business, but one Gateshead-based company, Blue Kangaroo, is proving all doubts wrong by thriving globally. We talk to Jason Knights, Managing Director of Blue Kangaroo Design to find out his secret to global trade in his industry and how you can get started too.
Meet Jason Knights, Managing Director of Blue Kangaroo Design
Jason, tell us about your business, Blue Kangaroo Design
Blue Kangaroo is in its 15th year and we are a creative design agency who work with well known global brands in the toy, entertainment and licensing world. These include household brand names like Disney and Hasbro, and franchises like Star Wars and Jurassic World.
Based in Gateshead we work globally, but we are passionate about bringing work back to the North East. Our team is based here (just one member of the team lives away) and our suppliers are here too.
Just to hint at the services we provide, we work on; all kinds of branded products, from toys and memorabilia, to retail spaces and product settings.
How do you attract big name clients?
We deliberately went about sourcing our own clients at the beginning, clients we knew would be able to pay our invoices when they came in (financial stability is key when you are starting out). We didn’t want to steal any previous employers' clients from them, so we started from scratch.
We presented to Walt Disney who became our first client and our contact there really took us under his wing, giving us plenty of work, which we always produced to our highest standards. Then things progressed from there, as people moved around the industry, we would get calls from them at new companies. This allowed us the space and the opportunity to forge new relationships with other brands. In the entertainment industry those word of mouth recommendations are crucial.
I have to say that our team is central to our progression. Our designers do amazing work and our Director of Creative Strategy runs the show, making my life as a Managing Director much easier.
What is your biggest frustration in your industry? And how do you solve that?
Our biggest frustration is that we can’t talk about what we do. Whilst there are plenty of agencies who will talk about project details, we specifically don’t and that's because we are very conscious of confidentiality. The gain from that, if you like, is in our reputation - brands in this industry work years ahead on projects and keeping our work and processes confidential is crucial to them in terms of their IP.
If you could go back to the beginning of your business, what would be the one piece of advice you would tell yourself?
Surround yourself with good people.
I’ve been doing this from day one and I believe it makes a huge difference to your success. These people can be advisors, mentors and friends, but they are also crucially, your staff. Employing the right people for the right jobs is everything in your business.
Tell us about your proudest moment as a business owner
Not missing the staff’s wages in 15 years.
By far, that sits with me more predominantly than anything else. To be able to support my team who work so hard to deliver quality to our clients, is the most important thing to me.
What would your advice be to someone starting out as a new business owner?
Go for it... Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, or to fail. Don’t be afraid to go looking for the bigger clients either!
And what advice would you give to someone who specifically wants to get into exporting? (As we know the DID, now called FCDO hold you up as an export example)
I would say hone your skills, be the best you can be in your industry and build the infrastructure in your business to deliver what you do, better than anyone else. This makes all the difference when you have flown around the world to present, or pitch to a potential client. It also makes you much more likely to broker a deal, because they know your reputation before you enter a room.
It is really important when you are in these meetings that you can have the confidence to say ‘yes’, or ‘no’ when someone asks you if you can do something. To be able to say yes you have to know you have the support behind you to deliver.
You also have to be prepared to work the extra hours and to work flexibly. So, for example as you clock off at 5:30pm, it’s about 11am, or 12pm in the US and your clients expect you to be able to do business during their hours. To help cement that relationship I have always given my clients my direct phone number and email address, so that they don’t have to book calls, or go through reception to get the answers they need from me. That ‘quick connect’ mentality makes working relationships easy, especially when your client is overseas.
Of course, that doesn’t mean working 24-hours a day, instead it means balancing your project and client work to a time frame that fits your client and still gives you a sense of work-life balance.
Finally I’d say, speak to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) about exporting. They are a huge source of relevant information on tax, or trade missions, etc. and how these may affect your work in any given country outside the UK.
A final word
Jason Knights is Managing Director of Blue Kangaroo design, a brand creative agency who work on the biggest global brands in the toy, entertainment and licensing world.
You can find Blue Kangaroo Design at http://www.bluekangaroodesign.co.uk/