Tell us a little about your company: When did it form? What was the inspiration?
Dave Douglas: Hello, I’m Dave Douglas the founder and Managing Director of ebow. If you have ever heard the story of the boy in the college dorm trying to impact the world with the next great idea, I was him (and still am in a lot of ways). The dorm was at Trinity College and the year was 1999. I put my Computer Science expertise to good use and ebow was born. Now going on 17 years later, I’ve had the great fortune of servicing nearly a hundred clients, and have grown my agency to 30 staffers based in the heart of Dublin. I love what I do!
Back when I began, the motivation to create ebow was to create a place for like-minded creatives steeped in culture, art and music with a keen interest and understanding of the digital landscape to collaborate!
I’ve had a blast, and my ambitions have been well received in Ireland and across Europe. As a natural progression I’m happy to introduce the news of an expansion that has been in the works for some time. Together, with Keith Fenimore, I set sights on introducing ebow to the US market and late last year we put that process in motion by launching ebow USA.
Keith Fenimore: Hello, I’m Keith and I am not Irish, but I’d like to think that Dave is Irish enough for the both of us. I jumped indeed at the chance to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Dave and launch ebow USA. I come from 20 years in the entertainment industry in both Hollywood and New York, I’ve spearheaded my fair share of national and global initiatives in marketing and content over the years. I was quick to establish ebow USA here in the States and in short order we are already working with the likes of the WWE, Walmart, as well as a nice onboarding by Aramark.
What kind of changes did the company go through in early stages?
DD: I think it’d be easier to list what changes it didn’t go through! The one that sticks out the most for me though is that we had to position ourselves and our brand as a design agency or a creative agency providing digital as a secondary offering. At that stage there wasn’t the same drive and understanding and the industry used to treat the web as a nasty afterthought. Now everyone is saying they’re digital this, or digital that, but there was a stage where that was damaging claim.
KF: I think to a certain degree the challenges at the start of the agency remain the same challenges during the life of an agency. You want to find and keep good employees, you want to find and keep good clients, you want to deliver amazing creative and you want to stay ahead of the ever changing curve of the latest technology and innovative ways to apply and work with those technologies.
What kind of growth has your company experienced?
DD: Simply put we went from 1 desk in a studio apartment to 30 desks at our premises in Dublin’s Historic Quarter at 1 Castle Street. We are directly across from Christ Church Cathedral (we do their website too), and catty-corner to The Lord Edward (we’ve been found praying in both)! And of course the most recent expansion of our newly minted US presence.
As to our growth I’d say it’s been both thoughtful and calculated. We’ve been cautious not to expand in spite of ourselves. There’s a self-imposed internal benchmark within ebow that is exceptionally high. I never make a move that I feel jeopardizes our output or quality. It’s a simple fact that sustainability starts and stops with great creative, and I ensure that we stay consistent in what we produce and deliver.
KF: I am looking very pragmatically at the growth potential as I get a foothold for us here in the US. I’ve had success turning heads in ebow’s direction by harnessing the momentum Dave has created, and by showcasing the amazing work ebow produces from working with marquee clients for so many years.
How many customers do you have now?
DD: We’re an agency, so work load varies, but at any given moment it is safe to say we have anywhere from 20 to 30 active clients. To give you a sense of the activity at the moment, we are prepping some work for Kerrygold and working with An Post and Shannon Heritage on the digital marketing for the brand new prestigious GPO Witness History Immersive Exhibition and Visitor Attraction as well as an exciting new digital project with Irish coffee brand Bewley’s.
KF: We just ended a great campaign with the WWE and Walmart, where we created an interactive mechanism that engaged users to vote on their favorite T-Shirt that will subsequently be sold in Walmart. This is a powerful engagement tool that mines user data and stimulates user-generated content. We followed through on this with an email marketing campaign. On the heels of this project, we are looking to continue our relationship with the WWE both in the States, and abroad.
Tell us about your industry:
What was it like to break into?
DD: Essentially, it should have been like breaking into a bank vault. Lots of planning, lots of timing, some great shirts and Las Vegas, but it wasn’t. It was seat of the pants, throw your hat in the ring and see what happens sort of stuff! Wouldn’t have it any other way :)
KF: My kick-off strategy to penetrate the US was to leverage my contacts. Working for as many years as I have on both coasts I have amassed a massive network of associates and contacts that span across sectors and industries. Dave and I have converted general meet-and-greets and capability meetings, into new business. From this seeding, word-of-mouth has just begun to kick in and people are starting to take notice, which is exciting!
How have you shaken things up?
DD: We are not a status quo group of people so there there’s always a whole lot of shakin’ going on… We ran a really exciting social campaign to launch Ryanair on Facebook. We ran a competition where 30 winners were picked and each of their faces was printed on the nose of one of 30 planes. You could generate your ‘won video’ to share across social with a 3D mockup of your face on the plane flying across the sky to the Ryanair jingle!
KF: Dave and I did a round of meetings a couple of months ago where we met face-to-face with over 16 companies in 4 days across two different cities. Needless to say that was a whirlwind, but it literally put ebow USA on the map! So well worth it!
Who are your competitors?
DD: This question would be best posed to my clients, as they readily hire us over our competition. Frankly, my staff and I are too busy working to worry about competitors. I know that could come off a tad cocky, but you have to remember that I’ve been working with an American for the last several months, and he’s rubbed off on me. Every time I get out of bed now I shout “Yeh! Another day!! USA. USA. USA.”
KF: Thanks for the compliment Dave. As far as I’m aware we are the only digital marketing agency in the US…but maybe I just like to think that!
What's the biggest challenge you've faced so far? The greatest victory?
DD: We’re an all inclusive agency, we don’t outsource and we are full-service. All of this means we output a very large amount of creative, across multiple sectors, constantly. Managing that from an operational and a creative standpoint is paramount to our success. The lady at the helm of our operational well oiled-ness is Sharon Murray who has been shortlisted for this years Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland’s Doyenne Awards. The balance of managing what exists, while looking ahead and growing is without a doubt a regular challenge. The good news is the people I’ve surrounded myself with really make it not only possible, but enjoyable. There is a fine line between reality and pipe dream and the differentiator is the staff! My staff, they are my challenge and my victory!
What's been the most important lesson?
DD: Hire right. Take risks. Know when to listen and when to delegate. Be grateful and recognize the fragility of the ecosystem, but don’t let it stunt you. Don't get idle ot complacent. Create an atmosphere that is competitive and challenging but not overbearing or off putting. Did I mention hire right? All that and never get bogged down in anything that isn’t a high pay off activity.
KF: The simplicity of success. Drive. Talent. Likeability. Combined they are immeasurable.
What are your plans for 2016?
DD: In Ireland we will continue to work for the countries best brands and sites. Our aim, as ever, will be to provide successful digital marketing and touchpoints that achieve the KPI’s set by our clients.
KF: I’m going to continue to root us here in the US and make new introductions to the agency while growing our relationships with our existing clients. It makes good sense for me to source companies that are US based with International interests, or vice-versa. Attracting some mutually beneficial strategic partnerships is also high on my agenda. I’ve really enjoyed being tapped into the strong Irish American community as well, and getting to know people at the Ireland-US Council and The American Irish Historical Society who have been instrumental to our success (and of course, IrishCentral ☺).
What advice do you have for other people/companies starting out in your industry?
DD: The best advice I have is to stay calm, listen to your gut and trust your own experience. Where you don’t have experience listen to that of others, but make your own decisions.
KF: It’s an amazing space to play in. It is not for the faint of heart or the idle. It is one of the fastest moving and ever changing industries on the planet, so being able to adapt, and grow and forecast are key attributes to success. This industry is a great funnel for an active mind and a fantastic outlet for expression and creativity!