“Innovation and agility is key in this industry. One has to not only catch up with technology, trends and all the movement across digital media channels, but also competitors that are inching closer in the industry,” said Jan Wong, CEO of OpenMinds. “OpenMinds stays ahead by emphasising a great deal on learning. Time is purposefully allocated for learning individually and as a team.”
This is essentially the strand of thought that has helped grow OpenMinds from a valuation of zero as they bootstrapped their entire startup to over 3 million in 3 years. It also helped them double their workforce to 24 people, while winning more complex projects from higher end clients within the same period of time.
Jan Wong initially founded OpenMinds as a tech startup with a vision to disrupt the recruitment industry back in 2009. Even though the startup climate was much different back then, his team was very focused and driven towards achieving their set of goals. However, they were always strapped for cash and they constantly had to look for sources of funding.
Things soon took a positive turn, once potential investors realised that Jan Wong and his team had a deeper understanding of digital media, and they were more than willing to offer them business deals in that area rather than funding. “We thought hard and finally made the leap in 2012 to become what OpenMinds is and still is today,” Jan said. “The pivotal point happened in September 2012 where the initial group of founders decided that it is time to make the change. We never looked back ever since.”
Walking Down The Consultancy Aisle
Today, OpenMinds is a digital marketing consultancy startup that focuses on strategising analytics, consultancy and technology development for brands that are looking for a marketing blueprint in digital media. This marketing blueprint encompasses everything from social media, apps or even building web-based systems.
This is a completely different approach than what agencies often take when they deal with their clients. Generally, agencies behave as an enabler and they simply meet the clients and execute their strategies.
On the other hand however, the OpenMinds’ team takes time to understand their clients’ needs, their customers’ expectations, the current industry trends, and the overall sustainability and viability of things way before brainstorming ideas. As a consultancy they place a significant amount of time and effort towards understanding the pivotal business needs of their clients. And they may spend days, weeks and even months trying to sync up with the business before formulating a marketing strategy.
“Clients can always expect a partnership with us where it will be less of us ‘taking orders’, but more of collective discussions. Our team is actively experimenting, learning and failing thus allowing us to grow within a short amount of time,” he said.
Once they have the end goal in mind, they will then partner with other relevant domain experts and deploy them in the identified gaps to meet their client’s digital marketing needs. They primarily deal with clients through a contract basis that lasts over an agreed period of time or they might choose to charge a one-off project for specific requirements.
Other than dealing with larger brands, they also focus their efforts towards startups by partnering and being involved with them, and that often acts as a supporting business model. “OpenMinds is always on an active lookout for startups in the pre-seed/seed phase that we can support and work alongside with by contributing our experience, expertise, resources and funds in return for equity or sometimes even on just goodwill,” Jan added.
So far, they’ve worked with an extensive range of local and international clients from various sectors of industry like retail, automotive, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, and education.
Sustaining The Fickle-Minded
OpenMinds secret to sustaining people’s fickle interest on social media especially in this day and age, is to ensure that the content that they create projects a lifestyle, documents a journey, captivates them and most of all to ensure that it’s relatable. They ensure that there’s a significant balance between the brand and the audience’s interest so that the business’ long-term goals can be met.
They had to address a lot of skepticism when they first started operating in this industry. Back then, businesses were very skeptical about the potential role social media could play in their business. However as time went by, they began accepting the crucial role that social media plays in all of our lives.
“It is interesting to see how social media has become a necessity today than how it was with Friendster or IRC back then. Looking at how technology and communication is moving forward, social media will continue to evolve, take over communication and be even more prevalent especially with the rise of mobile,” he said in regards to the evolution of social media.
And with these major changes, it’s imperative that OpenMinds continues producing personalised content and to take an actively ‘human’ approach in coming up with their strategies.
Treating Products As Customers
When they’re not formulating strategies for brands, they are busy at work building consumer-based apps and products. In the past year, they’ve released a social discovery app called Ping, a food recommendation app called Lunchtime, and a skincare brand called Dirty Benefits. And this year, they’re looking forward to launching two products that are targeted towards the digital marketing industry and the property industry in Malaysia.
“Every product is treated as a ‘customer’ at OpenMinds. As such, we conduct a similar process flow to determine the best foot forward when it comes to customer awareness and acquisition,” Jan said regarding their app creation process. While the physical process of developing apps is second nature to their team of experienced developers, Jan still feels that they’re unable to take the app and “hit the ground running” due to their continual commitment to clients. Given the challenge at hand, he believes that things this year would be much different.
The Major Keys To Survival
Describing himself as a relentless entrepreneur, Jan feels that the secret to their sustainability and survival in the road ahead lies in their continual practice of keeping great minds on the team and by exercising good governance over funds.
He recounted a memory from the early days where their partners had to be extra cautious with spending, and they sacrificed much monetarily with the intention of building something great. In fact, they went by a whole year with a meager allowance of only RM300.
While they continue to practice healthy frugality as a firm, he explained, “Don’t get us wrong—we do pay our team members at industry rate and have launched OpenMinds Perks to help team members battle the increasing cost of living and to make their journey with us more enjoyable.”
He also added, “Culture is everything in OpenMinds and the people make up the culture. With the team spurring each other on in various ways, the positive environment helps in retaining talent and excitement in the company.”