Here's 6 important lessons after 14 years in business
While every business and industry is different, these 6 lessons can be applicable to everyone in some manner.
Every story has an end. But in life, every ending is just a new beginning.
And that’s how the story of Tuber began 14 years ago in 2007.
Before we tell their story… This is Tuber.
Tuber, a member of Potato Productions, is a design and editorial consultancy. In a beautifully-designed nutshell, Tuber, is a company that spends its days crafting artistic and engaging work for brands and fellow businesses.
Made up of a careful blend of project managers, designers and content strategists, Tuber is a creative powerhouse; never short of an idea or ten.
How did the story of Tuber start?
In the early days, Tuber spent their days producing, Catalog, a fashion magazine. They know and understand the subtle impact of cleverly placed content placement, and their attention to detail is second-to-none. It has to be. After all, a project sent to print with typing errors or blurry images is not a mistake the team can afford to make!
Working with print requires more consideration of textures and the physicality of the finished product than digital, and so whilst they’ll use similar design tools, the skill sets and process for print is often very different to online. (We’ll circle back to this later.)
Interestingly, the end of this fashion magazine was also the beginning of their new chapter.
A member from the communications team of a government agency got their hands on a copy of Catalog. Intrigued by the design and style, she contacted Tuber to see if they were keen to work on their newsletter.
With their collective creative minds, Tuber put together a creative brief that went beyond conventions of a government-styled publication - a conceptual photoshoot to tell captivating stories of the agency’s works.
Tuber won a bronze for editorial design in the Singapore Design Awards 2010 immediately after this launch and as they said, the rest is history.
The lessons learned
Today, 14 years in the making, Wei Ping has a couple of lessons to share, Though they might sound simple, obvious even, but these have been make-or-break lessons for Tuber.
Lesson 1: The people you work with are the most important thing.
Being open to communication, finding new solutions, and enforcing trust among team members will remain the most important lesson and something Wei Ping will continue to work on in the future.
Having a strong network of people going towards the same goal is one sure way to success, especially when faced with uncertainty like we were this year, and it’s something every company should work on.
Wei Ping largely attributes the company’s success to the wisdom of crowds and collective decision-making she fosters with her team. She sees and treats everyone as a stakeholder. The team comes together to make unanimous decisions on how they want the company to grow and move forward.
Flat structures empower each individual within the company to be involved in decision-making processes. This allows for a great deal of creative discussion and operational diversity and tends to create great variance in new ideas.
While this generally works best in smaller organizations such as start-ups, the same concept can also be applied to individual units within larger organizations.
This is something Wei Ping recognises is achievable because of the lean structure of the team. An open and flat hierarchy allows the team to feel involved from day one, it gives them the sense that they are more than just employees that can effect change.
Transparency is also a big advantage when using a flat organizational structure thanks to the lack of red-tapes. This simplifies internal communication and enables fast decision-making within Tuber. A trait all the more important in the fast changing pace of today’s environment.
And this is a dynamic that she’s not ready to change in the near future.
Lesson 2: Hiring more people isn’t always the answer to insufficient resources.
One of the first pieces of advice you’ll hear as an entrepreneur is “you need a team”. But adding people to your team costs money (and time), even worse if you’re adding the wrong people to your team.
It may be difficult to believe, but adding just one person who doesn't share your vision, doesn't share your commitment, or who simply isn't a good match to the dynamics of your company can completely alter your course and especially your pace. The fact that your success or failure can be dictated by a single individual with different goals or objectives may seem unlikely. But the wrong person is much more likely to disrupt your outcomes than the wrong solutions or targeting the wrong market.
Uncertainty and doubt spread more quickly than passion or confidence. A single individual who isn't completely "bought-in" disrupts a small team, disrupts unity, and delays implementation more quickly than any other factor. In small teams doing interesting things, one misfit ruins the commitment, cohesion, and effort for everyone.
In Tuber’s case, it was the introduction of a web developer into a creative team. It's not uncommon for creatives and developers to face communication barriers. Usually, this is a result of two different types of intelligent thinkers sharing little to no knowledge of their counterpart’s processes, capabilities, and constraints. Though a skilled worker, it just wasn’t a good fit - a classic case of it’s not you, it’s me.
A quick tip from Wei Ping is to be specific and upfront about your expectations, whether it is about skills, key achievements, or personality requirements. This line of thought definitely stands a better chance of finding the right person for the job.
There’s really no point sugarcoating.
Lesson 3: Incompatible partners cost your time and money.
When choosing partners or vendors to work with, doing your due diligence is one of the most important parts of the process. Having the wrong partners for your business can often disrupt production and efficiency, costing you both time and money.
Wei Ping recalled a particular partner who came with a very good track record but ended up not performing as expected.
Reviewing their past work and word-of-mouth recommendation. That being said, due diligence still can be done to minimise the possibility of that happening.
When it comes to choosing partners, preparation is important, as the “devil is in the details.” You'll know you've found the right vendor when the decision not only makes good business sense, but you also feel good about it.
Two of the most important tasks are making sure you understand exactly what they do and ensuring that they know exactly what your business does, how it operates and what you're attempting to accomplish by establishing a partnership with them. You want to set clear expectations from the start to avoid a waste of resources.
Of course the network of companies that Potato Production definitely helps. In 2020, Tuber was awarded by PSA International Ltd to work on their inaugural digital annual report. Wei Ping and her team worked with Kontinentalist to develop a highly interactive cinematic-themed report.
Lesson 4: Never stop investing in yourself and your team.
One of the most valuable business lessons we all learned in the last 2 years is the fact that nothing will remain the same whether that be because of the pandemic or just the fact nothing stays the same.
The shift from print to digital was inevitable with the rise of technology over the years. To top it off, the pandemic practically forced everyone to move online.
You need to make learning a part of your culture. It’s important to understand the fact that you have to continuously learn to be successful.
I mentioned earlier that Tuber’s core business was print and had to rely heavily on 3rd party services for digital projects because they didn’t have the expertise yet. Wei Ping recognised the need to prepare her team to be adaptable to changing market conditions, to changing client needs, and to changing sources and supplies of resources.
The Tuber team, including Wei Ping, went for courses and networking sessions to further increase their knowledge and exposure to new knowledge and trends.
“Even if we weren’t able to execute it, it’s important that the team knows how things work and the concepts behind it.’ says Wei Ping.
Lesson 5: Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming trends.
Regardless of the industry you’re in, you have to acknowledge that it is constantly evolving as consumer habits and demands shift with the release of new technologies.
The creative industry, especially, moves at the speed of light. Or at least it feels that way when you’re brainstorming a new campaign or strategy, and all of a sudden, a new statistic or technology release changes everything.
On a yearly, quarterly, and even monthly basis, new trends and techniques pop up and transform the way we attract, connect with, and market to our audiences.
Just because something works now doesn't mean it'll work again in the future. You have to be one step ahead, keep up with the emerging trends, and stay relevant in your target marketplace and among your competitors.
For Wei Ping and her team, they make a conscious effort to be aware of what’s going on around them. Every other year, the team regroups at a retreat to evaluate what they want to achieve as a company. Tuber also uses company retreats as an opportunity to align new employees.
“We revisit our company vision at every retreat,” says Wei Ping. “That’s how we try to stay flexible to industry changes.”
Lesson 6: Saying no to projects that are not aligned with your company.
As business operators, we’re all quick to say yes to clients. We want to be known as someone who gets things done — not as someone who says certain things aren’t possible. We pride ourselves on a can-do attitude, building the company’s portfolio, solidifying the company’s position in the industry.
I mean, it also doesn’t make sense to be saying no to money right?
But here’s the thing, saying yes isn’t always the right decision. After all, clients are coming to you for your expertise — and you’re not doing any favors by promising something that can’t be delivered or if it doesn't align with your company’s values and you have to drag your feet to get it done.
“I hope every job that we do is a job that the team wants to do. The portfolio needs to be interesting and meaningful. The team cannot feel miserable doing it.” says Wei Ping.
Wei Ping evaluates potential clients from the first inquiry. From the way the email is written, one can tell if there’s going to be a good synergy moving forward. Simple things like personalised outreach emails and clear briefs are things Wei Ping looks out for.
To be clear, everyone’s ideal client varies. It’s like a relationship, not everyone is your cup of tea.
So there you have it, the top 6 lessons from Tuber’s 14 years in business. I hope you found something in here that resonates with you.
Don’t forget to check out some of the amazing works Tuber worked on!
- PSA International annual report 2020
- The Challenge podcast series
- Children’s animation to help young children understand court processes
- Commemorative book for the opening of Changi Terminal 4
- Challenge, an online publication for public officers