In a few sentences, can you tell us about okay bueno?
Okay bueno is an independent studio that builds and launches a wide range of products in the digital space. We are a hands-on company and we love to shape and create new things out of a simple and basic idea.
What made you decide to launch your own agency?
I come from an agency background, while Alex gained experience in the enterprise world and used to work with agencies as a customer. That’s actually how we met, as we were working together on a project.
We saw over and over (both from the client’s and the agency’s side) how traditional agencies treat products as projects that need to be finished within a given time frame, then invoiced, and finally archived. Trying to launch a product that way and expecting it to succeed is incredibly hard and stressful for everybody involved. For people like us, who are passionate about building products and trying to make them succeed, the workflows and constellations were frustrating and felt like running in circles.
The project that brought us together eventually ended, but we kept in touch, and came to realize that we could probably deliver a lot of value together by building products more efficiently and establishing a different kind of relationship with clients. So we decided to put all of our energy in trying to build a studio, and so far, we couldn’t be happier with the decision.
What’s the story behind the name okay bueno?
This is probably the saddest story ever. We had (and still have) a list with hundreds of horrible and ridiculous names stored in a Trello board. We literally added everything that came to our minds. At some point we even started watching random YouTube videos and pulling up articles on Wikipedia just to see if we could use the headlines as potential names.
At some point, in order to arrange all the legal paperwork, we had to decide on one. We each picked a few names that we didn’t fully hate and “okay bueno” was the only one appearing in both selections, so we just went with it. The thing is, the more we use it the more we like it, and the more we feel it identifies who we are.
What were some early challenges you faced?
I think in the beginning most companies struggle with getting their first customers. We were really lucky because we had a few projects signed right after we started the company, so we had enough cash for the first few months.That gave us time to focus on doing what we know how to do best—building products.
One thing we still struggle with is building up the initial trust with customers. When you’re a small studio with a small team it can be hard to seem trustworthy when it comes to bigger projects. They tend to think that we won’t have the resources to handle a project well, so we often start out with the smaller parts, and then increase our responsibilities after handing over the first deliverables.I can’t really blame clients for thinking that way, but as a product studio, it’s our responsibility to communicate the benefits of our way of working better.
The beauty of keeping it close-knit is real for us. We have close to zero overhead, move fast, and have formed a team that shares a common understanding of products.
We think being small is a strength, not a weakness.
If you were launching your agency again tomorrow, what’s one thing you would do differently?
Learning to say no as early as possible. Saying no seems easy, but sometimes it is much harder than you may think, especially when project budgets are teasing you!
How large is your team? What are your thoughts on working remotely?
Right now, we are three people working full-time and a small group of freelancers who we really trust. Our plan is to build up the team and grow the company slowly, piece by piece, as we are in this for the long game.
I think working remotely works really well when you treat people like assets. If I assign a ticket to a developer or a designer, I don’t care where they are, because the task is clear and they just have to complete it. On the other hand, we like to have a team that sits together in the same room and enjoys talking to each other, discussing ideas, and having fun together. That kind of interaction incentivizes serendipity, and we believe that’s where good ideas originate.
What does a typical project look like at okay bueno?
For us, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all process. We don’t have a certain framework that we apply to all our projects. Normally we start every project by trying to understand the scope, needs, and goals—through workshops or by spending a day on-site with our customer. After that, we define different approaches to reach those goals and then start planning resources.
We set goals that are small enough to be fulfilled within a short period of time so that we can continually share progress among the team, which helps keep us all motivated. We usually love to involve our clients and partners as much as possible as well, so that they can see the thinking and reasoning behind every single decision.
Is it more challenging working with startups to launch new projects versus working with well-established companies?
Each has its pros and its cons. Working with a startup allows everybody to move faster and make quicker (and bolder) decisions. Startups normally work with a pretty tight budget, so it’s more about bringing a product fast to market and validating the idea, which can be really fun, but also can get stressful and take its toll on our cash flow.
On the other hand, working with well-established companies normally means having bigger budgets to experiment and try different solutions and approaches before finally deciding on the right one. However, it also means more overhead (i.e., more stakeholders involved, more hassle when taking decisions, longer feedback loops, and more rules to stick to when building something). There is less freedom to move fast.
Have you ever turned down a project because it didn’t fit what you do well? Is it hard to say no to somebody who is trying to give you money?
Yes and yes (sometimes this is very hard). We have said no on many occasions and for many different reasons—not being the right fit for the project, not believing in the product idea, not aligning with the goals of the customer, or simply not having the time for it.
At the beginning, rejecting an opportunity to bring the company to a better financial position felt awkward, but over time, we’ve kind of gotten used to it, and sometimes it even feels good! At the end of the day, it’s about aligning our customers and our work with what we think okay bueno should be.
Neither Alex nor I are businessmen, so for us, running a company has always been about the freedom to experiment and build great products for ourselves and passionate partners—not about having a crazy high revenue.
Is there anything you wish your clients understood better about your business?
The way that we like to work together—as partners. Due to how traditional agencies work, sometimes our clients believe we do things the same way. We normally like to work on a partner level with our customers; we want to understand their core business, values, and goals so that we can create something that really solves their problems.
We obviously need to work really closely with them to do so, and sometimes (at least early on) our partners do not really understand the importance of this and hesitate to let us call the shots. It’s a lot about letting go of ownership and trusting us to set the product up for success, and that’s never an easy thing to do.
How do you measure progress as an agency? How do you know you’re on the right track?
It took us some time to find a system to validate what we are doing, but we finally came up with a very simple concept that has been working pretty well. We basically have three pillars on which we are building the company: 1.) Have fun 2.) Be profitable 3.) Have sustainable growth as a company, but also personally.
We are aware that not everything we do can check all the right boxes, but if something only checks one, it’s a clear no. This allows us to easily measure our progress and ensure we are on the right track, and also to make quicker decisions.
Your website mentions that you invest 20% of your time building your own products. What are you working on now?
Well, we have done some pretty cool things over the last year: we launched palette, which is a tool to discover color palettes based on emerging artists; we started a joint-venture BetterTalk.to, which is a platform to connect companies and freelancers; and we recently released NakedSSL.com, which is a simple SSL redirection service for naked domains on the cloud.
Beyond that, we have a bunch of open source packages published on GitHub, and we are always experimenting with things (even if they are not ever released), just to learn and improve our skills.
Are there any technology trends that you’re particularly excited about?
Now that Oculus Go has been released at an affordable price point, it’s definitely VR. We are taking our first steps on it and we are really excited about the new ways of designing and developing experiences. We have some ideas in mind that we’re working on now, so stay tuned!
Did you have any mentors who helped you when you guys were getting off the ground?
Yes, we have had two mentors right from the beginning (Flo and Sören) who have been a great support to us. They were both successful entrepreneurs already, so they advised us on certain mistakes to avoid. They also helped us find what became our first office, and they even put us in touch with the people who would become our first customers!
If anybody out there reading this is trying to build a successful company, get a mentor. Now.
In the worst case, they can be your lifesaver, and in any case, you’ll always have someone who you can fully trust.
Is there any additional advice you would give to someone who is considering starting their own agency?
We’re still trying to figure out a lot of things ourselves, but there are two things that we have always kept in mind from the beginning: 1.) Don’t try to do things perfectly. Just do it and learn along the way. It’s better to get started than wait for the perfect moment to begin. 2.) Don’t fall for the money. Time is more important than money (it’s a scarce resource), so treat it wisely. Do things you love and are passionate about and the results will show.