In one sentence, explain what Muxu.Muxu does.
We help startups and established companies invent, build, and launch their next product or venture. We also launch ventures of our own.
Where did the name Muxu.Muxu come from?
Muxu is the colloquial word for “kiss” in Basque. We came up with the name a few years ago, while away for a weekend in the Basque Country—a region (in Spain) we are particularly fond of. For us, “kiss” fits well with the human aspect of our work.
What made you decide to start up your own studio?
We met four years ago when we were all working at the same agency. We worked on huge projects for clients including Danone, Philips, and General Electric, and became accustomed to tight deadlines and challenging demands. Through our work with these clients, however, we realized that the impact we had on their companies was actually pretty minimal—despite the massive budgets they had at their disposal.
What really gets us going are great projects, the people behind those projects, and the impact that we are able to have on their business and their clients.
United by a shared passion for creating things, we started to make lots of different applications together. Whether it was a project for the Bordeaux wine festival (Bordeaux Fête Le Vin), making the job of designers easier (Drubbbler), or making our own lives easier (Papier), we quickly realized that there was an opportunity to be seized.
When we all joined the same startup, we were able to create a mini studio and work together on projects alongside our other assignments. We were able to utilize the values we’d been told to steer clear of while working for an agency—values we firmly believed in. We decided to be transparent, and not to sell just for the sake of selling. Seeing the appetite from clients for that type of service really motivated us to launch and create our studio.
What were some of the early challenges you didn’t anticipate when you first set up shop?
The greatest challenge was figuring out how to communicate between ourselves. We had plenty of experience communicating with clients and managing their projects, but we had never run our own company, and we didn’t anticipate the impact that doing so would have on individual egos and roles.
Thankfully, we were able to draw upon our past experiences (we knew what not to do), and we knew how to behave in a way that respected and encouraged the happiness of each team member.
How large is your team now? Do you allow your employees to work remotely?
There are currently four full-time and three part-time employees. We’ve just recently moved into our first office in the center of Bordeaux. Having spent the first few months working with customers in their offices or from home, we realized how vital it is to work in the same place together.
It’s essential not just for team cohesion, but also to keep our creative juices flowing. Seeing the projects that everyone else is working on throughout the day is very stimulating and inspiring. However, we believe in trust and autonomy, so each team member is free to work remotely if he or she wishes to do so.
You’re based in Bordeaux, France—considered by many to be the wine capital of the world. Can you tell us about the lifestyle there and also some of the benefits and challenges?
The city of Bordeaux is attracting a lot of attention right now and is at the top of all kinds of hit lists. We consider ourselves really lucky to be able to live here, doing what we love. At first, we feared we might have difficulty finding clients, but we have clients in Paris and the United States, so being in Bordeaux has not been an obstacle at all.
Despite the attractiveness of the city, however, we have felt at times that the design and tech community here is not as advanced as we’d like.
Was there a particular turning point or change to the city that has driven the recent attention?
Bordeaux has been called a “sleeping beauty” for a long time and now we say that it’s awake! It’s attracting more and more new people each year because of its location (not far from the ocean, the Pyrenees, Spain); its wealth (mainly due to wine, but also now to tourism); and its proximity to Paris (now only 2 hours by train/was nearly 4 hours before).
It’s the perfect place to live if you like sun, nature, good food, and tranquility. Not surprisingly, those are all things that most people aspire to have more of.
You emphasize working with startups and companies who may not have a well-established footprint. Is that by design? What appeals to you about the startup culture?
What interests us is not necessarily the type of business, but the people behind the business.
We want to work with teams that we love, who are reactive, and with whom we can build a relationship of trust and openly discuss the things we both like and don’t like.
On your blog, you mention that there was a project recently that you weren’t able to complete and had to pull the plug on. What did you learn from that experience?
Yes, that was earlier this year. We had completed the design stage for the application, but when it came to planning the development part, we realized that we simply didn’t have enough time to meet the client’s requirements. So we refunded the client fully and recommended several other developers from our circle of contacts.
It wasn’t a great moment for us, but the four of us sat down and discussed how we had gotten to that point and the lessons that we could take from the experience so the same situation doesn’t happen again in the future. Sometimes people learn by making mistakes, and we were lucky that we made our mistake early enough in the process to rectify it!
You build and launch your own ventures and mention on your site that you often form equity or royalty-based partnerships. How is that working out?
We want to develop our ventures around a principle that we think is healthy, so one part is paid, and the remainder is remunerated via equity or benefits.
Are there any current technology trends you are particularly excited about?
Virtual Reality! We’ve just bought our first VR headset, and we’re currently developing some basic things to play around with it and test it out. We’re also planning a VR-dedicated room in our new offices. It’s a big project, and we’re very excited about it.
We’re also pretty excited about SMS. We’re developing more and more applications that are based around text messaging.
Do you have any words of advice for those who are considering starting their own studio?
Surround yourself with the right people when you launch—find a good administrative assistant and a great accountant. That’s really essential when it comes to setting off on the right foot. Also, use good tools. Don’t be put off by the fact that you’ll have to pay for them. Applications such as Dropbox, QuickBooks, 1Password, Google Apps, and Float are all useful to us.
Communicate and take the time to listen to each other. Every week we hold something we call the “Muxu.Mood”. It’s a space for sharing our successes but also our frustrations. It’s probably the most important meeting for us (after the strategic meetings) because the studio’s stability is based, above all, on the team. So it’s crucial to us that everyone feels good about his or her place.
Finally, don’t panic if you make mistakes. Instead, try to bounce back as quickly as possible and to learn any lessons you can. Mistakes are a key part of learning and growing.