A series of interviews with the founders of independent + successful ad agencies and creative studios.

Martin Sandhu

Roller

August 7, 2017

Interviewed by: Michael Freedman

In one sentence, explain what Roller does?

Roller is a creative design and development studio based in Nottingham—we specialize in creating bespoke UX websites and apps, as well as being fully integrated to deliver digital marketing and PR.

What made you decide to start your own agency?

I was made redundant at the company I was working at which prompted me to start freelancing. I saw a gap in the market for app development in the Nottingham area, and that catapulted me to start exploring it as a business venture. It’s grown from that point, and we’ve more than tripled our office space and workforce combined. I don’t define this as a success yet, but I foresee the potential of the business and the employees within us, and the direction we’re moving in is an exciting one.

What were some of the early challenges you didn’t anticipate when you first set up shop?

When we first started it was literally just two of us in a room, and as the business grew I began to lose that “shop floor presence.” I didn’t have the capacity to recruit an HR team, so we decided to build our own pocket HR app called Notify. It allows our employees to book holidays, record absences, indicate how they’re feeling, etc., and it makes it easy for me to monitor the well-being of our staff.

How large is your team now? Do you allow your employees to work remotely?

We are currently a workforce of around 30 people, but we’re always on the lookout for new talent. We allow remote working and also operate a flexible hours policy. I think it’s important to do so to keep employees engaged and motivated within the business.

You specialize in designing and building mobile apps, and you’ve established a foothold in that market. What is it about developing apps for products and businesses that you find most rewarding?

When clients come in with an idea for an app they usually have a basic understanding of the functionalities and how they want it to look. However, seeing the complete awe and amazement on their faces when we show them the initial prototypes and designs is always incredibly rewarding.

We are the privileged ones that get to bring their ideas to life and make them a tangible reality.

In addition to traditional mobile apps, you’re also focused on developing VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality). What’s it like working with new technology, and is it more difficult from a creative standpoint?

We are currently working on creating immersive and engaging projects for clients using AR & VR. It’s got the potential to create a huge impact for brands, as it pulls the online world offline for a consumer. Some of the most exciting work is being done in retail spaces using new technology to enhance the customer experience—which is a new realm for some businesses, but the return speaks for itself.

It’s not more or less difficult; it’s simply exciting. The team loves developing the concepts, and the ideas we’re generating are taking our creativity to a new level.

How do you typically negotiate payment with clients when developing these products? Do you see a noticeable trend away from hourly fees?

As a business, we work with client budgets or fixed costs instead of hourly rates. Each company is different, but I believe it’s cleaner and more manageable to work payment terms this way.

You’re using Float to manage your team’s forecast. Tell us a little more about how you plan your team’s time across a mix of client and internal projects.

We work in an agile way, pushing priorities to the forefront and working back from there, but we always make sure that we have flexitime to jump onto any urgent or immediate project changes.

Our team works on many different projects throughout a given day or week, and Float is fundamental in helping us manage everyone’s time. 

There are now over 5 million apps available on Google Play and Apple’s App Store. In your opinion, what sets a great app apart?

With the app world being such a saturated market, it’s more important than ever to develop a strong USP (unique selling proposition). You should never underestimate the user interface of an app, as your customer’s first judgment will be a visual one. However, engagement and user experience are where the greatest apps succeed, and where many others fail.

We’ve talked about Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Are there any other technology trends that you’re particularly excited about?

Yes, we’re currently looking into a few AI projects and also some potential work with IBM Watson. While those have been in the pipeline for a while, the emergence and demand for new forms of technology is really exciting, and it shows the shift from digital obsession to digital maturity. The power of using emotional data through Watson and AI combined gives brands more scope in creating and capturing consumer engagement—which could be the difference between winning customers and losing them.

Do you have any words of advice for those considering starting their own creative agency?

Be humble learning machines and really understand your market and industry—in addition to continuing to learn about yourself. Knowing your strengths and their value will ultimately be what sets you apart from others in the long run.

My other piece of advice is to keep your team’s creative engine fired up, and at the first sign of it burning out, sit back, review, and don’t be afraid to make changes!

 

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