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New gen bosses: Benji Reeves on how he built Cortex Creatives, a new gen creative agency

New gen bosses is a new series created to guide and inspire more people to go out there on their own, either as new business founders or freelancers. And what better way to do that than to ask the ones that already succeed at it? We want to know about big fuck-ups and even bigger successes, and the risky decisions they had to make along the way. We want to be the last little push you needed.

Job title: Co-founder & CEO
Industry: Advertising and media
Company founder or freelancer: Founder and freelance producer
Company name: Cortex Creatives
How long have you been doing it: 4 years
Age: 24
Location: London and Brighton

What pushed you to start on your own?

Realising that being happy doing what I wanted to do was the most important thing. I started Cortex while I was at university with my friend Reuben Selby—we experimented a lot the first three years building our community of creatives by doing events, pop-up shops, print magazines, interviews and editorials.

In late 2017, I started my first post-university job as a data analyst at the Telegraph, which was a great experience, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do, ultimately. It wasn’t the area that I wanted to get into. I realised that I wasn’t satisfied and I was going to remain stagnant if I stayed; I was losing my creativity updating spreadsheets. So, I had to focus and get back on my desired career path. That was a turning point which led me to start Cortex full-time and build our company from being just a community-based platform, with online magazine content, into a new gen creative agency.

What was the very first thing you needed to do to set everything up?

It was to build our community of creatives. We did this through an exclusive Facebook group page. We hand-picked rising creatives so they could share work and connect. Building that core community gave us the freedom to take Cortex where we wanted to.

Now, with our new gen creative agency, clients are the main priority for sustainability. Building close relationships with them while also outsourcing creatives from our community to successfully execute projects is the main goal.

What was the riskiest decision you had to take?

Doing events and pumping our own personal money into the company. I’ve never actually thought of the implications it could’ve had if the events weren’t successful—especially the pop-up shops because there’s a lot of pressure and responsibility that rests on your shoulders. You don’t want to fuck up the first few because of first impressions. But, we just did it anyway, we kind of had to, for ourselves and the community. I guess we’re just not afraid to fail. Throwing ourselves in the deep end was the riskiest thing at the start.

What was a skill you didn’t foresee needing that you had to learn?

To conquer circumstances out of my control. There have been many moments where things can change quickly, and for the worst. It’s being able to deal with those situations which is crucial. Being intuitive and thinking on your feet is a vital skill to have.

Cortex-Creatives

Everywhere around us, new gens are founding businesses and redefining their careers. New gen bosses is here to inspire those who might want to do the same, this time with extra tips, some lols from those who have been there, done that, and £20 in your new ANNA business account if you dare to take the leap.

At what moment did you realise that this was going to work out?

When an abundance of talented creatives started regularly emailing us wanting to be involved in our community. Then I knew we were doing something right and the quality of work we were sharing was really good for them to be reaching out.

This then slowly transitioned into building opportunities for those same creatives in an agency format. Also, being at the level where we’re interviewing and shooting more established creatives and brands. That gave us reassurance that the work we’re producing is up to the required standard.

What did you spend your money on?

We spent our money on showcasing the community we had built up through events, such as live music events, exhibitions, pop-up shops. We raised money on Kickstarter for a print magazine which included work solely from our community of up and coming creatives. We also had to pay to build our website (shout out Jamie Waters) in order to interview established creatives such as musicians, photographers, artists, fashion designers and more.

What was your biggest fuck up?

There was one big fuck up actually. Attempting to trademark our original name ‘Hotbox’ which was already taken by some events company. We got pulled up on that. The whole situation was very stressful.

We were at a point where we were virtually unknown so it didn’t really matter too much. We definitely learnt from it. It did allow us to re-brand the company to Cortex which was probably the best thing that happened. Although, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

What was your biggest success?

Our biggest achievement so far was producing a fashion campaign for Thom Browne’s new fragrance. It was an intense month organising and tying the project together, including the crew, budgets, locations, creative development, call sheets, schedules. But it all worked out in the end and the finished imagery is amazing.

Cortex-Creatives

What do you know now that you didn’t know then?

Making sure that your idea is as niche as possible; really narrowing in on what you want to focus on and where you want to go with it, then having the ability to expand and branch out once you’ve established yourself in that one field.

The first two years we were kind of young and tried loads of different avenues, which I don’t regret because it led us to this specific path we’re going down with the agency. I don’t want to say we wasted time, but we could’ve been honing in on one specific aspect and really perfecting that, and then expanding.

What are three tips you would give someone who wants to start on their own?

One: Be persistent.

Two: Trust your gut.

Three: Don’t be afraid to adapt or change your original idea because that will happen organically. Some people will be set in their ways and not accept change but your idea is bound to evolve over time, so don’t be scared when that happens.

Feel like you would have never been forced to change the name of your company halfway? There’s only one way to find out. Take the leap, open an ANNA business card completely free of charge for the first 3 months and get £20 in it, too.

Want to discuss taking the leap with other new gens? You’re in luck! We’ve created New Gen Bosses, a Facebook group to continue and expand the conversation started through this new series.