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

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Jan 24, 2020

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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.

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


By Screen Shot

Jan 24, 2020

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New gen bosses: Ollie Olanipekun on how he founded Superimpose, one of the fastest-growing agencies of 2019

By Screen Shot

Dec 6, 2019

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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 & creative director
Industry: Advertising
Company founder or freelancer: Founder
How long have you been doing it: 5 years
Age: 35
Location: London

What pushed you to start on your own?

Three years prior to the birth of Superimpose I was fortunate to establish myself as a well rounded creative but the opportunity to step into the role of creative director wasn’t a clear path I can see. I remember just feeling like I’d hit a glass ceiling, I had big ideas but not the right team or clients to test them on.

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

A client. It’s the advice I give to people now…be sure to know that initial phase of stability is guaranteed right from when you start. Too many people think the ‘build it and they will come’ theory is the way to go but it wasn’t an option I entertained. Lock in a small client that will cover your small overheads and build from there. It probably won’t be your dream client but it’s a great opportunity to test and learn and make your mistakes small when there isn’t everything at stake.

What was the riskiest decision you had to take?

Everything was about risk. Early on we had to present ourselves bigger than we actually were to convince clients to take chances with us. All those meetings we had with clients felt like we were suddenly going to get found out at that very moment. Five years on and only now do I realise that every single person in the room is as nervous as I was. Clients similarly feel like they need to pretend in their roles—so don’t be afraid.

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

People management is by far the hardest thing you will deal with when running your own business. Nothing prepares you for it and it will take up most of your brainpower. Management courses are definitely advised.

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?

I’ve always believed this was working for me from the very start but this year has been a real turning point through being recognised and awarded by those across the creative and advertising industries. You can have as much self-belief as you want but there is some safety and a level of gained confidence in knowing your peers and clients respect the work you’ve done.

What did you spend your money on?

For the first three years, we didn’t take any money out of the business because we were too scared. We did invest cost-effectively in our non-commercial platform SERVICES UNKNOWN projects to trial out new ideas and thinking.

What was your biggest fuck up?

The biggest mistake came early on which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was a situation that helped me understand the importance of ‘knowing your role’. We had just completed our first global campaign for adidas (relaunching the Stan Smith) and the campaign required minimal production so this led us to believe we could handle self-producing the next one. The following campaign came along and we tried to oversee all elements including the production and our lack of experience became very apparent. The shoot was an absolute fail and if it wasn’t for the relationship we had with our client then I’m not sure we’d be here today. That client supported us through thick and thin in the early days and I thank them for the opportunities given that has led us to flourish today.

What was your biggest success?

We’ve seen many successes this year with awards—2019 Studio of the Year’ by Creative Review and ‘Adweek100: Fastest Growing Agencies’ ranking Top 10 global, the biggest success for me is our partnerships with UAL and D&AD. My main aim when we began was to challenge how the ‘creative industry’ worked and I feel we’ve done that through opening doors for the next generation of creatives from non-traditional backgrounds.

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

Advertising needs us more than we need it.

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

Invest in the right team—they say you’re only as good as your team and I firmly believe that.

Stay ambitious—treat every brief like it’s your last and think big.

Keep the public central in every decision you make—don’t get into this to win awards, make sure it comes from a good place.

Feel like you would have never made the same fuck up as Ollie? 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. 

New gen bosses: Ollie Olanipekun on how he founded Superimpose, one of the fastest-growing agencies of 2019


By Screen Shot

Dec 6, 2019

COPY URL