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My Start-Up: The Big Bright Idea - Ian Simmonds (Founder)

I met Ian in Bournemouth in the summer of 2016 and thought, he seems to have wit and warmth. I wasn't mistaken. We caught up with him to share the war stories and how The Big Bright Idea was born. Here's what happened.

1. Tell us about how you came up with the concept for The Big Bright Idea? What's the story?

The Big Bright Idea was founded on the 18th January 2013, but I didn't really ’take up the reins’ in a full time capacity until March 8th the same year. At the time I was working in an established and very well regarded local design agency. I’d been there a good portion of my career working on many household names like Barclaycard, Domino’s, IHG Hilton but felt I wasn’t being challenged.

Working in agencies for large blue chip clients brings with it a whole lot of kudos and is a great place to cut your teeth, but you can quite easily get pigeonholed or categorised doing the same kind of work. In my case it had got to the point where I could do the job in my sleep — that’s not good from a creative perspective, so one day I just handed my notice in and The Big Bright Idea was born.

Since then I’ve been able to use my skills that just weren’t getting exercised, from direction, copywriting, storyboarding, directing video shoots and using Google Cardboard/VR to Big Bright Idea generation. Being able to meet talented local business people has also given me the opportunity to work on projects I would not normally get involved with.

As a recent example, we have worked collaboratively with a software architect to help develop an idea for an app and branding for Organicity, an EU project that puts people at the centre of the development of future cities.

We’re also currently working on an idea for another app that uses augmented reality to enhance users experiences.

2. Your own company's branding is fantastic and vibrant, how important is bringing culture into a branding idea? Elaborating the question - When you sit down with a client, how do you understand and conceptualise a design that best suits their requirements and culture?

Thanks! Self promotion has to be one of the hardest things you can do as a ‘creative’. If I recall, one of the greatest advertising thinkers of our time, David Ogilvy wasn’t allowed to do any self promotion work for 20+ years! The biggest compliment someone can pay you is when they say your branding is a reflection of your personality, which means you’ve done your job. So yes, bringing company culture into an idea is important, but not at the expense of ego.

Our culture here is about fun and great design. The two definitely co-exist — if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing great design. I can also honestly say hand-on-heart branding for a client is so much easier than doing it for yourself!

When sitting down with a client it's easier to distinguish what is relevant as you are the outsider looking in and your view is unclouded by years worth of minutiae and baggage. We utilise workshop days with clients to discover more about their voice, culture and business. The workshops allow closer collaboration and a 'two-way dialogue' that validates ideas with the right people in the room. We also run these workshops over 2 days with a break — this allows the opportunity for ideas to incubate. Ever had one of those ‘Eureka!’ moments? You can guarantee it will come to you in the shower, driving a car or some other non-work related activity and this short break allows for this.

From all this collated information we can then develop a strategy that will align with the brand and it’s customers.

3. You have worked with so many big names and brands, what has been your biggest learning working with larger corporations?

I alluded to this just before — it’s getting the decision makers on board or in the room at inception. When dealing with large finance companies there were any number of stakeholders that had to give their blessing including the marketing team, a customer value management team, a legal team and finally the big thumbs up from the marketing director.

With so many people having to provide input the proposition could sometimes become watered down. If they are involved from the start then the process becomes a whole lot easier and there are less ‘surprises’ as ideas develop.

4. If you were to do one thing differently in your entrepreneurial journey, what would it be?

Making the move from employee to 'own boss’ 10-15 years ago — it really is as simple as that!

5. Bournemouth is a hotbed for creatives and design agencies, or so we hear. How true is that? In a competitive market, how do you differentiate your offering?

There are lot of creatives and design agency in the area, I read somewhere there are 400+, that may not be an accurate number though. However that figure probably does not include those 'bedroom coders', or students who also dabble to gain real world experience and earn a little money on the side.

To differentiate your offering you need to be genuine and be you! If your brand is an honest reflection of your culture and your business then you will attract the customers you want. We like to form personal relationships with our clients and I would say 90% of our work comes from referrals and word of mouth. Recently we have landed a client in Saudi Arabia — it just goes to show you the power of referrals.

6. Lastly what are the growth plans on the cards? Expansions, new rounds of funding etc?

The thought of a 30,000 ft sea view while everyone else does the work isn’t really appealing — rolling up your sleeves and ‘being in the trenches' keeps you focused, ‘real' and your skills up-to-date. One of my greatest inspirations is from this company that grew to a size where account handlers managed the accounts and the business lost it’s ‘mojo’, which eventually became its swan-song.

Obviously we need to make money to live and if someone turns up with a wheel barrow stuffed full of money we’re not going to tell them to scarper. However, it has to be aligned with how we operate, so no gambling or risque work would ever be considered.

Get in touch with Ian

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