16 Years of Business and Creativity!

What’s in a name?

Where to begin… let’s start in 2002. What do you call a business when it’s 2002? Something short, with your name in it, that relates somewhat to what you do?

This is how MDOT was born, a little bit of me and a bit of digital – you know, since there was a whole DOT COM boom going on.

I started out as a creative consultant and working part-time on site and part-time at home. With MDOT I decided to do something different. I wanted to make it easy for people to work with me, I wanted a business that could deliver great work quickly.

Working with people was my comfort zone and being a one-man-show, meant I had to work fast to make time for golf and other recreational activities which were equally important in those days.

As the workload increased due to word of mouth, I had to master building relationships and producing great creative at lightning speed. This became, and still holds true today as the foundation of our success. Adding in old fashioned values such as manners, respect, integrity and trust ensured that my small client base stuck with me, and shared the value of working with me.

Across land and seas :

A short 3 year relocation to New Zealand meant leaving my clients on the other side of the planet, but not the work. I managed to retain some work, as well as develop my understanding of the agency world during my time at Publicis, whilst based in Auckland.

This was a great learning ground for me, and as studio manager, I understood how great results could be achieved when working as a team, the value of great skills and creativity, as well as the relevance of building great relationships with clients.

Roll these all together, along with what I wanted to achieve and MDOT started growing.
On my return to South Africa, I was able to hit the ground running with past and current clients wanting more from me.
This continued for several years, and I was comfortable in the space that I created.
Next stop, Cape Town!

Here I learnt that trust was not just a trait shared between my clients and I, but something I needed to embrace as it was time to start employing staff. The work kept on coming, and with more time being spent in meetings, it was clear I needed someone to ‘man the fort’.

And so it began, MDOT had grown to 3 people, based in my lounge at my house. This worked well for a year or so, but meeting clients at my house wasn’t quite professional enough for what I had envisioned for MDOT.

And we just kept growing :

So I moved, and built a big office at my new home. And we grew some more, a group of guys, having fun, doing great design and playing foosball. We were pumping.

I liked the idea of a team of guys, it felt easier, we were 6 and it worked, well, for a while.

It became clear that the overall creative direction started feeling masculine, for obvious reasons. We needed a feminine touch. So we employed our first woman.

With great success, we saw an instant change not only in our testosterone charged environment, but also in the work that was going out.  We started feeling like a more versatile and rounded design studio.

In an effort to replicate the success of the ‘one-man-show’, I spent a lot of time teaching and guiding our team on how to deal with clients, work super fast, but maintain a high level of creative.

It was evident that clients not only had a massive need for fast turnaround times, but they needed to enjoy the process too. This started putting a lot of strain on me personally, as I had already set the benchmark and wouldn’t deviate from that course due to our success to this point.

So in true business owner style, I ended up staying in after everyone left, and re-did all the work, either completely or polished and added my flair. This worked well, but I knew it wasn’t sustainable.

 Putting the “Pro” in “Professional”

A year later, we were 7, and still at my house, not ideally located, this posed a problem for our bigger clients who wanted to come for meetings and to see our ‘setup’. Mmm, not a good idea. So it was time to graduate from ‘home’ and move out into our first office.

Technopark in Stellenbosch was the perfect location, it came with credibility and a ‘you’ve made it’ feel. We all loved it, and now we had a boardroom. Bring on the clients.

 We kept growing our team along with our client base, we were building a reputation quickly. We were fortunate enough to consistently grow our business 40% year-on-year for 4 years and counting. And all of this through word of mouth and client referrals.

The reality and significance of reputation became evident, and we could not waiver on this. Everything had to be perfect, every time. Sustainable, no, achievable, no, but something to strive toward, absolutely.

And we did, putting in processes and systems to make us more efficient, refining our workflows, all in a flexible environment, taking our teams input to ensure it wasn’t a top down approach. We were moving forward rapidly.

Blue Chip corporate clients were joining us due to their in-house studio’s inability to deliver speedily, along with the frustration of the communication process. We also never turned down work, and helped some clients that were too ‘small’ in business terms, but it wasn’t our style to turn them away.

We were grateful for everything, any work was a gift and we would treat each client regardless of size as a client that deserves our best attention and work.

Every challenge presents an opportunity for change!

Enter 2016, MDOT is mid sized design studio, pumping along, a great team, a great culture, great environment, but challenges start rising… Our clients want more, more strategy, more marketing knowledge.

Not a strong skill within the MDOT fold. But we needed to remain relevant and continuously support and add value to our clients, we needed some new skills.

Pressure also started mounting from our corporates to transform.

“Transform? You mean give half my business away to keep working?” – It didn’t sound right to me. But through some consultations, research and some emotional soul searching to relinquish some ‘power’, I realised we can do it.

As it turned out, one of my Joburg based clients came down to our studio for a meeting, along with their marketing GM, someone I’d seen around, but never engaged with more than ‘hello’.

I liked her immediately, and my mind started racing, could this be the person I’ve been looking for?

I planted a seed in her mind about joining my team and left it there. Several months of ‘courting’ later, and Zanele decided to take the plunge, and became my business partner in early 2017. Slam dunk!

I found a brilliant marketer and strategist with the same work ethic as me, along with a massive network built through phenomenal relationships, a match made in heaven they say, and oh yes, she is the epitome if transformation.

It seemed perfect, and it turns out it was.

We became a full service agency!

2017, what a year! MDOT experienced its biggest rollercoaster ride of its life. Now we were playing in new areas of business and had essentially taken on the final component to take us from a design studio, to a fully fledged through the line agency.

Now we were cooking. But we had a lot to do. New staff, offices, systems, processes, hierarchy, all of which came with its own learning curves and challenges. But in true MDOT fashion, we made it work, but not without a lot of late nights, blood, sweat and tears.

With our focus now placed on optimising and refining our processes and workflow, we believe that MDOT will now have the ability to offer a robust platform to deliver on marketing, strategy and creative, while improving our client engagement but still remaining agile enough to offer the support and value that our clients have come to expect.

We are super excited about this year, our sweet sixteenth, and ready to build a business that is not only a great place to work, but has the respect in the industry that it deserves.
We may be small, but we are experts at what we do, and good will never be enough. We want our clients to love what we do as much as we love doing it!

Here’s to the next 16 years!

Sincerely, Mike

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