From Tech Agency to Tech Wannabe

OG founder, Sandy Purewal, tells us about his move from Agencyland to launching a Healthtech business, Superfied.

The tech itch

We all know agency life is a special environment; the pace, skills, knocks, thrills, and above all, the teamwork. When you’re in agency and you love it, there’s no place like it. And I loved it.

It helped that I had the good fortune to work with very talented, honest and decent people at OG and I could shape the working environment. My co-founders were way more than colleagues and the OG collective were (and are!) rock stars. I was in a very privileged place. 

So I decided to leave! Yep, that’s right. An award-winning, innovative agency set-up; 18 years of familiarity and I pressed the exit button. Mid-life crisis? I was 47 so…maybe. The fact was I spent my career in the tech agency world and the idea of building a tech business that could do good got inside of me.

A leap into the unknown

Marketing skills – tick; business understanding – tick; tech experience – nope (unless you count PowerPoint!) If you’re thinking I was a closet coder you couldn’t be more wrong.

It was just a massive leap into the dark. My head and heart were not on talking terms. I think you need to be bit reckless to leap into the unknown, especially when all you have is a vision and everything else is new.

My driver was (and is) to help people look after themselves using food as their toolkit; ‘personalised self-care accessible to all’ to quote a Superfied deck. And this was before Covid was a thing. My focus is on people; the tech bit is the enabler.

So here I am, on the other side of the tech net. Not advising on tech promotion but creating something to be promoted. It’s a weird feeling. A self-starting, self-funding and, latterly, self-isolating tech business where health experts collide with algorithms.

Rethinking ‘work’

The comms strategy and demand gen KPIs have been replaced by product sprints; the client pitches swapped for user testing; the pitch prep is now healthcare chats, algorithm tweaks and app UI. Not better, just different. The biggest swap is still ‘known’ for ‘unknown’ (followed by the size of the team now!)

But the need for creativity, stories, content and customers – they’re still the same. Every aspect of the ‘Brand the Sales’ method is still needed – it’s just that there’s another bit before that now. And when it’s time for investment, I’ve no doubt the PPT skills will kick back in!  

And there’s another difference – a big one for me. My professional career has been defined by focus, control, profit and ‘best practice’ (even if my success at those was only so-so). In between the two projects, I binned my management books and re-evaluated my measure of success.

Superfied is about working for a different goal; to create a positive social impact. It’s a social enterprise, not a private enterprise. Don’t get me wrong, profit is essential for delivering on the goal but it’s not the goal. This is a project led by the heart, not head. And while it’s an honest one, it may be a reckless pursuit – time will tell.

When the world is zigging and you decide to zag, there’s going to be friction, right? I know it’s a lot easier to take that view when you start up. That’s the beauty of a start-up though, tech or otherwise. After Covid, maybe the world will start to zag a bit too??

Succeed or fail big

Fear of failure drove me to succeed at OG at all costs. It played a role in our success but I think it held me back a lot too. I found that the bigger we got, the tighter its grip around my mental wellbeing – not good for me or my impact on others. Failure is more likely than success and anyone doing the tech start-up thing has to be ready for failure imo.

When you skyrocket into the unknown chasing a dream, the odds are it will fail. So, my first step as a tech wannabe was to make peace with failure. I’ve re-framed my mindset and started Superfied with the likelihood of failure in mind – anything above that is upside. And if you’re going to fail, you might as well fail big right? Ok, my wife may say something different (she describes Superfied as my ‘passion project’).

I think reputation is about looking back; innovation is about looking forward. However good you were yesterday is…yesterday’s truth. Today you start again. That’s as true in agency land as tech. While the to-do list looks a little different now, agency and tech life actually have a lot in common. The pace, skills, knocks, thrills and the teamwork – they’re all there. Just in a smaller package to begin with!

There’s a lot of common ground

In my little leap, this is what I’ve found across the CEO client/agency divide:

  1. Ideas trump processes
  2. If the customer doesn’t care, ideas mean nothing
  3. Without good people, you’re going to get nowhere
  4. Trust your gut – and invest in it 😉
  5. You have to be a glutton for punishment!

So, while one adventure has been swapped for another, the hard yards in agency have really helped. That and a mental re-adjustment. The new chapter is being written so watch this space…tick tock tech.