Hello New QuirkStars
by Rob Stokes
March 30, 2016
Hello QuirkStars. With March being Quirk’s birthday month (can you believe we are 17 already?), Rob’s written a letter to all our new and potential QuirkStars on how Quirk got to where it is today and what it means to be a true QuirkStar. When I look at how we have grown over the years, I am filled with pride – giving up has just never been an option. To be part of this amazing agency family, to sit next to these brave, curious minds every day, and to constantly be shifting the boundaries gets me excited for what is still to come. Here’s to 17 more years of bravery, curiosity and embracing our quirks! Over to Rob.
Hello New QuirkStar
I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to welcome you to Quirk – you are now a QuirkStar! Yes, you do get to call yourself that now. Where did it come from? No one knows! I didn’t come up with it, and as you will quickly discover, we have lots of these little “Quirkisms”. Yes, it’s a bit twee (it was cool 15 years ago), but that’s us –and now it’s you as well. We’re a bit crazy, but that’s good because chances are that you are too.
What is important is that you now belong. You belong to a team of proud, highly ambitious, pioneering digital thought leaders who crave difficult new challenges to set their hearts and minds to every day. You belong to a team that puts the team before anything else, so you can feel safe here. Not only safe in that we have got your back, but safe in the knowledge that you are in a place that wants to help you grow and succeed. In my experience, this is very powerful.
It all started with a couch and a thesis
My name is Rob Stokes and I started Quirk from my couch in 1999. What was my grand vision? I’d love to regale you with a fantastic story of genius, but I’m afraid there isn’t one. There was no grand plan, I just loved technology, marketing (I was studying it at the time) and wanted to do something extraordinary – so this seemed like a step in the right direction for me as an entrepreneur.
Today, Quirk is one of the finest digital agencies on the African continent; but we’ve had to go through many trials and tribulations to get here. Launching a digital agency in South Africa in 1999 certainly makes us one of the pioneers in this space, but it wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t glamorous. In the early days, as we were finding our feet (I was only 20 at the time), we worked very hard for very little money and almost failed as a business a number of times. The QuirkStars who were around for those tougher times will tell you that the dark moments were a vital part of our passage to where we are today. They made us stronger, smarter and more resilient – and fortunately, they didn’t last too long. 17 years later the journey is still challenging and exciting, with something new around every corner.
The first phase of our business was very much focussed on email marketing. This is entirely because I did my Honours thesis on the subject (just after starting Quirk) and immediately saw an opportunity to provide this service to the market. We were one of the first in the industry to get this right and it quickly put us on the map. From there, we started building websites and doing Search Engine Optimisation; but it was really only around 2004 that it all came together and we started gaining proper traction within the market.
Until then, we had been operating solely out of Cape Town. 2004 brought change as we opened offices in Johannesburg and later (in 2005) in London. This was when our real growth phase began and things started getting slightly manic. For about 5 years, as the digital marketing industry grew, we found ourselves in the right place at the right time and literally doubled the size of our business for every one of those 5 years. That was very intense, and if I’m honest I think that while the headlines were successful, we were so stretched that the quality of our work wasn’t what it could have been, especially given the talent of the people producing it.
Now we are in what feels like our third era and we are totally focussed on the quality of the work we produce. Not for the sake of awards (I am not a huge awards fan), but because we like feeling proud. Proud that we made a client happy, proud that we made a small dent in the world and, perhaps even more importantly, proud that we lived up to our full potential as individuals and as a team.
Our quirks, culture, and charter
Where are we going next? We want to lead our clients into a digital future as their trusted marketing partner, and this means being the smartest people in the room. To this end, we have to be obsessive about ensuring we are attracting, growing and retaining the best people at all times, and we like to think that your arrival at Quirk marks another small success in this journey for us.
Now that you are here, it’s important that you do your part to ensure Quirk stays great. A big part of this is the culture of the people at Quirk. Now that you are one of us, it’s your responsibility to live up to this culture and ensure that others take it equally as seriously.
To this end, we have our Quirk Charter, which goes into great detail about our Vision and Values. It is our guiding star and you should read it, think about it, if necessary question it, and then make it a core part of how you exist at Quirk. In addition to our Charter, I want to take this opportunity to share with you 5 basic things you should get right if you want to be successful at Quirk.
- Be proactive about your career at Quirk. We all want to help our people at Quirk grow themselves into the best they can be. That said, we are all very busy and focussed on the job at hand, so people won’t take the time to pander to your unspoken wants and desires. If you need help,whether it’s input on a piece of work or some advice about your career as a whole, put your hand up and talk to someone. When you talk, we will listen, when you ask for help, you will always receive it – and you should behave the same in return. We want you to succeed more than anything, but as an adult, you need to own this process.
- Know your strengths. Not everyone is good at everything and for the most part we are more effective and have much more fun when we are doing the things we are good at. Know your strengths, by extension know your weaknesses, and then make sure you are focussing your time on what you’re good at. It’s not always easy, and moving away from a weakness doesn’t always happen overnight, but if you are proactive about it, you can surround yourself with people who compliment you and that will make you much more powerful and happy in your work.
- Be curious. About everything. If our recruitment process works, you are already a curious person who wants to be smarter every day, but don’t stop now! We want you to learn more about anything and everything. This isn’t just about digital or marketing, it’s about a general hunger for knowledge, which makes those who have it better creative thinkers and problem solvers, and that’s what we really care about here. Read, learn, talk, teach, question and repeat. It never ends and that’s a beautiful thing.
- Be kind. Don’t be a dick. It really is that simple, and the world is a much better place when we treat each other with kindness and respect. That doesn’t mean we should avoid difficult conversations, but we have them with genuine kindness and respect for our fellow QuirkStars.
- Take hiring seriously. We know that great people like you want to surround themselves with even greater people. If we get this right, we will be wildly successful; if we fail (even slightly), we will fade into mediocrity. We are entirely a “people business”, which means that hiring is far too important to be left only to the HR department. Our HR team is incredibly good, but we need to help find and filter the right people to join our team. This will take some time, often when you feel like you don’t have any time left to give, but it is one of the best investments of time you can make at Quirk. Please take it very seriously, and you will definitely reap the reward.
Those five points are certainly not exhaustive, but if you get nothing else right, I think you’ll be just fine.
The ins and outs
I want to give you a high-level view of how our business is structured. Firstly, we are a network of four agencies based in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and London. Each agency is run by an MD and an Executive Committee (Exco) who are your day-to-day leaders. We also have what we call our Agency Exco, which sits across the entire group. This consists of our departmental heads as well as each agency MD. The most important person on our Agency Exco is James McKay, our COO. He is the order to my chaos and whilst my job is future-focussed and around ensuring we are relevant in 5 years’ time, James’ job is to run the day to day operations of our agency network. James is clever, kind, hardworking and really cares about our people and the great work we do for our clients and indeed the world at large. I’m an entrepreneur first and for the most part live with my head in the clouds. James ensures we get shit done and I am beyond grateful to have him as my right hand man as he allows me the space to dream and if I get that right, then we all move in the right direction. James is also an incredible human, please reach out to him and get to know him, you will be glad you did.
Your happiness counts
Now whilst I tend to be a bit all over the place like a 6-year-old on a sugar high, the thing I care about most at Quirk is you. This isn’t about money for me, it’s about a big hairy challenge with incredible people, and I am so privileged to be surrounded by such a great team. I want you to do great work, and most importantly I want you to reach your fullest potential in your work, your family life and also as an individual. If I can help you with this, I will always make myself available to you if you need me. There is the old saying that “my door is always open”; well, I don’t have a door because I don’t have an office, because I don’t even have a desk. I do this not only because I’m allergic to such routines, but also because I want you to know that I am always approachable. If you need help, please reach out to me. I might not always be visible to you, in fact I’m probably not even in the same city as you, but if you need me, I will make a plan to help you be as great as you can be.
I want to leave you with one last thing. Please remember that although what we do is very important to ourselves and our clients, this is just a job. Hopefully, it’s a good one that you enjoy, hopefully you are excited about where we are going as a business and your role in getting us there, and hopefully you are excited about your colleagues and our clients. These are all very important, but not as important as being happy, so please make sure you are having fun. We spend the majority of our lives at work, whether physically or mentally, and at Quirk we do our best every day to make that experience as fun as we can for you, but again, this is just a job. Don’t lose sight of that fact and always make sure that at the end of the day you are happy and having fun. Life is too short for anything else.
Onwards and upwards!