Thoughts

Culture Lessons From ustwo.

Business

It’s not something you have. It’s something you do.

We referred to ustwo as a ‘digital agency’.

Well, in a sense they are.

But they are so cutty-edgy that to lump them in the ‘digital agency’ category is not only somewhat inaccurate, it’s also a misleading disservice.

That said, they’ve been hard- pressed themselves to come up with a tight, catch-all definition of what they do.

Here’s their take: “ustwo may seem like a rather confusing mix of digital studio, game studio, incubator and venture fund. But we’re glad it doesn’t look like just another digital agency from the outside, because it doesn’t from the inside either. For us, above all else, it’s a place to enjoy what we do together.”

And this is key to their success.

Although there isn’t a precise articulation of what business category they operate in, thankfully they have a very clearly defined why, purpose and culture expressed in their manifesto.

They describe themselves as a closely knit ‘fampany’. They believe passionately that their company should feel like a family at its heart.

Why? Because the firm was founded on kinship. Mills and Sinx were school pals. Mills is ying to Sinx’s yang. Or is it the other way ’round?

And even though they’ve grown to 275 ustwobies — based in London, Malmö, New York and Sydney — friendship still pervades and permeates the whole company (And indeed, it is a factor that informs the recruitment process.)

They want to push the boundaries of what is possible and explore the true potential of digital. Creating experiences that provide genuine utility and value, which transform people’s lives for the better.

But they also have a sophisticated business head on those digital shoulders.

Encouraging entrepreneurial thinking from every staffer, and across all disciplines, helps attract and retain talent. Moreover, and crucially, it helps to engender a feeling of being part of something bigger.

We want to generate revenue in our sleep from alternative revenue models.
Mills, co-founder of ustwo

The goal is to have every ustwobie driving the business forward, (and this is hugely important) with the commitment from the founders that collective and collegiate hard work will be rewarded generously and creatively. (For example, 10-year veterans get a handsome 10k bonus and 10 weeks off. 10/10/10.)

The ultimate purpose is ‘to unleash collective genius’. Employees are encouraged to work on side projects, and even create businesses, that reflect and embrace their interests.

Some of the ustwobie side projects have been stratospherically ambitious, but conversely some of the earliest in-house projects had much more down-to-earth reasons driving them.

As one of ustwo’s first employees told us:

“In the early days, we couldn't showcase the work we were doing with many of our clients, and we needed to get new business. Of course, the only way to do that is by showing work. And as I said, we were often embargoed from it, which was a bit of a bind.

“So the way to do it was through side projects.To make things on our own, often with no real brief, so we could then go back to prospects and say, “Here's our portfolio”.

“Side projects became a very functional solution for us. They've been a part of what we do from the get-go.”

Smart. Sassy.

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