The ‘engine room’. Every business needs one. The place where the ‘stuff happens’ and the one area that doesn’t shut down for very long, if at all.
At performance marketing company FanFinders – which connects brands with parents, Raphael Marsh is the man in charge of that place: creative and operations.
Having co-founded the business back in 2013 and helped grow it from startup to leader in the baby market, Raf explains that remote working has always worked (long before the pandemic) and why some interruptions can actually be welcome.
Tell me a bit about your business. What do you do and how does that add value to the people you serve?
FanFinders connect brands with new and expectant parents who want what they have to offer in the UK and US, publishing a range of content, offers and exclusive discounts to over 5 million members on Your Baby Club, our self-coded platform. We also create data-compliant communities and clubs for our partners. Our technology has evolved but the objective has been the same from the start: permission based marketing to parents through 1st party consent and consumer choice – with zero spam.
How many people do you lead? And what does your team do, specifically?
I’m co-founder and creative director, but the area I oversee is a hybrid one. It’s a mix of creative and production, and it intersects with all other parts of the business. I see it a bit like the engine room, because after the commercial and marketing teams have done their bit, we’re responsible for delivering the meat of a client’s campaign. They might want adverts, graphics or tailored emails, all with different objectives. We have a great technology platform, but you still have to put things into it and that’s where we come in.
Are there any platforms or apps your team uses to help manage workflows? Any you just can’t live without?
We mostly use Slack. In the early days, it would just be phone calls and emails. Where Slack is invaluable is when it comes to operating on different time zones, as we now have international team members. Generally across the business, we’ve been lucky in that we’ve hired skilled and highly motivated people, who are capable of totally owning their areas and getting on with work.
Tell me about something that was really hurting your team and how you fixed it.
Not quite hurting, but something we’ve had to incorporate over time is delegation. When you’re managing a very specific part of the business and have done so yourself since day one, it can be tricky to reach a point where you can let people produce designs by themselves without having to sit over their shoulder or touch up their work later. We’ve had really creative, talented and helpful people join our team that have pushed this process forward. Everything is in place to assign work and have more people as we scale.
What do you do when you need to recharge and take a break? And how do you encourage your employees or coworkers to do the same?
The key is to recognise the ebbs and flows. In other departments, you might get slightly more structure and everyone clocking off come 5pm, but for us it’s really about being on call for whenever things are needed, which could be urgently at 8pm on a Friday night. Then there may be some days where it’s a bit quieter. It’s fun but, by its nature, pretty constant.
I’d love to hear what your work life was like before the pandemic, and what it looks like now. How has it changed?
My role hasn’t changed much per se, as I’m still working remotely from the small space at the end of my garden (or the ‘Box’ as I call it), just as I was before the pandemic. However, what has changed is the kids being at home for those 6/7 hours when they usually wouldn’t be. It’s almost like a summer holiday environment where they might just want to play and don’t always want to learn. Sometimes they just want to pretend to be zombies or do an activity in the garden, but I wouldn’t give up being close or watching them grow for anything.
There’s obviously a lot of temptation while working away from the eyes of our coworkers to let our attention drift away from our tasks towards our apps, phones, or what-have-you. Do you have any strategies for blocking out distractions?
I put on documentaries or rolling news, so I’m absorbing content in the background. If I’m doing daily tasks then I like to have noise, whether it’s an audiobook or even just the news. Then for more intensive work, I just go completely into dark mode, shut off noise and dive in.
What lesson(s) have you learned from the pandemic that you're going to take with you when we’re eventually allowed to fully come together again?
That businesses are all about people. All the stuff that has been built up around them, doesn’t actually matter that much. When we first started up the company, Alec (Dobbie) was settled with his young family and I was here, so we didn’t want an office. We’d both been self-employed and were used to working remotely from various places. But soon, we realised the world wasn’t having that and clients liked to visit you for lunch. People felt like they had to sit in rooms to talk or see you in London. So we ended up with one office, then a bigger office and had plans for more.
What the pandemic has shown is that when it actually comes down to it, the core of the business has absolutely nothing to do with a room, as long as the people who are buying into that allow you to do it. I’m talking with companies now, where people call from a small box room or their kitchen table and have their dog jumping up or kids screaming in the background, and that’s fine. It has taken the pandemic for that to be accepted. It will be interesting to see what comes next, whether people revert back to the pretence or stick with this revolution.
What small, everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I’m pretty great at dropping photoshopped memes into our Slack channels. The only issue is memes are most effective when they look like they’ve been made with a simple generator, low quality and grainy. But I like them to look nice, so I’m simultaneously the best and worst, depending on perspective.
What are you currently reading/watching, or what’s something you’d recommend?
I’m currently listening to The Count of Monte Cristo as an audiobook. I’ve always been fascinated by a good revenge story and in particular, the ‘gotcha’ moment.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see how __________ answers these same questions
I’m really interested in graphic artists, so I’d say Ollie Moss. He is doing something, in a completely different dimension, that I would love to do. It’s amazing that he has gone heavily down the artistic route of graphics and has been able to incorporate his interests into his work, which is iconic.
Raphael Marsh is FanFinders' Creative Director and co-founder. He oversees the
operation and creative departments.
You’ll find Raf on LinkedIn, You can follow FanFinders on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Twitter.