Two buildings, over 60 employees, a handful of interns, 26 brands, several partnership offers turned down, all achieved under 18 months. That’s the short story of Arcade Indonesia, a self described next generation communications agency led by CEO Gary Caulfield and ECD Alfa Aphrodita.
Gary and Alfa had worked together for several years from their days at McCann and previously Ogilvy, before deciding to take the plunge and start their own company at the end of 2013.
Although Arcade Indonesia was officially launched in January 2014, the pair had worked on their own to build the foundation of the company for a couple months prior with the support and guidance of Arcade Singapore to help set themselves on establishing another boutique agency based in Jakarta.
At least that was the plan until Arcade started to win several major accounts, namely a few Unilever brands at first, then IKEA, followed by more Unilever brands, Pizza Hut Delivery, and some work for Coca-Cola as well.
The drive for client acquisition had placed the three partners, which also included Creative Director Aldo Hutomo, into a hiring frenzy. In just a year, Arcade Indonesia transformed from what was intended to be a small agency into a 60 person company which outgrew its original location at Jalan Yado 3, Radio Dalam, South Jakarta, and expanded to its second office, which Alfa calls Arcade 2.0, directly across the street from the original Arcade office. Surprisingly the company is on the verge of outgrowing the new site already.
“There was kind of like just three of us for a while”, Gary said. “(General Manager) Dewi (Theo) is a huge part of what we’re doing & have been doing all along, she’s a real asset to the company. A massive part of what we do, and have done so far, we owe to her. Aldo joining was crucial as well, especially as the 3rd partner, which was great and he has been a real key as well”.
Gary admitted that the entire experience was not what he expected when he started the company in 2014. “We’re very lucky, as we didn’t expect all of this so soon to be honest. I thought we’d be successful, but I didn’t think it would be this crazy, this fast”.
Despite having so many clients on board in just one year, Arcade has had to turn down a number of invitations to pitch to avoid burning out, but more importantly to be able to focus on their existing clients. “We have had to say no a lot too, as we’ve turned down about 12 pitches already, that’s basically once every month that we’ve rejected, which is crazy as well”, Gary said.
Many of those rejections had to do with a number of things, some of which included obvious brands in competition with existing clients, others were delays in hiring opportunities, and in most cases, simply workload and deciding to focus on the business they already had taken on.
All this growth however requires the company to be more alert and be more mindful about the future. “As one day the craziness might stop”, Gary said.
Even though Alfa & Gary have worked in the industry for over 40 years combined, they admitted that there’s a lot that they still need to learn about the business. “I’ve been in business for a long time,” Gary said, “but I’ve never been a CEO, and never ran a company before, as I’ve only ever been an employee and a Creative person, so there was a lot of things I had to learn that I had no idea about and I’ve never had to think about ever before”.
Alfa concurred. “I’ve never owned an agency before either, so what I’m doing here with Gary and the people in management, we learn by simply doing”.
Gary added, “but we thankfully have had tremendous support from the owners & senior Arcadians in Arcade Singapore to help guide & advise us along the way. As we could not have done all of this without them”.
Gary hopes that this year the company can “make sure all the clients are really happy, and all the people we have with us are really happy too”.
“At some point we can’t keep growing like this, it’s ridiculous. It’s also scary, I didn’t expect to have this many people… it puts a little bit more pressure on us to make sure everything is going well”, Gary said.
Alfa doesn’t deny that the company can still grow but she wants to make sure that it’s within a reasonable and manageable limit. She wants Arcade Jakarta to be a place, “where the senior people can still participate day to day. Not too many layers. We don’t want to become so large that the senior people cannot still be involved”.
“What I can say, is that we add people responsibly”, Alfa said. In hiring people, she wants to make sure first that the company actually needs additional people. Most of the time new clients means new hires, but if Arcade can optimize the existing team, it may not be necessary.
“We don’t have a target, and that is so nice. Maybe that’s the secret, never have a target,” Alfa said, half jokingly. “Our main target is that we simply cover our costs, that’s it. If we do need people, can we afford them? Can we afford this many people? Can we afford more desks, or expand to the house across the street?”, she said.
Arcade, like many other communications agencies, have all sorts of different clients, but the leaders are clear on what sort of partnership they’re looking for.
Alfa said, “I like working with clients who come to us with a clear direction, ‘this is a problem that I have, so what kind of solution can you provide?’, so we don’t spend a lot of our time guessing, because once you determine what the problem is, it’s easy for us to figure out the answer.”
“When we first started this, our main drive was to just have a fun workplace. Advertising is supposed to be fun. Yes it’s tiring, but it has to be fun. If it’s not fun, then don’t do advertising”, Alfa said.
“It’s nice to be doing your own thing and that’s why we’re so grateful to the guys in Singapore for giving us this amazing opportunity”, Gary said.
So where is Arcade heading? For Alfa, that’s a tough question. “We can’t say where we’re going next at this moment, but what I find helpful is along the way, we know what we are not and we know what we don’t want to be, and that is very important to who we are and how we do things”.
Currently the Arcade network of agencies operates in Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, China, and South Africa with a plan to open in the United States in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
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