By Frank Oprel and Marvin Burghardt
Fourteen years ago, Teus Baars founded NoSuchCompany. Today, this Rotterdam based communication and design agency strives to shape tomorrow’s sense.
I stumbled upon this quote: “Better a small boss than a big servant.” Could you explain that?
Well, this is a somewhat outdated principle, although it was a big thing when I first started. My brother had his own business that he ran together with a friend. I like the idea of not working under the supervision of a boss. I finished my studies by writing my thesis about exactly this. By doing so, I put across that having your own business means more freedom as opposed to being employed by a company. Obviously, this is not true. In fact, it’s nonsense. Whichever way you look at it, you are working for someone or something. You should do what your client wishes from you to do, and you should do it as well as you can. At any given time, you do things that people expect you to do. And this is certainly not a bad thing. There are many advantages.
In the past years, you have become a bigger boss than you might have expected. What kind of boss are you?
I am not a boss. I am not the kind of person who needs his voice to be heard by raising it. Besides, I think it is important that people do things their own way. I am not good at everything I do. This is the reason why I founded NoSuchCompany: I always had bosses who actually thought they did things the best. They always had to have the last word and felt superior. I do not believe in such kind of bosses. I believe that you should accept someone for whom he or she is, and let that person think for itself.
Does this strategy have any disadvantages?
No. However, what you do see is that very often individuals tend to claim success, whereas for me success by definition is a result of working together. Also, since I have a positive outlook towards things, it is quite common for people to start feeling special or superior. Sometimes I do have to put things in perspective, which then occasionally turns out to be unanticipated by these very people.
"I am not a boss. I am not the kind of person who needs his voice to be heard by raising it."
What is the power of this company? Is it the “no-nonsense” mentality of Rotterdam?
I think this is an important characteristic of our company. Advertising during the 80s and 90s in particular, had gone completely astray. People proclaimed things they didn’t know anything about. However, this has changed. Experts are everywhere, also on the customer’s side. You cannot just sell whatever you please to someone who has studied marketing. We knew this from the moment we founded the company. It was in our creed and it worked out quite well for us.
When looking back upon the last few years, what is the one thing that you are most proud of?
The thing I am most proud of is the fact that we’ve been able to work for large companies. Before I founded NoSuchCompany, I had been a part of different agencies who worked for large businesses. During these days, as I told you, I started my own business because I wanted to be a small boss rather than a big servant. So when I founded my business, I reconciled myself to a life of working for, with all due respect, small and medium enterprises. Hence, the fact that we work for companies such as Microsoft, Unilever, Shell and Coca Cola is just crazy.
What did it look like the first time you contracted a big company?
The first big company we worked with was Microsoft. In fact, taking on a big company is not that different. The biggest difference however, is that they permanently need to maintain communication. During those days we only had three people at the company. We had a whiteboard where we used to write down all our projects. As soon as a project had finished, we searched for a new one because small clients usually have once-only projects. Therefore, I always looked for something new. At a company like Microsoft, you are also constantly working with people. A good relationship with this person means that projects will likely, never stop. Microsoft was great, because one project led to another. Eventually, these references help to bring you closer to other large companies.
"for me success by definition is a result of working together"
When you grow so quickly as a company, is there a certain point where it becomes difficult to guarantee quality?
I would not say so. I had the chance of knowing the right people. Whenever we had a request, I always knew someone who could help us out. Those people have never disappointed me. If you treat people in an appropriate manner, they will never let you down. We always had, and we always will have, this attitude.
So, some matter of factness?
I do not like dealing with business folk who want something but have nothing to offer in return. Also, I would rather have worse results than an unhappy client.
How did you find the name “NoSuchCompany”?
I worked as an account manager for an agency in Amsterdam along with being a self-employed designer. I loved it, but it did not bring in anything because I lacked experience. I had to find out everything myself, and that takes a lot of time if you’ve been unable to master things from earlier. During my work as an account manager I really missed design, so I looked for an agency where I could combine both, account managing and designing.
Every agency where I applied asked me whether I would be an account manager or a designer. I wanted to be both of them, but no positions were available. So I created NoSuchCompany, because I felt that there was indeed, no such company where I would fit in. You have to do something in order to avoid unhappiness, and besides I knew for sure that there would be more people like me out there.
"I created NoSuchCompany, because I felt that there was indeed, no such company where I would fit in."
So this is where the name “NoSuchCompany” comes from?
Exactly. This happened in 2001 and my philosophy behind this was that, every designer who would work for me had to be able to work with clients too. That worked out tremendously well because we did not spend our money on employing account managers. We had direct contact with our clients, very practical. Nowadays, designers visit clients more often, but during those days we were the only ones doing so.
What is your most important motivation?
Our motive is the desire to shape tomorrow’s sense. That is basically our mission. Sense means enthusiasm and obviously tomorrow is the future. Everything that has something to do with this, like creating new design or thinking about new applications, is our motivation.
How do you handle setbacks?
You are in a competitive industry. How do you distinguish yourself from others?
You must be flexible and you must dare to change. You should not stick to things that were once successful, because tomorrow can be different. In 2009, print media lost much of its popularity due to the financial crisis. Digital became a big thing and our print designers had no more projects to do. We helped them to do a course and then one week after, they had learned to work with iPads and we managed to have some great projects in producing iPad magazines. I will never forget this moment.
I think we distinguish ourselves on practical grounds. We do not create a distinct profile by design, but by understanding our clients. We call that Identity Driven Design and Communication.
Additionally, since a couple of years we have been working with some of our NoSuchProfessionals onsite at clients. In this way, we better understand our clients' business, we work more efficiently against lower rates, and we improve our service to them. That is what we call NoSuchSourcing. It allows us to really differentiate from our competitors and helps us achieve demonstrable benefits for our clients. That is what we are going to do.