Who says a garage-size company can’t work for LEGO and Lufthansa?

OK, maybe “garage” is not the appropriate term any more since we grew quite a bit recently. But you could definitely still call us “small” for a technology company (and we’d definitely still fit in a garage :-)).

In the “agency” business — where 3spin originally came from — most companies our size are usually service providers who either work for relatively small clients or for larger agencies. In many cases the big client of that large agency wouldn’t even be aware of this. They hire the large agency and have all communication directly with them.

Clients and applicants alike are always surprised when they see the list of brands 3spin has done work for. And they are even more surprised to learn which of these brands are direct clients of 3spin with no agency in between. In some way it has become our true fairy tale to tell.

I can totally see how for a small company it may be intimidating to work for huge corporations at first. The perception that such corporations would never work with a small company doesn’t come without reason. Usually it’s true.

It makes sense for big companies to consolidate their work and communication by having very few large agencies who then delegate tasks to sub contractors. But there is one exception where corporations can profit from working with small suppliers.

It is… innovation. It is when your company can do something few others even dared to think about and even fewer have ever done before. Small companies are often much more agile. Having worked in the agency business I know exactly how large agencies can easily get stuck in their day-to-day business. It becomes much harder to innovate.

I am not saying they can’t be innovative, there are always exceptions. But usually innovation has many different dimensions and agencies are usually in the third one. So here are my three most obvious ones:

  1. Innovation on an education and research level. At universities you will get in touch with technology that you might not see in a real world use for another 5 years or more (I always remember how at uni we worked with the exact same kind of Augmented Reality technology that has become popular in industry-use more than 5 years later).
  2. Innovation on an early adopter level. This means a certain industry has been well aware of a market-ready technology for a few months and very few game-changers started using it because they realize how important it can be to their business. I call this “applied innovation”. This dimension is our focus.
  3. Innovation that has been worked with at a research level for many years, that is known to experts for more than a year and that has already been used by game-changers for at least a few months. Many mid-sized companies still consider this innovation and they are right to do so. In this dimension innovation soon enters the mainstream.So for many clients innovation can already be a year old before it is implemented. But as mentioned above there are certain businesses to whom innovation has to be extremely cutting-edge. That is because innovation can be crucial to their business for strategic reasons. I consider one such example the use of virtual reality in the tourism industry. This is how we’ve won Lufthansa.

    So these companies need to make sure they learn about the latest trends in technology first-hand. And that is exactly why they appreciate working with small tech companies.

    In addition there are  companies which even fall into dimension 1, working with technologies on the university and research level. Beside Lufthansa, LEGO is also such a company. They do a lot of research and are very open to explore new technologies — even if they know a technology might not be market-ready for another few years, may it be for technical or for social reasons.

    In cooperation with LEGO and the ITU in Copenhagen we experiment with new ways to use building instructions. Our idea was to evaluate the use of Augmented Reality instructions with smart glasses. We developed an app and made hundreds of user tests in different countries.

    However, while many small companies have already discovered the “innovation” label very few really do it justice. If you don’t want innovation to be the beaten term from a hand book you really have to live innovation. Innovation does not only have to be part of your company’s philosophy. People need dedicated time to do innovation.

    That is why at 3spin we have a so-called “labs” day precisely every six weeks. Our labs may even be more radical than at companies like Google who became well-known for this term. At 3spin employees do not even have to apply for labs and they don’t need to pitch to maybe get their “off time”.

    At 3spin “labs” honestly means that basically all employees have “one day off” every six weeks to spend their time on innovative ideas and technologies. All employees may enter their ideas into a database. On a fixed date before labs day the whole group votes on the most promising ideas. To work more efficiently small groups are formed who then pursue their idea for an entire day.

    At the end of the day all members of the group present their results to the others. If we see a promising use case for a technology or an idea at one of our (potential) clients we proactively present our thoughts to them. We don’t wait for clients to ask us to be innovative. We just do it. This gives small tech companies a real advantage.

    There it is — the whole secret of how we manage to work directly with clients like LEGO or Lufthansa and keep on doing so. OK, I admit that maybe the way of how to approach your potential clients still remains a mystery which I would love to discuss in another article.

    Does your company have innovation at its core? Are you worried huge corporations would refuse to work with you if you approached them? Don’t be. I can only encourage you to give it a try.