“They Grow Up So Fast”: Simon Fowler On Five Years Of ABEL

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B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

In this op-ed, Simon Fowler, co-ceo and creative at ABEL reflect on the last five years at the creative agency, along with the crucial lessons he’s learnt.

Lead image: Photo from inside ABEL 5th Birthday Party

Last week ABEL celebrated its 5th birthday. Unlike my other five-year-old’s birthday, there was no bouncy castle. There was, however, a collection of colleagues, mentors, clients, and peers who all played a part (in some way or another) in helping raise and influence ABEL to be what it is today.

While the 5th birthday parties looked entirely different, I couldn’t help but compare my five-year-old child to our business of the same age.

Five – both a wonderful achievement and only just the beginning. A whopping number of businesses don’t enjoy the same fortunate maturity, and I’m truly humbled to be one of the few that have survived those early years.

In the weeks leading up to both milestones, similar comments of astonishment echoed,
‘Wow! Five? already? That went so fast.’

Actually. It didn’t.

It went like any five years juggling two-under-five would. And that’s not saying it wasn’t enjoyable – I’ve loved every second of it (so far) – but it took all-nighters, a fast food diet, and an unhealthy dependency on Google search.

The learning curve has been steep, and what better time to take a cheeky peek back at just how far we’ve come?

*hold on a second, I’ve just got to open this bag of Tiny Teddies*

So for anyone interested – here are a number of enlightening things this experience has taught me. Conveniently, there are five.

One. Imposter syndrome beware.

Surviving the trenches of the first 5 years of parenthood deserves a medal (is there an awards show for that?). Nothing makes you feel more like an imposter than holding a newborn in your arms and having no idea how you’re going to keep it alive. Starting a business is equally as overwhelming. But while we went in (to both) totally blind, it’s been an incredible thing to stop and realise how much we intuitively know. Every challenge conquered becomes a confidence boost – something which reiterates why you made the decision in the first place. And once I got over that mindset of ‘who put me in charge?’ it was easier to get excited about what we could accomplish together – the more we accomplish, the more we realise how good we are at what we do. And then the real epiphany hits, how can we be imposters when we’re intentionally trying not to fit in, and do something that challenges what we’ve seen in the industry?

Two. Unlearning curves.

Over the years parenting has changed, and so too has our industry. In the same way most of us don’t want to parent like we were parented, we didn’t start ABEL to be stuck in the past, with rigid, traditional structures. We had a vision for the way we wanted to build our company, based on what we had seen work, and what didn’t.

Which is part one of having to adapt and evolve.

Part two? That just when you think you’ve mastered an age, milestone, moment or rhythm – everything changes again. Your baby becomes a toddler, which is a new puzzle entirely. As a business, teams can change just as quickly. Our journey has seen loads of those moments where we’ve had to constantly adapt, pivot and evolve. Which more than anything has actually enabled us to be much more creative with our model, and more flexible too.

Three. Grow up. But don’t.

Growing up, without growing up. That’s a tightrope. A creative becoming a business owner. An individual becoming a parent. It’s a huge transformation – but how do you do it without losing a sense of who you once were?

It’s a time when you’re desperate to hold on to your roots; be fun; be free; be creative and inspiring. Yet be responsible, organised and future focused. I found myself with more questions and curiosity than ever, at the same time as needing to front up with some answers too.

But I think the wider lesson lies in never boxing anyone in to be one thing – I don’t do it with my kids, and we certainly don’t do it with our ABEL team or partners. So why expect it of myself? Things certainly became easier when I realised I didn’t have to choose a side – I didn’t have to say goodbye to one and hello to another. In fact, quite the opposite. In the same way we embrace different personalities and skill sets collaborating together to create the work – my inner-child and anxiety-riddled-adult could do the same.

Four. Ego gets you nowhere.

There’s nothing more humbling than the brutal honesty of a 5 year old to bring you down a few pegs. We’ve similarly found that a total lack of ego has been core to our success. When a bunch of senior brains (creatives and clients alike) come together with no ego or agenda, other than to do great work and enjoy the process, it’s incredibly liberating and leads to a much better output.

On top of that, the ultimate success is seeing those you nurture do well – recently seeing two of our team cement themselves as a new generation of creative has been so insanely rewarding. With Nic Kelly recently topping 30 under 30 and Siobhan Bird off to partake in the exclusive Cannes Academy.

Proud parent moment right there.

Five. Share the load.

I can’t finish this piece without a cliche parental metaphor (and there are so many). But as everyone knows, it takes a village to raise a child. And it’s been no different raising ABEL.

We’ve always been a people first business, because we know how much of a difference it makes having the right people around you. Over the past five years we’ve been #blessed with an incredible community of talented minds who’ve surrounded us, supported us, worked with us, and mentored us. We’ve seen the importance of being able to let go of certain roles and responsibilities to allow us to grow, as well as the unique ability to solve business problems differently when you invite the right brains into the mix.

Lastly, I’ve learned the value in choosing a good partner; that trust, transparency, communication and collaboration are invaluable when it comes to keeping dreams alive. And neither achievement I could’ve started or maintained on my own.

And on that note, this is where I’ll leave ya. Maybe next time someone points out that they do, in fact, grow up SO fast – take a minute to look in the mirror. I did. And realised that they weren’t the only ones who’d grown up after a handful of extra laps around the sun.


A Trans-Tasman creative collective founded by director duo Nicole Jauncey and Simon Fowler, after over 16 years of creating effective and award winning work. ABEL is a humble bunch of creative collaborators partnering with clients to provide direct to source senior talent and scalable business solutions. They are all passionate about enABELing brands with non traditional thinking and having fun along the way.

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