B&T’s Best of the Best lists continue with our look at the best industry entrepreneurs. These are the people who take a risk and start out on their own, trying to do something new and different with a fresh look at the industry and disruption on their agenda.
These lists are designed to spark debate and shine a light on those whose businesses are forging a new path. Naturally, with an arbitrary cap at 10 businesses (that’s right, we’ve got some joint founders on here) there will be some people who have missed out, not because they were not worthy but because we had to draw the line somewhere.
We’ve already had our 10 best creatives and, in the coming weeks and months, we will be revealing the best in the following disciplines: Content Producer, Data Scientist, Commercial Director – Creative, Recruiter, Commercial Director – Media, Film Director, Public Relations, Strategist – Creative, Technologist, Consultant, Strategist – Media, Project Manager, Executive Leader – Creative, Mentor, Executive Leader – Media, Media Director, Developer, Casting Director, Industry Association Chief, Experiential Producer, Social Change Maker, Journalist, HR, Planning Director – Media, and Marketer.
B&T released our list of the best creatives in adland last week, with Howatson+Co’s ECD Gavin Chimes topping a star-studded list.
But, without any further prevarication, here are the best entrepreneurs around. If we’ve missed anyone (yes, even you) let us know below.
10) Mike Fraser, Stephen Graham and Konrad Spilva
Founding partners, Shadowboxer
Set to turn three years old later this year, Shadowboxer’s growth has been remarkable. The Melbourne-based creative consultancy was founded by the trio with five foundational clients despite facing off against the likes of AKQA and dentsu’s Isobar. The company has since grown to more than 30 members of staff and brought over some big industry names to help head up its functions. Plus, while some agencies like to boast of barista coffees and office pooches, Shadowboxer goes one step further with a profit-sharing scheme that allows staff to take a bonus or reinvest it into the business.
9) Michelle Akhidenor
Founder and CEO, The Peers Project
Audio is a boom market at the moment but, when Akhidenor founded The Peers Project back in 2018, it was in the doldrums. Despite that difficulty, Akhidenor put her experience as a former podcast host to work creating an agency that works with a range of brands from Fortune 500 companies to venture-backed startups. Akhidenor’s fresh look at audio measurement and focus on diversity and inclusion has seen the company grow its annual revenue four-fold since launch and it is set to grow another 200 per cent by the end of this financial year.
8) Jaimes Leggett
Founding partner, Today the Brave
Leaving one of the biggest gigs in adland to start out on your own might seem like an insurmountable challenge but Leggett has made serious progress in just over a year with his new agency. Stressing that bravery is not bravado, Leggett and the team have brought on some huge clients including News Corp, Coposit and Zambrero and he told B&T that there are yet more still in the works. Today might be brave but tomorrow definitely seems bright.
7) Veronia Cremen
Getting on the shortlist for B&T‘s 30 Under 30 awards is not easy – but getting on the list for three separate categories is truly special. Working in the social media space, Vonnimedia was founded in 2019 and now manages more than $5 million in annual digital advertising spend. Founded in late 2019, the firm had an initial focus on brands local to Cremen’s hometown in Sutherland Shire but it now lists the likes Schwartzkopf Professional and NRL official merchandiser My Team Shop among its list of clients. But, not content with running just a single agency, Cremen has expanded with new firms Creatoroo which delivers video content made by creators to convert products and services for brands and, most recently, VM Studio as a content production subsidiary of Vonnimedia. Not bad for a 26-year-old.
6) Nat Taylor
The Aunties, Poppet Content
In 2021 Taylor co-founded The Aunties, a support network that inspires and champions women and marginalised genders in creative industries. Now, she’s trying pastures new with Poppett Content, a new production company that looks to put work with integrity and a focus on people at the fore. And the firm is already getting started on its mission with a pending B-Corp certification and prioritising low-carbon footprint production – she said the firm aims to be a “gamechanger” in the market. From looking at her previous work and hugely respected position within the industry, we certainly wouldn’t look to bet against Taylor, Poppett or The Aunties.
5) Marilla Akkermans
Managing director and founder, Equality Media
Akkermans founded Equality Media back in 2018 with the vision of it becoming a force for good. The indie full-service shop has certainly set about its task in the right way, producing work for non-profits such as MEGT. However, the company’s focus on being a force for good has manifested itself in other ways. For example, the firm has rolled out a flexible 32-hour four-day work week with a dedicated “life management day” every week. But that doesn’t mean the staffers are spending more time in the pub, with the company reporting a 68 per cent reduction in time spent in meetings and an 11 per cent uplift in active tasks. It has also recently announced menopause/ menstruation leave for five days per year, gender affirmation leave for 10 days, cultural or ceremonial leave for two days, and even two days “pawternity” leave every year to care for pets.
4) Dalton Henshaw
Founder and CEO, Bullfrog Media
Henshaw’s Bullfrog has gone from strength to strength in recent months. The former AFL player started the agency back in 2019 and, despite launching straight into the pandemic, it has picked up an enviable range of clients ranging from AIA Insurance to Linktree and Bose. It has also grown rapidly from just five staff to more than 35 and it has started nabbing the bigwigs from more established agencies. Earlier this year, Saatchi & Saatchi’s head of creative Simon Bagnasco and its chief strategy officer Alex Speakman upped sticks and joined the indie agency. Bullfrog is doing good, as well. It counts Oxfam Australia as another client and recently launched a pro-bono residency for woman-led startup businesses. It’s safe to say that Henshaw’s entrepreneurial eye is setting Bullfrog up for a very impressive future.
3) James and Luke Course
Directors, Gawk Outdoor
Being an entrepreneur is all about spotting a gap in the market. The Course brothers spotted such a gap in the regional Victorian out-of-home market. While it might not seem the sexiest market in which to operate, the brothers have seen the business grow rapidly and are dedicated to ending the “us/them” perception between metro and regional markets. In fact, such is the size and potential of Gawk’s market, it has managed to turn over more than $4 million per year, with the company erecting 90 of the 98 new billboards in regional Victoria since 2018. A raft of awards have followed for the brothers, ranging from a B&T 30 Under 30 gong for James and an OMA Rising Star award for Luke.
2) Chiquita King, Ant Melder
The former DDB and M&C Saatchi duo set up indie creative agency Cocogun in 2019 with the simple task of using creativity to change the world. But in a relatively short space of time, the firm has certainly had a good crack at it. Recent work for Anti-Slavery Australia and purpose-driven car insurer Stella caught the eye while a brand campaign for MissingSchool tugged on the heartstrings. They recently won an award for the firm’s anti-slavery initiatives, as well. But it seems as though there is still plenty ahead for Melder, King and the shop’s talented range of creatives.
1) Matt Herbert, Connor Archbold
Founders and co-CEOs, Tracksuit
Brand equity had previously been considered a fluffy metric by the hard-nosed beancounters within big businesses. But B&T 30 Under 30 winner Herbert and business partner Archbold are putting technology to use, helping brands keep track of their equity. The technology-based firm has seen a remarkable level of growth in its two short years of existence. It now tracks more than 1,300 brands around the world and is valued at more than $45 million. In fact, it even counts the likes of Mark Ritson as its backers. But the pair aren’t finished. They’re now looking to take on the big market research firms and demonstrate how important brand equity is to a company’s bottom line and expand into Sydney, New York and London. You’ll certainly be hearing a lot more about Herbet and Archbold in the pages of B&T.
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