“I really never set out to form a creative agency; I was just a freelance designer who got too busy!” says entrepreneur Will Niven, founder of creative agency UNBXD.
The AUB alumni, who now employs more than 25 staff at Bournemouth-based creative agency UNBXD, set up his first business while studying for a two-year extended Diploma at AUB.
Will, who went on to study BA (Hons) Visual Communications at AUB, says that although the pandemic has led to a raft of companies trying to fathom a mixture of both home and office-based working models, remote working has worked out well for UNBXD, who handle creative briefs for national and international clients like Nike, NHS, Sandals, and LG.
“Everyone is mainly home working. We moved to home working in early 2020 when the pandemic hit, and in all honesty it’s been great. It really works for us and we’re using software for internal comms to keep things moving. Everything was looking gloomy initially, but we decided to use money saved from office space rental to set up international advertising campaigns in around 12 countries, which really helped move us forward.
“We’re speaking more with clients more than ever remotely, it just seems more candid, and more communication goes back and forth between us.”
The company grew from Will’s entrepreneurial work as a student, whereby between studies and working at a local clothing store, he took on freelance projects and employed classmates and university friends to complete client creative briefs.
“I was working at Richmond Classics on the shop floor and before long, I’d started working on their e-commerce website too. Off the back of that, I’d gotten a freelance contract designing for a restaurant chain and it just snowballed from there.”
“I never really set out to form a creative agency; I was just a freelance designer who took on too much! I hadn’t worked at an agency, so I didn’t know how other agencies worked, I just knew what worked for our clients.”
And snowball things did. Will’s small team of four, based near Bournemouth Airport, took advantage of a Virgin Start-up Loan of £10k which later saw them feature as Virgin’s Start-up of the Year.
Will says: “We had lots of press because I think the things we were doing were so different; the way we approached things, our design style and our identity.”
Soon enough, UNBXD caught the attention of enigmatic Ted Baker Founder Ray Kelvin. Kelvin, who was incremental in the development of Bournemouth’s Hilton Hotel, had bought a new office space in Bournemouth and saw potential in inviting Will’s team to pilot the facility.
But what is it that makes a successful business? Will argues that transparent working practice and a commitment to working with people are key.
“I think that the thing that makes us unique is the transparency we have with clients. We’re still a fairly small team, but we take on a huge amount of work – we onboard clients and they almost become part of our project team.
“Every employee at UNBXD has either had their own business or freelanced because I think that remote working requires a certain type of working attitude and discipline. Prior business or freelance experience gives you a really good grounding in terms of working with people, with a client brief and with a very clear timescale.”
And Will remains enthused by the creativity shown by new graduates drawn from the University and its Graphic Design and Visual Communication courses.
“Vis Comm at AUB is a fantastic course and I’m such a huge fan. So many people that I’ve met have come through the course and have gone on to work for some amazing companies. With Vis Comm, you can go on to specialise in areas, but the course gives you such a great introduction to so many things like branding, coding, typography… It’s always been very forward-thinking.
“I’ve attended AUB’s Graduate Shows, and we’ve employed a large number of graduates due to our central location in town. We’ve had so many AUB students working with us over the years, most recently a first-class BA (Hons) Graphic Design graduate called Louis, who joined UNBXD about two months ago.”
Speaking about his own work and career development, Will is keen to share with others how they too can branch out into exciting new ventures.
“I think that my advice for AUB students is to be passionate about what you do and say yes to everything. Build up your expertise and don’t be afraid to branch into something new! Even if you’re freelancing while studying, don’t be afraid to team up with a course mate and share skills and ideas.
“Be accountable, and always remember that creative work is at the discretion of the client. If they don’t like the way you work, or aren’t convinced enough to spend time or budget, they might cut creative work. Be prepared to demonstrate your worth and showcase how you’ve made a difference to their business.”
But what does a serial entrepreneur do to relax?
“We’re working across so many different sectors, you learn so much, and so I spend a lot of time in investing in other companies and ideas, cryptocurrency and trading. But it’s so important to get out of the zone too. I play instruments, I try to get out on walks as much as I can, and to be honest, I probably eat too much!”