Q&A with Olivier Peyre:
Tell me a little bit about yourself, who you are, and where you are from.
I grew up in the South of France, between the Mediterranean and the Pyrénées mountains. It’s pretty much heaven on Earth – you get to ski in the winter and go to the beach in the summer. My parents had vineyards and my grandfather was making a few bottles every year for friends and family, and I was in charge of designing the labels. I guess that’s where it all started for me! I started working in advertising, but quickly switched to focus on digital back in 2001. You could only use 256 colors in HTML when I began. I moved to New York 11 years ago, and started Kettle with Tyler Peterson (Technical Director) in 2009.
How do you describe yourself as a creative and the kind of work you do at Kettle?
My background is in Art Direction and User Experience, but I never had formal design training – I studied Marketing. I first thought it would be a handicap in my career, but it’s actually been a fantastic asset to help me understand our clients’ perspective. Especially since I get to work on so many different types of projects: on a given week the team will be imagining a new brand for a startup, inventing a revolutionary mobile app for an education company, identifying services a Fortune 500 needs to develop online for their customers, or creating a beautiful cross-channel campaign. At Kettle we partner with clients to create great products combining world-class design, insights, and vision. We’re continually looking for new ways to work with clients to help them reach their goals. And for every project our partners rely on us to bring fresh thinking to the digital world; whether it’s a new product or service that changes the way people behave or a new way to connect to people and create relationships.
As a Co-Founder and Creative Director of Kettle, what does your job entail?
The first few years were extremely entrepreneurial. My job used to encompass a huge range of things, managing projects, doing payroll, paying invoices and of course leading the creatives. Now that we’ve reached critical mass, we have an Operations team that took all of this over and I have to admit that I kind of loved having to figure out some new business owner challenges on a daily basis – I’ve learned so much. But I’m glad I can focus again on the CD portion of my job title!
We started Kettle because we felt the urge to create products that people like us would love to use. And that’s how we took off – brands and start-ups noticed our work, clients recommended us to their peers, and we grew from there. My job is to help our clients and teams understand what people need/want, and to help them create simple, memorable experiences that make a difference in the user’s life. It’s a lot of collaborative work with the client, a lot of sketching sessions with the Kettlers and a lot of iterations to get to the right solution. Tyler and I are makers at heart. We love to be in the trenches and get our hands dirty. So you’ll often see us wire framing/coding late at night with the rest of the team. We can’t help it!
How did you get to where you are today? What was your vision for founding Kettle, and what sets you apart from other agencies?
Back in 2009, when we decided to create our own studio, the state of interactive was very different, especially when it came to digital marketing. Brands were still struggling to understand what they could do online, and the majority of the work was a bunch of disposable micro-sites that no one cared about. It was a very brand-focused approach with the sole objective to sell products. No one was really using the web to create long-term relationships with their consumers, so we knew there was a lot of exploration to be made, and a lot of fun to be had.
Tyler and I started pitching our user-centered approach to Madison Avenue, and got ourselves a bunch of big clients pretty fast (and a few awards in the process). They were slowly realizing that top-down storytelling wasn’t enough anymore. Brands needed to provide value and memorable experiences to their fans and prospects.
The industry is now much more mature, and a lot has changed since then, especially our obsession for tiny screens and the internet of things. But the core of our philosophy remains the same: design stuff that matters.
We are lucky to work for the best brands in the world, and have built a pretty large team of amazing talent on both coasts. Our process is truly inspired by what made us successful: figuring out how can we provide people with value in the most simple, elegant way. Our teams are usually embedded with our clients so that everyone is always on the same page – it really enhances communication flows, and we can have impromptu work sessions whenever needed. We’re the startup within the Fortune 500.
A typical project starts with what a Kettle Royale – essentially a hackathon made of two teams or more, each with client representatives, strategists, UX designers, art directors, developers and producers. This helps us spearhead a project, and get prototypes we can run by users or prospects in a week or less. It really transformed the way we approach product development, and clients love it.
What is one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
At SXSW we were nominated for an Interactive Award for best responsive site for Brooklyn Bridge Park. It is a new category, and we were so proud to be nominated. The project started in February 2014, and we had less than 4 months to understand the complexity of the user base, reflect on the thoughtful modern essence of the park, and create a groundbreaking digital experience for one of the most innovative park in the world.
Among the projects we can discuss, Sephora is also pretty high on the list. We helped LVMH identify product opportunities for this, then, new device called iPad. By mixing editorial interactive content with digital makeup tools and how-tos, we designed one of the most downloaded iPad app – it even beat Angry Birds, which at the time was huge.
We’ve been partnering with American Express for 3 years now, and pretty much built together a startup: OPEN Forum. This is a special project to me. The one mission for the team is to create tools that can help entrepreneurs be successful, and overcome the obstacles encountered in the first couple of years of a business, which are the toughest ones. We’ve been using agile methodology and lean research, sharing a space with the Amex team at WeWork, working in squads (small teams) to release updates to the product every week or so. It’s an amazing opportunity to redefine the client/vendor relationship, and learn together the best ways to develop modern products.
Another favorite of mine is Mad Libs for iOS. We got to reinvent this classic paper-based product for today’s mobile obsessed generation. This meant pretty much starting from scratch and breaking down the game to its core to then to create a simple, modern experience and art direction that would get users hooked. Since we launched a few months ago, millions of Mad Libs were created by users, making it a huge success story.
How do you define success?
Seeing a product you created used in real life, or hearing people recommend it without knowing we worked on it. That’s definitely my benchmark.
We were listed at #597 on the Inc. 5000 of fastest-growing companies in America. Our new business is done pretty exclusively through referral – clients recommending us to colleagues and peers. The RFPs we are receiving are mostly dream projects that we would never have thought we would get when we started. These are all great validations that we are doing something right.
What advice would you give to someone interested in following in your path or starting their own digital agency?
It’s definitely not the easy path, but I couldn’t see myself working at a big agency anymore. The toughest part is that you cannot focus on what you’re good at – creating, coding etc. You have to handle all parts of the business. That means logging in 100 hours per week regularly. But it’s worth it.
The one piece of advice I would give is: Come prepared. Don’t just show up. Do your research. Know what you’re talking about. It will make a huge difference, and you’ll always be ahead of the conversation.
To see more from Olivier Peyre and Kettle, go to http://kettlenyc.com/.