Taking stockDespite Bulletproof having a client roster that includes Coca-Cola, Diageo, Cadbury and PizzaExpress, Mundae and Stewart were quick to rubbish any suggestion that they had “made it”. “We are not very retrospective,” Stewart commented. “But being entrepreneurial, which I actually don’t consider myself to be, we’re always looking forward. Being ‘successful’ doesn’t sit easily with any of us. I don’t think you can ever consider yourself successful if you haven’t achieved what you want to do – which I guess means we’re damned forever because of an impatience to do just that.” This approach to building a business and serving clients is brought to life by a mural that resides on the wall of Bulletproof’s London office. Produced by illustrator Vic Lee, the mural’s central message is brutally clear – “get shit done”. The entire message reads: “We are a fiercely independent force of nature. A tribal tornado of instinctive intelligence and symbolic actions. Fuelled by synaptic soul power, not the faint of heart or weak of mind. Marching to the beat of our own drum, bonded by blood, sweat and tears. We vanquish mediocrity and get shit done.” The tribe Bulletproof’s message refers to is its workforce, which now numbers over a hundred across offices in London, New York and, most recently, Singapore.
The Bulletproof way“We recruit two ways,” Mundae said. “One is talent and the other is experience. With talent we are buying much more junior members of the team, and it’s less about experience and more character and heart. They need to have the right attitude, commitment and are interesting. “When it comes to experience, that is different. There we need four of five interviews, with the last one being with Jonny or I at the end.” Bulletproof has no specific system for recruiting, Stewart said, beyond trial, error and interviewing people. “People will go through a four or five-stage process, but even then we don’t know if they’ll be right as they need to immerse themselves in it. “We are a bit like Marmite, some will love us and want to be here for ages. Others will not find it their cup of tea, and will migrate back to the WPPs of our world. But when people do immerse themselves, when we really like them, we go back to that theme of a generation ago when people stayed in one business for their whole career. “We can say to people, if you want to do a stint in New York then let us help you do that. Don’t leave to go to another agency in New York.” The only culture Mundae and Stewart ever wanted to create was one where “people come first”. That began when, in the company’s early days, everyone broke for lunch at the same time. The youngest person in the “tribe” would go out to get lunch for everyone, and in return would get theirs for free. “It’s through that very basic human culture that we all thrive. When you have that you create a solidity through the simple union of breaking bread and working late together,” Mundae said. “You have to get on and like each other if you’re going to do 18-hour days.” Taking their business and setting up in two new continents has undoubtedly put a strain on retaining that all-important company culture, but Mundae and Stewart both believe they have cracked it without being insensitive to new environments. “We were very cognisant that British agencies have taken what was created in London and transported it lock, stock and barrel to the US market. You can see that from a distance and that’s arrogant,” Stewart said. “US clients don’t want a plummy British agency, so you need to get the nucleus right and then allow that to serve as the genesis – creating something in your vision, but in the same instance allowing it to become its own.” Mundae remembers having conversations with US-based clients about setting up shop in New York. “They all said they’d give us work, and then none of them did! All those best laid plans went to pot, but we found ourselves over there and really liking it.” Their approach to establishing offices in challenging new environments seems to hark back to the early days of Bulletproof itself – build it and they will come. This fearless approach is clearly something Mundae and Stewart share, backed up by a commitment to great work and innovation. There seems to have always been an element of beg, borrow and steal (except clients) in the Bulletproof journey. Never being afraid to hustle.
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