We chatted to Michael Leslie, the founder and director of one and a half year old, Cape Town-based creative studio, ANDPEOPLE, for our Self-Starters series. With over ten years experience in culture marketing, Michael left the comfort of corporate to start his own alternative agency specialising in the curation of brand spaces, content, experiences and design.
Since starting ANDPEOPLE in early 2012, Michael has built a team of youth culture experts who work on brands like Red Bull MOBILE, adidas Originals, Levi Strauss South Africa and BACARDI in their awesome Woodstock studio space. They also go surfing every Monday.
We had to find out more.
To begin, how and why did you start ANDPEOPLE?
With a little bit of money and a simple idea. We wanted to create a company that worked with brands in youth culture spaces that wasn’t an agency and didn’t act like a traditional agency.
What’s the story behind the name?
We see ourselves as connectors. Conduits between a brand, organization or idea and the people or community that it targets. Our job is to connect the two in an authentic, honest and sustainable way that creates value for both parties. So basically ANDPEOPLE represents that connection. adidas Originals and people, Levi’s® and people… You get the idea.
What are the biggest struggles with starting your own independent agency?
Anything to do with financial process or systems. After about 8 months; I brought our Finance ‘guy’ Shaun on to manage this and our business changed completely.
And what have been the greatest joys so far?
Building an awesome team and unique culture, launching our new studio space and website, working on some amazing projects with clients like adidas Originals, Levi’s® and Red Bull MOBILE and going surfing together as a team every Monday morning.
How do you go about building a great team?
I’ve been really lucky that in some ways our team has found us. This is probably because we specialize in a niche space, which has drawn or attracted a certain kind of person. I think this is critical to who we are and what makes us different.
You have an incredible office space in Woodstock. How important do you think surroundings are to the success of a new studio?
Thanks! Our office is the creation of our good friends Shaun Bond of Franc and James Louw who we’ve worked on many spaces with. I think for us it’s super important. Our studio represents who we are but also a big part of what we do. It also makes a huge difference coming into work every day and being like ‘this is nice’. I should know – we worked on trestle tables and couches for over a year.
What would be your ultimate project or client?
To be honest, my ultimate project is ANDPEOPLE so all the client work we do is a part of that. As much as I love working on new projects with brands and definitely dream of a couple of cool collaborations, building ANDPEOPLE is what gets me up in the morning.
As a company, how do you stay in the know about youth culture?
Everybody in our team is involved in youth culture some way or another whether it’s running a subculture site, practicing as an artist or surfing as much they can. So, for most part it’s very natural, but we have created regular forums like our Friday ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions where each week we’ll buy everyone lunch and somebody in the team will share something cool with the others. Other than that, just attend gigs, share books, debate opinions etc.
What subculture-based trends are you noticing in South Africa right now?
Chris Saunders and Rod Stanley kind of beat me to it but Johannesburg feels like a trend in itself right now. There’s a incredible inner-city energy, a lot of creative people doing very cool things and definitely the most cutting-edge fashion in country. Other than that; I think there is a really exciting shift back to specialisation and people focusing on niche products, offering and styles. We’re seeing this in the craft movement, which is obviously huge, but also in culture where people who have specialised in a unique sound or typography for example, are the ones that breaking through.
How do you choose freelance partners to work with?
Firstly and foremostly quality of work; but after that it’s attitude, collaboration style, delivery and approach. There are a number of people doing great work in all the areas in which we play but the people that we end up doing work with over the long term are those who meet all the above criteria. And the ones we have the most fun with.
You must have learnt a huge deal about starting a business in the year and a half since launching ANDPEOPLE. What advice would you give creative’s starting out?
I think one of the most important things is just knowing who you are and staying true to that. Not every opportunity is necessarily the right one for you and can often pull you off course. Also, get your finances and processes in order from the beginning. Learn from us 🙂
Any exciting near future plans for the company?
It’s still early days but we’re working on a few things. Watch this space.