6 years in the life of Octave

May 14, 2023
Mike Brough

Octave turns 6 today. Mike Brough reflects on the hard mahi, and nailing the big question 'why should a customer choose us?'

“We’re nice, have a good track record, and you’ll love working with us”

It’s Octave’s 6th birthday today and it got me thinking about Octave’s journey over the last 6 years and all the hard mahi.

In the first year or so, every job we won was a cause for celebration and confirmation we were heading in the right direction. 

I remember our first big pitch well – and it is for all the wrong reasons. It was a big opportunity and we desperately wanted to win, but we were tripped up by the most basic of questions – Why would a customer use Octave? 

This should have been a question we welcomed and absolutely nailed the response, but instead we stumbled over an answer along the lines of “we’re nice people, with a good track record, and you will love working with us.” 

I remember the feeling well of knowing we didn’t have a chance of winning, and we seriously had to up our game.

Developing data driven digital products better than anyone else   

Thankfully, we got another opportunity at a large pitch and we’d learnt our lesson.

Our pitch was centred around our ability to develop data driven digital products better than anyone else.

We were partnered with DOT Loves Data to provide the data smarts, while Octave provided the digital smarts. It was the perfect combination of capability for what the customer was looking for and it was the start of a long-term partnership with our first big customer – Payments NZ, that is still going strong today.

Partnerships have been vital to Octave’s success and we are incredibly grateful to have close relationships with DOT Loves Data, EightyOne, and Springload. 

These partnerships have been key in enabling us to solve problems for a wide range of customers that we couldn’t do ourselves. 

DOT Loves Data develops data driven products better than anyone else, EightyOne has an incredibly talented team of marketers and even though Springload is a direct competitor, it doesn’t stop us collaborating and working together on initiatives we both support.

Our customer’s mission is our mission

The partnership theme also extends to how we view our relationships with our customers.  

We have always been deeply motivated by helping our customers deliver on their mission, which in effect, means we view our customers as an extension of the Octave team. We have adopted the mantra that when we are working on a project, our customer’s mission becomes our mission.

This provides an immense satisfaction when we nail a project which always has a large positive impact on the ability for our customers to be more successful. 

It also means we seek out organisations that have a mission that resonates with us and we can get behind. 

Te Māngai Pāho is a good example of a customer who we have a genuine partnership with, which led to the creation of ReoAko, a product that makes it easier for content managers to weave te reo Māori into their website.

Create meaningful relationships

Over the last 6 years we have formed plenty of good partnerships, but it would have been all for nought without an incredibly talented and experienced team that can deliver quality digital products.  

A services business is only as good as its people, and a focus from day one has been assembling the best possible team and creating an environment in which everyone can do their best.  

A lot of the work we do is hard and our ability to deliver on our customer’s mission depends on having the A team on the job.

We are a team of 20 people now and I would like to think our culture hasn’t changed too much since we started. 

At Octave, everyone has autonomy to fit work around their life, not the other way around. It’s a high trust environment where everyone has the space to do their best mahi. When we’re working, we work incredibly hard and the expectations of a quality product are sky high.

One of my favourite parts of Octave’s culture is that we regularly have lunch together. It’s something that started organically and is an important part of our culture. We’ve recently invested in a new office and central to the design was a very large table that we can use for team lunches. As we’ve grown, we have worked hard to keep this as part of our culture and we now shout everyone lunch once a week. 

Developing meaningful relationships with one another and sharing lunch together is an important part of feeling connected at Octave.

The best answer is usually somewhere between three opinions

I recently read a book by Matthew Syed called “Rebel Ideas”, and a key outtake was problem solving is more successful with a diverse team, compared to a team made up of people with similar experiences and backgrounds. I think this has applied to Octave over the last 6 years. Tom, Rich and I are very different people and we often have different opinions on how we want to run Octave. 

Tom is a very talented creative and leads with his heart, Rich is a super smart developer and always thinks about his team first, while I am analytical, entrepreneurial and commercially minded. 

What we have found is that the best answer is usually somewhere between our three opinions, and even though it can sometimes feel painful, there is real value in the conversation and the process of getting there.  

A key focus of the next 12 months is to bring more diversity into Octave so both the company and the leadership better represents Aotearoa.  

The most interesting agency in Aotearoa

Our mission at Octave is to be the most interesting agency in Aotearoa and as we look forward to the next 6 years, it is going to be this mission that guides us. 

It’s an aspirational mission that will always keep us striving to do things better, never settling for the status quo, and always trying to find the best solution for our customers. 

The first 6 years at Octave have been an absolute blast and I’m excited about what the next 6 years will bring.