Startup stigma – why would you leave your agency?

Two Wongs Would be Alright

It was hot. Hotter than a cat’s something or other. What better time to grab a cool, delicious Coke (product placement) and chat about startups with Simon Wong.

Simon Wing

Simon is a digital marketing whizz with an entrepreneurial head on his shoulders. He has followed the recent trend of moving from a global digital marketing agency (Steak) to a small East London startup called What Now Travel. I wanted to know why he moved, how his role and lifestyle have changed and whether there’s anything he misses.

What’s the big idea?

Simon works for a startup called What Now Travel whose main focus is the London Official City Guide app, an innovative tool for tourists wanting to use their phone to guide them round the Capital without paying for data roaming. It’s clever stuff and Mr Wong is the marketing man.

[Showcased by Techcrunch as one of their 2013 Top 15 European Startups showcased in their Battlefield competition at their Disrupt Berlin event (where previous alumni have been Dropbox and Yammer in the US).]

Why did you move to a startup?

Having worked in SEO for three years, Simon felt he had learned the digital mechanics and “reached a plateau”. He wanted to flex his creative muscles and test his entrepreneurial drive so having already done some ad hoc social media work for What Now Travel, he made the move proper. Simon stressed that at Steak “the people were great and it wasn’t about the money,” it was simply a case of wanting to learn more.

What’s different?

“It’s like any other job” he begins, “When I first moved it was cool to say I worked in a tech startup in East London but that wears off.” For Simon, it’s the innovation which is exciting – “People around me often say that we’d like to be doing ‘X’ but the tech doesn’t exist yet, so we’re working on making that happen. That’s how you know you’re working at the cutting edge.” He also loves being around entrepreneurs so he can learn as much as he can from them and when his golden idea comes along he is ready to pursue it.

What do you miss about agencies?

Certainly, Simon looks back at agency life with some fondness. At What Now Travel he is the only person in the digital marketing ‘team’ so there is a little less interaction with others and the knowledge share element of agencies is a little less prominent. Something that is taking some adjusting to for Simon is the very flexible working hours. “I tend to get in at 9 and leave at 6 but some people are in at 11 and leave at 8 – I suppose I miss the structure to an extent.”

Would you go back to an agency?

Despite Simon’s positive portrayal of certain elements of agency life, it’s fair to say that Simon is more than glad to have moved on. He has a level of autonomy now that was alien to him in an agency and his targets are simple: to build an engaged social media following. Of course, this is easier said than done because unlike at most agencies he has no budget to work with. What this means though is that he has to be creative and innovative – this what startups are all about.

What is a startup?

In my quest to find out what a startup actually is I asked Simon what his view was.

“It doesn’t matter how long a company has been around, as long as it is still looking for funding it is a startup*.”


We slurped the last delicious drops of our crisp, refreshing Cokes (product placement) and went outside to face the heat. As we walked to the station Simon told me of a new business idea he was pursuing (one that doesn’t compete with his current job obviously), which I am contractually obliged to keep schtum about. I couldn’t help but think what better place to learn about how to start a business than in a startup.



*This led to a discussion about funding rounds and what that means. A startup will go through several rounds of funding. A Seed round which is usually the first and involves money loaned from friends and family. The second is the VC round where the startup is ready to scale up and looks to loan significantly more money from Venture Capitalists. Another type of investment will come in the form of an Angel investor – an individual operating in a similar way to VCs but using their personal wealth.