Govind Shepley, Twentyone06’s founder and creative director, discusses the firm’s triumphs, struggles, and key lessons learned over the last three years

Creating my boutique design firm, Twentyone06 has been one of the most interesting journeys I’ve ever taken. I’ll happily admit that in my first year, there were many breakdowns and doubts, as well as many unexpected obstacles, but I’m truly proud of what we have achieved in these three years As I mark three years since the company’s inception, I’d like to applaud our success and encourage other small businesses to do the same, while also remembering that failures are merely learning experiences, so here are a few of mine. We launched in 2019, and for the first year, I worked relentlessly to learn about finance by reading books, listening to podcasts, and getting advice from professionals in the financial field. But seeking advice wasn’t enough; I discovered that I needed to know how to manage money as well. I used the most accessible source of knowledge, the internet, to obtain additional understanding. We live in an era where information is so easily accessible.

Understanding finance is essential when running a business, as is ensuring that your income balances your outgoings. I’ve seen businesses fail due to poor financial management, excessive spending, poor management, and a failure to forecast cash flow. This is also detrimental to project management, as it ensures you have the monetary value to manage your resources. When gaining clients, it is critical to understand the small details of a project, and we work just as hard to understand which clients are right for us as we do on the project itself. I’ll admit that throughout our journey, we’ve worked with some wonderful clients and achieved fantastic results, but we’ve also had some difficult accounts that involved pitching for projects only to discover that they weren’t right for us, and I’m quite ok to admit that. This knocked our confidence and reputation, but we’ve overcome it, and we now have far more success stories than failures. What I discovered was that what I knew would only be understood if I shared it with the right people. Given this, I refuse to focus on my agency’s USPs (Unique Selling Points) and instead consider UBTs (Unique Buying Tribes) who value what I do, how I work, and what I can achieve. Owning a boutique agency allows me to work closely with my clients on a very personal level, and often I gain recommendations due to this approach as many people prefer personal over powerful.

Secret mocktail bar surrounded by greenery and water features, perfect space to have a refreshing beverage.

I’ve learned to be thick-skinned, which is essential when dealing with difficult colleagues and clients. I’ve had clients question my ability in passive-aggressive ways and dictate when they will pay me, but confidence in what you do and your ability to do it is your best defense against these attacks. By the second year, I had ironed out many creases but needed to assess my management abilities and build my team. Many people in this region believe that a larger team is more efficient when it comes to managing larger projects, but I disagree because an efficient team is always far superior. When running a business, it is critical to focus on your own growth as well as that of your clients. I focus on leveraging my team’s distinct personality to attract like-minded clients.

During the pandemic, I quickly accepted that we would not grow by accumulating clients, but rather by looking within and evaluating our internal processes and structure. TOP TO BOTTOM Secret mocktail bar surrounded by greenery and water features, perfect space to have a refreshing beverage. TwentyOne06’ focusses on projects in the hospitality industry, and has already built a reputation as a market leader in F&B design, having completed projects with some of the region’s and world’s largest international hospitality brands in just three years. Transition from Tradition a juxtaposition of materials using traditional Japanese construction designs with modern materials. My final piece of advice is to find your niche because there will always be competitors who have been around longer, have better relationships, and have more resources. Finding your groove within and being confident in it will always be your strength. It’s no longer enough to be able to execute a project with solid design; it’s now necessary to examine both macro and micro trends for the coming years. You must be ahead of the curve for your client and provide them with data-driven design in order to be sought for. Do not follow the parade, but rather lead it.

Transition from tradition a juxtaposition of materials using traditional Japanese construction designs with modern materials.