A DECADE IN BUSINESS: Q&A WITH JAKE & SHANE

Earlier this year we celebrated ten years of Ready with a fantastic party at Bath’s Victoria Art Gallery.

Twin brothers Jake and Shane, who founded the company, have come a long way both personally and professionally since its launch in 2007. (Although judging by the photos below, taken ten years apart, it hasn’t aged them one bit!)

Jake Xu and Shane Carnell-Xu, ten years apart.

So we sat down with them to talk about their thoughts on the last ten years and find out their plans for the future.

What were you both doing this time ten years ago?

Jake: We were working at our desk in the corner of our rented flat in Oldfield Park in Bath.

Shane: Jake was probably working on an email campaign for Future Publishing and I was maybe doing a print ad for what was then CTC, now Cycling UK.

Why did you choose to launch an agency in 2007?

Shane: Because we started freelancing. Both of us were passionate designers beforehand anyway, but the freelancing took up more and more of our time in the evenings and on the weekends.

Had you always wanted to start an agency?

Jake: Yeah, actually, that is sort of true. When we were little, we would play pretend that we were running a company. We would give each other contracts to sign, I had a fake fast food restaurant which would involve me taking lunch money from Shane and making him lunch. We had a fake travel agency, didn’t we?

Shane: Yeah, and a fake fashion design house. And when we were grown up, we set up a company selling merchandise with Chinese names, that was before we founded Xcetra Media (Ready’s first name before our rebrand).

Jake: So we did give it a go, but it didn’t really go anywhere. And then it got to about this time ten years ago and neither of our careers were going anywhere, and that was probably the reason.

Shane: Yeah, setting up Xcetra was a natural logical step. And the freelancing gave us the opportunity.

What was your initial plan for the business?

Shane: Nothing! Actually, the initial plan was we were going to give it a go for six months, give it everything we had and see where it went. If we could sustain a living we would keep rolling with it, and if we couldn’t we would go back out and get a job.

Jake: I actually wrote about this in an article I did for Start up Donut. Unconventionally, we didn’t have a business plan. Our plan was very short term and at the time we just thought, let’s give this a shot. It was quite an irrational decision, and one we wouldn’t recommend as a standard way of setting up a business. You’ve got to have a plan, and I wouldn’t do that now if I was starting up Xcetra again. But fortunately, it worked out.

Shane: Thing is, with the agency model, we needed an office space, which was part of the living room we were paying rent for anyway. We had £3K we invested to buy equipment, the software and hardware we needed and we were up and running. We didn’t need a huge upfront payment to buy stock, storage or premises. So you could argue that to get started with a business like ours, maybe we didn’t need a huge long-term business plan.

So there was no backup plan then.

Jake: The backup plan was to get a job! But I think with what Shane was saying, there’s not that much to lose. I mean, you’ve got the equipment but you would probably keep the computer and stuff anyway for yourself to use. It does depend on the industry. In our industry, if a designer loses their job today, they can set up as a freelancer tomorrow.

Where do you see Ready in another ten years’ time?

Jake: Actually, we do have a proper strategy and we do have a long term plan now. As the business matures you have to, and it would be irresponsible not to have a plan when the team is relying on the business for their livelihood. So we have a three to five-year plan. Ten years – not at the moment but we’re working on it!

Shane: Personally I hate these forecast questions. Internally, sure, but things like the economy and the impact of Brexit are impossible to predict. All we can do is give it the same or even more commitment, and hopefully we’ll keep our clients happy and work with a few more too.

Ok, how about the next few years? 

Jake: We will definitely grow the agency, but following our tradition of growing steadily and solidly. We don’t want to lose our core values or risk the livelihood of any of the Ready team members. And we want to be ethical as well. The core is we all need to be very happy whatever we are doing over the coming years. We have to stay true to ourselves.

You guys don’t take many holidays! If we told you all our clients were taking a month off work and you could do whatever you wanted, what would you do?

Jake: Ooh, that’s a fantasy question!

Shane: I think I would come to work! (Laughter) No I think I would just jump on a plane and fly around the world. Stop off at maybe five or six places along the way, stay for maybe two to three days in each place and then just spend the rest of the time flying.

Jake: I think I would pick one destination as far away, as remote as possible, and spend the whole time there.

Shane: One of the things I most regret is that we never really did that whole gap year thing to go and travel. We’ve been travelling but we haven’t been to that many places. So if I had a month off, without worrying about work, I would basically fast-track that.

Jake: But no backpacks!

Shane: Oh yeah, definitely luxury all the way.

What are you most proud of over the last decade?

Shane: I think building a team. I remember getting our first member of staff…

Jake: Yeah, how daunting it was!

Shane: It was surreal to think about the pressure. This is somebody’s livelihood, it’s a big step to take as a business. So yeah, the thing I’m most proud of is the way we have built up a tight knit but fully functioning team. A talented team!

If you had the chance to start over, would you do anything differently?

Jake: It’s hard to say, isn’t it? I mean, you learn from your mistakes over the years but you wouldn’t necessarily want to not make those mistakes because that would mean you didn’t learn.

Shane: I think I would have got a business mentor a bit earlier. Because up to that point, we’d been doing things kind of by trial and error.

Jake: That’s true. Two years ago we had a mentor, Emma Collins. We worked with her in 2015 and she really helped us to transform the business. I probably would have done that earlier if I had to start over.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned over the last decade?

Jake: Perspective, for me. I think it just transfers into so many different areas of our lives. Particularly our personal lives – a lot has happened over the last ten years to me, to our members of staff, family and friends. On a personal level, it makes you realise what’s really important in life.

Shane: Work-wise, I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that technology is moving so fast, it’s so vital to keep up with it. Outside of work, the most important thing I’ve learned is that a cucumber is actually a fruit. And that bananas are the world’s largest herb.

Jake: Great, thanks Shane. Probably a good time to wrap this up and get back to work!