Nathan Baranowski, chief wondermaker at Bradford on Avon-based Digital Wonderlab, discusses technology, Wiltshire and the Techies with Thrings partner Kate Westbrook.
Let’s start with the elevator pitch: what does Digital Wonderlab do?
We’re a full service digital agency helping purposeful organisations to understand how to use digital to meet their strategic goals. We offer everything from digital strategies to designing and creating integrated applications, websites and mobile apps.
How and when did it all kick off?
Tom (Passmore, Digital Wonderlab’s development director) and I were at university in 1999 and we created what was then called OJO Designs. For nine years we built sites for friends in return for beer and holidays. Things changed in 2013 when we bought Blue Bus off Kevin (Triggle, Digital Wonderlab’s creative director) for a quid and brought him in as a third director. I still owe him that pound.
What was the thought process behind moving from OJO to Digital Wonderlab?
We’d barely thought about our brand name – we came up with ojo, Spanish for eye, in the pub – until we started work on our values two years ago. Digital Wonderlab is about magic and logic: “lab” is a place of experimentation and exploration; “wonder” is about the unknown and possibility; and the “digital” bit is, well, that’s what we do. It’s a fun and playful name that resonates with our values and culture.
What does a chief wondermaker do?
I have two hats: as CEO, I drive the business forward and develop its position in the market. The other side is leading on digital strategy and solution architecting for our clients. A key part of my role is solving clients’ business problems – spotting gaps, understanding their journey and offering simple yet effective digital solutions.
Where do you sit in the digital market?
Our USP is around seeing possibilities and making them happen. We deliberately use the word ‘craft’ to describe what we do. Digital is moving incredibly fast but we believe technology should stand the test of time.
What makes Digital Wonderlab special?
Our people are genuine wondermakers whose purpose is fundamental to their work. Money, profitability and success are important but they’re not the be-all and end-all; greed has always concerned me. We believe technology should be available for all. If we can collaborate with others to enable people to live better, we should.
Where do your ideas come from?
I’ve got a great senior leadership team who I bounce ideas off. Outside of the business I have several trusted advisors, who act a critical friend when I need that fresh perspective. Running and surfing also give me time to think and work things through, letting thoughts leave my head and allowing what is important to emerge.
Let’s talk about Wiltshire.
I first came to the south-west when I was 11 and it still has a draw. I love Wiltshire: it’s rural, spacious and has beautiful landscapes. At my stage of life, nightclubs aren’t on my radar, but there are always places to visit or go for team nights out. I’ve been for 18-mile runs and not seen anyone. Complete isolation. Lovely.
There are also some excellent organisations here. During our time at Glove Factory Studios we formed relationships with some fantastic businesses. The south-west network is strong and full of organisations doing amazing things.
I completely agree. The business culture feels friendly and open. Which leads me nicely on to the Techies. What impact did winning have on Digital Wonderlab?
The first time we entered, we were judged and recognised by our peers at a time when we were relatively unknown. I loved that. The PR for winning is important, as is the internal bit. When a project wins it matters to the team.
What advice would you give would-be applicants?
Read the category criteria, clearly describe the work you’ve done and explain its impact, as if you were pitching to a client. And when you’ve completed your submission, ask whether you would give yourself the award – there is a big difference between great work and award-winning.
What would you say to someone starting out in business?
A business idea is only an idea until you make it into a business. Too often people have great ideas but the demand for that product or service isn’t there. User research is so important, as is testing and prototyping, particularly where technology is concerned. I’d also recommend getting involved with local networks. There is some phenomenal support available in Wiltshire.
Finally there’s good old-fashioned determination. No founder gets anywhere without sheer grit. You have to be prepared to fail, go back to the drawing board and start again.