Monkey business pays off for innovative ad company
It has been an exhilarating climb to the top of the tree for Justin Drape, Mark Green and Scott Nowell, founders of Sydney entertainment and content company The Monkeys, and finalists in the 2013 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards.
In 2006, Three Drunk Monkeys, as the company was then called, consisted of "three guys working around a trestle table and fighting over one internet connection".
The now 100-strong workforce includes planners, art directors, writers, designers, artists, filmmakers, producers, digital experts and content managers, producing a variety of advertising and branded content for clients including Telstra, Ubank, Ikea, Sydney Opera House, Intel and Google.
The inspiration to start their own agency came when they were colleagues in an advertising multinational, in part from the book The Brothers: The Rise and Rise of Saatchi & Saatchi, and partly from a desire to do things differently.
"The advertising industry hadn't changed much in years," Mr Green says. "The 30-second ad formula was feeling pretty staid, and we could see that a lot of agencies weren't equipped to deliver what businesses were looking for, both in terms of skill set and ambition."
Mr Drape adds: "We saw an opportunity to broaden the concept of what an agency can offer beyond traditional advertising. We wanted to focus on storytelling, and use a variety of different channels, be it TV, online or mobile technology."
Beginning with $10,000 from each of the founders, their first project was TV sitcom :30 Seconds.
A commission to promote ABC show The Gruen Transfer established their reputation as purveyors of provocation. Creating three products bearing the show's name, The Monkeys created ads for them and convinced the ABC to run them. Complaints flooded in.
They upped the ante by creating spoof ads for their own made-up products. Outrage turned to engagement, and 1.2 million viewers tuned in for the first episode, making it the ABC's highest-rating launch.
Launching in the middle of the global financial crisis meant there were a few anxious moments. "On the road one day, a client called to inform us they were pulling out, not knowing they were 40 per cent of our income," Mr Drape says. "We spent the rest of the afternoon in a roadside pub."
Mr Green says winning Young Entrepreneur of the Year would be welcome recognition for the hard work of the past seven years, and could also inspire people burning with a business idea.
"Everyone has a business idea in them, but not everyone does it," he says. "The hardest thing is to start.
"You also have to be realistic; you're taking on something you think about 24/7. Forget about work-life balance - work is life."
The Monkeys' latest adventure is new design agency Maud, in which the three founders are enjoying diversifying into public relations, marketing and events.