What is it like to build the agency of your dreams? We sat down with Rindor, Roman and Michael, founders of Verve by Vruchtvlees, and asked them everything about the start of Vruchtvlees, the evolution into Verve and how they see the future of branding.
When (re)building brands is at the core of your business, how do you experience your own?
Roman: "I actually found it very straightforward. The rebranding followed up on an extensive strategy trajectory which lay-out a clear path for us. Together with Senior members of the team, we took some days to soul search and find our brand essence. With a sharpened vision ‘Building Living Brands’ and a new moonshot ‘Becoming the #1 branding agency in the world’ we knew what to do! This helped with all the decision-making."
Michael: "It was also very insightful. Going through the same process as clients showed me how we can improve our processes and communication even more. The swiftness in which you have to make very impactful decisions was confronting at times."
Rindor: "Sometimes it felt schizophrenic to be the client, the agency and the founder at once. But in every way it was a very logical next step to take and a positive experience."
The swiftness in which you have to make very impactful decisions was confronting at times.
Did you always dream of an agency like Verve or are you, so-called, ‘accidental entrepreneurs’?
Roman: "We have always had an entrepreneurial mindset. When we were still 3 graphic design students at KABK (Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague) we wanted to discover the world beyond arts. We wanted to do something different."
Rindor: "I was always very inspired by big renowned design agencies like Dumbar. Big teams making international, very visible and highly regarded work."
Vruchtvlees, the brand, was built around our own interests and network.
Michael: "We wanted to discover what it was like to work for clients, make more commercial work, think more practically. This started off with a T-shirt business: producing handmade T-shirts with silk-screen printed graphic designs."
Rindor: "Vruchtvlees, the brand, was built around our own interests and network. We liked graphic design so we designed prints for shirts."
Michael: "It was more than a T-shirt: it was a lifestyle (characterized by cheap champagne and expensive microwave meals)."
When did Vruchtvlees the agency come into being?
Rindor: "Running this small business taught us a lot, but we discovered designing suited us better. It was more fun and had more potential. And most importantly: with good design we can add real value for customers, we can make an impact!"
Roman: "You had the digital agencies with a technical background on one side and traditional graphic design studios on the other. We felt that, as digital natives, we could fill this gap and bring Dutch Design to a digital world."
Michael: "We slowly but steadily got bigger and bigger assignments. In 2 years we grew from making T-shirts to designing websites for cultural institutions. After 7 years we got to the point where we thought ‘we are going to build a team, we are going to be a design agency’, that’s when we hired our first employee, Niek, in 2014."
After 7 years we got to the point where we thought ‘we are going to build a team, we are going to be a design agency’, that’s when we hired our first employee.
Fast forward to 14 years later, what didn’t change in all those years?
Rindor: "Our culture! We are driven and ambitious and like to work with the best people for the best customers. We really believe in the saying ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’."
Roman: "‘Learning by doing’ is very exemplary for how we operate. We always want to go on new adventures, experience new things. We all have the Pippi Longstocking mindset: ‘I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.” By challenging ourselves we bring ourselves, and thus our work, to the next level."
Rindor: "At our core is the urge to do things differently. With a background in arts and culture, with its specific codes and (unwritten) rules, we had a different mindset early on. We took culture, which was (and is still) seen as ‘difficult’, and made it attractive to a younger audience."
Michael: "We also share a love for Dutch design and are on a continuous quest to bring this design esthetic to life online. We want to define ‘Dutch digital design’."
Rindor: "Last year with bigger projects, international clients and a growing team the urgency to rebrand was bigger than ever. We needed a new name and identity matching our ambitions. With Verve we can shift in a higher gear."
Is there such a thing as a Verve-style? And how would you describe this?
Rindor: "In the early days of the agency, the three of us extensively discussed and analyzed every strategy and piece of work we designed. By working so closely I think we developed a signature style, now recognizable as that of Verve. It’s been a real collective effort, where our different expertise complimented each other."
Roman: "Every work we make stems from a strong strategic foundation. I hope people recognize the quality of the user experience and clarity in strategy and messaging."
Michael: "I believe our style can be traced back to certain roots in our culture. It’s a combination of our Dutch design heritage with our Dutch mentality. It’s in your face, bold, colorful, clear and outspoken."
Where do you see Verve in 5 years from now?
Rindor: "We want to grow, but not just for the idea of getting bigger. It’s quality over quantity. We want to grow in the amount of qualitative and impactful work we make. The size of the company is flexible, it’s determined by what’s needed to make the best work with the best talent."
Roman: "In 5 years, Verve is an internationally operating branding agency, building meaningful digital-first brands for the modern world."
We want to grow, but not just for the idea of getting bigger.
What has been the biggest catalyst for the current success?
Rindor: "Definitely the people! Everyone that is, or has been a part, of Verve. They make the relations with clients, the work and the company."
Roman: It’s all about making strong work with talented people. It also requires determination, working hard and being consistent. Opportunities will arise, it’s your job to recognize and make the most out of them."
Which trends in branding do you foresee in the upcoming years?
Roman: "In this digital age, we see a brand in a dozen different ways before we even notice it. To survive as a brand, you need to be able to stand out and adapt. Brands need to think beyond the logo and invest in a multi-dimensional brand system. We call this a ‘Living Brand’. A Living Brand is a breathing brand that’s built from the core – flexible enough to quickly adapt to consumers’ ever-changing needs. Brands should constantly work on every aspect of the experience they give people."
By being real and outspoken you can claim your spot and stand out in a sea of sameness.
Rindor: "The future of branding is all about the shift from identity to purpose-driven brands. Authentic brands that stand for something. By being real and outspoken you can claim your spot and stand out in a sea of sameness."
Roman: "We also see more and more technology-driven companies discovering the importance of strong and smart digital-first branding. After fully focusing on product development they discover they need a strong holistic brand to stand out and connect to their users."
What’s your advice for organizations that are about to start their rebranding?
Roman: "Start with extensive qualitative and quantitative research! These insights will lay the foundation for your strategic traject. I would also advise outsourcing as much as possible. There’s a lot that goes into it and it is probably a bigger project than you would estimate."
Michael: "Make sure to involve the whole company. We conducted interviews, collected feedback and asked everyone to suggest names. By making it a collective effort the idea started growing on everyone at an early stage in the rebranding process."
Roman: "As a studio, just as any other brand, you’re constantly changing. Make sure the identity is scalable and flexible, so it’s ready to grow and expand with you in the upcoming years."