Holiday reflect on the launch of their studio and the learning curve of running a new business
Alex Bones and Stuart Hall are partners at Holiday; a Lisbon, Toronto and Los Angeles-based studio they founded together at the beginning of 2021. The duo met and ‘fell in friend’ while working together at an agency in London, before jetting off separately to experience agencies around the world. Not feeling content, however, the pair took a leap of faith and set up on their own. They tell us about their first year as Holiday, their complimentary creative backgrounds, and the learning curve of running a business together.
PT Congrats on the launch of the studio! How have you both found the journey so far?
AB Honestly? Smooth, but also rollercoaster-like, everything moves fast, significant change sweeps into view quickly and some of the corners I thought we could take with ease have had a little more g-force than imagined.
Ultimately we’re here for it, we’re hungry to solve our clients’ problems and do good work, the journey will be what it will be.
SH It felt strangely smooth. It hasn’t really felt like a journey and more of being dropped off. We were really lucky early on in getting some healthy SoWs signed off. That took us from 0–100 much faster than we anticipated. It was less like ‘hitting the ground running’ and more like ‘being hurled across the tarmac by an A380,’ but that’s fine, we really enjoy working at pace. We both hate jogging (as an idea and activity), so maybe that’s why. Maybe we missed out on a few things along the way, like stopping to enjoy the view, finding a nice place to go for a swim, pulling into a petrol station to get some shitty coffee and sad-boy meat pie, but that’s fine, there is always plenty of time for those things.
PT What led you to start the studio together?
SH Alex and I met and found solace in one another a few years ago while we worked at a big advertising agency in London. It was the sort of place driven by stress, which we were lucky enough not to be affected by. We ended up goofing off and having a bit of fun together when we could. There’s one offhand comment Alex made to no one in particular, in apropos of nothing, about the (then new) Mac OS Dark Mode feature, muttering “God. Light Mode’s for cowards.” It had me in stitches in a very hushed and solemn office and after that, we ended up ‘falling in friend’ pretty quickly.
Alex soon left for Toronto and I moved to Lisbon, but we still chatted regularly. We started to talk a lot about our shared frustrations (general moaning) with working for other studios and really feeling like we didn’t fit in anywhere yet. We are both analytic by nature which can skew negatively sometimes, but really, it’s a kind of joy we both share questioning why things are a certain way. In this instance, it was about the working mechanisms of different studios we’d spent time in – what we think worked well, what we’d been given the opportunity, and what things felt old and ready for a refresh. There are definitely practices and expectations set by big creative agencies (and their clients) that haven’t translated well over time, but are still ingrained in a lot of studios’ workflow and project processes.
Ultimately we were at a point in our careers where we had freelanced and contracted at a lot of well-known studios and agencies and always found ourselves leaving. Not ever really wanting to move backwards meant that we had to take the leap of faith that the next stage for us both was Holiday.
PT You’ve described yourselves as an ‘insight-to-launch creative studio for new ventures,’ what attracted you to working with these kinds of clients?
H We suppose it is worth defining what ‘new ventures’ means to us, and no, it doesn’t mean ‘start-ups.’ Our ideal clients are existing businesses, entrepreneurs or even groups of entrepreneurs and their investors that have seen some stuff, done some stuff – got some notches on their bedpost and want to shape what comes next. The decision to lean towards what we can do for new business ventures was informed by our many experiences of feeling like we fell short of the mark when we’ve been in those situations in the past. As we continue to work into our studio’s concept, our mistakes and misunderstandings have helped us develop a natural propensity for project design and vision mapping. We reverse interview our clients at a very early stage, helping them see the bigger picture and draw out articulations of what the fullest, most authentic version of their project may be, before and during the formal onboarding process. Why? This means we always have a shared vision of the project that we all sign up to, forming a vested interest and more importantly, bonding ourselves as one team, so when the inevitable strikes... we’re (mostly) all good.
Gone are the days of simply having a website, strategy for new business and getting on a few blogs.
PT How have your creative backgrounds influenced the studio’s DNA and the work you do?
H Our lived experiences of other studios, our deep admiration for other studios and their ways of working, our personal failures and the failures of those around us that have affected the work – these all stick in your mind like food to an unoiled pan, but in a good way we think. The crispy bits are often the tastiest and absolutely inform most everything we get up to.
Both of us come from pretty different backgrounds within the creative sphere, which means we have a complementary skill set. Stuart has been lucky enough to work at some really lovely studios in Sydney, Melbourne and London while Alex’s background has seen him work on bigger, more luxury and cult brands in studios from London to LA. We were both really cautious about how and where we overlap so we can authentically offer value, not simply rebuttering the same piece of toast, and charging twice. Which might sound rich and delicious, but really you’re just mashing well-greased holes into warm bread.
We understand we aren’t saving lives, but our mixed backgrounds have afforded us a teeny bit of leverage allowing us to carve out a little room to innovate, mostly on the studio process, workflow and client engagement aspect of our business so far. Overall we would say we have laid our foundations well and are excited and now feel ready to build ourselves up and express ourselves more from here.
PT Where did the name ‘Holiday’ come from?
H There was an iteration of Holiday that existed about 10 years ago (back in Australia). Way back then Atelier Bureau Studio was on the drawing board because we thought it sounded ‘cool,’ but really it just sounded douchey. Also, the ambition back then was to have a studio that could operate in lots of different countries and time zones – the idea of working anywhere – Holiday. We both thought it still worked, so it was very easy to adopt it.
PT What has been the biggest challenge when setting up the studio? Did anything surprise either of you?
SH Setting up the studio was really enjoyable. It was driven by ambition, determination and the knowledge our past hard work and experience have translated into having our own clients and running our own place. We responded to opportunities of work that enabled us to start the studio in the first place and we had a really busy first year, and remain so with a healthy project pipeline, all with very little presence online.
That being said.
Gone are the days of simply having a website, strategy for new business and getting on a few blogs. Instagram came along and changed everything for better or worse (which goes without saying). The real-life implications of online validation apply to running the social media race as a studio. Again, we are really confident in our work and abilities and what we offer as a studio but, like everyone, we are not infallible to the endorphin hit of a like and follow. I am sure any studio in our position (or even an established one) knows what I’m talking about – click ‘post’ and there you are on the validation rollercoaster.
This is surprising. Literally this. We’re grateful for the airtime.
AB Every day pulling on our big boy pants and rejecting the, very natural, cynical tendencies of the typical ‘design boy’ in each of us in favour of more openness and optimism. It’s fucking hard, but it's the only way to manage relationships, stay practical and solve problems efficiently. I don’t think this is surprising, but did I mention how hard this is?
RE surprises... basically what should have been obvious all along, just because people have cash does not mean they have vision and competence to match. However, they do have goals and aspirations though and as mentioned above, there are ways and means of overcoming this and becoming their champion.
We’re always willing to pay for the right talent.
PT Who else is on the team and what are their roles?
H We work with a collection of strategists, writers, animators, editors and CGI people. Realistically we are a creative partnership operating as a studio. We pull in who we need for each project and more importantly we pull in who the client needs specifically, which means we have a deep bench of diverse talent we love and that diversity helps each project team not only maximally satisfy the brief, but people enjoy working on it, because it speaks to their experience and their talents.
In every instance, we’re always willing to pay for the right talent that our budget reasonably allows for – because we want the best for the work and we’re greedy like that.
PT How do you coordinate working across multiple countries?
H Figma, Slack, Zoom, WhatsApp, Calendar, G-Suite – no secret sauce here.
RE timezones, Stuart is up first in Lisbon on GMT and Alex wakes up next on EST and a handful of our team and clients are on the west coast waking up last on PST... Stuart has ‘alone time’ in his morning, we are together in his afternoon/Alex’s morning, client-facing in his evening/Alex’s afternoon and then Alex has his evenings to close out our day.
Starting the day in Lisbon, then Toronto and ending in LA is really advantageous, particularly when dealing with tight timelines and budgets because the studio is basically open 16 hours a day without anyone doing overtime. The direction of travel of each day checks out, so it’s easier than it might seem at first glance and it all makes sense.
PT What are the next few months looking like for you? What are you looking forward to?
SH Alongside client work, we’re developing our own skincare collection in response to the water crisis. The formulator is in the lab refining the product as we press on with other aspects of the project. Needless to say, we’re super excited to get that in our hands in the coming weeks.
We are working with some clients to help them secure funding and plan the (entire) life of their projects as the SoW goes beyond the strategy/branding phase to include product formulation and design, production and procurement. There are some smaller projects we are working on too, which helps to balance things out, otherwise, it feels like you’re spending too much time on the cruise ship and not enough time on the jetskis.
AB The obvious answer is we have a pipeline of clients with exciting projects to look forward to and a shortlist of our own ventures we will tuck into as time allows.
Although we are somewhat confident that we are half decent designers and always getting better, we are also new to acting as business owners, so we are pumped to be bridging the gap/chasm between being designers and studio owner-operators. We’re working with an outside business consultant to help us shape our business and organise the client-facing content we are looking to put out into the world. Most importantly for Holiday (and all studios I would guess?), we’re being taught to make and use a kind of new business butterfly net. How could that not be top of our list?!...