Our latest New Founders, Swordfox Design, was founded by a couple who met in London – Graham was the lead developer at Underwired, while his girlfriend Georgina was a senior designer at Galzier Design – and headed back to their hometown, Queenstown, New Zealand, and started their new business. In this interview, they recounted how Swordfox started with a website for a hot air balloon business, what it’s like to run a business in Queenstown, and shared with us their fascination with Britain’s Got Talent.
Why and how did you start Swordfox?
We started Swordfox because Graham and I (Georgina) began doing after hours freelance work for companies in London, so we all of a sudden had a loose idea of starting a company (unsuspecting of the long hours that were to lie ahead!).
Georgie’s (co-owner) visa finished up in London early 2007, Graham (life partner & business partner) of course followed (!) and it was back to New Zealand where we thought we would get jobs in Queenstown and just do some Swordfox freelance work on the side. I (Georgie) started working for my old company, Graham for his parents hot air balloon business. That lasted about a week due to word of mouth of Swordfox and our work. Week after week after week the workload increased. We started off with small clients, and lower priced jobs, had some interest from bigger companies who were interested by our work.
It was only a matter of months where we grew our portfolio (from clients that trusted and liked our work), moved into central premises, upped our anti, and now we have won most of the pitches for bigger companies, competing with other design companies that have been established for years. It’s all been achieved in our first year of business so we’re pretty happy.
(Recent project by Swordfox Design: website design and development for out there clothing)
Why did you decide to leave London, and what’s it like running a small business at Queenstown, NZ? Does your local government make it easy to get things started, and is there a good infrastructure for you guys?
Georgie’s visa was up and Graham followed! Running a small business in Queenstown is hectic as companies seem to always have projects on the go.
Because this town is a year round resort (water activities in the summer, skiing in the winter, shopping, wineries, action adventure activities that are unaffected by the weather – because when it’s cold here you’ll still see a blue sky and the sun will most likely be out). There are only minor dips in visitor traffic so when the town is quiet it is not quite for long. Retail businesses are affected more so (some even shutting down for those periods), but we haven’t been affected by theses downtimes. Why haven’t we been? I believe, when the town is busy people need design to promote to the visitor industry, when the town is quiet people get time to knuckle down and work on projects with us that have been put to the side. And our product is good so there is always a steady stream. We get busier in those month before people know the peak number of visitors are going to hit the resort because they want to be ready to promote. For example, we have an influx of web work from companies preparing for the summer wave of guests.
(Recent project by Swordfox Design: photo holder for Jet Boating company)
What do you like most about running your own business? And what’s the hardest thing?
Like most: Being able to control the quality of work, making sure people are loving what we are doing for them, shaping the personality of the company, being the central force behind a company that is growing in reputation every day.
Hardest: Long hours, thinking and dreaming about Swordfox in our sleep, not waking up refreshed, letting go of control on hectic days and just getting in and doing what has to be done to serve the people that pay you and have the ability to talk nicely or badly about your company, not being about to ring in sick. I often wonder the way parents talk about parenthood causing you to surrender to every need, gripe and want of your child, is something like owning a business.
(Recent project by Swordfox Design: website for an Neuro-linguistic Programming client)
What are some essentials tools you use to run your business? Why do you track time, and how do you guys use Harvest?
Adobe Suite (Indesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat), Neo Office, People (lets not forget about the people!), Harvest (it’s our latest tool and we love it, we actually enjoy admin, invoicing and project managing because it is made easy).
We time track for a number of reasons: We know what our workers are doing and if they are effective, we can view reports and assess whether it’s worth being in business, we can mitigate where we are spending too much nonchargeable time, we know if we are estimating projects correctly, we can time to the second, rather than rounding projects which is beneficial when they are small projects because we find if it is a really quick job (and the client knows this) then they don’t hate us for rounding to the nearest 15mins, instead they know exactly what amount of time it takes.
What’s a day like at Swordfox?
Get in and check the emails and prioritize any deadlines for the day. And basically get to it. There’s websites to design & build, image manipulation, dedicated servers to administer, advertising campaigns, branding, and oh a last minute deadline for an agency that needs our help.
Please share with 5 memorable things you have consumed lately.
1) Occasionally we have the pleasure of a little dog named Buddy in the office. It chills everyone out, adds another element, unfortunately the dog doesn’t find the design studio as stimulating as the park nearby, but he does enjoy a pat.
2) Wine and champagne that our clients have given us
3) Home-made Anzac biscuits that have been quite popular with the office
4) A new Mac or two
5) Paul Potts
Thank you for your time, Georgina and Graham!
To find out more about Swordfox Design and their service, please visit their website.
To help companies get on their feet, The Harvest New Founders Program gives one year’s subscription of Harvest time tracking service to a new company each month. Think you might be a good fit for our New Founders Program? Learn more and apply.