We sensed Apple's App Store was about to change the customer experience in ways never seen before. More brands were investing in digital work. CMOs were shifting from ads to apps. The App Store carried untapped potential for digital-first campaigns and very few agencies were doubling down on digital. We were resolved to build an agency with mobile at its foundation.
Our office was in the heart of Silicon Valley. Our entrepreneurial grit was what Sand Hill Road investors were scouting for. But we still heard “no” from investors more than 21 times.
Things started off terribly. We were a mess. If we were fortunate enough to win a client bid, we'd struggle with strategy and execution. We poured everything into this upstart venture, and meanwhile our personal relationships with family and friends were suffering.
Having immigrated to the States a few years in, we always carried a certain amount of fear that we’d be deported back to Kolkata. It was a difficult time for foreign entrepreneurs in this country. We'd bought into the promise that immigrants could come to the U.S. and become successful business owners. In reality, we learned quickly that immigrants almost always have to work for somebody to make ends meet.
We worked with a variety of unknown companies for a while. Then, the call from Safeway came in. Then, a young company called Credit Karma. Then a Japanese company called Mercari. Then, shockingly, PayPal called. Suddenly, we had momentum.
It was about the education app we built with Montessorium, teaching kids ABC’s and 123’s via touch on the iPhone and iPad. Forty-eight hours after the app became available for download, which happened to be Apple’s 54th app, we received an email. “Thank you, let me know how I can help. I love what you are doing. Best, Steve.”
It took us four years to hit one million dollars in revenue. In that time, we had to dip into our savings, which was almost non-existent. We could only afford to pay our staff. We came come close to running out of money twice.
What we’ve learned in the last 10 years is that companies, no matter how big or small, need great partners. We pride YML on our service, team and heart. On being meticulous drivers of innovation for brands. And building digital experiences that have lasting impact is our fuel. We've had outstanding, thoughtful partners who trusted us to bring that mission to their digital products and experiences.
At YML we are privileged to work for clients that help people. We work in healthcare, and we use design and technology to help save lives (HillRom). We work in insurance, and we use thoughtful strategy and intuitive design to help people that have had an accident or lost their home (StateFarm). We work in home improvement, and we design experiences to help every day people imagine, organize, and build the homes they desire (The Home Depot).
The things that we figured would kill our chances at success were actually our sources of power. The fact that we didn't have funding meant we were autonomous, accountable only to ourselves and our team. The fact that we didn't know what we were doing most of the time meant we lived by trial and error. Failure was crucial for us. Hard and exhausting and crushing at times, but vital. And the fact that we were immigrants made success taste that much sweeter.
Looking back, the biggest tipping point our company experienced was the change in mindset: we went from delivering SOWs, to delivering client delight. When I hear that “Ashish, your team is better than my own team,” we are winning. When we are responsible for a client’s promotion, we are winning. When we are recommended by a client, we are winning. In return for the big budgets clients spend with us, they have high expectations, and we must work hard to make them want more. First-class client-service is mission-critical. We have to anticipate our clients’ needs and give them a level of service that makes YML distinct and valuable. We must go the extra mile. We must own it. We must always deliver, at whatever cost.
We are all here to do our life’s best work. And our clients; they want to create their life’s best work with YML, too. Our work is our product, and it’s why we get paid. It doesn’t matter how well we service our clients, if we don’t create work that is exquisitely perfect — if it looks ugly, if it breaks, if it doesn’t get results — they won’t come back for more. At YML, great work is the combination of vision AND execution — strategy, design, and technology, working together to create products and experiences that impact our clients’ bottom line and their customers’ lives. Great work gets noticed. It reaches millions of people. It gets rave reviews. It wins awards. It drives PR. And it makes an awesome case study. It’s a virtuous cycle: great work = more work = more great work. And, if we can deliver great work with impeccable service, then we’ll be unstoppable.
Of course, none of this is possible without our team. We are a talent business, and it’s the people, our team, that makes this company. We put people first because we believe that if we look after our people, they will look after our business in return. But I must stress that we are not a family. We are a sports team. We are optimized for success, and we focus on our common goals. We are in it to win. Together, we have to play at the top of our game. We must try to be better than the sum of our parts. We help our team. We mentor our team. We facilitate and grow our team. And, when necessary, we make hard decisions about our team. We want YML to be a fun place to work, but we want it to be a high-performing place to work, too. After all, we are building a YML mafia, and we cannot do it alone.
We are incredibly grateful for the contributions everyone has made ten years strong to be able to celebrate our milestone anniversary today. No one gets here alone. Thank you to our team of 300 people across four global offices speaking 24 different languages. We love the diversity of ideas you bring to work every day. Thank you to our clients for jumping into the deep end of our ideas with us.