Revoco Talks…building a successful tech agency with CookiesHQ
We were recently joined by Nic and Nat Alpi, husband and wife duo behind CookiesHQ.
Founded in 2011, Cookies are a Bristol-based tight-knit tech agency who build bespoke digital products for businesses with passion and potential.
Over the last nine years, they’ve grown organically into a team of talented developers, organisers and creatives with established long-lasting relationships all around the globe.
Their closest partner is less than 3 miles down the road, their furthest is in New York – more than 3,000 miles away.
Here we talk more about their business including achievements, overcoming failures, lockdown survival and being based in the startup centric Bristol. Have a read below…
Can you tell us more about your career backgrounds?
Nathalie: I completed a Master’s degree in marketing and international business. I then moved around internationally doing marketing for a few different companies. But it wasn’t too long before I joined Nic to start CookiesHQ – I was only 26 when we started the company!
Nic: I’ve actually barely worked for anybody. I was freelancing in France and then recruited into a Medtech company. After a year there I moved to England and started working for HP. Pretty soon I was back to freelancing, and then CookiesHQ was born!
What sparked the idea to set up Cookies HQ?
Nathalie: Nic’s freelance business was going from strength to strength and he needed a helping hand. I had fallen out of love with my job at the time and wanted to work together to create something that would enable us to provide phenomenal value for clients and opportunities for developers looking to get into the industry.
Nic: While freelancing I had developed a really successful process – that we now call the Pragmatic Launch – it was working so well for clients that I ended up with more business than I could handle. I desperately needed some help on the Project Management side of things. Nat was doing marketing services for clients and I knew she would bring a lot of value to the table for the early stage startups I was working with. I recognised that our approach to building products specifically for these startups was working so well that we decided to grow this as the core focus for a small agency.
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Things have been pretty busy here at CookiesHQ over September! We welcomed a familiar face back to the team, did some exciting new work for existing clients and launched @say.yuup – a uniquely Bristolian experiences marketplace. We’re extra proud of this one, as the team has put in 110% over the last few months to deliver this project on time despite everything 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic threw at us. Go team!🎉 Head over to the blog to check out the full September changelog. #appdevelopment #technology #softwaredevelopment #tech #bristol #startups #bristolbusiness #devagency #software #wordpress #scaleup #ractivejs #design #develop #app #website #appdev #rubyonrails #agencylife
What would you say has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as business founders, and how have you overcome this?
Nic: Well, 2020 has been very challenging! All of the uncertainty and worry around lockdown and the team going fully remote. There were a couple of weeks when things were really scary – we weren’t sure what the future of CookiesHQ looked like. Fortunately thanks to a lot of hard work from everyone, we’re coming out of the other side in quite a strong position.
Nathalie: There have been a few. One of the hardest for me was having to make 3 team members redundant. This was a few years ago – we were blindsided by a healthy cash flow, and then suddenly realised our financial situation was quite bad. We had to drastically cut the costs and go back to a skeleton team with just 4 of us (Nic and I, Gemma and Denis). That was hard to swallow because I felt responsible personally, but I’ve learnt from it and won’t be making the same mistake again. We put new systems in place to monitor the company’s financial situation and reviewed the skills in the team too. New beginnings.
More recently, managing a team in lockdown has also been a massive challenge. We were trying to maintain the same level of service for our clients, and navigating the initial panic surrounding cancelled contracts. All whilst being on reduced hours ourselves, at home with 3 children, and trying to ensure that all the team members were happy-ish and doing ok. That wasn’t easy.
Communication has been key (as always) – with our clients and with the team. Being mindful and taking the time to have a 15-minute chat with someone in the team who needs it when they need it. It was vital that we were setting realistic expectations.
What has been the biggest achievement so far for Cookies, and why?
Nic: The team! Growing a team of great individuals that all seem to like each other and enjoy working together. We all deliver outstanding work for our clients and I’m proud of that.
Nathalie: The team, definitely. It’s an awesome group of people who enjoy what they do (most days), enjoy being and working together, and learn from each other. They’re supportive, fun and dedicated. I couldn’t ask for a better team to work with, I feel truly blessed to have found them all.
Have you encountered any failures in your careers which have impacted how you work now?
Nathalie: Well, as I was so young when we founded CookiesHQ I sort of feel like it’s been my whole career! There haven’t been any specific failures but it’s all been a steep learning curve.
Nic: Not recognising early enough that I can’t do everything. I know this sounds like a typical “My biggest weakness is that I’m such a perfectionist” answer! But when I was freelancing I was trying to wear 100 different hats. When we started bringing other people on board at CookiesHQ it took a lot of practice to start delegating effectively and not trying to do everything just because I knew how to.
Bristol has been recognised recently as being the BEST place for start-ups (outside of London). What is it you like about being based in Bristol?
Nic: I think I’m really fortunate in that Bristol is the only place I have lived in in the UK. My view of the whole country is based entirely on Bristol. I love the community aspect and would say that’s been absolutely essential to the success of CookiesHQ. That’s not to say there isn’t work to be done to ensure the business community is truly there for all, but it’s such an inspiring and friendly ecosystem.
Nathalie: I love that there are so many different events, and that there’s always something happening. Well… there was pre-Covid anyway! Bristol feels like such a supportive and friendly environment to build a business and it’s great that you can always find someone to help or lend an ear when needed.
What would your advice be to any budding entrepreneurs looking to follow a similar path?
Nic: I would say don’t do it for the prestige of being able to put ‘entrepreneur’ in your bio. There’s so much excitement around running a business at the beginning. Your first clients, first workspace, first employee. But, 10 years down the line that excitement fades. Start a business because you have a real passion about the problem you’re solving, not because you want to impress people by being an entrepreneur.
Nathalie: Build your network – relationships are everything. Continuing on from that, surround yourself with the best people. When it comes to growing your team, I would say hire slow, fire fast. Above all, trust your instincts, but make sure that your decisions are based on rational facts and that your numbers add up. Keeping an eye on the numbers really is so, so important.
What’s next for Cookies HQ?
Nathalie: A bigger team to start with – we’re still recruiting for a couple of positions. To carry on supporting our clients, new and not-so-new, and we’re preparing for a couple of really exciting project launches soon.
Ultimately we want to continue building great products with cool people, and carry on working towards making the web a better place.
Nic: I want 2021 to be all about growth. Growing the team, and growing our client base – continuing to work with phenomenal startups in Bristol, London and beyond. And of course supporting our existing clients as they grow!
Want to find out more about CookiesHQ? Visit their website here.