That initial idea for Sharper was first conceived in the summer of 2018. The country was gripped by a heatwave, England had made it to a world cup semi-final, that group of lads and their football coach had been successfully rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand, and Russ Powell - eventual Founder and MD of Sharper - was getting more and more frustrated with the realties of life as a client-side B2B marketer.
It's a frustration that had been brewing for a while. There are only so many times you can see creative ideas get shot down in favour of the bland and safe, see the budgets for and expectations of marketing move in ever more inversely proportional directions, see ridiculous KPIs and Metrics lauded as an indication of success ("The prospect completed a form fill. Amazing. Log it as a £100m opportunity." That actually happened), be asked to "sprinkle some marketing magic on this", or try to work with agencies (and the account manager you've got this week) who either just don't get it or care enough to try and get it before you've got to take a stand.
And Sharper is that stand. It's why Sharper's mission is to make B2B marketing as a whole more creative, more valued, and more commercially successful. And it's also the reason that as Sharper grows it will only do so by bringing onboard experienced client-side marketers who also get what it's like and want to change things for the better.
Now, although the idea and approach was crystallised in that sweaty summer at the end of the 'teens' and finessed over time, Sharper didn't shoot kicking and screaming into the world until a few years later. This was due to a number of factors, the primary one being that with a young family to support Russ didn't want to plunge into the world of financial uncertainty that so many independent agencies exist in. But when the perfect storm of unexpected redundancy, actual storm Dennis, and a global pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020 all options to keep the good ship Powell afloat needed to be considered.
Fortunately Russ had built up a pretty decent and very supportive network on LinkedIn and having secured himself a new job in just 3 weeks due to redundancy less than a year before (yep, 2 redundancies in the space of 10 month. #winning) he was hoping lightning would strike twice.
And strike it did.
Through happenstance, coincidence, or serendipity (but of course you create you own luck) Russ got chatting to Dom Hawes, CEO of Selbey Anderson, let it be known that he was on the hunt for a job, and asked if he had need for a B2B marketer who'd been around the block a few times. It turns out he did. After a few more calls with Dom and Simon Quarendon, COO of Selbey Anderson offers were made, virtual hand shakes were done, and Russ - along with the business plan for Sharper that had been sat in his back pocket all this time - were part of the Selbey Anderson family.
Launching a new business in the middle of global pandemic and nation-wide lock down presents it's own specific challenges. The dreams of corner offices, fancy lunches, and sealing deals in shiny board rooms feel a million light years away when you're either sitting at a trestle table in a shed or on a bed (using a tray and a copy of Louis Theroux's autobiography as a makeshift desk). But that's what Russ did.
Things got off to a flying start though, with SCC and NetApp brought in as the first client(s) shortly after launch followed by a variety of other B2B and Tech brands both big and small as word got out, momentum built and Sharper picked up a proper head of steam. In the "new normal" of working remotely and doing almost everything digitally, Sharper thrived. In fact it was over 100 days after launch before Russ met another member of the Selbey Anderson family face-to-face (a lovely tapas lunch with Dom and Simon).
In that time employee number one had also been hired. Following a big of slick salesmanship on LinkedIn by Russ and a socially distanced interview on a park bench, all-round superstar marketer, Vicki Chown (or as she is fondly known, Ricky Chow) took a chance on Sharper, and joined as Head of Client Success with a view to helping Sharper kick on and find that next level.
And find it Sharper did.
Shortly after Vicki joining Sharper, Panasonic TOUGHBOOK were brought into the stable of clients (all thanks to Vicki) and helped Russ tick off one of the lesser goals he had formulated for Sharper - bringing in a client that he didn't need to explain to his mum who they were. Tick!
Upward progression for the team (and yes, 2 people counts as a team. Granted it is the smallest number of people that can be considered a team, but Sharper were a team nonetheless) continued at rapid pace throughout the second half of 2020 and by the end of the year the fledgling agency came perilously close to breaking even. A not-too-shabby achievement for a business founded only 9 months earlier, wouldn't you agree? And that rapid pace of growth wasn't going to stop as the old year gave way to the new.
The first few months of 2021 saw a flurry of new clients come onboard as well as increased demand from both NetApp and TOUGHBOOK for more of the same brilliant creative work and results they'd so so far. Word was getting out that Sharper are great to work with and know what they're doing. The pace didn't slow as Sharper headed into the Easter of 2021, which would prove to be a key period in time for Sharper. This was when the first ever non-UK campaign was launched with Logicalis (granted, it was in Ireland but that still counts as non-UK) and the multi award nominated/winning (still TBC at time of writing) CHOCBOOK campaign was unleashed upon the world.
Both of these campaigns generated some serious results, both in terms of awareness but also - and far more crucially - pipeline. Logicalis opened up 17 net new accounts and TOUGHBOOK generated 400+ leads. In the space of 2 weeks. It would seem people love chocolate based campaigns.
Because of these fantastically creative and commercially spot-on campaigns Sharper's standing would continue to rise further still.
The first EMEA-wide campaign for Sharper launched in the summer of 2021 to coincide with the rescheduled Euro 2020 football tournament and saw a multi-channel, physical/digital hybrid campaign delivered in 13 countries across the continent. Further work with clients based in both Dubai and America would follow, further expanding the international footprint for the agency...which was still just two people at this point. Some fresh blood was definitely required to help drive things forward further.
Enter Emz as our first dedicated Account Manager in the summer of 2021, who instantly got to work owning relationships, picking up campaigns, and generally kicking arse across the board. With a background in Data Centres and storage solutions she slotted in perfectly with the Sharper team, and her client-side experience would prove invaluable.
(Also, of equal importance in the summer of 2021 was Vicki getting married to B2Bs finest hand model and having to drop the "Chown". But a Rose by any other name smells as sweet...)
Roll forward a few months to the autumn and the "Emz effect" had meant that the pace of growth at Sharper showed no sign of slowing down (still). Clients old and new were constantly peppering Sharper with requests for clever strategic thinking, MarTech assistance, and more wonderfully creative campaigns, so the team needed to expand once more.
In October 2021 a double hire was made bringing in the wonderfully monikered Frank Edge and marvellously quaffed Josh Tyler as account managers to help shoulder the ever-growing load of client work. Frank brought with him a new creative dynamic (he's very musical don't you know), a keen eye for detail, and top notch campaign management skills. Josh brought with him first-class MarTech expertise (which more and more clients were asking for), a valuable new perspective on campaign execution, and detailed insights on gamification and end-user behaviour.
All of these skills and the two chaps that embodied them slotted perfectly into Sharper and have helped solidify the proposition for Sharper as a an agency and put yet another up the growth trajectory of the business.
As it stands in 2021 Sharper is on course to deliver somewhere in the region of 350% growth in revenue terms, has more than doubled the size of the team in 10 months, has almost quadrupled the size of the clientbase, and has done it all whilst turning a not-insignificant profit too. More or less unheard of for an agency or business of Sharpers ages and size. But if you're good enough you're old/big enough.
Big plans of further growth and expansion have been made for Sharper in 2022.
We'll smash all of them.
Want to be part of the Sharper story too? Just drop us a line and let's have a chat.