Studio Visits: Mashbo
Back in 2011, Gavin Sherratt (Managing Director), Steve Todd (Technical Director) and Liam Potter (Creative Director) founded Mashbo, the digital consultancy and development agency based in Liverpool’s Commercial District. Their team of nine is made up of digital problem solvers who design and develop websites, apps and digital products that have the potential to make a difference to not just one business, but whole industry sectors. At the core of their work, they build things that people actually use.
Originally their plans were to be a product-led business rather than a digital agency, focusing on digital solutions rather than websites and web apps. But, as with all great thinkers, they were ahead of their time and at that point the appetite and funding weren’t there just yet, so they applied the art of “pivoting” and diversified into other areas while keeping their eye on their original end goal. Now, almost seven years on, the company is coming full circle as it moves towards developing more and more commercial, digital products – just like in the original plan.
Their portfolio showcases everything from global brands to start-ups to universities to charities to social businesses to health and social care providers. They’ve worked with the likes of English Speaking Board, Danone, Edge Hill University, Liverpool FC, L3 Living, Manx Telecom, Nugent and Shop Direct, and unlike your traditional agency model, they also work with investment business partners across multiple sectors including property, professional services and the third sector, developing products that resolve sector-wide issues.
And while many might ask for its meaning, they tend not to focus on what the name ‘Mashbo’ means or what the company is. Instead, they focus on explaining who they are. “Mashbo is the sum total of all the parts of our small but perfectly formed team,” says Gavin. “We’re designers and developers. We’re talented, hard-working and nice – something that’s very important to our business. We’re strategists and researchers. We’re many things to many people.”
The team take a great deal of pride in delivering solutions that have an impact and drive audience engagement – creating time-saving digital automation, for both their clients and their investment business partners. “In these relationships, we not only drive efficiency and profitability in our partners’ businesses,” explains Gavin, “we also create products that can be commercialised to help other businesses in the same sector.” A great example of this would be their latest product PropertyCloud, a property management software that they created with Liverpool-based student lettings experts, Rooms4u. “The project started out with Rooms4u asking us to look at ways to automate elements of its day-to-day processes as property agents, but we quickly realised that the project was a significant business opportunity rather than just a solution for Rooms4u and began working with them as business partners rather than clients.” Commercially, the app has had a profound impact on Rooms4U’s business, saving them time on day-to-day tasks and allowing that time to be reallocated to focus on what’s most important.“ We’re walking our own path and that’s always a great feeling.”
Over the seven years, they’re not short on highlight moments, their ‘Forbes moment’ back in 2015 being one of them. They had been featured in the Tech Nation report which then led to a name check in a Forbes magazine article about the growth of the digital and tech economy in Liverpool. “Mashbo was – and still is – a small fish in a very big digital pond at that time, but we produce great work that we take a great deal of pride in and we also work hard to encourage people to engage within the digital community in Liverpool and beyond. This was how the ‘Forbes moment’ came about, and it opened lots of doors for the company. From being invited to the Northern Tech Awards to getting a foot in the door with multi-million-pound business and now client, Manx Telecom. It was one of our most significant moments to date as an agency.”
On the reflection of highlights, Gavin continues, “we’ve also had the opportunity to work on some fantastic projects that haven’t been money-making projects but instead have made a difference in people’s lives. For example, our work with Alder Hey CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services), where we created the Fresh CAMHS website in collaboration with young people from Alder Hey CAMHS. Another being The Hub of Hope, a web-based app created in collaboration with the charity Chasing the Stigma to bring free help and support for all mental health issues together in one, easily accessible place, which is already proving to be a vital resource that people are using.”
Gaining recognition for doing things differently is important to the team at Mashbo too, “The Big Chip, Prolific North and Creativepool awards that we have received over the years highlight the ways that we aren’t following in the same photocopied footprints of other digital agencies, we’re walking our own path and that’s always a great feeling.”
What sets Mashbo aside and makes them different is not just their approach to their work, but it’s also the admirable work that they do with the digital and business community nationally but most predominately in the North West. “We prefer to be go-givers than go-getters,” says Gavin. The team know that they have influence in the industry, and they also know that they are just one ingredient in a cookbook of recipes. They have a firm belief that, in order for the sector to grow, they need all the other ingredients that come with that too for it to be successful.
“We try to use our influence to support the growth and development of the region’s creative and digital sector. That’s why we invest time and money into our community brand, Creative Kitchen which encourages knowledge sharing between agencies, businesses and freelancers in the sector. All of our team are involved in the delivery of this, which in turn is a great opportunity for them to grow their network of industry contacts and have regular exposure to the wider digital and creative community in Liverpool and across the UK.”
They’re aware that they can’t do it all nor do they want to, “in order for the sector to survive and thrive we need to break down traditional barriers, support one another and use influence for the good of the wider community,” explains Gavin.
“Additionally, our move towards creating business rather than client relationships sets us apart too. It means that we’re creating products that have an impact on whole industries, rather than just one company,” he says. “We’re helping to streamline and automate processes that will ultimately future proof hundreds and maybe thousands of businesses.”“ As our industry is constantly changing and evolving, it’s up to us as industry leaders to identify trends and advise our clients on how best to future-proof their businesses.”
Their approach to the world of business is different and for those reasons exactly, is refreshing. It challenges others to reflect more on their social footprint and the impact that they’re having, not just on their clients but the wider community. “What makes us what we are is that we are all nice people. Talented, nice people. There is, of course, a hierarchy, but it’s quite loose and it’s a level playing field when it comes to ideas and opinions,” he explains.
“Everyone in the team is hard-working, we are all thinkers – everything we see, read, touch, stimulates new ideas and solutions. We may have overlapping skills, but we all have our specialisms and expertise… We work closely together to ensure the best results for our clients and business investment partners, as well as for ourselves – it’s equally important for us to be proud of the work we produce.”
As a team, it’s evident that they love what they do and so when it comes to hiring new people to come and join them, they’re looking for people who are just as passionate as they are about their career and the digital sector. “We’re always looking for talented designers and developers with a keen eye for detail, as well as self-starters who are excited research and explore in pursuit of solving a problem for a client or industry.” An appetite for learning is not only essential for them, but it’s seen as a responsibility for anybody coming into the industry. “As our industry is constantly changing and evolving, it’s up to us as industry leaders to identify trends and advise our clients on how best to future-proof their businesses.” Gavin also reflects on the importance of people having a good balance of creative talent and commercial nouse, “if an applicant can demonstrate an understanding of how creative projects can be transformed into commercial products, that’s a real advantage.”
While they insist on their team members being nice people, they expect the same from the clients that they’re working with. “We think very carefully about the culture of our company, our priorities and the happiness and well-being of our team before we take on new work – the chemistry has to be right.”“ We have an open door policy to support employees’ emotional and mental health, as well as having policies in place to ensure their physical well-being.”
“We’re a small team so we can and do invest a lot of time and effort into making sure that all of our team is happy at work. It’s a priority for us. When new projects come in we try to make sure that we get everyone around the table to discuss ideas and approaches, rather than simply making decisions as a senior team and simply filtering tasks down. These sessions are a real financial investment in terms of the team time used, but they are invaluable to our creativity and company culture.”
Mashbo has built a culture where people feel safe and confident enough to share and challenge each other’s ideas. With this level of openness and trust amongst the team, not only is it fundamental in contributing towards new, creative ideas but it’s also a huge benefactor to supporting the team’s mental health and wellbeing. “We have an open door policy to support employees’ emotional and mental health, as well as having policies in place to ensure their physical well-being.” Flexible working hours, remote working, team socials and encouraging their team to exercise during the working day to name a few.
Thinking of their year ahead, Gavin explains how there’s a big change on the horizon not just for Mashbo but for all businesses. “We’re entering the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and our team have the skills and knowledge to help companies start future proofing through automation, VR (Virtual Reality) and AI (Artificial Intelligence), particularly the Professional and Business services. We’ll be working with companies with big digital ambitions who know that now is the time to start future proofing – not in five years’ time.”
“We’ll also be launching other digital products, which are currently in production… We’ll be looking even harder for ways that technology can solve industry-wide issues and most importantly, we will be building even more things that people use.”