In the Spring 2019 issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine, we prowled the Cardiff jungle to find a roaring lion. Only this lion has an engine and four wheels, and it’s driven by an entrepreneur, Matt Jones, founder of S3 Advertising.
The lion is fierce and bold, but it’s also MINI… At least in the case of S3 Advertising. After founder Matt Jones picked up the national Creative Industries Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2017 at the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards, category sponsor MINI supplied S3 with a Countryman, which the advertising agency branded in its trademark lion design.
S3 launched from a dark attic eight years ago when Matt had just £75 to his name. He had spent years working for large advertising agencies, but came to realise that big brands were ignoring Welsh advertising agencies, even the Welsh brands.
So he decided to launch S3, which would focus on creativity, transparency and boldness, creating an ad agency the big brands, from Wales and further afield would want to go.
We caught up with Matt to hear all about the MINI and his entrepreneurial journey.
The lion design on the MINI countryman looks great, Matt! Tell us about the thinking behind it.
The lion is emblematic of S3 Advertising agency. Since the very start we know that a lion represented us – it’s fierce and bold – and also slightly aggressive in terms of new business wins. So, when we had the opportunity of branding the car, the first thing that came into our minds to make the car stand out was to design is as a lion.
What has impressed you most about the car, and how as it assisted the business so far?
It stands out from the crowd and gets plenty of attention when it’s being driven around the city centre, and that’s what S3 is all about. The graphics, the way the car is, it’s a fabulous car. It’s a 10ft lion driving around the city and that’s what good advertising does, it appeals to people.
Have you got any special plans for the car?
Just to keep on showcasing it around the city centre and keep making sure that people are noticing us, that the public in Cardiff and Wales see it. And to be proud of the fact that we won the Creative Industries award at the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards.
You famously started S3 from your attic with £75 to your name. At what point did entrepreneurship seem like a realistic career path to you?
From the off, really. I’ve been in the industry for about 17 years, but when I first started S3, I’d been working for other people for so long, I felt it was about time that I started going it alone. I think I stepped onto this planet being an entrepreneur, started my own business, and a few weeks into it I knew that was the right path for me – being my own boss.
Do you think more needs to be done to promote entrepreneurship as a legitimate career option in schools and education?
Absolutely! I have two sons, being a dad and being in business, it’s definitely helped to open their eyes to starting something of their own rather than being employed. I definitely think entrepreneurship in schools should be more considered because it will get more businesses off the ground and help our economy.
You’re obviously someone who loves what they do. But what is the hardest part of your work?
I think it’s the pressure that comes with it. When you reach a certain level, I think you’re competing against yourself and with how well you’ve done in the past. It’s about staying ahead of your game, that’s tough. Also, being responsible for 35 members of staff, and then making sure that you’re paying the bills and providing a great service to clients.
What’s the best advice you can give an entrepreneur?
Find a good support network. Find people who will be there to help you. There are loads of great initiatives to help entrepreneurs, but I think look to the growing network of similar entrepreneurs and go to them for advice. Never be scared to ask people for help. That would be my advice.
S3 has won several awards in recent years, but what does it mean receiving individual recognition for your story as an entrepreneur?
It’s fantastic, you know? I left school with no qualifications, I set up this business to give a better life for myself and my family. As I’ve grown over the last eight years, the business has also grown; we’ve accrued more clients, more awards. But that’s not what you focus on really, you just focus on doing a good job. So, when you get a NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Award, it’s a massive accomplishment. It means a lot to be recognised.
Your website says ‘some of us are misfits, some misunderstood, some indecipherably cerebral and a few of us are even certifiably crazy’. Is that a good description of entrepreneurs?
(Laughs) I’m not answering that! (Laughs) It’s not a good description of entrepreneurs, no. It’s more of a staff thing.
When you started the company, you said you were starting a company with a culture built on ‘creativity, transparency and boldness’. How much do you attribute S3’s success to that culture?
All of it. As I said, I’ve been in the industry for a long time, but the idea of S3 was firstly to keep our talent from leaving Wales – keeping our talent in Wales instead of going to London, and building an environment that nourishes creativity and enables it to grow. To protect our own creative, talented men and women in Wales. So, I think every day we’re bold, every day we’re courageous, and we’re always trying to do things differently. Hence driving around in a lion!
And, is it easier or harder to maintain that company culture as the business grows?
It’s the hardest part, because I started this business myself and we grew to seven staff, then 15 staff, then 20, and now we’re up to 35. Creating a culture is really hard. Maintaining it is even harder, because with new personalities and new characters, you need to make sure that they align to us as much as we align to them. So, it is tricky, but it’s also what keeps the business heading down that path of where we want to be and who we are.
What’s next for S3?
Our new financial year started on 1 July, so 2018 is going to be our biggest year yet. We set a target at the beginning of year to do £5 million – we reached £6.2m! So this year we’re looking to do £12m, and also increase our staff base and client base.
We just won several large national accounts, so yeah, we’re really aiming to keep moving forward and keep showing why we’re the UK’s No.1 independent advertising agency