Just a little over a week after they departed from AKQA, the agency’s former Worldwide Chief Creative Officer Rei Inamoto and New York Managing Director Rem Reynolds have partnered to open a yet-to-be-named “business invention” studio.
The company will be independent and will focus on design, technology and digital transformation, said Mr. Inamoto. So far, he and Mr. Reynolds are the shop’s only staffers and plan to keep the company lean, but over the next few months they are looking to build out a core team of senior leadership against specific disciplines, namely strategy, technology, user interface and data.
Regarding the latter two areas, “User interface is one of the key drivers of success for any company,” Mr. Inamoto explained. “Data is another offering we want to build in from scratch. Data science as a practice hasn’t been fully formed, but we want to create that from day one.”
Ultimately, “we’d like to be the smallest company that has the biggest influence,” he said.
While the firm doesn’t yet have a name (that’s to be decided with the new team members as they come on board) its logo is a foregone conclusion — the star that more often than not graces Mr. Inamoto’s chest on custom-made T-shirts he wears like a uniform. The star’s color changes depending on the day — today, it’s white, representing the fresh, blank slate the company has before it.
Mr. Inamoto said the reason for opening his own company now is largely personal. He’s been in the business for 15-plus years, and “I still have about 20 years to go. I feel like I’ve gone through the first half of the soccer match and I still have the second half to play. Twenty years from now, I want to be able to say that I did something different and started from scratch. Maybe this is my mid-life crisis. It’s a pretty risky way to deal with it. I could have just bought a motorcycle or a leather jacket.”
Ideally, Mr. Inamoto sees the company as operating outside the corporate world, at least in the way he’s known it so far. “We are going to create our own IP or partner with startups.” The company won’t be completely divorced from brands, however, but will work with them on “digital transformation, helping them adapt to the digital, connected world.” Headquartered in New York, the company will have a global focus and digitally can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. Inamoto said the shop’s inspiration, surprisingly, has culinary roots. In conceiving the new shop, he looked to the business model of Spanish Chef Ferran Adria’s El Bulli, which closes for six months of the year to focus on creating new dishes and techniques so that when it reopens, it presents diners with fresh delights. The company aspires to embrace that spirit of invention, but in the areas of design and technology — and without closing for half the year.
In terms of creating its own IP, Mr. Inamoto and Mr. Reynolds are particularly excited to explore the areas of entertainment, the home and communication/connection, especially in light of how technology is changing them. Oculus Rift and virtual reality, for example, is poised to totally transform how people consume sports and entertainment; products like Nest are elevating our experience of home life, while business tools like Slack have evolved communication in the workspace, Mr. Inamoto observed.
As for funding, Mr. Inamoto said both he and Mr. Reynolds are backing the company, along with an outside financing partner from the technology space, not a holding company partner or a private equity firm.
The pair’s move follows the path of other senior creative talents who have formed their own startups focusing on innovation via lean, nimble models. Linus Karlsson, who departed McCann last year, opened Ming Utility and Entertainment. Argentine veteran creative Nico Pimentel left his big shop job at BBDO Argentina to form +Castro, an innovation house that works closely with big brands such as Mondelez on key branding projects.
While the departure of Mr. Inamoto and Mr. Rem Reynolds came as a shock to many in the industry, they say they had actually given word of their resignation during the summer. “This wasn’t a sudden thing,” said Mr. Inamoto. “We had conversations for many weeks, but ultimately we opted to be independent and not partner with any holding companies. The natural thing may have been for us to join one, but that didn’t feel right for us. We wanted to have independence, flexibility and try different things.”
Both partners only think fondly and have the best wishes for their former company. “We are super grateful to AKQA,” said Mr. Inamoto. “I wouldn’t have stayed for 11 years if I didn’t like the organization, people and clients. I’ve always described AKQA as a family, with each office as a sibling. It’s now 14 offices strong, but it’s still the same family. I feel great about the contribution I was able to make and like to think it meant something to the industry.”