Picture this scenario: you’ve been working for a giant game conglomerate for a long while and have been loyal to it. All of a sudden, the company decides to close its regional publishing arm and lays you and your close pals off.
We’ve all been there: you think you’ve done good work and got the job done, but you’re just a number to the fine CEOs and shareholders atop the corporate ladder. So what next?
Some might say “screw it” and move on to be a digital jack-of-all-trades agency. So far, that plan has worked out well for Lim Yeong Chun and Elicia Lee, two former Electronic Arts Asia Pacific managers who teamed up to form a Singapore-based startup called Zombits. They are in tune with all things pop culture. Films, video games… you name it, and they’ll be on the ball to promote and market it on both traditional and digital platforms.
Be your own boss So what exactly is Zombits? It’s a digital marketing agency that specialises in online marketing, social media content management, general marketing strategy for clients who want to have a presence online. At the same time, their clients can also learn how to drive traffic via social engagement and websites.
Both Lim and Lee officially started their brave venture in June 2013, though they had filed for the company name back in 2011 because it sounded cool.
Their main reason in doing this is, in Lim’s words, “to be our own ‘towkay’ lah!” ‘(‘towkay’ means ‘boss’ in Hokkien).
“Everybody aspires to be that, right? We don’t have to listen to (expletive) from upper management.” In all seriousness, he said that together with Lee, they have established a gargantuan network, along with expertise and experience that could be put to good use outside of a video game publishing company.
“We thought it could work, we wanted to do it, and we were weary of management structures,” said Lee. “We wanted control over our lives and career. No matter how hard you work and how much you do, your boss decides what is best. This structure may not give us the kind of reward we should be getting… It’s about controlling our own destinies.”
The duo since then has helped out high-profile clients like 2K Games, Blizzard Entertainment, HBO, Straits Times and Samsung with their digital matters and events, as well as locally-established clients like Simply Toys and Toy Outpost. They have been instrumental in getting traffic for 2K Games Asia’s Facebook page and revamped Simply Toys’ web design. They have also handled traditional promotions like Plants vs. Zombies 2 and Dragon Coins launch events in Singapore, with the former having a custom-made Tex-Mex food cart to serve customers and passersby.
So what can other startups in Singapore learn from this exemplary duo? Here are e27’s 8 startup takeaways from a chat with Zombits:
#1: Do other people’s jobs better than some conglomerates Lee said that Zombits exists because there are too many big agencies that do not deliver quality work on the pop culture and entertainment marketing field. “(After so many disappointments), we were like ‘let’s just do it ourselves’. We thought there was a space for boutique agency; we wanted to be able to focus and do good work while not overcharging people. We care about delivering a good campaign.”
Looking at the site, it’s clear the startup wants to present itself in a light-hearted and colourful manner, though it is dead serious on delivering the goods.
#2: Be open to your prospective clients and partners Transparency in the business is a treasured commodity, according to Lim and Lee. “One frustration I had with the agencies I worked with is that I never knew what the value is while getting heavily charged for it. We like working with our clients and rather not do the standard ‘here’s 50K, and this is what you’re going to get’.”
This also applies to the people you work with in your startup. “Communication is very important,” said Lee, “so that everyone is on the same page. We may not be in the office most of the week, but we try to see each other face-to-face once every week. Just be transparent with your partners, that’s all.”
#3: Stand out among the rest Zombits does not have a rate card system like a typical marketing agency. It has a customisation option for its clients. “It depends on the scope, the objective, and their budget,” said Lee. “We calculate the total amount based on those factors.”
While it’s hard to say whether the startup is a Singaporean pioneer of that unique system, Lim proudly claimed that they’re the first to use an 8-bit art style for their company logo. “We even have demand for t-shirts with our logo on it,” he added.
Earlier this year, they had a hand in doing small-scale events. “It was rather last minute,” Lee said. “A client asked us and offered a good sum. We ended up going with the flow.”
“Being a startup, our philosophy is ‘if someone is paying us money to do it, we do it.’ It’s a rather mercenary thing to do, though it has to be something we have to be confident in doing well in. We will find a way to do it,” she added.
#4: Know what you’re getting into Stability, security and a steady paycheck are the few things Lim and Lee missed when starting up Zombits. “As a startup, you get a pay cut unless you have piggybanks in the form of angel investors, which we don’t have at the moment. In a way, the lack of monetary security spurs you to work even harder than before,” Lim said.
“The more money you get correlates to how many clients you get and how hard you work. During the quiet moments, especially when Zombits first started, we had to keep going and stick it out. Be self-aware enough to filter out what you do wrong,” he added.
This shows that if you’re doing a startup for the sake of doing it, that’s the wrong way of doing things. Lee said, “If you like going back early after 7 PM and getting your pay with bonuses, don’t start your own company.” She added that if a high risk/high reward lifestyle with a huge sense of ownership sounds top-notch, then a startup’s life is perfect.
#5: Put a pixelated face to the name Getting recognisable branding across online or offline helps exponentially. “We were rather shameless in getting the word out and marketing ourselves,” Lim said as he brought up the fact that he and Lee always wore their Zombits t-shirt during pitches and meetings. “The people from Facebook Asia said that we were the ones with cool t-shirts,” he added.
The Plants vs. Zombies 2 launch Zombits helped coordinate, complete with a food cart and a bunch of mascots. Image credit: Zombits
#6: Learn from the past and find the right partner Lee’s past experience has what kept Zombits afloat with clients and business. “My mom used to run an F&B business. She was an awesome cook, but business-wise it didn’t do very well. So I learned what not to do and do things right for Zombits,” she said.
“It’s really important to have a partner you can trust,” said Lee. “A lot of people think that they can start a business with their friend; a few months down the line, that’s the end of their friendship because they don’t see eye-to-eye. There are a lot of horror stories about these scenarios.”
Lim has been doing social and digital media for the longest time while also being a pop culture aficionado and hardcore video gamer. Lee brings in more of a mixed traditional marketing background. Together, they complement each other to live boutique agency dream. “Having defined roles and skillsets that complement each other is important,” said Lee.
#7: Old or new, keep those namecards Lee said that all the work they manage to acquire was supposedly attributed to luck. “Because of our networking and contacts, we were pretty confident to start with some business when we were out in the wild,” she said. The Asian division of 2K Games, known for publishing games like the Borderlands and X-Com series, were Zombits’ first clients.
“(2K Games Asia) was really great to work with since we started,” said Lee. “We’ve been friends with our clients for the longest time during our EA days. We never even cold-call clients; we were recommended by mutual friends and partners. The level of trust makes it easier to work with them.” They also added that it keeps operational costs low.
This proves that in the startup realm, networking is incredibly crucial. Especially if it’s from your past job.
#8: If you have a social edge, use it Lim himself is a new father to a baby boy named Logan. “Having a baby around or bringing him up does help in getting female clients,” said Lim. “It helps to have something in common to talk to businesswomen with their own kids.” He added that it helps add more clout to his social media status.
Even if Zombits is one year old, they’re still having fun with their digital marketing agency and mercenary-style gig. Who knows what lies in store for the duo? At the very least, having an 8-bit theme and a portfolio of happy pop culture and entertainment clients paints a bright future for them.