At 15, an age when most teens are experimenting with pimple-popping techniques, Brendan Jarvis had already entered the digital agency world. And this early foray set the foundation that would eventually lead him to the position of running The Space In Between, an agency with eight staff and a growing market in the education sector and the US.
What was it like when you started out in the digital world?
I started at 15 and I’m 29 now. It was hugely web oriented. Google was in its infancy as a product and as a web platform. AdWords was ‘wild west’. I was working for an online pharmacy and a family friend noticed while I was still at school that I had a bit of talent. I was doing everything from designing and building websites to sorting out search engine optimisation.
I did that until they sold the business. I was one of the first to go through an e-commerce degree programme at Victoria University. I was always a bit of a geek so it was a natural fit for me. I didn’t want to do honours or a masters, my heart was always with getting out into business.
I started my second business aged 20 in 2005. We were looking at the ‘S’ side of SME, at their web needs and getting that going. Those were very simple web propositions compared to what we do now. In between leaving uni and doing that business I worked for Chrome Toaster in Wellington and convinced them to me start their Auckland Office.
That was really hard. It was difficult trying to start a business in a market that didn’t really have an idea of who I was or who the business was.
What’s it been like building up The Space In Between?
Life’s a funny thing. When I decided to leave employment and get into business again, doors just started opening. Within two weeks I had a phone call from an agency in town where I had a friend working and he needed a hand with a big project for Isaac’s Cider, working with Shine.
We started off doing production work for creative agencies. They were trying to explore this digital space. They tended to not hire production capability in-house and prefer to front that. The business has matured and we’re working more directly with clients now or partnering alongside other agencies.
Some call it full-service, but I call it whole picture. We can handle digital strategy right through to digital marketing, SEO, content marketing, social advertising, Adwords and early website builds.
You’re carving out a market in the US. How did that come about?
We’re working for Laureate International Universities, the parent company of Media Design School. We have worked for MDS since we started and the work we did for them got noticed higher up overseas. We’re in charge of MDS’s social media. They have enrolment pipelines they need to fill and we’ve done that with Facebook promotions and analytics.
We got them from 10,000 to 225,000 likes in 18 months. They have an attractive brand and it resonates really well with their targets.
We’ve started working with them at a vertical level. Five universities out of Laureates’ 70 represent the top 70 in design and art. We went to South by Southwest last year and visited two schools and they had a web design and build project coming up and after six months we won that.
As a university, the website is their public face and how that performs is incredibly important. If the site experience isn’t great and it’s not converting, they’ve got a real problem.
You went back to SXSW this year. What came out of the conference this time?
The theme from this year was wearable technology. When Glass goes public at the end of the year I think we’ll see many of the existing frontiers open up in terms of what’s possible with apps. We’re looking at some stuff at the moment for Glass, not paid stuff, just our own work. It’s important to be able to demonstrate capability when something is a frontier technology like this.
What do you enjoy about working in the education space?
Education is a social good. It’s a really positive thing for the world, having an educated population. We like to contribute to that in any way we can. The content in the universities we’re working with is art and design. It’s fantastic work and it’s a good marriage between us.
The clients we work with have a real appetite for trying new things, being privately held as opposed to publicly held might have something to do with their attitude towards risk.