How&How on setting up two studios across Europe

Written by
Cat How
Illustration by
Michael Kennedy

Every month we invite creative professionals to share their thoughts on a topic they care about from the creative world of work. This month, Cat How, the co-founder of Studio How&How shares their journey setting up two studios across Europe and how it's helped them thrive.

When I started our agency, How&How, we were actually neither in Lisbon, nor London. The first iteration of the business was originally based in Bristol, where my husband Rog and I lived and ran other businesses for almost a decade.

We both grew up in different countries as kids, and the time we had in Bristol was the longest stretch we’d done in one place. We had itchy feet. When Brexit hit it helped cement our decision to move to Europe, and we’d singled out Lisbon because my mum’s Portuguese. It seemed a great place to bring up our kids too. We dropped the bombshell on our co-founder (sorry Neil!) and took the plunge.

When our co-founder in Bristol decided that directorship wasn’t for him and peacefully bowed out of the agency, we decided to drop the Bristol connection altogether; started How&How and repositioned as a London focused agency. As we’d lived in London for many years (I did my MA in Communication Design at Central Saint Martins and Rog used to work at the BBC), it was also a sort of second spiritual home.

Barely six months old and our agency was already in two locations, London and Lisbon. We never intended to do it this way. It’s certainly more difficult, and definitely more stressful. But we’ve realised that the benefits of growing two teams in different locations outweighs the bad stuff. So here’s to having your cake and eating it!

Here’s a couple of lessons we’ve learnt along the way in case you’ve ever thought of making the leap yourself:

Find A Space That Feels Like A Home Away From Home. For us that’s the coworking space in the centre of Lisbon, Second Home. Through this amazing place we started picking up a lot of international clients (none from Portugal ironically though). It’s a mecca for digital nomads and remote companies in the city, so the move really paid off and we started having a growing base of global clients all with some connection to Lisbon.

Embrace Flexible Working. When Covid hit (How&How hadn’t even launched yet) we were fortunately really well set up by already having a 100% remote way of working. Suddenly all our clients wanted to work in the same way. This, alongside our growing body of work and a general increase in companies seeking digital investment, fuelled our continued growth.

Cast Your Hiring Net Far And Wide. Having the two offices definitely opened up a lot of opportunities for us in terms of clients, but also for hiring. We’re now 12 in Lisbon and 6 (going on 9 next month) in London, and when we put up vacancies we can hire for either office. This means we have exposure to all the great creative talent in London, as well as anyone who might be looking to move for a better quality of life. We aim to offer a ‘have your cake and eat it’ scenario where staff can choose their preferred location and not have to sacrifice salary, or the kind of projects they might work on if they want to move for a better quality of life. The result is that we have an incredible team of talented internationals with open minds and a desire to create world-class work. We feel really blessed with our team who have been instrumental in our growth story so far.

Invest In A Strong Work Culture. In return for our amazing team we try to offer an optimal work environment across locations with 50/50 hybrid working; ultra transparent communication and open salaries; a nine day fortnight; bonuses; growth training allowances as well as travel expenses; and we’re investing a lot in building company culture through lunches out as people are really wanting to be back around others again.

Think About Your Company Structure. The two location setup isn’t without its difficulties, though. Our growth has been so quick that we are now having to go back and reset some company structuring, better suited to the two country model. The legals, contracts and taxation are all almost doubled which adds to expense and general reams of red-tape in running the company. Employment law can be very different across territories, and we have a big focus on having the same salary and benefits for all equivalent positions so that’s a bit tricky to compute across two different systems. Currently we’re going through the transition of making each office a little more stand-alone so we can tackle more projects in parallel.

So Lisbon, London… and maybe in a few years… LA? Never say never.

Cat How is co-founder and executive creative director of How&How, a full-service branding and digital design agency with offices in London and Lisbon. The agency uses head and heart to build brands for the better. They call it ‘left right thinking’.

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