In 1993 I was in the politics department at Bristol University when I was shown one of the first ever web browsers, Mosaic. While I was no computer person the idea of it really sparked something in me.
Two years later the web really took off and I saw the potential for a new type of agency; one that combined traditional creativity, marketing and design with this new technology. I guess it’s what you’d now call a digital agency; back then they didn’t exist. Instead you had to start your own, and thankfully I was stubborn-minded enough to do so. What I wanted to create was an agency that was recognised for the quality of its work and that behaved with integrity. I wasn’t interested in becoming the next Bill Gates and money didn’t particularly motivate me.
Initially, 3Sixty was a virtual agency – because few people had those early web skills – and I just project managed the ones who did. By 2000 the digital market had matured and we moved the company to an office space in Bristol.
3Sixty began to resemble a regular agency and that’s pretty much the way it stayed until I left in 2012.
The thing about running a creative company is that you need passion and energy. Very often one drives the other. I’m 45 now and I was starting to meet clients who were young enough to be my children! I saw new ideas, and a new attitude from people who had grown up with the technology. Looking at the changing faces of the industry, I felt that perhaps I’d reached the peak of what I could realistically achieve leading a creative digital agency. After 17 years it was time for me to be involved with the industry in a slightly different way.
Looking over at the last years at 3Sixty I’ll admit the business didn’t turn out exactly the way I’d wanted, but that’s the nature of creative entrepreneurs; you’re never content with your achievements. Better clients, more enjoyment, more money… there’s always something more! So I was never quite content with 3Sixty, but I can’t say I’ve ever met a company head who was. We’re always itching for the next challenge and that can either be the fuel to create or it can drive you mad.
The last four years at 3Sixty became increasingly frustrating for me, as we tried to achieve these high aspirations during an uncertain economic climate. I did get ground down by that; the fact that the recession dragged on for so long meant that some of the energy and optimism I used to have for the business became hard to find. That passion should make you feel like you’d almost do it for free. If you go in to the creative sector simply trying to become the next Mark Zuckerberg then you probably won’t succeed. The motives of successful creative people are never money but passion for the challenge, and so when that is gone you know it’s time for a fresh challenge. I had made my mind up by summer 2010 and told the board that I wanted out within three years.
It may not have been the way I’d envisaged leaving the business but ultimately I’ve ended up where I wanted and have a fresh sheet of paper. I had to admit that I’d fallen out of love with the business and that it was time to move on. Anyone in that position just has to ask themself if they have fallen out of love with running a business or with the actual business itself. The only answer to both of those questions is not to sit and suffer, otherwise it will grind you down in to the dust. You’ll waste your life and, what with being in the creative industries, you’ll not exactly make a fortune while doing so. So don’t be too proud to move on.
Leaving something you’ve built is almost like splitting up with a girlfriend. The anticipation is awful but once you’ve actually done it there’s an immense sense of liberation; that you can move on to the next chapter in your life. I’m looking forward to turning the page.
In founding 3Sixty in the mid-nineties, Chris Thurling created one of the UK’s first true digital agencies. Over three decades at the company he saw through every new trend and technology that has come to pass.
Illustrated by Slumber Bean
- One Thing I Know