The Bamboo Network is a challenger agency functioning as an ecosystem in the brand innovation space. It started operating in 2012 from the couch of chief executive Neo Matsau’s apartment, based on an unrelenting desire to the leave the world better than the way they found it. Here’s how they’re fulfilling this mandate.
The Bamboo Network office itself is full of laughs, debates, the occasional all-nighter and foot tennis (yes, that’s a thing).
That fun environment, where mistakes are not feared, but rather tolerated as part of innovation is largely due to Matsau, a digital native, performer and music producer who forms the ‘Thesis’ half of the electro-bassy Twelv & Thesis music duo. He describes himself as “a polymer who believes in the power of innovation for growth.” This speaks to his fascination with technology, which led him to create his first computer game at the age of ten, and a career down the broadly divergent paths of branding, engineering and anthropology.
A true font of innovative thinking, Matsau gets things done and is big on developing the lives of others. As a result, he was key in developing a four-day youth diversity-training programme for The Diversity Institute, spoke at the third commission for investment, trade and enterprise on entrepreneurship amongst young South Africans, has contributed to a UN report on ICT as a private-sector enabler in developing countries and has been a team leader in various projects from app builds, to TTL advertising campaigns.
Here, Matsau shares more about the black-owned, owner-managed Bamboo Network and how it drives innovation in a 3.0 World.
Challengers, keep challenging
Organisations can only really change the world for better if they share knowledge collaboratively, lead with integrity and become profitable in more ways than monetary value. Bamboo Network is testament to this, in driving business growth through brand-centred innovation.
But it’s also a challenger that bravely punches above its weight, and the biggest challenge faced by challenger agencies like Bamboo is confidence. Matsau says ‘Challenger’ is an awesome word that implies that the job of such agencies is to push the status-quo and outperform incumbents to win mandates. “If that’s the case, I hope that we never stop being challengers,” says Matsau.
The Bamboo team at work
The Bamboo team at work
Bamboo Network constantly experiments with creative solutions and engages things only to make them better, whether that’s businesses, brands, people or ideas. That’s because bamboo itself is symbolic of growth, which is core to their ethos.
Matsau explains: “The bamboo plant grows in a network structure, with one plant being able to stretch for many kilometres, which speaks to our collaborative nature, but most importantly, it’s a very strong and flexible plant. This makes it useful in many applications and speaks to the core attribute we look for in our people – resilience.”
The power of imagination, inspiration and integrity
Bamboo Network’s executive creative director, Louise Sawyer, adds that their mission is to ultimately build a harmonious ecosystem of business units focused on using intelligence, imagination, empathy and knowledge to grow brands and drive business performance.
They’re doing so successfully, with Matsau listing his overall agency highlight as “the first email we received from a happy client” as they’d achieved their desired results despite a tough relationship. This meant their strategy and methods were showing themselves to be correct, which was exciting, even though two months later they would have to break and change again…
They deliver results based on an equally weighted focus on a) Culture, b) Strategy, c) Client Service, and d) Growth.
As a learning organisation, they adapt to changes in their clients’ circumstances and the general environment. Matsau says, “For example, knowing the economic climate, or changes in consumer behaviour, or rapid tech development will change our approach to each problem fundamentally.”
That said, the closest thing they have to a process is as follows:
#InnovationMonth: Challenging the brand innovation norm
Tapping into that step of ‘innovation’ in particular, Matsau feels creativity and innovation are often confused, in that innovation requires creativity.
He believes creativity is required anywhere we strive for ‘beyond benchmark’ results, and feels the industry taking the crown for innovation has to be the tech industry as most of the new and improved ways we understand consumers, businesses, products, distribution and collaboration have been in these areas.
He also feels this is primarily down to the amount of young people in more senior positions, which is a sure fire way to destabilise the norm, bring about change faster and push forward.
Looking to the future then, Matsau says the most important thing to be thinking about in the coming years is the change of purchase power to the millennial consumer. “They are becoming parents, managers and leaders, which means the world will begin to shift radically,” he says, with a reminder that both Zuckerberg and Malema are millennials – and millennials are the future of innovative business.