ORCA was founded back in 2011 by myself, James Ewin, and Joel Rosen, two childhood friends who had always dreamed of starting their own business. We were both entrepreneurial at heart and loved the challenge that came with building something from scratch and being in control of our own futures. We of course also shared the same passion for brand, design and typography, and had a fervent belief that design could be used to make a significant positive impact on people’s lives.
2011 was still very much in the wake of the last global recession, and with very few opportunities available to us, we (rather naively) decided this was the perfect time to go it alone. In hindsight, this may not have been the wisest decision, but if I’ve learnt anything over the years, it’s often that some of the best things can come from early, wide-eyed innocence before you become wary of certain challenges.
We did everything we could in those early years just to get our name out there and to gain some experience. Through perseverance and dogged determination, we managed to land some pretty big clients, which taught us some invaluable early lessons, some good, some bad! With a nominal investment of just £500 and a focus primarily on the food, drink and hospitality sectors, ORCA quickly gained a solid reputation within Bristol and the South West.
Since then, we've branched out into many sectors, including healthcare, legal, education, arts and culture, FMCG and non-profit to name a few. We’ve also built up an impressive list of clients including BBC, University of Bath, Bristol Zoo and Osborne Clarke.
Creatively, in my opinion, we've always produced stand out, unique and functional work. But as founders with no formal business training or even previous agency experience, it quickly became clear that there were areas of our business that needed attention.
Over the years we have dedicated ourselves to developing these missing skills, and surrounding ourselves with the best talent, both old and new; people who have been there and done that, and people who can bring new and exciting skill sets to the business.
As a team, we’ve grown into a family of extremely dedicated experts and have created a company culture along the way that we're immensely proud of. From business training and accreditations to personal development and lifestyle changes, we’ve spent years honing the skills necessary to grow not one, but two successful digital businesses.
Side projects were always a huge passion of ours, and over the years we have dedicated time to generating new creative business ideas. We've had our fair share of failed ventures along the way. From a bespoke designer sticker company to a community for swapping and trading design assets. We even toyed with the idea of a national brand and design exhibition. Needless to say, those were shelved early on.
Occasionally though, you land on a real gem. As ORCA continued to grow, in 2014, we also founded Briefbox, an online educational platform offering practice design briefs, resources, tutorials and courses to help aspiring designers improve their skills and build up their portfolio.
After receiving hundreds of job applications and portfolios through to our agency, our Creative Director, Joel, was shocked to see how many lacked real commercial style projects. This made it difficult when choosing new design talent as many of their portfolios just didn't display the relevant projects that we experience on a day-to-day basis. And so Briefbox was born- as a way to offer realistic design-brief style learning, that is accessible to everyone.
Over the years we have grown Briefbox into a flourishing community of over 35k designers. We have handpicked an incredible team of mentors and contributors from across the globe who write practice briefs, short courses and resources to offer some real commercial and technical insight for our students. Briefbox is now THE place that aspiring and developing creatives can come to learn, meet like-minded people and improve their skills in a fun and encouraging environment.
Although running two very different businesses comes with huge rewards, it's also damn stressful! It became apparent that in order to enable each business to really flourish, it needed our undivided attention. Joel and I were forever splitting our time between the two and feeling guilty when we weren’t working on the other. After the global pandemic hit in March, and ORCA lost a significant amount of its business overnight, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to spend some time re-evaluating both businesses and making them the best they could be.
From March, Joel started dedicating all his time to Briefbox, while I continued to keep the ORCA ship afloat. Together, we underwent a full rebrand and product overhaul of Briefbox, completely reinventing our brand image and our whole educational platform too. Over the months, we completely rewrote all of our course material and brief courses to meet modern design challenges and rebuilt the whole product on a new Learning Management System (LSM). The result is a new super slick, lightning-fast, better-structured learning experience, with premium mentoring and tuition options and a new membership opportunity for educators, to enable teachers and lecturers to use Briefbox as part of their existing syllabus.
In response to the pandemic and the new challenges we were faced with - with many of our specialist sectors now closed or unable to do business - ORCA also underwent a huge rebrand and repositioning exercise (read more about the process here). We’ve refined our services, honed our values, translated our vision and have put more emphasis on creating sustainable, functional experiences for challenger brands.
What was so refreshing about this period was seeing how much we could get done when we had one partner dedicating all his time to one business, the change was incredible! With nearly 6 months of having full control of each business, Joel and I made the sad but necessary decision to split the companies, with Joel taking full ownership of Briefbox, while I take on the full ownership of ORCA.
More growth. More focus. Better organisation. A clearer voice and a more succinct offering.
I think my main takeaway from this whole experience is the importance of being honest with yourself and doing what makes you happy for a living. For me, I love meeting new people and learning about their businesses and their journey. Nothing comes close to the buzz that comes with taking on new challenges, helping businesses discover their potential through design, and ultimately seeing your work out there in the wild, being enjoyed by many!
With a new focus, a new offering and a new visual identity, ORCA aim to be the go-to branding agency for challenger brands and ethical and sustainable organisations. We want to use the power of design to make the world a better place! While Briefbox will continue to deliver quality content and first-class educational material to aspiring designers from all across the globe.
So, this marks the end of close to a decade of partnership, but the funny thing is, we both feel like we’re only just getting started! We’re so excited for what the future holds for both businesses and welcome the challenges that come with independent ownership.
For those that have followed and supported any part of our journey so far, we sincerely thank you! We hope you continue to be part of our journey for years to come. Here’s to a new year and a new phase in our professional careers. Onwards and upwards.