Why you shouldn’t fear failure with Tom Emil Olsen of Kind

Why you shouldn’t fear failure with Tom Emil Olsen of Kind

Kind is a design agency based in Norway. The agency has worked on major branding projects including Coldwater Prawns of Norway in their native country. I was able to talk with Tom Emil Olsen, Creative Director and Founder of Kind, about the history behind the design agency, their rise to success and more personal questions about the man behind Kind’s work.


How did Kind come about?

Before I founded Kind I had worked in the branding industry for many years, the eight last of them as a creative director for Northwestern, Norway’s largest design and advertising agency. I gradually realised that I had higher ambitions and other ideas that I wanted to pursue.

My focus has always been on branding and conceptual thinking. When I founded Kind I developed the term “Conceptual Branding”, which is now the backbone of our philosophy. Our aim is to provide added value to our clients, by challenging their way of thinking of brand building. At Kind we work on strategic business development in cooperation with our clients. When we develop a Brand Vision we work closely on the strategic process of the brand building, with brand positioning, brand differentiation, brand expression and brand emotions.

At Kind we believe in unique differentiated and iconic brands, a brand that is more than just a logo, a set of typography and colour palette. We believe in brands that tell a story and convey a message. A brand that appeals just as much to the heart as it does to the intellect. It is important for me that everybody understands that an isolated logo is not a brand. A brand is everything that is connected to your business. The way you are perceived, your story, the way you speak, your reputation… Everything.

By working in the industry for many years, Kind is a mixed result of my previous work experience and my own creative business ideas. I like to think that I have learned a lot from my previous experiences, both good and bad, and managed to create a winning recipe.

Where did the idea for the name Kind?

We wanted a short and concise name that generated positive vibes. Our philosophy is about placing the client in focus. We want to personify the brand and get our clients x-factor and stories told. We always ask our clients; “Who are you?” “What Kind are you?” “How do you want to be perceived?” The importance of getting to know each client and each case thoroughly cannot be overstated in regards to building a strong brand. We work very closely together with our clients to personify their brand, positioning their brand in the market and differentiate their brand from their competitors. Getting our client’s unique story and expression out there is truly important to us. That is why we work just as much on the brand emotions as we do with the brand expressions.

We are the strategic Kind, the positioning Kind, the differentiating Kind, the creative Kind, the branding Kind, and we put our effort in delivering one of Kind solutions on each projects. And obviously being Kind and thoughtful is always important to maintain a good and long term agency/client relationship.

What was the key to your success?

I believe that a partial answer to that question would be that we don’t fear neither success nor failure. We have had the courage to take brave decisions as well as having the ability to dare to dream big.

At Kind we never say “good enough”. The quality of our work is always our highest priority. Every success is created by hard work and passion. I believe that nothing great can ever be achieved without enthusiasm and passion, and I never settle for the status quo. I always think about how we can continuously improve. In addition, we are concerned about having a comprehensive work process and a visual and communicative red thread.

We have an exceptionally good working environment, and very good long-term client relationships. I strongly believe that the best results are achieved when you have a good working atmosphere between the agency and the client, and I am proud to say that the majority of our clients are not only our customers but also our good friends. To create results you are dependent on a duplexed bond of trust.

Have you always wanted to start a design agency?

It was something I decided when I was doing well and that there were different ideas I wanted to pursue. Eventually when I got more experience that’s when I decide I wanted to start my own agency.

What challenges have come since starting Kind?

No there haven’t been any real big challenges. I’ve been in the industry for quite some time so I was fortunate to have already had a large client portfolio when I founded Kind. There has been some recession in the oil and gas industry here as you know which has been somewhat of a challenge but at the same time we have a mixed portfolio of clients which means that we have other areas to stand up in.

You also talked about having a good working environment, how does this aid work within the business?

To create top creative work you need to have a good environment to work with your colleagues and your clients. I think the best work we have done is when we have a good working environment and chemistry with our creative team and also the client. It’s also easy to present your ideas and open them up to discussion. The majority of our clients are also our friends and to do good, overall branding you need to work close with the client over a long period of time.

What keeps you positive and motivated on a daily basis?

This job has always been my passion and my lifestyle. Keeping motivated has never been a challenge for me. I don’t consider my work as a duty, but something that I love to do. Doing what I love on a regular basis keeps me motivated and creates results.

In addition, it is extremely motivating to be working together with skilled and friendly colleagues who share my passion for the branding discipline. A variable client portfolio and daily contact with motivating clients also gives me a lot of positive energy. Naturally, there are days that are less encouraging for me too, but on such days it is important to pinch yourself and remember that you are working with something that you truly love. It’s not everybody who has the same privilege.

What advice would you give to people looking at perusing their dream career?

Surround yourself with positive people. Don’t think of money as motivation. Think about what gives you energy. Energy is a much more valuable currency than money can ever be. If you are having fun doing your job, you will always end up being good at it. And being good at your job most of the time generates prosperity.

One of my favorite projects that you have done was branding Una Kitchen and microbrewery. What project are you most proud of that Kind has done?

This is a very difficult question. As an ambitious creative you always want your last project to be your best, but there are many ways to measure whether a project is successfully or not.

I like a lot of projects in various ways, because the framework conditions and the challenges in each project is always very different.

The project that has generated the most added value for our client is undoubtedly the work done for Coldwater Prawns of Norway. Since I started working with their branding strategy together with their CEO in their first operating year, their annual turnover and market share have increased massively. The company has won several awards and high praise for its market-oriented and innovative mindset in an otherwise conservative industry. During the few years the company has been in operation, Coldwater Prawns of Norway has become Norway’s largest sales company for Norwegian-caught prawns. Since its first operating year in 2008, its market share of Norwegian-caught prawns has more than doubled – from 45% to more than 90%. Their annual turnover growth from 2008 to 2014 has increased from 15 million to 439 million, an increase of 2900%. This year they have budgeted a turnover of almost one billion, an increase of 6700%. The company was voted ‘company of the year’ by Innovation Norway because of its enduring profitable growth, for its systematic and targeted way of acquiring market knowledge, for its outstanding ability to quickly apply this knowledge in an innovative way, and for building a strong and attractive international brand. We also received the Award for Design Excellence by the Norwegian Design Council for our premium packaging design for the same client. With its own story and our strategic positioning towards the premium market segment, the price level of this product is ten times as high as the main product range. An increase of 900%.

This is is a clear example demonstrating that targeted branding and design pays off. Targeted design is not just useless eye candy, but an effective means for enterprises to increase their profitability and their market shares.

We have come a long way in a short amount of time. We have a lot of projects that we can be proud of. Jacu Coffee Roastery has received considerable international attention. Businesses and people around the world want to purchase their coffee, even though they haven’t tasted it. This is another confirmation that design can make a difference. Our branding projects for Una, Badaboom, 7 Fjell Brewery, Enhanced Drilling and Grøvik are also work that is visually and communicatively groundbreaking in their respective disciplines.

At the moment we are also working with a lot of new exciting clients within the food and beverage segment, the oil and gas segment and other really interesting industries. All branding projects, which we hope to launch during this year… And as I like to say; our best projects are not yet created.

You seem like you are really interested in the business side of your clients too and how they are doing.

We work close with business development alongside the client and we really have to invest a lot of time to know the business and the more you know the business the better creative work your able to create.

How important is it to do personal projects as well as projects for clients?

Personal projects have not been a priority for my agency or me. We are very fortunate to have clients and cases that continually challenge our creativity. If that had not been the case we would have had to challenge ourselves. It is important to always be in motion, keep learning new things, broaden and improve what we do.

Our profession is to conduct strategic concept and business development for our clients, and that is our primary focus. We are however working on a couple of personal projects at the moment and I am really looking forward to seeing the result of them in the near future. It is possible that our future business model will constitute more personal projects, but only time will tell. Our primary tasks will always be to serve our client portfolio.

Do you have a memorable quote?

I have a lot of memorable quotes, but Swedish football manager Sven Goran Eriksson was correct when he said, “The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.” If you have the fear to fail then you will never try and if you never try how can you expect to succeed? It is only through failure we can learn. Through trial and error and learning what works and what doesn’t is how we are able to find success. I think it’s important to take risks sometimes. As Albert Einstein said; “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

What advice would you offer to someone looking at starting a creative agency?

Be passionate and work hard. Find your x-factor. Find out what makes you unique. Find your USP. Communicate your story to your target audience, and be aware that your target audience is neither yourself nor your designer friends. Join up with talented and positive people who you can trust and that wish you well. Be sure that your main focus is to add value to your clients.

What would you like to do in the future?

Personal projects are something I would like to do, perhaps creating a product or something like that, the idea of creating something like a side project. Our main aim is work for the client and business development with businesses. So that’s one thing I have been giving some thought to and I would like to travel a little more.

Anywhere particular?

I’ve never been to the United States. Now that we are working with several customers over there, chances are high that I’ll be going over there soon.

What do you do outside of work?

I like to spend time with family and friends, work out and walk in the mountains, which gives me energy.

If you could go back and tell your 18-year old self one thing, what would it be and why?

I don’t think my 18-year-old self would be very receptive to advice, so I would tell him to enjoy life and live in the moment. Then I would tell him to stop worrying, because he is going to do well.

Is there anything else you would like to tell me about yourself?

I am a squirrel. I have a big issue with concentrating on one thing at a time. Some would say that I’m unstructured, but I would say that I am structured in my own very unique way. I am a restless soul and rarely work on a project for more than 10 minutes at a time, before jumping over to the next one. This probably does not work for everyone, but it works for me. I am very quality conscious. I am stubborn and know how I want things done, but at the end of the day I’m a nice guy. I am, after all, Mr. Kind.

Interview By Conor Rees.

All images used in this article are with permission from Tom Emil Olsen from Kind. 

You can find out more about Tom and Kind and follow what they are up to from the following links: