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KEMOSABE is about what’s right. Question everything. Assume nothing with the belief that if brands aren’t INCH-WIDE / MILE-DEEP, then they’re not functioning at full throttle. Combining both their experience with influential key partners that stretch the boundaries, together KEMOSABE share, explore and discover far beyond the constraints of the many traditionally stubborn walled agencies that we know today. 

We sat down with founder and strategy director Irv Irving, to talk about his no bullshit approach to the marketing industry and why scaling up for the sake of it is not an option.

Hey Ian, can you introduce yourself to us?

Hi, I’m Irv I am the founder and strategy director for the creative agency Kemosabe, we have offices in London, New York, and Amsterdam, I’m a happily married father of two beautiful children and live in South East London, I have been in the marketing industry for approx. 25 years and I love my job.

Can you take us through your journey as to how you arrived at where you are now?

Wow, this is a long story so one will try to do a fast breakdown, military, lived on a beach, sold mobile phones, worked in music promo video production, moved into corporate film, then into corporate live events, festival development and sponsorship and then marketing and advertising.

What was the incentive behind launching Kemosabe?

To do great work on our terms and work with clients that respect what we do, to run our business our way and to have fun along the way.

Why do you think that if brands aren’t INCH-WIDE & MILE-DEEP, then they’re not functioning at full throttle?

I wouldn’t term this full throttle because if you’re going too fast its inevitable you will miss something along the way, this is why inch wide as the start point to any of our strategies is so important, we did deep into every brief and work long and hard to ensure that we deliver a top-line strategy that is so tight and on point that it can live in any communication medium and channel and has a lifespan that ensures value for money and longevity… Mile deep.

How would you say you are operating far beyond the constraints of a traditional walled full-service creative agency?

We have built the agency foundations on mixed disciplines and expertise from a multitude of communications disciplines, from events, film, advertising, social media, and design. However, we do not proclaim to have all of the answers under one roof, hence the faithful friends side of our business approach, we have built a very successful business model on the premise of true collaboration, we have team members who run their own independent businesses and skillsets we do not, these ‘faithful friends’ help us to deliver on point every time. 

Why is this different? Well, there are many out there who say they collaborate but the truth is that many out there just rape and pillage so-called “partners” for their ideas and then dress them as their own.

Who does the team involve at Kemosabe?

The team operates on an everyone is equal and great ideas can come from anywhere methodology. 

What does the company structure look like?

Flat, we are all equal, we work as one unit and this includes the relationship with our partners, there is no hierarchy.

What important factors did you consider when looking at the scalability of your business model?

We run a very tight and lean P&L we do not scale up for scale-up sake, so many agencies scale up their business way too fast it’s like they believe the more staff you have the bigger the reputation but this is deeply flawed and often ends in having to make emotional decisions that can affect people’s lives.

We run a very tight ship, lean and mean we collaborate, we hire when we have proof of longevity, we use a fantastic freelance roster and we also have an incredible graduate and internship programme that to this date has proven to deliver the business with some incredible young talent.

Where can you see your self within the next 3-5 years?

Doing exactly the same as I am doing now, I am very content with the way things are and it’s enjoyable so what more does one need.

How are you planning to expand Kemosabe?

There are no actual plans for expansion of kemosabe only to go where our clients need us, we now have representation in New York and looking for new office space, we have a team in Amsterdam and at this moment in time these are the only developments we are focusing on for the Kemosabe agency, however we have just launched a new “attention agency” called Socialgram London which we also have an incubator brand called ‘the house of moguls’ that has launched a number of consumer products such as a Vodka, a nutritional health supplements brand and a digital training academy launching soon. 

Can you tell us what areas you have struggled in professionally as an entrepreneur?

Trust, there are so many assholes in business and the hardest part of the journey is trust.

 Have you ever had a mentor? If so how has this benefitted you to grow?

No, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting anyone who inspired me enough so it’s been trial and error and lots of mistakes and hard lessons learned.

What outlets do use to market Kemosabe?

Word of mouth, LinkedIn, and Instagram

Which methods are you using to build your own network?

Face to face conversations, talking to strangers and staying faithful to my clients.

What would you like to see changed for millennials in business?

I’m not the right person to ask this question, I have no interest in millennials nor do I believe in demographic profiling people by their date of birth, it’s a deeply flawed approach to understanding human behaviours.

What is the best piece of advice you have received to date?

Trust no one.

What is the number 1 critical lesson you have learned in your career so far?

Trust no one.

How do you create an evenly balanced work and personal life?

By having a very understanding wife, two great business partners and making sure that I switch everything off when I finish work.

The highlight of your career so far?

I have had many, many career highlights with groundbreaking creative projects, but to be honest my highlights are my wife and kids and the life my career has given us as a family.

What gives you ultimate career satisfaction?

A happy client.

Which other leading entrepreneurs and pioneering game changers do you also admire and why?

Elon Musk, he just says fuck it and does it no matter what anyone thinks, if he fails he learns and cracks on.

How would you say you are intending to use your voice to educate others in the world of marketing?

I am a public speaker and guest lecturer at a number of universities and I also mentor next generation in business and career, so I will continue this.

What is a good article or book you have read recently?

Human magazine online at issue is a great publication that looks at the clash of modern business and culture.

What does your Podcast playlist look like?

I don’t have one.

How do you measure your terms of success?

By happy clients and continual briefs.

What does  #BEYOUROWN Man mean to you?

It’s a fantastic way to share experience and voice to those looking for inspiration and advice.

Lastly, what is next for you and Kemosabe?

Continue and have fun.


Twitter: @mrianirving @wearekemosabe

Instagram: @mrianirving @wearekemosabe