From The Bird
Jonathan Livingston Seagull learns about life and flight, and selfperfection. By the end of the story, the book’s main character, Livingstone, is able to arrive at any desired location, merely using the virtue of thought. The company Leavingstone follows in the footsteps of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. And its flight trajectory is determined by four professionals: Giorgi Burchiladze, Vakho Vakhtangishvili, Levan Lepsveridze and Irakli Tevzadze.
I overheard an interesting conversation last week. A young man in a pub explained his friends that he had heard about the launch of a serious propaganda campaign, by bringing a robot into the parliament. According to him, the robot would be controlled through a website, and would only be able to push the button most voted for online. I knew right away Leavingstone had something to do with this.
Considering the conversation was taking place in Vilnius and not in Tbilisi, while talking about the Lithuanian Parliament, still my guess turned out to be correct. At that moment, I caught myself asking – why was Leavinstone the first thing that came to mind when overhearing that story? What is it about these young entrepreneurs, that every time I hear an extravagant and incredible plan, the first thing that pops up in my mind is Leavingstone? And I am not an exception; whenever a ‘tsunami’ hits the internet, cyberspace lits up with people mentioning Leavingstone. And the masterminds behind the digital creative agency are Giorgi Burchuladze, Vakho Vakhtangishvili, Levan Lepsveridze and Irakli Tevzadze representing a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Since its founding seven years ago, the company won 69 international awards and has been joined by 150 passionate and intelligent young people. But it is not only Leavingstone itself under the umbrella of the four millennials, as they run three additional companies, and all of that, with a unique ability to detect a space where others only see emptiness.
It all began in 2010, when the seagulls started building their nest in a place where no one could see the branches yet. And during that time, unlike today, the social media industry’s capabilities were unknown even to the marketing specialists of the leading companies. Currently, this powerful medium is larger than needed in Georgia.
“My parents wanted me to become a banker. And our friends were telling George and me to follow the traditional path, like going into commerce and join an existing company,” Leavingstone’s CEO Vakho Vakhtangishvili says. “But our dream was to create a digital communication agency, while we could hardly explain to them what it would entail.”
Long-time Facebook users will remember that there were only two Georgian pages in 2010: ‘I love my Patriarch’ and ‘Alucha’. No wonder that these newly hatched seagulls did not have much luck fishing for quite some time.
“We only had one chair in our first office,” Creative Director of Leavingstone, Levan Lepsveridze, recalls. “When our first potential client arrived, we offered him to sit on that chair, while we preferred to stand, since that way we could think better. It did not take him long to stand up and leave our office.
” But something extraordinary happened while Leavingstone had just embarked on the creation of a web page for TBC Smart Club. One of their loyal customers asked them how to reconcile with a loved one, inviting the entrepreneurs to their wedding later. And that is how the first TBC Smart Club mascot and the first Leavingstone story was created. The bank product goes to a wedding (taking the phrase ‘a brand must be close to the customer’ quite literally).
The story attracted several other clients, who all wanted a similar advertisement. Before long, the office of the company turned into the smithy of ideas: new clients asked the talented young men about the myriads of headaches they did not know how to deal with.
“Often, the problems and headaches that were brought to us had nothing to do with ads. For our clients, we were just smart fellows who could look at things in an innovative way,” says General Manager Giorgi Burchuladze. “We spent many sleepless nights lost in work before noticing that our business had turned into a successful endeavor by all standards except one: we had no money.”
But because they refused to delay to pay their employees - paying on time was a pledge, an ‘unbreakable promise’ that Leavingstone made at the very beginning - they had to look for alternatives.
“We asked for money from our parents,” Giorgi Burchuladze says. “We hit hard times. All the doubts we ever had, returned all at once: what if it’s really impossible to make money like this?” saying it was a very demotivating time. “We thought that we had found something entirely new. We scoffed at and fought against the old-fashioned approach of doing business. But when things went wrong, we had to resort to the conventional, old-fashioned way of seeking money from the older generation.”
But their doubts were unfounded. Having persevered, and turning into one of the largest creative agencies not just in Georgia, but also in the entire region, it is obvious they’ve found, created, and filled a gap in the market. And perhaps even more impressive is that you can easily come across a discussion of their work in a classroom of the Budapest Business School or a Saatchi & Saatchi Office in Paris.
The quartet has already managed to collect two Cannes Lions from the international advertising festival. And that, while no single other Georgian company has managed to win one so far. At the last award ceremony, in addition to the prize, the host of the festival told the team: “I won’t hide that we did not know the exact location of your country. And still you managed to have your say two years in a row now.”
And the viral advertising video of ‘Old Irish’ by Natakhtari is the second most viewed ads of all time on adsoftheworld.com. In addition, Leavingstone created viral campaigns for beer ‘34’, Echoes and Smells Like Teen Spirit in Georgian polyphony.
A majority (88%) of surveyed marketers favors Leavingstone over other agencies. And you can see that from their business parameters – the financial indicator of the agency is probably several times higher than other companies which trade with ideas. The company’s reputation as an employer deserves separate mention as well. When Marketer.ge conducted the survey “Which Georgian company would you rather work for?” 52% of the students answered that they would want to work at Leavingstone.
Irakli Tevzadze explains the company’s attractiveness in the following way: “This is probably because we create an environment for our employees where they have the freedom to do what they love and believe in most. We stick to this approach based on our own experience, because we took this road and want to offer others the same”.
Levan Lepsveridze adds that “for some companies the main assets are real estate, cars and equipment, for Leavingstone the main asset are the intellectual resources of our employees. We understand that the company’s development path coincides with the path taken by each employee. That is why we do our best to assist them in finding their own broad path for development”.
However, success in the advertising sphere is not the main goal for the founders of the company. The team believes their work and products aren’t extraordinary (which falls in line with their modesty), since they want to do much more (which shows their ambition).
And they don’t identify with advertising or creative agencies. Leavingstone considers itself an intellectual business agent. After some observation, it is clear that at Leavingstone anything that requires the skills to look beyond the obvious, is considered their core business. A good example of this would be the tech hub Geolab, the team’s academy of mutants, which prepares promising engineers for upcoming technological challenges.
“When we became active on the local market, we realized that we needed more coders to manage larger projects. It turned out that we were not the only company which dealt with this problem,” Operations Director of the company, Irakli Tevzadze, says. “Even today, we still have very few companies who write their own code, and at that time it was even fewer. Instead of recruiting staff from other companies, we decided that it would be more interesting if we resorted to a more stable and valuable decision. That is why Geolab-trained programmers are working for our company as well as some other companies”.
The e-learning platform Nebula is responsible for the company’s third front. Nebula’s founder, Giorgi Chilaia, explains: “Nebula’s goal is to hack increased accessibility of education in Georgia”.
When we asked what prompted them to expand the scope of their work, Vakho Vakhtangishvili told us: “Our experience working in the creative and advertising industry showed us that if we properly analyze issues foreign to us, we could offer companies innovative solutions. And in turn create something of great value. After a certain time, we realized that in order to fix problems, we didn’t need someone to instruct us to start thinking, we could do it on our own.”
These, and other projects, have very little in common, but they all share one core value: they are driven by a desire to solve problems using a short unbeaten path, instead of the long beaten track. And when talking about the robot story, in this case extravagance probably translates into ‘going off the beaten track’, with the word ‘effective’ meaning ‘short’.
However, the main question remains unanswered: how long will it be before the four entrepreneurs turn their company into an actual global player. Is there a chance that people will actually start discussing Leavingstone over a beer at a pub in Vilnius any time soon? The company already has global recognition, but not enough to satisfy the appetite of its founders. The hopes for global success rely entirely on the specific nature of the intellectual business: The only resource that is required, is knowledge. For those who seek it, knowledge is becoming more and more accessible. And that gives good hope for the future of this team of young entrepreneurs, having the recipe for success and no justification for failure whatsoever.
Have a safe flight!