Reflecting on six years at Somo.

Ben Magnus, Product Director
22 July 2020

My first introduction to Somo came at the Cannes Lions Festival in June 2013. I was working for Microsoft at the time, and during one of our evening events, got introduced to Maani Safa. Maani was Vice President, Innovation and Creative at Somo, and we spoke at length about all the new and interesting technologies Somo was leveraging to help its clients succeed. Our conversation ended with Maani saying if I was ever interested in working for Somo after my placement year at Microsoft and final year at university, then I should reach out.

Fast forward to March 2014, when I was faced with one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. I had offers from both Microsoft and Barclays to join their graduate programs and an offer from Somo to join as an Innovation Manager. I can remember the sleepless nights and endless conversations with friends, family, colleagues, and whoever else would listen! My head was saying pick Microsoft, a company that had provided my first real opportunity in the corporate world and a place that I’d learned so much. My heart, however, was telling me to pick Somo. It’s hard to explain, but there was just something about the vibe I got from the people I spoke to, the interviews I had, and the atmosphere in the office, that made me feel it was the right choice.

And here we are, a couple of weeks on from my six year anniversary at Somo. I often get asked in interviews “what makes working at Somo special?” or “what do you enjoy about working at Somo?” So I took some time to reflect on why, after six years, I still love working at Somo every bit as much as I did in 2014. I distilled those reasons down to three core factors that are the foundation of why I’m still at the company: opportunity, autonomy, and culture.

I joined Somo as an Innovation Manager, fresh out of university and entering agency life for the first time. I started off focused on researching new technologies and customer trends, developing Proof of Concepts to solve some problems identified through the research, running hack days and testing new ways to approach product development, and leading lab tours that showcased Somo’s work to new and existing clients. I recall on the Tuesday of my first week, Nick Haywood – Somo’s Chief Delivery Officer – came over and said we have an event on Thursday with Audi UK that we’d like you to present at. I remember thinking at the time, “are you sure, I would have only been here four days?” but being excited at the prospect of attending my first client event. I didn’t realise then that this experience would epitomise so much of my time at Somo. The access to opportunities that have challenged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone have been key to my growth and development. These opportunities are everywhere at Somo.

My role as an Innovation Manager turned out to be the perfect segue into Product Management, a function that prior to Somo was fairly unknown to me, and paved the way for the years that followed – and have resulted in me relocating from London to Washington D.C. and taking on the Product Director position on the Audi of America account. Somo has given me the opportunity to take on new roles, work with different clients, travel the world, and learn new skills. Opportunities at Somo are never lacking - it’s the aspect of working here that I enjoy most.

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Regarding autonomy, I have had five or six different managers since joining Somo, and all of them have assigned me clients and/or projects and let me run with them. I have always known that support is available (from multiple places) if needed, but being given the responsibility to lead projects without being micromanaged has fast-tracked learning through doing, forcing me to solve problems on my own, and allowing me to take risks.

Autonomy means making mistakes, true autonomy means not having it removed when you make them. As previously stated, with new opportunities come new challenges. In taking on some of these new opportunities, I have undoubtedly made mistakes along the way. These mistakes have varied in nature and severity but, for example, might have been related to how I handled a particular situation or how I chose to approach a piece of work. Despite making these mistakes, Somo’s response has always been the same. Why did I think the mistake happened? What did I learn from it? And how will I prevent the same mistake from happening again? Knowing that Somo has that trust in its people provides confidence that I can continually push boundaries to improve as an individual, as a business, and as a partner for our clients.

Finally, culture. Autonomy and opportunity are of course parts of organisational culture but, in Somo’s case, culture goes far beyond this. It was no surprise to me that Somo was ranked as the #1 place to work in Charleston SC and Washington D.C. in Inc.’s Best Workplaces for 2020, and #2 in Campaign Live’s Best Places to Work in the UK. Somo cultivates a culture that ensures people want to work here.

When I reflect on the six years I’ve been at Somo, it’s funny to see how my perception of culture has changed. When I first joined, it was the table tennis tournaments, beers on a Friday afternoon, and free breakfasts and lunches that I thought meant that Somo had a great culture. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed (still enjoy) these things and they all contribute in some capacity. However, culture for me today means something different. It’s the trust, flexibility, support, transparency, and collaboration. It’s knowing that I can work from home and not be questioned about whether I am actually working. It’s being able to arrange my working day around the hours that I am most productive. It’s our whole company Stand Up on a Wednesday afternoon and our Lunch & Learn series. It’s having a network of people within the business that I can approach for advice. I could go on. There are a number of reasons that mean after six years I still enjoy coming to work (almost) every day, but culture is definitely at the heart of it.

So, as I sit writing this blog post from my apartment in Washington D.C., I know I can look back on that decision in March 2014, and confidently say that joining Somo was one of the best decisions I have made. Here’s to more years of learning, helping to deliver great work for our clients, and building friendships along the way.