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Why we started

Ivelina Vladimirova President
May 27, 2021

4 minute read
Why we started

“There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals” - Idowu Koyenikan

At Neon, our guiding principle is “products that matter.” But our digital studio started with people.
Let me rewind a little.
I’ve spent the last 14 years working with TCap, which is a Vancouver private equity firm and Neon’s parent company. I started as a provisioning specialist and eventually became the chief operating officer (COO).
After 30 years in business, TCap had an amazing team. I know every organization thinks they have the best employees, but I swear, there’s something in the water here. When the people you work with feel like family – and you know what they stand for, what they can deliver, and what they want to do – you shouldn’t let that go.
We continued to add talented folks, and we pivoted toward a new vision. That’s when Neon was born. I was excited to continue focusing on operations and product delivery, while deepening my knowledge of design, research, growth, and insights. When I was given the opportunity to lead Neon last fall, I gladly accepted.
Neon is a young product studio with deep roots – and we’re growing fast. As we launch Neon Insights, I wanted to explore some of our foundational principles, and the lessons we’re learning along the way.

Idea > ego

Idea over ego is one of our three core values. It infuses everything we do. Most importantly, you’ll see it in action every day – from brainstorming sessions with our partners to the way we plan social events. We believe the best idea wins, no matter who or where it came from. This is one of Neon’s core principles. It’s been with us since the beginning, and it’s a guiding light as we evolve and expand.

Becoming a B Corp

Neon is on a mission to become a certified B Corporation (B Corp), which means we’ll be legally required to consider how our decisions affect our workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. B Corporations are a global community of people who are using business as a force for good.
Several individuals first brought this idea to the table, and it quickly gained traction with the wider Neon team. Becoming a B Corp isn’t easy, nor should it be. It’s a big investment. It’s also something the whole organization needs to rally behind, rather than a top-down change. We’re bringing a strategic lens to all of our work – and it’s exciting to see that focused lens in action.
Most importantly, we’re asking different questions. B Corp certification stands on three pillars: social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability. If a potential partner doesn’t have a clear path to achieve these pillars, we’re asking how we can help them to get there. We’re excited to help people shift how they work and think, in a way that benefits everyone.

Nurturing individual growth

Growth comes from learning, stretching, and tackling cool problems. We prioritize projects that ask our team to dig into exciting research, to explore leading-edge tools and technologies, and to solve meaningful challenges.
We also offer a wide range of training, from core job skills to personal development, continuing education and more. As a technology and product company, we have to stay current. We need to know what’s on the horizon and what that means for our partners. Our job is to speak and breathe the latest technology across every discipline.
I know from talking to my peers that most leaders realize they need to invest in training. Our success depends on it. And while we often focus on technical skills, so-called soft skills are equally critical. Communication and conflict management, for example, are incredibly important. We also bring in tools like the Pro.file People Survey to help the team understand each other’s strengths, abilities, and creative potential.

Embracing mistakes

At Neon, we’re not afraid of mistakes. Do your research, decide, and be accountable, even if it turns out wrong. Own the problem and the solution. That’s all I want to see. After all, you can’t improve or innovate if you don’t stumble sometimes. We just want to avoid repeating the same mistakes, because that means we haven’t learned the lesson.
After every engagement, we talk about what worked — and what didn’t. What went right? What went wrong? How did we fix the problem? Everyone works on different project teams, so we mix and match people for these discussions so we can all learn from each other. Usually, our challenges involve communication, misunderstandings, not setting expectations, or making assumptions.
We’ve learned that it’s really, really tough to walk back a design promise, for example, that doesn’t work in development. Now we ensure our teams have representatives from all studio disciplines. Clear process + more communication = better projects.

Navigating COVID-19

Like most organizations, our focus has been to stay connected. From the first days of the pandemic, we wanted to ensure everyone feels like they belong. To maintain that family-like feeling, we’ve had Donut chats, regular town hall meetings, social events, and drop-in virtual coffee time.
Everyone has lived in their own bubbles and they’re experiencing the changes in our world in different ways. Some are more stressed than others. We, humans are social beings; staying apart takes a mental and emotional toll on everyone – including introverts! As a leader, my job has been to watch for signs of stress and, whenever possible, reach out to people individually, in groups, and in any way that makes sense.

Stretching ourselves to make what matters

“Products that matter” is more than our mantra. It’s an everyday litmus test, and an ethos we’re working to formalize through the B Corp certification. Most importantly, we want people to experience our work and say “that’s Neon.” Our goal is to create products that are so distinctively simple, sophisticated, and valuable that they stand out from the pack. We want them to be unmistakable. We’ve already made some incredible products with terrific partners – and we’ll continue to stretch ourselves.
Neon started with people, and they’ll always be the core of our company. Thanks to our in-house Pecha Kucha-style talks and daily collaboration, I still learn new things about colleagues I’ve collaborated with for over 10 years. That’s exciting. Getting to know the people you spend your days (and your life with) is rewarding. It’s such a privilege. I’m equally thrilled that we continue to bring in new people. Our family is growing. Our mission is clear.
We’re building something big together.

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