Tired of the same old digital campaigns and reskinned apps, Ran Craycraft and Kevin Ng formed Wildebeest as a modern alternative to campaign-focused creative agencies and design-absent dev shops. The founders had a vision for Wildebeest as a product-driven team that could create software better and faster when design and technology were equal stakeholders from the start. Ran, design, and Kevin, technology, have equal salaries, equal equity, and an equally optimistic view of their team.
The company began in 2014 working exclusively with entrepreneurs to develop big ideas and bring them to market but quickly shifted focus to helping established brands take big swings. Within two years, Wildebeest became one of the most sought-after digital agencies for brands like Google, Disney, Microsoft, General Motors, and more.
Wildebeest pioneers in combining technologies in new ways that may not yet be common or seem possible. Often this leads to pushing the limits of Augmented Reality, cross-platform software, and new takes on experiential IoT apps. “Our calling card is to shape tomorrow’s technology into easy-to-use interfaces for today,” said Ran.
Being the co-founder and CEO, Ran sees biggest responsibility is as mentor to his team. He believes that the company’s growth depends largely on the acumen of each team member. Thus, he ensures that the right people are in the right roles to allow the business to grow and give each person the tools and space they need to spread their wings. In many cases, that means Wildebeest employees are encouraged to try on several hats. A good example of that is Ran overseeing both New Business and Creative Direction as well as any HR duties along the way. Kevin keeps his hands just as full as the CTO who also oversees project management.
Our team of Mirror Review sat down with Ran to further understand how the idea of Wildebeest has evolved.
What made you call quits to the ‘normal 9-5’?
I started my career in New York City at NBC as an intern in the early 2000s and gradually climbed my way to Senior Producer. The role of Product Manager wasn’t common back then, but that’s what I did. I created new product ideas to support NBC Universal television and film content. It was trial by fire in a lot of ways as we were exploring the possibilities of streaming media, mobile apps, and virtual worlds in the early days of digital content. After several hard, but good years, I got laid off and it really shook my world. I liked that job a lot and in hindsight, it was a big part of my identity. Then, I made my way over to AOL where I learned about scalability and managing large teams, getting promoted from Director of Product to General Manager of the Entertainment division. I found myself on the West Coast more often than not and opted to put down roots in Los Angeles. In a strange turn of events, my team was abruptly dissolved and I found myself with another severance package. It’s a brutal feeling to work really hard for a company, be recognized for excellence, and then be escorted to the door. That’s when I realized, my creativity and passion might not be the right fit for a normal 9-5. As an entrepreneur, I’ve found that the passion I put into my work has a direct correlation to our success.
How will you describe your entrepreneurial journey?
Running your own business gives you some of the highest highs and lowest lows you can imagine. Wildebeest was a lot harder to get started than I thought it would be. You’ve got to have the stomach for a rollercoaster and frankly, the inability to successfully do anything else well. It seems like each year, we’ve had a different seismic event that we have to learn to react and recalibrate to. Now, six years in, our skin has grown thick and our confidence to persevere is unrivaled.
Since the inception how has the growth trajectory changed?
I think our first project was for $500. We had to start somewhere and when you don’t yet have a solid portfolio, it’s tough. Early on, our vision of growth was measured in bodies. It took us a while to realize that the number of seats you fill doesn’t have an equal relationship to a healthy business. When we started wearing more hats and hiring people who wanted to be in the problem-solving process, our business truly began to grow.
How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected the AR-VR industry?
We’ve seen many folks who were adamantly against working with remote teams come around and wholeheartedly embrace it. COVID has opened up more traditional brands to the idea of virtual events and experiences—creating many opportunities for augmented reality and live video streaming custom software projects.
Have the changes done any benefit to Wildebeest?
Until this year, most of our clients are from California. Now with in-house design and development teams working remotely and in some cases, short-staffed, teams like ours become more attractive. Now, brands are looking less at geography and more for the right ideological fit with bonus points to agencies in the same timezone.
How did COVID-19 affect you or your teammates on the personal front?
Many of our friends and relatives have been affected by COVID, especially on the East Coast. Fortunately, none of our team members have tested positive. It has been a scary and emotional time for all of us but I think it has brought our team all a little closer even though we’re actually further apart. I think it’s been good for everyone to have time alone to heal and take stock in what’s most important. We believe strongly in work-life balance, so we do our best to make sure each person on our team is as happy and healthy as can be.
Are there any special measures that you undertook in response to the pandemic?
We implemented a policy early-on for our team to have the flexibility of working from anywhere as long as they could overlap with our team’s normal working hours. Also, we start and end each day with a team standup. This gives everyone a chance to talk about their goals for the day and then discuss their accomplishments and challenges.
Additionally, on a human-front, we’re doing our best to compliment our client projects with causes important to our team. We recently launched an equality Chrome Extension called Black Out Ads and helped launch a nonprofit for formerly homeless youth. I’ve also been very active in my community making sure seniors and those less fortunate have access to the necessities during this difficult time.
How are you planning to scale your company in the future?
The future is wide open for us. We’re very grateful for the agencies and brands who continue reaching out to explore what bringing our team in-house could look like. I think the pandemic has caused many companies to re-evaluate their models and find ways to take more ownership of their platforms. Ultimately, whether we remain an independent agency or roll up into another team, as long as we’re making products to make people feel better, we’re on the right track.
Is there anything specific you would like to convey to the readers?
If you’re thinking of launching something, now is the right time to do it, whatever “it” is. It’s always going to be hard, the timing will never be perfect, but if you have an idea that’s eating you up and you can’t imagine doing anything else, then drop what you’re doing and put every ounce of energy into getting your product in front of users as fast as possible. Make mistakes, adjust, and roll it out again better than before. Look at how the world is changing and imagine how your ideas could make it better.
Also Read: “The 10 Most Revolutionary AR-VR Leaders of 2023”