Asad Dhunna is Founder at The Unmistakables, producing award-winning culture and communications made by minorities.
We caught up with him to hear about what it takes to start your own thing…
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I run The Unmistakables, a cultural consultancy made up of minorities. We work with organisations who want to unlock the difference dividend, which means they want to untick the box when it comes to diversity, and actively work with us to improve how they represent modern society both on the inside and out.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
I am the founder of the organisation, which automatically means I sit at the top. That isn’t the reality though – I report to our clients and to our shareholders, and I look after a team of six.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Resilience is the main one. Setting up a business isn’t for the faint hearted, and while I read a lot about what it takes to set up something new, nothing can prepare you for the reality of it. The highs are high, and the lows are low – and having resilience has been critical for me to maintain my mental health.
Curiosity is another skill I find important. We spend a lot of our time understanding how society is changing and taking that knowledge to our clients. Doing that wouldn’t be possible without being curious about what makes people tick, and what our clients want to discover.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I’d love to say I am on the treadmill answering e-mails by 6am but that is a myth. I start each week by planning out my meetings and looking at where my energy levels will peak and trough. Based on that I’m either heading into central London for meetings or I’ll be at my desk in our beautiful workspace in Peckham for 8.30am tackling the hardest thing of the day first – like writing this! I’ll then be reading our daily Minoritease news service, where we share news about people from different hues every morning before exploring who might need our help, or sinking my teeth into one of our client’s projects.
The day will likely be peppered with calls and meetings, which is where I get a lot of energy. I also find being in a coworking space keeps things fresh as we are surrounded by freelancers and other small businesses that are building something new. That’s a great energy to be around.
The day will most likely end with an event or a talk in central before heading back home. I’ve been training myself to switch my phone off an hour before sleeping, and on an hour after waking up, and it’s having a profound impact on my happiness and energy levels.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
I love the freedom of running my own business. I have a lot of control over my calendar and my time – and find that the more I put into it, the more I get out. It also makes me think a lot about the world and what it means to create a responsible and sustainable business in 2019 – and I can take those lessons straight back to our clients.
I also love the variety of running a consultancy. Learning from different clients in different industries keeps things fresh and it’s very satisfying to spot trends and look at how to cross-fertilise ideas. I’ve found that what’s going on in the third sector is just as applicable to a technology company, and vice versa.
What sucks? That’s a loaded question. There’s a lot of administration you have to do when running a business – running the payroll, sourcing new computer equipment, cleaning up the office – the fun never steps. But the bits that suck won’t be forever, so I really can’t complain!
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Our primary goal is to run and grow the UK’s most diverse and inclusive marketing and communications consultancy. The industry struggles with attracting and retaining people from different backgrounds, and by building something made up of minorities from scratch we have a chance to make a change. With that goal comes ambitions around revenue and scale that aren’t unlike many other small agencies.
I recently learnt about ‘OKRs’ – objectives and key results from Pip Jamieson at The Dots and have employed them here. Rather than looking at KPIs, which can be stifling if they aren’t hit, objectives are about setting big hairy goals and key results are about looking at what success looks like if we get there. One of our biggest objectives at the moment is unthinking the traditional conference and hosting an ‘Unmistakeway’ in January.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Google Suite is an absolute lifesaver. Having the ability to work on any device, share freely with the team, and not get bogged down in version control has really helped to keep things moving at pace for us. Evernote is another personal favourite – I’ve been using it for years and love to look back through notes from years ago.
I find having a laptop open in a meeting is obstructive and becomes a barrier when trying to build rapport with anyone so another tool that helps me get the job done is a good old fashioned notebook. Nothing beats it when taking notes, or working on new ideas.
How did you end up founding The Unmistakables, and where might you go from here?
I got the bug to set something up when I was marketing and business development director at Triptease, a travel technology start-up. It was my first time working in a truly entrepreneurial environment, and Charlie and James Osmond were a great inspiration to take the path less trodden. Moving from there to Weber Shandwick confirmed my suspicion that I wanted to set up an agency / consultancy, and after sitting with my intuition about the diversity problem I decided I wanted to set something up to combat it. It was very appealing to stay in a comfortable job, but one of my colleagues years ago shared this quote with me: ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ and I haven’t looked back. From here I’m focussed on building and growing the company and who knows where that might take us.
Which campaigns/work have impressed you lately?
I can hear myself being a cliche when I say the Guardian ‘Hope is Power’ campaign. It’s a very simple idea and well executed across lots of channels. Method’s campaign bringing in drag queens and supporting the LGBT community was very clever and definitely got people in my immediate circle talking about them unpromoted. I also really loved Innocent’s blue drink campaign – it was everywhere, and the video with Duncan from Blue on Twitter was very memorable.
— innocent drinks (@innocent) August 23, 2019
What advice would you give to somebody starting in marketing/PR today?
I get asked this a lot – especially when talking to people from minority communities who wouldn’t usually consider a career in the industry. A decade in, I would say that if you are looking for a career that lets you be creative, work with people, and ultimately shape society then marketing/PR is for you. It will be rewarding and frustrating in equal measure, but then so is every job – so it’s definitely worth convincing your parents that it’s worth giving it a go. I did, and I don’t regret it in the slightest.