Tell us a little bit about your company Engine is one of world leading service design consultancies and were founded in 2001. We help companies design services and customer experiences that their customers love. We work with a multitude of blue-chip brands including Mercedes-Benz, Dubai Airports and Virgin.
What was the driver for your original decision to set up in the UAE? We had begun to deliver projects in the UAE from 2013 and we’re finding that our clients wanted to work with us more frequently and wanted us to go further along the implementation journey with them. To help them deliver the design we had conceived of. We set up our first international studio in 2017 to service our existing clients and test the appetite for our services more broadly and see if we could grow out regional presence.
How has your business progressed in the region relative to your original business plan? Before Covid hit we’d outperformed our growth targets for the last 3 financial years. We’d grown our team from 3 people to 21. Covid has meant a re-adjustment of our overall targets and shift of expectation for the business in the region for the next 6-8 months. This has meant contracting but as the market picks up again, we expect to be able to grow back to close to the levels we were achieving before March 2020.
How has Covid impacted your business in the region? Do you see more opportunities now; less competition for example? We’ve had to manage our costs and overheads very carefully since March after already won work was paused, some contracts cancelled and some payments for work already delivered still not received. We are feeling more positive now and are seeing the green shoots of recovery within our existing clients with new work starting again and payments gradually coming in.
As for the opportunities, it’s tough to say and dependent on the sectors you work in, not all sectors are recovering at the same rate. However we are seeing opportunities as companies are being forced to think differently. For instance, reimagining how they deliver their services to their customers, how they work with their teams internally now everyone is remote and the role of digital to their overall business model. It’s a disruptive time and companies are looking for disruptive thinking to help them navigate the new situation.
What three pieces of advice would you give to new companies looking at setting up in the UAE? As a creative consultancy business setting up and winning new clients from nothing would be tough. Ideally winning a piece of work before you come out and using that to launch yourselves into the market has worked for us. Partnering with other complimentary organisations is also a good model to consider as often you can supplement a service they have for their clients, or they can help do the same for you.
You can only achieve so much flying in and out. Regional knowledge and demonstrating a commitment to the region has also been an important factor in our largest clients picking us as their design partner, being ‘Glocal’ (global outlook and experience but on the ground) has been one of our superpowers!