Keeping it real

When Andy Bell and Noam Sohachevsky started Mint Digital three years ago from their kitchen tables, little did they know how quickly the company was going to grow.

Mint creates mass participation websites for cross-platform entertainment projects such as ABC Family’s Greek, Channel 4/ All3Media’s Skins and Sony Ericsson/ Orange’s unsignedAct. Now, thanks to two rounds of angel investment and a lot of hard work, Mint has offices in London and New York, and 24 full time employees.

Sitting back in his chair in the garden of Mint’s local cafe, Andy takes a sip of water (if you want a clean-living company director, Andy’s your man) and reflects on how his relationships with co-workers have changed.

“I used to think ten people would be an ideal size for the company, now I’m finding myself thinking 50 is about right. People trust you more as a bigger company, and you can take on larger scale projects.

“I’ve felt, recently, that the tone of the company is changing a bit. It’s still a great atmosphere. But there’ve been a couple of examples recently that have made me think.

“I’ve always been keen on eating lunch with everyone. With ten people it’s easy to go to the shops and grab a picnic. Once you get to 24 people, the atmosphere changes slightly. Suddenly, it’s not ‘us’ buying lunch, it’s ‘the company’ doing it for you.

“Also, we’ve always tried to do out of hours stuff, like the Mint Sports Day we had a few weeks ago. But once you’ve got 24 people turning up on a Saturday for a corporate sports day, it seems like work. I guess if we’d done it on a Friday, it might have been different.

In an effort to keep any ‘them’ and ‘us’ barriers as low as possible, every new employee is given share options and the Vauxhall-based offices (in an old Marmite factory – visiting Disney executives like it because they say it’s ‘street’) are open plan.

“More people inevitably means more of a hierarchy,” admits Andy. “I’m ten years older than some of the new developers and designers coming into the company, so it’s inevitable that I’ve got more experience. I’ve tried and tested different ways of doing things, and I should pass that on to them. But we try to delegate responsibility as far as possible.”

When Noam, Mint Digital’s Chief Design Officer, was away last year, there were some concerns about how new-ish designer Tom Harman would step up to the plate. But Tom did a sterling job, and now enjoys a higher level of autonomy than he did previously.

Both Andy and Cameron Price – Mint’s CTO – are inspired by the sort of stuff Joel Spolsky [CEO of respected US software company, Fog Creek] writes in his blog. Spolsky spent a stint in the Israeli army so is possibly more qualified than most to say why command and control can never work in software development.

Above all, Andy wants to make sure that everyone is happy and – hopefully – enjoying themselves. The ‘Mints’ aim to “go on an outing” at least every month, and, once a year, staff from both the London and New York offices get together at Scoles Manor in Dorset for a few days of intensive brainstorming, development and social activity.

“Business is the most social thing,” says Andy. “If over the course of a few years, you’re working alongside others, putting your life and soul into something, it’s very rewarding.”