Robot Food is a branding and creative agency based in Leeds, specialising in brand positioning, branding, design and art direction.
Robot Food’s clients are global and always ambitious: the agency is here to uncover genuine commercial opportunity, driving change and relevance for brands. It’s never about volume – Robot Food is here to add real value.
The team at Robot Food love a bit of disruption, but it’s not about being shouty and brash. True disruption is cutting through by answering a genuine consumer need and resonating in a way that other brands can’t. Their approach isn’t just for challengers though, this thinking is just as relevant when working with iconic brands too.
Simon Forster started the agency in 2009 with no formal training and had never been in a creative agency, let alone worked in one. Simon had a GNVQ in Art & Design, and after spending his early career running lifestyle and sports fashion brands, he wanted to focus on something more creative, where he could add real value to brands.
Business Up North caught up with Simon to find out more about him and Robot Food…
What or who was the inspiration for the business current path you are on?
The inspiration is to be better and to offer value to our clients beyond what our competitors do. In the early days, when working from my dining table, the aim was to convert the garage and employ someone, but the vision soon grew.
I guess I was fuelled by seeing what the big agencies were up to and thinking “we could do better than that.” Well, now, we’re in the mix against them and often win creative pitch work against them.
Equally, some may feel it’s negative to be driven by proving people wrong, but it’s always been a healthy motivator for me. I was rubbish at school and a bit of a problem child. My headmaster actually told me that I wasn’t welcome back for sixth form as I’d never amount to anything. Looking back, I can see why he assumed that. Although I’m not in contact with him these days, and I doubt he’d remember me, his words have stuck and been a real motivator.
The aim now is to attract more like-minded people, and good people, to push the agency further globally.
Is there one bit of advice you wish you’d been given before you started your business?
It’s a bit of a cliché, but if you believe it, it will happen. Looking back now, all my major dreams and milestones have been smashed, and the vision is what you build on to guide your thinking and navigate the hurdles along the way.
Everyone doubts themselves and anyone who doesn’t suffer imposter syndrome at some point is lying, so you might as well set the target high and go for it!
Lastly, you can’t do it on your own, as much as I thought I could during the early days. When you find good people, embrace them, and support them in whatever they need to excel. Your job over time becomes more about letting them fly – andthat’s the exciting part for me.
The one most important thing you’ve learned during the experience of running your own business?
Business isn’t everything and children grow up too fast.
What do you see as your future business challenges?
I think the next big challenge is to keep our culture as we scale. It’s been great being a team of 15-20, but now we need to get to 30 and we need to do so with a flat structure and smashing hierarchies, and everyone feeling valued and a critical part of the team.
Beyond that perhaps a New York office. I was born in New York, so it’s always been a dream to open an office out there. With quite a few US-based clients it seems a good time to explore that.
What would you like to leave as your business legacy?
I like to do things the right way, not necessary the easiest way. That’s why we land great clients, as we push back on a brief to get the best results from a project. People just expect honesty from us and it’s something they’ll get from the full team. I hope that they continue that way when I’m ready to hang up my boots, and I’d like to be in a position to hand them the keys so that they’re in control of their financial destiny.
Your biggest business achievement so far?
Launching my own brand, Stories & Ink, and it being validated by customers and loyal fans all over. It’s a direct-to-consumer skincare brand for people with tattooed skin. We spent a few years in retail such as Boots, Superdrug, Urban Outfitters and Selfridges before pulling the plug to focus on our eCommerce strategy. In our first year online we’re going to surpass what we sold in years through retail, and we’re about to switch on our brand website in America. It’s great to advise clients what to do with their brands, but even better to be in control of your own. It’s the ultimate validation for Robot Food also but may well end up a far more valuable business.
When you are not running your business, what do you do to relax?
I’m not so good at relaxing, but I have a ton of hobbies, and most of them are pretty active. I’m a keen snowboarder, wakeboarder and skater, and I’m trying to get better at surfing. I’m also nuts about motorbikes and I do a lot of track days on my race bike. I find that all of these things help focus my mind for a period, and I’m elsewhere. I guess for me, they are relaxation in that way. I’m also into keeping fit, and I run and cycle a fair amount.
The great thing about the sports I choose is they have motivated me to travel to places I would never have otherwise considered. These days, Japan is my go-to for snowboarding, but when I was 20 I moved to Lake Tahoe, California to work a winter season and snowboard. I had decided on the move because I bought a guidebook on snowboarding and it said it was the best area in the world to ride. It was in Tahoe that I spotted a clothing brand call Counterculture and when I came back, I made contact and became the UK sales rep which kickstarted my early career.
What would you say is your biggest achievement outside of business?
Ask any dad and the answer is their children. My daughter Jovi makes me prouder than anything else.
What would you be doing if you weren’t running your business?
Surfing around Indonesia or snowboarding in Japan.