Brand consultancy Derris has worked with Warby Parker, Harry’s, Glossier, and Everlane. Creative and design shop Mythology has also worked with Warby Parker and Harry’s, as well as Allbirds, Away, Peloton, and Casper. Two shops with fingerprints on some of the most successful and popular brands to launch in the 21st century.
And now, with this kind of track record, the two have teamed up to launch Project Mercury, a new joint venture aimed at finding the next big brand name to add to that list. “We both sat around the table in the early days of Warby Parker, and both of us have been involved since the beginning at this incredible movement that’s seen the creation of these amazing brands,” says Derris founder Jesse Derris. “For us, we’ve talked about it informally for years. We both have a desire to get closer and closer to the foundation of those brands, to the beginning and development phase of those brands.”
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Mythology founder Anthony Sperduti says getting involved earlier is about setting a brand up for sustainable success. “The idea is fundamentally about sitting with founders at an earlier stage, and truly affect what a company stands for, how they’re going to come out to the world, and what their point of view is,” says Sperduti, who recently rebranded Mythology from its previous incarnation as Partners & Spade, after the departure of cofounder Andy Spade. “To fundamentally achieve what a company or brand sets out to do, the further down the food chain you are, the harder that is. We wake up in the morning to help companies get their point of view across—or launch new products or services—and it becomes infinitely easier when you’re at the table for major decisions much earlier in that process.”
Project Mercury is a separate company on paper, but it will be staffed and skilled by both Derris and Mythology. Since the new venture’s ideal clients don’t actually exist yet, they’re kicking things off with an open application process. Submissions are open until January 15, 2020. Two or three finalist companies will be invited to New York to present to both agencies sometime in the spring. The teams at Derris and Mythology will vote on a winner, and they’ll then take on their pick as a client for the next year in exchange for equity. After the first year, any relationship would be a standard agency-client compensation structure.
The structure and goal here—getting into a new company as early as possible—is an extension of a wider trend in creative agency work over the last decade. It’s one that’s encouraged such capabilities as digital, PR, and social—which used to engage with a new brand or product only after it was effectively finished—to have the potential to have more impact by being there from the outset. This is meant to ensure these capabilities are baked in, as opposed to tacked on later as accessories, leading to more brand consistency and ideally, success.
This is exactly what Derris and Sperduti are trying to do from an overall brand-building perspective.
“We’re usually brought in pretty early, but often you still have to undo something before you do something,” says Derris. “There is a lot of value to add in having all of those voices at the table early on, and we’ve seen that on other brands we’ve been able to work on from very early days. So this is about recreating that and making sure the seat at the table we have is one [where] we’re really collaborating with founders from the very early days of an idea.”
One of the big misconceptions of this direct-to-consumer age is what it actually takes to be a brand. Derris says that the internet is a channel that allows brands to circumvent traditional barriers to entry, but if a brand identifies as DTC, they’re probably not thinking about all the other experiences that their customers need that are decidedly analog, whether that’s in a physical store or on a customer service call, a billboard ad, or even the founder speaking in an interview.
“I can’t even get on Instagram without seeing four or five new designer deodorant brands,” says Derris. “I feel like we’re at an inflection point where there needs to be more [substance] there. It can’t just be another brand with a charming personality, a clean typeface, and a subway ad on the L train.”
Sperduti sees Project Mercury as a way to move beyond the formula that has worked for the brands he and Derris have helped forge, for up-and-coming brands not to be copycats—or the Warby Parker of whatever. “Too many are asking for a duplication of that,” says Sperduti. “My feeling is our companies will be able to push them beyond just duplicating that playbook, but really understanding what they want to disrupt, and what doesn’t need to be changed.”