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Bossing It: Nicolas Rajabaly



makemepulse co-founder and CCO Nicolas chats problem solving, hiring the right people and leading by example

Bossing It: Nicolas Rajabaly

After graduating from the famous French school of Gobelins, Nicolas worked at the top Paris creative agencies before founding interactive production company makemepulse in 2008 with business partner Antoine Ughetto. The company has become well known for its focus on using emerging technologies to tell stories in a new and different way. 

In leading the creation at makemepulse for the last 12 years, Nicolas’ focus has been on creating new immersive, interactive and experiential ways to tell stories for clients. He happens to think people engage with experiences, and when content is interactive, it’s engaging, and when it’s engaging, it creates an emotional connection that is both memorable and valuable.

makemepulse has won a whole host of awards at Cannes Lions, One Show, Eurobest, entries into the Creative Review Annual and Kinsale Shark awards.

What was your first experience of leadership?

When I was studying. As a final part of my course, I was required to work as part of a team in order to deliver a project. I naturally assumed the role of the leader which i really enjoyed, and it seems like a natural fit to me. Although, I learnt quite quickly that it's no easy job!


How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Each step of company growth is a constantly evolving situation, and even the tiniest bit of growth has an impact on the dynamics of the team, and how that leadership is tweaked to adapt to that change. It seemed as soon as I got the hang of leading a team of 5 people, we’d grow to 10, which then brings its own set of challenges. Then we grew to 20. Again, a different set of challenges. Each time, this pushed me to evolve, to think differently, and to challenge the way in which I saw myself.

Even though my co-founder Antoine and I didn’t have a grand plan as such, we did know that we wanted to create an environment in which our employees could be free in their thoughts and feel secure in speaking their mind, even if it’s not always what we want to hear! We wanted to lead a team that we listened to. In a creative role, it’s important to leave the ego at home!

What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

At the end of last year, we were very busy (good problem to have of course), but I’d been holding some elements of a project a bit too close, and not delegating very well. When I saw that some of the tasks had been carried out anyway I realised very quickly that I needed to trust my people and to get better at delegation! They didn’t need my validation to get on with their job and make the work happen. Each of these steps is a lesson. 

Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Both Antoine and myself come from entrepreneurial families, and we felt inspired by that. We always wanted to work for ourselves but we didn’t know that the future would bring growing to a team of 20 and managing people! But we are very happy it did, and the plan is to keep growing and keep learning and developing.


When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

I think that mostly it can be learnt. A good 80% of what is required can be learnt, no doubt. Anyone one can go on a course and be taught ‘how to manage a team’. But the part that makes it successful is the personality. Not everyone has natural leadership personality traits and a good leader must be open, caring, a team player, open to suggestions and further learning, patient and kind. Not all humans have those qualities.

What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

It’s a never ending story, there is always a problem to solve, a hurdle to overcome. In fact, leadership is an additional role that runs parallel with my creative role. It’s good to stay focussed, agile and have resilience. I am at total peace with the fact that nothing will be perfect.

Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Good leadership is hiring the right people. 

The first ever person we hired was a big mistake, they were a truly fantastic person, but in retrospect, weren’t right in terms of personality and skills. It was just one of those things, but at the time it made us feel bad and question our ability, but the main thing is to make sure we learn from our mistakes right?

In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered? 

I try to act as I want my team to act. As a leader, I need to be transparent and open if I expect my team to be, even if that takes me out of my comfort zone and creates some uncomfortable conversations. I can still be transparent, but in a considered way by being respectful and tactful. Transparent doesn’t need to mean rude and offensive. It means honest. 

As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

I wish I’d had a mentor, but no. If I could choose one, my professional hero is Jason Fried, the CEO of Basecamp. He has a very strong philosophy around how to make organisations collaborative and collective and I really admire him. 

It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Right from the very beginning, our main focus was to communicate as much as possible and provide as much support for the team as possible. Our entire company and processes changed, so we needed to be open to suggestions on all levels that pertain to every aspect of the business. 

This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

This is a topic we have been supportive of from day one, so it’s not a new concept for us. We are equal in terms of gender balance and pay, and being an international company, we have a rich mix of culture with people from a variety of backgrounds, heritage and values.

How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?

Our transparent approach means we have created a culture of openness which has been purposeful. We collectively found a solution to quick and seamless remote working together. We found that some things worked, and some didn’t and as a company we found the right balance. We have learnt a lot actually, and we discovered a new version of our remote culture. 

What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

I genuinely find it helpful to talk to my peers. In this, I find relief that I am not alone and that the worry I experience can be the same in a lot of companies. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved! 

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makemepulse, Thu, 25 Mar 2021 10:57:27 GMT