Company Profiles in association withThe Immortal Awards

Soursop: A Shape-Shifting, Radically Collaborative Consultancy

London, UK
Ravi Amaratunga Hitchcock explains the thinking behind the nimble creative business he’s launched with his wife Lucy Hitchcock in the middle of a pandemic
Soursop feels like the sort of creative business these times need. Founded by Amsterdam-based but globally facing husband-and-wife team Ravi Amaratunga Hitchcock and Lucy Hitchcock, their aim is to “change the way brands approach their creative work in-house and extend their creative and cultural networks externally.” 

Drawing on Ravi’s past experience at Channel 4, VICE, Dazed Media and WE ARE Pi, paired with Lucy’s luxury branding expertise, the projects they plan to create will span the worlds of editorial, advertising, film and TV.

They’ve already helped to concept and develop a creative platform for Dutch challenger e-bike brand VanMoof. They’re working with Samsung Galaxy’s direct to consumer group in Korea to revitalise the creative process across e-commerce and retail. And they’re working on something with Nike that they can’t say much about yet other than “utilising our editorial and cinematic networks, we are helping Nike concept and produce entertainment franchises.” Then there's all the pure editorial work like the documentary / photography project with WeTransfer, 'Rambutan: An Ode to Sri Lankan Food'. It’s an intriguing start.

LBB’s Alex Reeves knew Ravi had lots of relevant things to say, having spent 5 Minutes with him back in 2018, so called him to delve deeper into what Soursop means.

LBB> It’s a strange time to be starting anything. Has Soursop been in the works for a while though? Where did the business idea come from?

Ravi> Yeah 100% it’s a weird time. But we’ve been plotting this for a while. I keep on saying I’m not traditionally from advertising. I was at We Are Pi for three years, did quite a lot of branded stuff at Vice and iD. But because there were so many different networks that I had from TV, publishing and now advertising, I kind of wanted to find a way to link them all. And there isn’t a simple business where you can do that that you can walk into. So it kind of forced our hands. If we want to keep on making docs and we also want to do brand campaigns and still do pro bono projects and things like that, we’re going to have to figure out how we can build our own business model.

LBB> I’ve got to ask you about the name. How did you end up naming your business after a tropical fruit?

Ravi> I’ll tell you the truth, for a change! I was going to name [the business] after myself because originally I didn’t have a business partner. It’s the most arrogant and obnoxious thing you could do. When I realised my wife really should be my business partner is when she said “I can’t let you do that.” She said she’d come up with a name within 24 hours and she wanted it to relate to my Sri Lankan ancestry. And she came up with Soursop in about 15 minutes. It really was that simple. Then the Instagram handle was free and the website was free. It was creativity from a time limit. Also we have quite a colourful aesthetic and we just wanted something that felt a bit more fun. She saved my bacon on that front. 

LBB> It’s interesting that it wasn’t originally going to be a husband and wife team. What made you both realise that you should definitely team up professionally?

Ravi> I knew I wanted to do this and she’s been a great supporter throughout my career anyway. But she was in luxury branding and then took some time out to start her PhD, which is also in luxury. So we’re both creative people. I was going along my path and she was on hers, but when I knew I wanted to do this, it was terrifying the thought of doing it alone. We were looking for different types of business partners, talking to all sorts of people we’d never met before trying to work out if we could trust them. And then just like that we realised we have so many shortcuts, we have the same tastes and morals as well, in terms of how we want to approach business and creativity, so it made sense.

I guess we’d always been that couple that thought we could never work together. Then we did and it was actually fine. It’s funny what’s right in front of you.

LBB> You mention morals, which I think is a great choice of word. What are the morals you’re putting into this?

Ravi> I don’t want to sound like someone that’s overly woke. We are working in late stage capitalism in a capitalist industry. So take it with a pinch of salt. But I think it is having gone and worked with lots of freelancers and wanting to balance out our business model with re-investing some of those profits back into the editorial sectors that are more underfunded. Or making other projects happen. It’s all to make sure there’s more of a cycle. 

I think morally, what I mean, is that people need to be fulfilled 360 and should be able to embrace the different parts of their lives that give them value. That’s the other reason we set up this business model. A lot of our friends and peers had decided to either go freelance or move out of the city, to more remote places, or wanted to balance work and life, have kids, or had other things they wanted to do. We wanted to continue to work with them. So the idea of having a bricks-and-mortar base and full time staff didn’t seem to make sense. 

Paying those people their freelance rate and keeping everything above board is really important to us. We are both, of course, driven by having a healthy business, but ultimately the work we create and what we’re contributing back to culture is the main driving force for all of us. It’s what we get our buzz from.

LBB> That also links in with why you’re calling yourselves a consultancy rather than an agency or production company, I imagine.

Ravi> Having worked in those two types of business models, they rely on expensive overheads and that are passed onto their partners. We wanted to be brought into different projects and almost be able to shape-shift a bit. We’ve already worked in different capacities, like the way in which we work with Samsung is very much in a creative consultancy role where we’re overseeing and working with a lot of their existing agencies, helping to increase the creative standards within that business in Korea. With others we’re playing a more traditional agency-type role.

Ultimately no one creative problem is the same and we want to figure out the teams that can solve that individual problem, rather than the traditional model of having full-time staff and selling people what you have, rather than what they need. I think we’re just trying to approach that a bit differently. And I see a lot of other new companies are thinking in that way.

Here in Amsterdam, they’ve introduced this donut economy model, which basically makes it the first city in the world not to prioritise economic growth as a means of success. I think there is this big shift in thinking. Of course making a profit is really important, but what other value are you able to provide? That’s what we and a lot of our more millennial peers are beginning to think like.

LBB> Obviously that rings even truer since Covid-19 meant that everyone is now used to working remotely. Do you think it’s easier for people to accept that way of working?

Ravi> We never planned for a pandemic and thought we’d be a Covid-proof company, but weirdly there is synergy in what’s happened. What’s great for us is that people have been forced to understand that it can work. 

We’ve already delivered projects where we’ve worked completely remotely with a team who are New York-based. We have relationships with these people already so it’s not like we’re meeting them for the first time, but because we’ve got that mutual trust we’ve been able to work really effectively with them. 

I think a lot of people are learning some elements of workflows and travel can be subbed down in an interesting way and more value can be put behind what’s on screen and behind creative development as a bonus.

LBB> When things started to get real with the pandemic, did you think about holding off at all?

Ravi> It was too far down the line. I’d left my job. We’d got our first client with Samsung, so that was in motion pre-pandemic. Things were moving. So we had the luxury of some confirmed business so we could continue at least into the first year of this. Hopefully we’ll last longer. But I think even if we hadn’t, what would we have had to lose? If you can weather this kind of extreme situation you’ve got a model that can work. If you can survive this, you can survive anything - that’s the attitude we’ve embraced. But ask me in a year and I’ll let you know if it worked out.

LBB> We touched on this the last time I interviewed you, but is this business another way for you to try and help brands engage with culture in more relevant ways?

Ravi> Yeah. I guess that’s all I know. My background isn’t coming up with the big TV idea. It’s about knowing how real people connect organically and what you have to offer them. And knowing that in a world where budgets are going to be shrinking and arts funding is going to be cut, there’s tons of amazing creative work that can be supported or utilised in an interesting way.

A lot of agencies are adapting. We Are Pi are definitely doing that. But others are ivory towers where it’s a bit of a closed circuit and they don’t really understand how their work’s being perceived. Coming at it from an editorial mindset is why people come to us. We’re engaged in that part.

That’s where the consultancy part is good. We are aiming to be radically collaborative. We have no problem working with different creative agencies who are already on roster with brands. We’re just here to help kickstart thinking in the creative process in a different way.

It’s looking at the resources that are available and how you achieve your aims. Coming at it that way has freed up opportunities for us because it makes us more nimble and less prescriptive in how we approach problems.

LBB> Do you feel like being a consultancy, there’s a kind of freedom to tell you clients the hard truths and be honest with them about where they haven’t got it right, culturally or creatively, in the past?

Ravi> You have to be, I think. If you’re not truthful about that stuff then you’re doing people a disservice. Also it’s going to lead to more tragedy later down the line if you’re just masking what you really think or getting involved in something you don’t believe in. The work you create will be compromised. You have to have a long game and that’s what people come to you for.

With this lower overheads model, it means that your main priority isn’t to get money in the bank straight away. It’s more about getting the work right and believing that it can succeed and land with an audience. We’ve seen this already with some clients. You start small and you build trust together. I think that’s a great way to work as opposed to the usual agency way of pitching on a big account and then trying to get that money up front to pay your extremely expensive rent in Soho or whatever.

We feel really blessed that we got to start off with such a good roster of clients. And we’re trying to reinvest that back into really exciting projects.