Young Guns: Design Farm Collective chief operating officer Devon Allaby

By AdNews | 27 February 2018

Our Young Guns profile takes a weekly look at some of the young talent across the advertising, ad tech, marketing and media sector in Australia. It aims to shed light on the varying roles, people and companies across the buzzing industry.

Previously we met Unlockd VP of global strategy Josh Howard. Today we meet Devon Allaby, chief operating officer of Design Farm Collective, a service design consulting startup based in Sydney but operating across NSW, Victoria and Queensland. 

Full name: Devon Allaby

How long have you been in the industry? Six years

Duration in current role/time at the company: Seven months

What were you doing before this job and how did you get this gig? I was previously a business designer at Fjord, part of Accenture Interactive, a role that really challenged me to think bigger about creating a connection with customers. Through my network I was offered an opportunity to start Design Farm Collective and shape what the future of product and service design could be, and I couldn’t say no.

Define your job in one word: Uncomfortable. Almost every week I get given a new challenge, with new personalities for which I am totally unprepared. For someone who likes to learn, it’s all I could ask for.

What were your real and cliché expectations of working in the industry? I expected 'work hard play hard'.

How does the reality match up? Most people played hard, I had to go looking for people who were willing work hard. I found them, and now we’ve got a firm together.

How would you describe what the company does and what does your role involve? Design Farm Collective is a product and service design firm that helps organisations build 'new'. This could be new services, new target markets, new products or new businesses/ventures. We are pretty selective about the work we take on because we aren’t interested in the industry standard, doing what everyone else is doing or helping companies win the race to the bottom.

My role focuses on looking at the business problems faced by our clients and shaping those into opportunities for new. However, great opportunities aren’t helpful without the ability to execute – so more importantly I also work to make sure our team have all the tools, support and expertise to turn an opportunity into a real product, service or business in market.

Best thing about the industry you work in: It’s always changing!

Any major hard learnings in the job so far? Hard work isn’t enough – luck is pretty important too.

If you had to switch over to another department, which would it be and why?  Not exactly a department, but one area we are working on growing is ventures. I think risk-sharing is one of the most important changes that needs to happen in professional services and I’d love to be a part of defining what that looks like in Australia.

What's exciting you about the industry right now? The transformation of traditional products into services. As a consumer, I don’t buy food – I have ingredients delivered with recipes designed for my lifestyle. The same goes for movies and TV, cleaning products, wine, gym, music and beyond. Services are reducing the need for consumers to make as many choices and the result is that 'brand' is going to evolve into something much more subtle.

What concerns you about the industry and its future? Lack of young talent. It’s striking how poor both the marketing industry, as well as broader consulting services, is with providing adequate graduate pathways into the industry.

Who's your right hand person/who guides you day to day? Anthony Johnston, our CEO. He’s essentially taught us all how to run a business in six months – a commendable achievement with a bunch of creatives!

And your almighty mentor that you hope to dethrone? David Mallam, my mentor who introduced me to design.

Career-wise, where do you see yourself in three years and how do you plan on getting there? I hope to grow our firm to prepare us to take on bigger, high risk challenges – something I can only do by continuing to only hire the best.

What is the elephant in the room? The thing that no one is talking about – but they should be. The tech part of ad tech. The reality is that an advertisement is no longer good enough. We are now selling the ability for brands to have complex conversations, changing according to context and adapting to customer needs. We may be up to the challenge, but our clients often don’t have the infrastructure to support such an ambition. 

Where do you turn for inspiration? My colleagues. They might not have the answer, but they’ll definitely give me a new perspective.

Tell us one thing people at work don’t know about you? I almost exclusively watch and read sci-fi.

What’s your personal motto? Be yourself at work. True success requires authenticity.

I got into advertising/ad tech/marketing because: I did my masters of business in marketing because of my interest inanalytics, and got into ad tech from there. I stayed because I love the blend of creativity and problem solving.

If I wasn't doing this for a living, I'd be: Diving or skiing

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