First, it’s worth noting that a critical element of the Sylvain Labs culture is flatness as a value. For some time, the team purposely held no titles; it was composed of strategists or designers, generally.
“The result is that any one can ask questions, challenge others, and have a respectful discourse, no matter if you’re an intern or CEO. Wherever you sit, there’s a mutual respect that is critical to the work and who we are,” Ben Cheney said.
“We hire very slowly and thoughtfully. We’re 10 years old and we’re only 45 people,” Ben said. It’s an intentional cadence of growth; Sylvain Labs has never had to scale back for business purposes. “For us, it’s important to maintain this. It builds trust internally and a better working environment,” Ben said.
Clients are wide-ranging across verticals, including food and beverage, tech, automotive, and financial services. “The consistent thread is interesting challenges, whether they’re brand or innovation. These are big, meaty challenges that don’t have a right answer or a wrong answer or a clear answer. To build a rapport and trust with clients to develop something unique and original that helps them make an impact on the world, that’s what we look for,” Ben said.
For example, a multinational automotive corporation had launched a 4G hotspot in its vehicles fleet-wide, but then asked, what do we do with it? Sylvain Labs conducted a global qualitative study to dissect what drivers need and how connectivity could solve these problems. During the 15-month innovation project, Ben and his team met in drivers’ homes to understand their tech behaviors at home, and rode in their vehicles with them.
“We applied this to a driving journey, which begins with where your car is currently parked, to when you drive it, to when you finally return it to a parking spot, mapping hundreds of needs across this user journey,” Ben said. Sylvain Labs then created solutions and pathways to innovation for every need in close collaboration with the client.
“It was a very roll-up-your sleeves project that continues to show itself in the real world,” Ben said, including in his own car and personal driver journey. “In the innovation space … to be able to see these things realized is special,” Ben said.