Start me up! David Perrott and Sebastian Thompson founders of Gravity Ideas

We chat to David Perrott and Sebastian Thompson co-founders of Gravity Ideas. They found their start up in December 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa to apply insights from the behavioural sciences and other intersecting fields.

What exactly is your business and how does it help people?

The defining aspect of any behavioural change agency like our own is our distinct eye toward uncovering bottlenecks and barriers, and (re-)designing behaviourally-informed business and social solutions from a client-centric approach.

We help our clients better understand their clients, their staff, their content, products and systems, how people engage with these and any issues that may arise therein from our keen understanding of individual and social behaviour, thought processes and decision-making.

We then design interventions which could include anything from an optimised piece of content, to a client journey, to improving internal systems and communications. We are firm believers in the importance and power of testing and iteratively improving all of our work, in action and on the ground, to ensure the optimal output every time.

We leave all of our clients with a better understanding of themselves, their environments, their clients and their products to help inform all facets of their businesses moving forward.

We help their clients, and society at large, by ensuring that businesses, government and institutions are better equipped to provide them with the information, products and services that they want and need.

How did you come up with the idea for your business?

We became fascinated with human psychology and what makes people behave the way that they do, and saw that companies weren’t applying this thinking in the way that they could.

Where did you start your business? How long have you been trying to make it a success?

We started our business in December 2013 in our hometown of Cape Town, one of the business centres of South Africa with an increasingly global reach. We’ve been open for business for three years now, and we’ve loved every second of the ride!

We have been humbled, honoured and invigorated by the success that we had thus far on a local and international stage, and take that as a testament to how truly important – and desperately needed – the work that we do is.

Is there anyone you look up to as a business? Who inspires you?

Rory Sutherland, Daniel Kahneman, Dan Ariely, Alex Pentland and Molly Crockott are some of our favourite thought leaders. BIT, Ideas42 and Ogilvy Change are some of the businesses within our industry that we emulate.

How did your friends and family react to you starting a business?

They thought we were mad but were all very supportive.

Everyone thought that it was a great idea but were, understandably, just concerned about our ability to make it work, particularly in a market like South Africa considering our current economic climate.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges that we have faced has been growing an understanding and awareness of the work that we do in SA. While the behavioural sciences are relatively prominent and well-established fields overseas, South Africa has been a little slower on the uptake.

While there has been definite momentum and rising interest over the last three years, we still like to start each of our pitches, initial contacts and presentations with an overview of the field, its uses and value.

We also focus quite a significant portion of our work on educational talks and programs for marketing post-graduates, for example, enlightening and inspiring as many people as we can on this burgeoning industry.

Another, more personal, challenge has been the generally rather counter-intuitive nature of the work that we do. Oftentimes the best solutions are not the outputs or outcomes that our rational minds are pulled towards. It’s been a great learning experience in terms of our own thinking, decision-making, psychology and behaviour. We’re always our first and frequent test subjects.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start their own business?

  1. Do it!! But, before you do, make sure that you’ve got a great idea and a clear gap in the market.
  2. Test your idea and your business model, run it through its paces. Ask yourself the hardest questions; then you’ll never have to be taken by surprise.
  3. Create a distinct identity and culture for your business. Always keep your initial excitement and sense of fun. That way you’ll always enjoy the ride.
  4. Grit is also super important, maybe the most important. Stick to it and stick it out. Sometimes you need (slightly delusional) optimism to keep you on course and persevering through the challenges that you face.
  5. Be a pro-active ‘talker’. Connect with people, inform them about your business and develop networks and friendships. Actually just generally, be pro-active, not responsive.

What is the best advice you have been given or have read?

It’s a quote from one of our idols, and so true about the work that we do.

“The test of learning psychology is whether your understanding of situations you encounter has changed, not whether you have learned a new fact” – Daniel Kahneman

Where do you expect to be in a year?

In our new offices (we’re expanding!), with many more lessons under the belt, one or two new staff members, having entered and mastered some new industries, having started our corporate workshop series, and with a worn-out success bell!

(Inspired by The Intern, we have an in-office bell that we like to ring with every new success that we meet. We have a feeling we’ll be ringing it a lot!)