As I sit down with Yentl Spiteri and Emma Calleja, the minds behind the creative force that is Von Peach, it is immediately clear that their young company, and the business leaders behind it, don’t do things in the way most people would expect.
Describing Von Peach as a creative hub rather than an agency, Yentl and Emma – two young Maltese visionaries whose paths crossed far beyond our shores – are focused on the future, bringing their forward thinking approach and creative solutions to a fast growing network of global clients.
Delving into the roots of the business, the individual journeys of its co-Founders are markedly different. Armed with a degree in Political Science which she “sucked at”, Emma left Malta for Switzerland a decade ago, “without knowing quite how expensive it was to live there,” she laughs. After working a couple of different jobs to make ends meet, she landed a job doing admin at a pharmaceutical company.
It was here that she became attuned to the importance of communication. “I realised that there were great people with great ideas, but they lacked the art of resonance when it came to presenting them, so I took that on and built on it,” she says. From there, she was offered a position at a global consulting company, which eventually morphed into the role of communication and management consultant for a number of large corporations, including pharmaceutical giants Novartis and Boehringer Ingelheim.
“I left that role as I felt that there was no career progression there, and I was way too rebellious to stick to the hierarchy involved. I gave it a try with a smaller consulting company for a year, and toward the end of 2019 I left my job, the same year I met Yentl through a common friend,” she recalls.
Yentl, a psychology graduate who moved to Switzerland to be with her then-boyfriend, had a similarly interesting journey in her adoptive country. “It was difficult to utilise my degree in Switzerland, so I began to look at how to support myself. I used to take photos as a hobby in Malta, so I joined a startup as a creative, initially focusing on building an online interior design shop. I ended up getting involved in many different facets, including building the online platform, sales and marketing, and it was one of the biggest learning experiences in my life,” Yentl maintains. From there, she moved to another startup, and another, eventually landing the role of Product Manager at a software company called Small PDF, which is when she met Emma.
“We started discussing starting our own company and doing it solo, and the idea was born and nurtured from there,” Emma explains, noting that over the years, she had built a strong personal brand, “to the point that clients were not interested in the company I worked with as much as they were interested in working with me.” This led her to found Von Peach, taking along a huge network of global companies which the team still works with today.
“I quit my job at Small PDF last November, with Von Peach up and running and growing at a fast pace,” Yentl continues, explaining that the pair built on Emma’s network, with Yentl bringing in the startup culture and efficient way of doing things.
The idea behind Von Peach, Yentl affirms, is to be a different kind of creative agency. “We don’t like to call ourselves an agency – we are a hub. We wanted to really bring the energy that these larger companies which we consult and work with lack, and to offer creative value to sectors like pharmaceuticals and insurance in which, usually, creatives and artists don’t really work.”
Since starting out, the company has grown at an impressive rate – one which the co-Founders admit being constantly surprised and humbled by.
“2021 was pivotal – with the growth of our team, we could extend a much larger net and take on many more projects, and that’s when the face of Von Peach really began to move away from just me and my contacts to the team as a whole,” Emma says, revealing that in Q1 of 2022, “Our creativity stood out to the point where we were approached by one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world for a partnership in creativity and communications. Our humble, eight-person company was chosen over a 700,000 strong organisation.”
Emma attributes this to the company’s agility and culture, which is stripped of any ‘traditional’ hierarchy. “Von Peach has grown with people’s individual talents. I am mainly focused on the visual storytelling and pitching side of things while Yentl is more tech driven, and every person we’ve brought in has added to this portfolio of creative talent like Augmented Reality, Art Direction and User Experience amongst other things,” she says.
This has led to a number of notable milestones in a very short space of time. Among them, Emma lists a campaign they worked on for Novartis, which led to them winning the Gartner Eye on Innovation Awards for Healthcare and Sciences, 2022. After that, the offer for a direct partnership with the Big Data and Tech team came. “This was a landmark moment for the company and also for us personally,” she recounts.
From a company point of view, Yentl considers the last quarter to be another great achievement. “We started the year with so much energy, but didn’t realise how much we could achieve, securing two big partnerships in the last few months alone. This was really a result of all the hard work put in by everyone in the team,” she maintains. Meanwhile, the birth of their own in-house magazine, Impeached, is another interesting milestone. “It’s a creative outlet for the team, and it is also a way for us to source creative talent,” Emma adds.
What is perhaps the most rewarding element from a client perspective however, is the projects themselves, she continues. “It’s rewarding to think that we are working on transformation programs that are shaping the world of tomorrow – for instance, we’ve just prepared a climate change and sustainability pitch for a client that was presented at a global conference in the US. Our pitches have made it to the screens of Fortune 500 companies,” Emma affirms, going on to list other notable projects.
“We are also working on virtual clinical trials, bringing clinical trials to patients’ homes, which was extremely pivotal during COVID, and have also started the discussion around patient centricity, inclusion, and diversity in the patient population. We’re working with clients that are reshaping employee benefits like pensions and what benefits are going to look like in the world of tomorrow – we are really working with global game changers. It’s humbling to be at that level and create material that is helping a global strategy which, in tomorrow’s world, is going to translate into policy, and has the potential to change the world within the different industries that we work with,” she maintains, noting that “we have a global mindset and view – this is very much the vision and energy we have as a company, where the sky’s the limit when it comes to what we want to do.”
With this forward thinking approach in mind, I ask the pair about their thoughts on leadership, and the qualities of a good business leader. “One of them is resilience,” says Yentl, affirming that “along the way you will find many obstacles. If you can keep yourself strong, you can give more to your team. A close second is empathy.”
For Emma, it’s the ability to build an environment that celebrates your people’s talents. “You can’t put people whose strength is doing something else into roles that don’t fit them,” she says.
As for lessons learned along the way, the pair agree on a singularly important one: the art of delegation. “Since Von Peach is my baby, I care a lot about it, and sometimes to a certain extent I want to do everything, thinking that I’d do it best, but this just isn’t true. I’ve learned to look for the person in the team who can do certain things much better than me,” Yentl says.
Nodding in agreement, Emma adds, “you can’t do it alone. I admit that I came into this with some arrogance. I have a strong personality and can be very assertive, but what you come to understand when you’re surrounded by talented people, is just how small yours is – you are just a little cog. I’m very aware of what my strengths are, but to understand that you can’t do it on your own, or if you do, that you’ll only be achieving five per cent of what you could be achieving, is huge.”
And as the pair steer the company into the next quarter, their focus is twofold: working on both the brand side and the client side. “From the brand side, we’re working on a new edition of the magazine and an ecommerce shop. We’re also working on merch and ramping up our social media strategy and the way we communicate online,” Yentl reveals.
Meanwhile, from a client side, Emma says the plan is to double their current portfolio. “From a revenue perspective, we have already secured the revenue we had last year within the first quarter of this year, and we will continue to grow our network, via both new clients and existing projects. We see a lot of growth coming our way, and our focus is now to really put Von Peach on the map.”
The interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders 2022 project. The new online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.
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