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7 May 2024

Adam Lewis: 8 years and 500 Hippos later


As Hippo celebrates reaching the 500-employee milestone, Adam Lewis, CEO of Hippo, reflects on changes in the digital landscape over the last 8 years, shaping the culture of a scaling company, and an approach to service delivery that has set Hippo up for further growth.

Hippo was established in 2016 with a simple guiding principle, informed by Adam’s experience working in the public sector. As a client, he often found himself working with suppliers that put selling technology ahead of solving users problems. Hippo needed to be different.

“We set up Hippo to be the company we wanted to buy from.”

As a result, Hippo today is a thriving digital consultancy that champions user-centred design and promotes distinct core values intended to create an inclusive and productive culture that can meet user and organisational needs. That’s involved growing and acquiring engineering, data and cyber capability to create a cohesive design and engineering proposition – a perfect marriage of human and technology solutions.

A very human digital powerhouse, by design

Hippo’s delivery of digital services have been designed in a different way to traditional suppliers. Yes, Hippo is a digital services company, but first of all, it is purposefully a human services company.

“It’s an understanding that we put people first and design systems around people. The intent is really that we take people into account in all phases of our delivery.”

The result is a company that thinks about the unpredictable, nuanced individual first and maps industry digital solutions to that problem second.

The approach is applied both externally and internally. While Hippo presents clients with a refreshing human first proposition, internally, the company offers digital professionals a home where their personal needs are met with the same urgency as their professional talents.

Trends that support growth

Adam credits the public sector with leading on user-centred and inclusive design due to its requirement to consider whole population solutions, but notes that the private sector is catching up. This is a fortuitous trend for Hippo as it represents a key strategic strength as a pragmatic digital partner, building for large organisations in an iterative fashion, built on strong foundations.

“I see people becoming more aware of inclusive design, embedding design into their overall delivery. I see that as a great opportunity. I think it will become more prevalent in how people work – that will reduce resistance and barriers when we’re working with our customers, because they’ll understand what it is we’re trying to achieve from earlier in the process. So I’m optimistic.”

Northern, but also nationwide

Adam believes in the opportunity to invest in the nations and regions across the UK. Whilst working in the public sector over a decade ago, Adam saw an opportunity to fill a gap supplying digital transformation services outside of London.

“I had the benefit of going out and meeting all of the government departments up in Newcastle, down in Bristol and all over the place and they were crying out for help. The digital agenda was blossoming at that time. So through that work we understood the importance of regional strategy.”

The digital sector is crucial for the future of regions outside the nation’s capital, replacing traditional industries with high value, productivity driving employment. Whilst Leeds is our home, we have offices in six cities across the UK and by investing in these areas, Hippo is demonstrating its contribution to a more balanced economy across the UK.

Scaling Hippo

High-growth can be daunting. Adding hundreds of colleagues to any organisation in the full flow of client delivery is not an easy task and each company has unique circumstances. In this, Adam shows remarkable pragmatism.

“It’s been done before, so why not now, why not Hippo? It’s a solvable problem. It might be difficult, but we know it’s a solvable problem. So, in a way, I’ve never seen scaling as an obstacle.”

Retaining Hippo’s culture by letting go

Maintaining the values of a business during a period of growth is also a challenge – anyone who has been on that journey will describe how difficult it is to retain the characteristics that made the business a success and scaling up necessary. Growing pains are inherent, however, Adam is pragmatic about the task.

“I think it is important that we maintain the culture in a business of 500 people. We have had some principles from the outset, some of them are really simple things, like if we hire good people, good things will happen.”

Reaching 500 employees, Adam is confident in Hippo’s enduring culture. Retaining that ethos is as much about letting go. Hippo strives to empower employees to own the culture, fostering inclusivity and a strong sense of community. This is coupled with an emphasis on maintaining a people-centric approach, avoiding a “hard-sell” and prioritising user needs over sales tactics.

The planned and the unplanned

Hippo is a deliberate company. Its very existence was a planned response to a service level Adam didn’t often get when he was on the buyer side. The core proposition of user-centred design and a human-first approach was planned to differentiate. The growth of the company was planned and putting in processes that retained the culture was planned and purposeful.

One thing that was not planned however, was building the Hippo headquarters on top of a bar. The event space that was part of a wider renovation to the Hippo Headquarters in the centre of Leeds, is positioned as a continuation from a social space to a collaborative working environment. This has been an unexpected but fortuitous arrangement, but not one that was part of the initial strategy.

“I just want to state that, when we moved in, the pub wasn’t part of the plan. It’s been great, it’s made it a bit of a destination. We often meet our customers or have team building down there. It’s been so good that I would do it again.”

From the planned trajectory of the business, it feels like Hippo may have to do just that. And soon.