Dot com Tango'd and put through the hoops

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The Independent Online

Bentley has just unveiled a new website to celebrate the return of the marque to the 24-hour race at Le Mans, and promote the car maker's own driving ambition.

"Driven" is also a word that could describe the founders of Deepend, the digital communications agency responsible for developing the website. It may have been around for less than a tenth of the time of the famous Bentley marque, but it has established a good track record, creating sites for brands such as Tango, Hula-Hoops and Kellogg's, as well as Siemens, Panasonic and Conran. Earlier this year Deepend also developed a risqué site to support the controversial "fcuk Kinky Bugger" campaign developed by French Connection's ad agency, TBWA.

Group turnover last year was around £9m and, despite the dot-com slump, Deepend is holding its own in a sector where rivals including Razorfish, Grey Interactive and Wheel have recently shed staff. So far it has avoided large-scale lay-offs, helped by its focus on "bricks and mortar" clients and sticking to its core role as a creative hothouse. Deepend and Deepgroup, the parent company formed in 1999, have also been helped by the fact they are privately funded with no outside investment and so no pressure from shareholders.

It's a long way from the early days in 1994 when, just a week out of college, Gary Lockton, Simon Waterfall and David Streek founded the company, working out of Mr Lockton's front room. Mr Waterfall and Mr Lockton became friends as students at Brunel University, and later met Mr Streek while doing postgraduate work at the Royal College of Art.

The three teamed up after Mr Waterfall was approached to do product sketches for a location device for skiers. They came up with the Deepend name after a trip to Richmond swimming pool. "We didn't want to come across as a consultancy ­ we wanted something fresh," says Mr Streek.

Using a network of contacts developed through the RCA, they won a series of assignments ­ filling a niche by working on 3D modelling projects and multimedia presentations for larger design companies.

"Some of the tutors at the RCA run their own product design consultancies. Our goal was not to compete but to complement them," says Mr Streek.

After a year the company moved into a small premises in west London with blacked-out windows, affectionately dubbed "the sex shop". "We used to put in a lot of hours ­ a lot of bad food and sleepless nights," says Mr Streek.

The company's first big break came in 1996 when it was approached by ad agency Publicis to create an interactive multimedia presentation for a pitch to the telecommunications firm Inmarsat. Deepend was subsequently hired to produce a website for the client and on the back of that won the brief to design a site for Hula-Hoops. "That showed the potential market for brands on the web," says Mr Lockton.

Deepgroup now employs 250 people around the world and has spawned a series of specialist operations with titles like "gluemedia", "poolside" and "backend", each focusing on specific areas such as e-commerce, interactive TV and PR.

Despite the success, Deepend strives to keep its young culture. Its trendy office, now in Shoreditch, has sofas, satellite TV and a "technology museum" to help creatives unwind and seek inspiration. "If you provide a positive environment the culture will grow," says Mr Lockton. "Our people are here 60 to 70 hours a week because they want to be."