Rebel Yell

by Marc Almagro, Photography and Audio Editing by Chino Sardea, Audio Recording by Tracey Nguyen
23 Feb 2023

Kenny Powar walks me through the Rebel Owl process of challenging business as usual and transforming ideas into innovative solutions
A collaboration between Portfolio and YPO

In the early ‘90s, just when data was being applied to drive marketing campaigns, Kenny Powar joined a marketing agency in London. A fresh engineering graduate, he was at the right place at the right time as businesses turned evangelical about the power of information technology.

Although computing held more promise than performance back then, and websites were at best a fantasy, businesses were thriving on the cutting edge, parlaying what little they knew of the nascent technology to dig up and apply new insights.

Powar’s employer was among them—offering data-powered services to its clients, and very soon setting up offices across the world where demand for such services was on consistent uptick.

Like many of his peers, Powar also wanted to see what was out there, and a secondment to the Bondi or Hong Kong office would have been the ticket.

He was sent to Singapore for a six week project. But even back then, Powar could feel the buzz gathering as the small city-state pushed for greater relevance in global finance, leading-edge technology, and what was then classified as new media. The excitement continued to grow as more dynamic players crowded the market, Very soon demand from clients wanting to embrace technology and design grew rapidly too.

Powar was asked to return to London but he didn't stay for long. He returned to Singapore, joined one of the largest and most respected global agencies, started his own business with friends, and the rest, as they say, is a compelling history of discovery, perseverance, and daring.

Today, Powar is CEO of independent digital design agency Rebel Owl. Rebel, which signifies the company’s interest in shaking things up, and Owl, the animal whose wide-open eyes and pivoting head have come to symbolize a plenary awareness of things.

Rebel Owl employs design thinking techniques, Powar tells me. “We go into a workshop and say, Let's try to understand your key business challenges. And we challenge those business challenges—because quite often, when somebody comes to us and say, ‘Hey, I need a new website.’ We ask, Is that really what you want?”

They go through this process quickly but in a very structured way in order to help their client frame the real underlying problem that they should be tackling. The technique, developed at Stanford University, is being employed by many leading companies in the world who advocate it.

The approach gets them to empathize with the client. “We go in and really understand who are real users,” remarks Powar. “Let's understand what their frustrations are, who they are, what they do, and then try to map out what are the jobs that they're trying to do and where are the chokepoints?”

The approach combines human-centered design principles and the ability to convert ideas into impactful solutions consistently and with precision. And it seems to be working well—if the list of its blue-chip clients is anything to go by. 

Powar emphasizes that Rebel Owl’s client requirements are unique—and so are the solutions they offer. As their website declares, “We specialize in creating beautiful, intuitiver and efficient experiences that solve the needs of people and measurably deliver on our client’s goals.”

The Portfolio Podcast is presented by YPO, Young Presidents’ Organization. A worldwide leadership community of chief executives with over 30,000 members in more than 130 countries, YPO offers access to rich learning programs, sharing of exceptional experiences, and lasting friendships.