Andrew started Location3 Media in 1999 after his time at Doubleclick selling ads on Altavista and wanting to do his own thing. Alex joined shortly after in 2003 after meeting Andrew through a close friend. Since then, Location3 has grown to a successful 80+ person agency with big name clients like Discover Card and Wyndham Hotels.
Brent Weaver: I’m Brent Weaver and you’re watching uGurus, the must-watch web series to become a more profitable and in-demand web professional. Today, I’m in downtown Denver, Colorado, hanging out with Andrew Beckman and Alex Porter, CEO and President of Location3. Welcome to the program, guys.
Andrew Beckman: Thank you.
Alex Porter: Thanks for having us.
Brent Weaver: So, you guys started this business in 1999, or at least you did, Andrew. Why?
Andrew Beckman: I was working at DoubleClick at the time, selling as an AltaVista search engine. I was one of the first employees there and in two years, it just jumped to about 2000 people. It just became a major corporation and things got very political. And, you know, I saw a lot of opportunity out there to start my own business. And so, I basically took a lot, what I learned at DoubleClick and AltaVista and I started Location3 Media in October of ’99.
Brent Weaver: AltaVista.
Andrew Beckman: AltaVista.
Brent Weaver: That’s definitely like OG days, right?
Andrew Beckman: Pre-Google. Pre-Google.
Brent Weaver: Very cool.
Andrew Beckman: That was the main crawler search engine that would index, you know, millions of websites, pages within a search engine, and then it got sold; went from Digital to Compaq, and then it was like a step-child. And at that time, Google started creating its own engine and you can see what kind of business they have going for themselves now.
Brent Weaver: And, Alex, when did you join?
Alex Porter: I joined in 2003. We just decided.
Andrew Beckman: In January 2003.
Alex Porter: In January 2003. I thought it might have been 2002. But, I actually ran into Andrew at the LoDo Music Festival during a rebirth brass band concert through a mutual friend and we just kind of connected. I was living up in Boulder at that time, just learning about what he was doing, his space; and you know, basically, Andrew convinced me that the internet was going to be a big thing. And so far, he’s been right. So, I joined not too long after that and it was the two of us in a loft over on Blake Street down here; and we had a third member that was actually over in South Africa. She came onboard a few months after that. And so, it was the three of us in a loft on Blake Street, and we would do a little bit of everything at that time. There was some email, some display, obviously, from Andrew’s background; and then, not too long after that, really started getting into the search game as that really started gaining popularity. At the time, it was Overture, which was Yahoo; and then, Google came onboard not too long after, but really proved to be the most effective online advertising vehicle for our clients and still is to this day.
Brent Weaver: So, a couple people to start the business, I mean, back 12, 13 years ago. How many people are you at now?
Andrew Beckman: We’re about 80 people right now.
Brent Weaver: Okay.
Andrew Beckman: Full time.
Brent Weaver: Very nice growth. Obviously it’s a bigger agency than the average web, you know, Google advertiser out there.
Andrew Beckman: Yeah. It was about five years ago when we took it from about 25 to 75. So, it was like a gradual growth and then, it was a big jump based on the demand of the industry; more brands shifting money to digital and web-based businesses appearing and us, having those relationships. We needed different resources and we decided to expand the services that we offering. So now, we have a variety of services and we provide an integrated solution for large brands across the different platforms that are out there.
Brent Weaver: So you said large brands. What does that mean? Give me some examples on that.
Andrew Beckman: Sure.
Alex Porter: We work with, you know, we’re really not verticalized too specifically. We work with companies like Discover Card, you know, the card that pays you back. I highly recommend it.
Brent Weaver: Nice plug.
Alex Porter: We work with folks in the hotel space, Hard Rock Casino…
Andrew Beckman: Wyndham Hotels.
Alex Porter: …and Wyndham Hotels, which are places that take Discover, just to continue the plug. You know, we work with a number of companies locally. We work with ViaSat, which is satellite over internet. We work with ViaWest, which is a hosting company. Those two get confused often times here, internally. We also work with a lot of multi-location businesses that we’ve really come into our own with a really big focus in local. It’s so specific, there’s so many additional tactics that you can use to really focus in that space. So, whether that’s a Fastsigns brand, which is, you know, they make signs and banners and a lot of other advertising vehicles for their partners. So, they themselves are kind of a mini agency, but we manage everything from their local Google presence to page search to SEO display, retargeting; and really, to Andrew’s point earlier, about five years ago, we really made this shift from being a page search agency. And we were doing a lot of aggregation of Tier B search and those sorts of things, and we saw the writing on the wall. We saw that was going away. We saw the need for really this integrated solution, and that people were asking for it. Our clients were like, “We would love for you guys to be able to do this.” So we got into social when social became something that people we paying attention to.
This local service that I’m talking about, we came into it because our clients were like, “How do we get on Google Maps?” And we said, “Well, we don’t know, but we’re going to go figure it out.” And we figured out. And we figured it out early enough that we’ve been really leaders in that space for quite some time. So, our growth has really been mirrored by the growth in digital. It’s been mirrored by the expansion of what digital entails and really making sure that what we do makes sense. I mean, that’s not to say we don’t try things out that at the end of day might not provide a lot of value. We’re not really pushing Goalla anymore. I can’t even really remember what that was, but, you know, that’s not to say we didn’t know about it. We weren’t testing it out, “How does this fit,” but we’re true to our core, which is performance at the end of the day, you know?
Brent Weaver: A lot of web professionals get kind of caught up on the technology like, “I’m a web designer,” or “I’m a search marketer.” It seems like from your website and other materials, you guys are really focused on direct response, like whatever technology or service out there that’s going to help you get more customers, your clients. Is that something you had to learn, or is that something you brought from the early days from the ad business?
Andrew Beckman: I think it was something that, you know, I had from the DoubleClick days. You don’t have the luxury of working with Coca-Cola. And as small businesses or small agencies that are listening to this right now, most of the opportunities you’re going to get is, “I’m spending a dollar, I want to get two dollars returned. How do I get that?” So, direct response is obviously a big and digital marketing is a huge opportunity for direct-response marketers to drive sales and leads through the web. What’s becoming more complex now is that consumers are seeing more ads, more content; and so, their decision making is taking a little bit longer and they’re seeing more touches. They’re seeing more avenues, they’re looking at reviews, they’re reading what their friends are saying on social channels. So, direct response is now a little bit more challenging to know what really influences that sale or lead. And that’s where brands, and this is what we work toward, is having attribution models in place for our clients that we know what’s the biggest influencers to driving those sales. The key is knowing that consumer’s buying journey. Understanding the path to conversion and influencing that path with paid, earned, and owned media strategies. That’s the holy grail for direct-response marketers. So, we all, as an industry, need to think about, to have that mindset as we’re working with our clients.
Brent Weaver: You mentioned consumer. Just to clarify, do you guys just work with B2C or do you guys do B2B stuff as well? Just really about the conversion when you say consumer.
Alex Porter: It’s really both. It’s B2B and B2C, and we really don’t view it through that lens. When we’re looking at who is the person on the other end that we’re trying to reach, it’s really about still that human interaction. It’s still a decision maker whether they’re buying it for their business or they’re buying it for themselves. Sales cycles can be different. The messaging will be different. The process will be somewhat different from a user experience but the strategy is still the same. I just wanted to piggyback on what Andrew was talking about from a performance basis. You know, early on at Location3, we did a lot of performance-based deals so we would only get paid if we drove the acquisition at a certain price point. One of our first really large opportunities came to us from Google because someone reached out to Google and said, “Hey, we want to use Google but we only want to pay if we get a lead.” And, Google came to us because they knew we had a relationship with them and we actually said, “Okay, yeah, we’ll take it.” And then, the money’s on us, you know, it’s on us. We have to drive it at this cost and then, we make a margin based on those. So that was in our DNA, really, early on, is we have to perform. It wasn’t a nice to have, it was a have to have or we don’t make money.
Brent Weaver: Did you guys end up making money on that deal?
Alex Porter: We did. We did. And they’re still a client today. But over the course of our history, as more of these services have evolved, and to Andrew’s point, the touch points are so numerous now. I think a recent study, two or three years ago, consumers needed two sources of information to make a decision; and now, it’s 12 or something; you know, crazy. So to try to place credit on one of those and get paid for that or, you know, some of our performance basis is very complicated these days. So, performance is still a huge part of our DNA but we’re taking a look at it, kind of across that spectrum, to really understand how that performance has changed by those different influencers.
Brent Weaver: So, I’d love to understand a little bit more about your agency growth pattern. So 0 to 25 took several years and then it sounds like there was kind of, maybe a point where you have made a conscious decision to go from 25 employees to 80 employees. I mean, that’s a big jump. I mean, obviously, things in the business had to change; processes, your financing or whatever, I imagine, or was it just bootstrap the whole way?
Andrew Beckman: Yeah. I mean, the business is still being bootstrapped and we haven’t taken any money from any outside funding. And, if anybody out there is trying to grow a business, I recommend trying to do it on your own. Not only, I believe, you’ll be more rewarded financially long term, I think you’ll get more out of it personally as you see the growth. We just hit on a couple of models that really took off. The local took off, too. So we had a staff up on the local business, both on the paid search side, but the organic, the local listing management, which was a huge growth. We were one of the pioneers in this space when we started seeing the results on Google showing universal search, showing the local listings. So it wasn’t like saying, “Hey, we’re here at this stage.” I think we’re just…
Alex Porter: Definitely wasn’t a conscious decision.
Andrew Beckman: It wasn’t a conscious decision. We weren’t that savvy with going, you know, it was our first rodeo with running a business, so it’s like, “Oh, we should plan here and have this forecasting and budgets.” That’s how we are now, but back then…
Alex Porter: We try to be proactive.
Andrew Beckman: Yeah.
Alex Porter: We try to say, “This is coming up.” But what happened is we shifted, you know, from that search focus to really back to our roots of Location3 Media and a full service agency. And we had started making a nice, you know, reputation for ourselves as someone that delivers on performance. The next thing you know, you know, you have a client that you work with for two years, and they go and go to another company, and they bring you with them, but you keep that old relationship. So we had this one product that was exploding. We were one of the first people to do it, as well as, kind of our enterprise area that was exploding as well.
Andrew Beckman: Right.
Alex Porter: Coupled with adding on social, adding on, you know, SEO, adding on creative, adding on display, and all these aspects which needed to be, you know, staffed, but we were getting revenue for it, so we were never in the red on these. We were being supported and the challenge was bringing in the people to support it at the right time so you, you know, it was the chicken in the egg. Do we have somebody in for like two weeks and then, okay, now we’ve got a client for it. So, it was a very fine line. At the same time, the talent marketplace here in Denver was not as mature as it is now either, so it was harder to find people. And, a lot of the folks that came onboard with us five, six, seven years ago are now managing the show. We joke about it all the time. You’re like, “I would not get hired at Location3 Media today. I have a Kinesiology degree.” I would walk in, people would be like, “Yeah, no, you have no…” You know? So now, we put out a job positing and we get 50 replies with people with 3 years experience and, you know, coming from big agencies, you know, all over the U.S., and it’s like the talent pools amazing right now. So, I’m lucky I got into it when I did.
Brent Weaver: And that was going to be one of my questions, it was like, when you’re looking for people, are you guys hiring and training up or are you finding people that already have the tools in place for that kind of stuff?
Alex Porter: It really, it depends, to give the lawyer answer, right? If we’re trying to fulfill a very specific position, if we need a senior producer that speaks Drupal, right, you got it, that’s a have to have. If we are looking to build out a team for local content and SEO development, and we know what needs to be done, and we could train that person up, then we’d rather get someone that’s young, not necessarily young, sorry, that’s hungry for this space, just has a passion for it. Really, we’re looking for people that are passionate for the digital space. So if you come in here and say, “What do you know about digital?” It’s a question I love to ask. And they’re like, “I have Facebook,” then I’m probably not going to be so excited. If someone says, “Well, I’m really interested in what Google’s doing with their user query analysis and blah, blah, blah.” I typically don’t get that answer either but it’s really a mixed bag for us, right now.
Brent Weaver: In that growth phase, and this comes up a lot, right, the capacity; and you mentioned the chicken or egg, right? Do you hire first or do you get the work first? I mean, I get this, I think I had a call today where somebody was literally asking me this question, right? What’s been your practice in terms of hire first or have the capacity first?
Andrew Beckman: I mean, it’s when you don’t have the capital so you raise the money, you have to kind of take the business in; and once you know you have the deal, you start trying to get the talent in. Now, I think we’re more mature, we have the luxury of holding on to a little bit more talent and then knowing that we have that business coming in. But I think for a lot of the smaller businesses that are listening to this video right now, they’re going to have to work those extra hours to drive the quality of work until they get the proper staff in place. But, you know, now we’re dealing with much bigger RFPs so, you know, it’s not like, “Okay, you’re going to start tomorrow.” So, we do have a little bit of time.
Alex Porter: Sometimes.
Andrew Beckman: Sometimes, right. But, you know, right now, like what Alex is saying, it’s like the talent in Denver has really grown. I mean, when I talk to the CTA organization, I mean, they’re telling us it’s the fastest growing millennial city in the United States. I mean, we put a post up, I mean, we get a tremendous amount of resumes. So, you know, it’s not as difficult as it was, you know, 5, 10 years ago when we were growing. So…
Alex Porter: And I’d say, to answer that, too, is there is a little bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul sometimes, too. So you might have an area that is, you know, higher margins, and you’re making a really nice number on that, and you can almost use that to invest in yourself. So, instead of, at a 12% clip for a year, you know that we’re going to be at 8% because we’re going to have to kind of, any new client that comes onboard, typically, you don’t make money on for the first x amount of months anyway because there’s so much ramp up time and getting everything going. So you’ve got to try to factor that in and understand that, “Okay, do I have enough reserves over here or am I making enough over here that I can kind of support this, bring in the talent that I need?” So it’s a definite balancing act. And if you’re a one-service shop, it’s going to be a little bit harder. You can’t rob Peter to pay Paul, because you don’t have that luxury at that point.
Brent Weaver: So, this question comes up a lot. It’s the product and service, kind of, do we do product, do we do service? Have you guys over the course of the years found yourself in that debacle where you’re like, “Should we create a product based on these tools we’re creating for our clients?” Or have you guys somehow just avoided the whole product and service dilemma entirely?
Andrew Beckman: Well, I mean, as an agency, a service-based business, we are developing our own technology, and we have been over the years, to support our services. In some cases you want to license it, in some cases you want to build it. Licenses, in some cases, is just so expensive, it’s worth building it yourself. So…
Alex Porter: I mean, we have a few products that we are always debating whether or not we should bring those to market. We fell that right now it’s a competitive advantage for us to fit into the agency model and that allows us to really provide superior performance, but as the agency, we want to keep that in-house right now. But over the years, you know, we probably had a platform that would compete, and we still do, that would compete with a lot of these bid management players that are in the space right now before they were in the space. And we said, “You know, should we develop this, should we make this a product?” You know, if we had done that, we might be, you know, on a beach in Costa Rica somewhere.
Andrew Beckman: I think the…
Alex Porter: Nothing? No response from that one?
Brent Weaver: Different thoughts, right?
Alex Porter: Right.
Andrew Beckman: You see right now in the marketplace, you know, the product versus services, but what we’re seeing is a lot of software developers come out with their SAS platforms, that’s the big craze. And a lot of the reasons why they’re doing that is because they get much larger multiples so that when they want to exit, they get a bigger payout. The challenges I’m foreseeing with them is that our industry is moving so fast that they have to have a service component to it. They have to manage those campaigns, whether it’s a demand-side platform, whether it’s, you know, other social media tools that are out there. The industry from personnel education is not growing as fast as the technology is, and so that’s where you’re seeing, you know, why we are a service business. And we use technology to help us out because at the end of the day, that’s what these brands want. They don’t want to say, “Oh, I’m going to use tool.” And then…
Alex Porter: Right.
Andrew Beckman: …you know, they need an agency or business that can manage all those paid, earned, and owned tools and strategies in one central location. And that’s where the business is now and will continue to be in the future.
Alex Porter: I think that’s something that, you know, one of the questions you always get is, you know, “What’s your differentiator, what makes you different?” And we do really strongly believe in the technology that we’ve built and what it provides us to optimize these campaigns, but at the end of the day, it really is about the people and the relationships that you’re able to provide and connect with. We have a really fantastic group of people here that are dedicated and passionate about this space. And in the service-based industry, that is your differentiator.
Brent Weaver: What trends are you guys following right now? I mean, you kind of mentioned a couple different things on the way. You mentioned how you guys kind of pivoted out of just doing a certain kind of paid search in the past and how that ended up becoming a pretty big boon for you. Is there any trend that you guys are following or thinking about exploring that might allow that next lift of the agency?
Andrew Beckman: Well, we’re staying on track with the local. I mean, that’s pretty big for us, and I think there’s a lot of siloed businesses that are supporting these brands, and again, just need a consolidated centralized strategy from paid, the SEO, the local listing management. So that’s one thing we’re staying. You know, the social media has really changed, has really created more diversification of the digital marketing efforts so, you know, how SEO and social work hand in hand, how paid media and the earned media work hand and hand, and tracking and measuring that, and influence that consumer’s path is really the trend we want to be. That is the holy grail of our business at the end of the year. That’s where all the big agencies are going toward or trying to focus on and I think we have the advantage that we’re smaller and we’re able to shift and make adjustments, but that is the real focus, is being able to track that consumer’s path and influence that path. And so, I think that’s where, I believe, we’ll be able to get bigger brands to come on board as we build out the different service departments that are in the process.
Brent Weaver: You mentioned social. How far do you guys take social? Are you in there managing accounts, managing the actual daily interactions with some of these brands, or how does that work for you guys?
Alex Porter: No, our best practice with that is it removes a lot of the authenticity if the brand is not engaging in that. So what we do is consult, we provide kind of playbooks, we’ll provide recommendations, especially if there’s some crisis situation. We’ve done it and we do it, but typically, we recommend that someone at that brand own that position, because you don’t want to have the, “Here’s the post, what do we say, who says it, this way and that way,” that chain going back and forth. We want to be in kind consultation with that, but our typical recommendation is not to do that. I just wanted, in terms of what’s next for us, another pivot point is video. I mean, everyone’s talking about video, the growth in video, the cord cutters, the amount of videos being watched online. You know, as an agency I feel very strongly that if we aren’t experts in buying video ASAP, and something we’re actively working on, those dollars are going to shift. You know, five years from now, you know, TV budgets might still remain where they are, but there’s going to be a very large purchase in online video. The targeting is amazing, the tracking is amazing. It’s almost too good to be true and it’s not slowing down. If we don’t grab those dollars, somebody else is going to. I mean, this is a huge incremental piece that over the next three years, we should reap the benefits of our efforts right now.
Brent Weaver: And are you guys engaged in any traditional TV, radio, billboard, etc.?
Andrew Beckman: No. No, we’re not in the traditional side, we’re mostly digital. I mean, what Alex just said with the trend in the video is important. You know, we have to work with brands that have the interest in wanting to produce those types of videos. A lot of the smaller agencies in freelance that are watching this video, they’re going to have a bit of a challenge with convincing their brands to, hey, let’s build this.
Alex Porter: I think video is a key component to anybody’s, whether it’s a small business or a big business. This video equipment right, I mean, you could capture video with an iPhone, put it on YouTube, and that could be a huge part of your business. I think, you know, we know that’s where the consumption’s going, so I would recommend it for anybody.
Brent Weaver: And I think it’s going to be coming from you guys especially when you guys are on the pulse of where the dollars are being spent by the big brands, which means, you know, Main Street’s going to be the one that’s catching up to that.
Alex Porter: Right. It’s actually probably a more cost effective thing for a small business. If had to buy some, I don’t know, a Groupon or take your iPhone and interview five customers and put it on your website in a YouTube channel, I think that at the end of the day, you’re going to get bigger bang for your buck out of that.
Brent Weaver: Very cool. I’m interested to shift a little bit to talk about your partnership between the two of you. You guys have been partners now since 2002, you said.
Andrew Beckman: 2003.
Brent Weaver: 2003.
Alex Porter: Well, no. Not partners since 2003.
Andrew Beckman: No. Oh, I don’t know the exactly date.
Brent Weaver: For a while.
Alex Porter: Right.
Andrew Beckman: Yes.
Brent Weaver: What’s been, has there been any kind of singular thing that you guys have had to overcome to make a partnership work?
Alex Porter: A singular thing to overcome to make the partnership work? I think, you know, with any good partnership, it really is about being able to communicate openly. I think, again, with any relationship, you have periods of good communication and periods of bad communication, but I think that we’ve recognized over the years when things aren’t going so smoothly and at times, you know, we’ve brought in other people to help us talk through that. We’ve talked it out as much as possible.
Brent Weaver: Like coaches or therapists?
Alex Porter: Yeah, no, not therapists but, although it seems like one. No, somebody, you know, a great, great person in this space that’s lived the agency life and, you know, kind of, now acts as a coach for agencies. So, we’ve engaged with him and I think it was actually really good. It was about two or three years ago when we really started experiencing some growing pains. You know, you grow that rapidly, it’s stressful. I mean, there’s a lot going on, you know, we used to joke about, “Hey, remember when we were 10 people and I didn’t have gray hair?” You know, it was nice.
Andrew Beckman: So, there are other folks besides Alex who has an interest in the company. So the partnership actually expands just us two. There are other folks that have been at this company a long time and have a vested interest in the success of the business. And I’d like to continue growing that. I mean, I’m happy to not be a one-person business. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that, enjoy that. So the more folks who stay in the company longer, I’m hoping to allow them to participate and have some type of ownership of the company. And that’s the way I wanted it to be.
Brent Weaver: Do you have a formal structure for how that happens or is it just kind of like the old law partnership model, you put in your hours, you work hard enough, and then…
Andrew Beckman: Well, I think, you know, it wasn’t like, you know, again, you know, this is my first rodeo. So, you know, I’ve been doing it for 15 years, but I started at 25 years old, and my folks are not, you know, big corporate, you know, blue collar workers, so a lot of it was just kind of learning on. And I would basically say, “Hey, you know, I want to give you an interest in the business.” I probably formalized it just a few years ago and it’s based on, obviously, the longevity, the loyalty, the production of the work, knowing that I have someone who’s, you know, Location3 flows through their veins, like it’s really something that I know that, “Okay, that this person really has delivered and has done something that really has helped us continue growing,” and here is an interest based on options within the company.
Alex Porter: I think that’s a great, you know, kind of, as a growing agency and we go through the growing pains, recognize what you don’t know, right? Recognize when it’s time to say, “Okay, I want to set up some sort of partnership. Who can I talk to about that?” You know, we have a lot of new managers, we want to train some managers, get someone that has management-training experience and bring them in. You know, we want to potentially do some investments. Well, we should get somebody in finance, an outside source. As you go from a one person to a 10 person to a 25 person, you’re going to say, “Hey, I don’t know what this is all about.” And that’s, you know, you have to be, you know, aware of that, and go ahead and ask for help.
Brent Weaver: I mean, it’s like with the web industry, in general, digital, you can work with anybody anywhere. There’s almost like an isolation to it, you know? You can work out of your bedroom or basement and not talk to anybody except through Twitter. And a lot of people manage their business that way, right? But you guys are kind of saying, “Get out there. Talk to people. Ask for help. Get advice from people that know what they’re doing.”
Alex Porter: And ask the people internally, too. I mean, like I said, we’ve got a lot of great people here that have been with us for a long time, and they all are smart and have good ideas, too. You know, it’s a mistake to be isolationist with things. I mean, sometimes, you have to say, “This is the decision and we’re going with it.” But you don’t want to have too many cooks in the kitchen, all those kinds of good things but…
Andrew Beckman: Yeah. We had a, like Alex said, this gentleman that kind of has vast agency experience, you know, big time, you know, many, many years. So he’s basically interviewed everybody, gotten to know our business, does a lot of leadership training. It’s very important, the leadership training, and I personally went to Vistage. I was in there a few years and, you know, I asked a lot of question regarding partnerships, regarding how you structure a team, and the challenges. I think, as much as the challenges that we have had over the past 10 years since I’ve had more staff, you know, it’s now, “Okay, we’re at 85 people, what if we wanted to be at 125 or 150 or 200, yet still bootstrapped, how do we that? How do we be smart with the growth? How do we not overextend ourselves like most businesses do? And that’s how they get hurt, you know, hurt with the cash flow, not being able to pay those bills because they’re overextended. And so, a lot of it will be just internal discussions that we’ve definitely made a conscious effort of hiring on the higher level. We brought in a great V.P. of Finance, a great V.P. of Technology, a great Director of Client Services that have brought a lot of experience here. And, I think, collectively, as we talk, we’re learning and we make mistakes, we learn from those mistakes and then, that’s how we keep on pushing forward this business.
Brent Weaver: Do you guys both have any kind of daily, weekly or monthly practice that you think has gotten you to this point? I mean, I would call you guys successful at this business. Your agency’s successful and you’ve gone way beyond just the start up bootstrap phase. Is there any kind of daily, weekly or monthly practice that you’ve kept up over the years that you think has helped you to get where you are?
Alex Porter: I do yoga every Mondays.
Brent Weaver: Mondays? Monday yoga.
Alex Porter: Mondays, yeah. Start the week off, de-stress, de-clutter the brain, seems to work well for me. You probably mean more business-side, right?
Brent Weaver: Anything, right? I mean, that’s the thing, right? It’s the work-life balance, right?
Alex Porter: Right.
Brent Weaver: Everybody thinks, “Oh, I should just work, work, work. And that’s how I’ll make a better business.”
Alex Porter: Right.
Brent Weaver: But in reality, it’s sometimes balancing the other stuff that affects work even better.
Andrew Beckman: Well, you know, I’ll give credit to Alex. He’s definitely put in a lot over the past couple years. So I would say up to, probably a few years ago, probably it wasn’t the most structured. I’d say he definitely has some nice stuff. I’m saying it wasn’t structured. Since then, he’s done a nice job.
Alex Porter: Of me, personally…
Andrew Beckman: Yeah.
Alex Porter: …or just the company?
Brent Weaver: I think he means before you.
Andrew Beckman: Before you.
Brent Weaver: Before you, it wasn’t so much structure; after you, more so structured.
Alex Porter: Right.
Andrew Beckman: So before, I don’t think I had as much structure, and I think Alex has done a really nice job of putting in weekly meetings with the finance operations, as well as, departmental meetings that meet weekly. And so, we just have a lot of dialogue in those meetings and that’s where we’re able to bring up the concerns, the opportunities, challenges, etc.
Alex Porter: I think for me, it’s really about cultivating an environment here where people are excited to come to work. You know, it’s a fast-moving space, it’s a passionate, again, to maybe overuse this word; you have to have passion for it. I mean, we are essentially extensions of the marketing team of the clients we work with. We have a lot of responsibility to make them successful and, you know, happy people make happy employees. And so, we try to, you know, I think one of the practices we have done is we’re pretty demanding on what needs to get done here. The internet never sleeps, right? I might have the CMO of a client call me at Sunday at 7:00 a.m. I’m taking that call because something’s probably really wrong or really right, probably really right. But you’ve got to reward that, too. You know, so tomorrow, we’re doing our annual company ski day. We’re taking a bus up to A-Basin; you don’t get cell service up there, and we’re going to, you know, blow off some steam and have some fun. But it’s important to kind of stay rejuvenated. And it’s certainly not, you know, a laissez-faire attitude around here, but you’ve got to have people that are happy and excited. And it shows; it shows at then end of day.
Brent Weaver: Besides ski trips, any other kind of culture tactics or tidbits that have worked well for you guys?
Alex Porter: One of the things that we did recently is we had a monthly company meeting and then, we would run out of the room and [inaudible 00:34:33] in one space and then, we’d have it in another space. I mean, we used to have it in this room and then, that was getting pretty dry and somewhat boring. So over the last two years, we really moved to more of a quarterly format where we have a definite theme, and various people speak, and we recognize a team, we recognize a tactic; and then, we have an event afterward where people can kind of go out and get to know each other and kind of talk about what happened. And I’ve seen that, over the last two years, really be beneficial because it, A, keeps people updated. When you have nine different services and 80 people, there’s people that, you know, “Oh, it’s nice to meet you. I’ve been working here for six months.” You never, you know stopped. And that’s when innovative ideas come up. You’re like, “What are working on? I’m doing this. Does that tie together at all? Should we be talking more about these kind of things?” So it’s a venue where everyone can kind of get grounded in where we’re at, where we’re going, what’s hot, recognize some folks and then, throw them all in a room with a couple beers and get them to talk. And that’s been something that’s been great and that’s kind of the epitome of the, “Work hard and then, have some fun at the same time.”
Brent Weaver: What’s one thing that each of you would tell somebody that’s starting out today, you know, where you were 10, 15 years ago, based on what you know now?
Alex Porter: I would say, “Don’t be afraid to make changes when you know in your gut you need to make the change. Don’t wait; if you know this person isn’t right or this client isn’t right, on the client side, too. I mean, a bad client can damage your company across the board.”
Brent Weaver: It’s crazy you said that. I was on the phone with somebody doing a consulting call just this morning and it was like a record going around and around stuck on the same track. They had this client; they couldn’t stand the client, the client was degrading to them, they weren’t paying them enough and yet, there was a lot of fear and anxiety about that, when in their gut, they really knew this should just end today, right? But they were worried that they were going to that and there wouldn’t be any money to follow that, right?
Alex Porter: Right, it’s tough. I mean, but when you have that, you trust your instincts and you’re going to be better off in the long run. It’s probably the easiest advice ever. Trust your instincts. Okay.
Brent Weaver: Go with whatever that feeling is, right? Go that direction.
Alex Porter: Right. Right now, I’m hungry.
Andrew Beckman: I think, when it was myself and Samantha and Alex were there, you know, I took care of the finances. It was easy. But once you started moving the needle and start getting 10 people, 15 people, you really, you know, looking back, I should have been more on top of setting up budgets and forecasting and managing cash flow better. I think that’s where a lot of small businesses get hit, is the cash flow because all of sudden, it’s like, “Oh, my God, are these bills?” You know, they’re not on top of the invoicing, and they’ve got some guy owes 90 days already; and it’s a strength, yeah.
Alex Porter: And that’s not an entrepreneurial skillset typically, right? Somebody that’s starting their own business, that’s not what an entrepreneur wants to focus on. We still have a very entrepreneurial spirit around here and Andrew definitely fits that mold. So I would echo that sentiment that if you want to make sure you’re on top of anything, make sure it’s the money.
Brent Weaver: Right. Because, I mean, most entrepreneurs, they love starting but the managing, right?
Alex Porter: Right.
Brent Weaver: Managing that on a long-term basis is sometimes not really their forte.
Andrew Beckman: Look, if you’re doing this for just an enjoyment stuff, just, if you’re a couple folks, I think that, you know, it’s easy and you can have a nice consulting firm. But once you want to start getting into, especially in a digital space, because I think we’re all going to be hard pressed to have these different skill sets and services. And that’s why we have great talent in each and every area, whether it’s paid media or the SEO social; and you know, once you start getting it, then you’re talking about management, leadership, training, education…
Alex Porter: And it’s a fine line to walk as you go through that.
Andrew Beckman: Yeah.
Alex Porter: You have this, “Hey, it’s fun.” And a few years ago, we had, you know, a rash of turnover and a lot of the comments was, “It’s not fun anymore. The culture’s different.” And that’s true to an extent, like culture does change as you grow. You have to hire an HR director for the first time, right? But you can do things like we talked about to maintain that spirit of the innovation. And the digital world, it’s entrepreneurial everyday. It’s different, there’s something different all the time. You know, we’re always talking about what about this, what about this idea, what about this idea? So it lends itself to that you’re still very interested, there’s still opportunities for innovation. The next big idea can come from anybody. So that really helps drive that spirit a lot. But as you grow, that’s something to also pay attention to. You don’t want to make it, you know, Office Space, but at the same time it can’t be the opposite of that. What’s an opposite movie of that? Animal House, there we go.
Brent Weaver: Nice, nice, nice comparison. Well, I appreciate you guys hanging out with us today. Very insightful. I wish you guys all the best. I’m sure you’re going to continue to grow and continue to be successful so I would love to catch up with you sometime again, in the future.
Alex Porter: Great.
Andrew Beckman: All right.
Alex Porter: Thanks very much.
Andrew Beckman: Thank you.
Alex Porter: Appreciate it.
Brent Weaver: All right.
Andrew Beckman: Appreciate it.
Brent Weaver: Well, that’s it, guys. Stay tuned for more great content from www.ugurus.com.