Episode 10 – Jason Barnard – MD Kalicube

Listen Now:

Audio Transcript:

VO Guy:

Hello, and thanks for coming along to, “…and we have an office dog”, the Digital Agency Podcast, where we talk to Agency Owner Directors and learn more about what makes them tick. From the things that make them similar, to the things they’d rather have known sooner, where they’ve had success and where they’ve learned some hard lessons. All will be revealed with your host, Chris Simmance, the Agency Coach. And he’ll be talking to a different awesome agency person in each episode, asking them four questions and seeing where the conversation takes us over the next 25 minutes. Okay. So let us begin, over to you, Chris.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Thanks voiceover guy, today on the podcast we have Jason Barnard from Kalicube, AKA the Brand SERP guy, hi Jason.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Hi Chris, how you doing?

Chris Simmance (Host):

Not too bad, thank you. I’m glad we managed to make the time for this one, busy lives that we lead these days, locked in our homes and stuff.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Yeah. Agency life from home. Interesting concept.

Chris Simmance (Host):

It sort of works, but also really doesn’t sometimes. So Jason, first and foremost, give us a plug. What does Kalicube do and who and why and where and when?

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Right, okay. I call myself the Brand SERP guy with a P there because I keep forgetting to say P SERP guy, and I’ve been working on Brand SERPs for the last nine or 10 years. And nobody really seemed to pick up on the idea and I was kind of beating my own little drum in the corner. And then a couple of years ago, three years ago I shouted “2019 the year of the Brand SERP”, it didn’t happen. 2020 the year of the Brand SERP didn’t happen, 2021 same thing. 2022 we’re going to go for it, the year of the Brand SERP. And what I’ve done is kind of muddled my way through helping people optimize what their audience sees when that audience Googles their brand name. Or their personal name for that matter, as an agency owner that’s important too. And I’ve got through it, I’ve got clients and now I’ve built an agency with actual real products and I can actually start monetizing it. And that’s been 2021 for me. It’s been a really interesting experience building our things that I know and making them usable by other people.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I’m glad that the Brand SERP thing played out because quite a lot of people were talking about voice search being the only thing since 2015 and they’re still waiting. They’re still sitting there waiting. But yeah, so how long has Kalicube been going?

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Well, I actually created the company in 2015 because I thought it was going to be a massive success immediately and of course it wasn’t. So the company’s been going for seven years. I’ve been looking at Brand SERPs for nine years and we actually built an entire SaaS Platform with my previous associate, my previous partner and couldn’t sell it. So I put it in the fridge and I got it out at the beginning of last year when [inaudible 00:03:14]asked me to help him with his Brand SERP.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So it had a hiatus in its running, but it seems like the right time, really does, given the way that Google’s changing the interface and what it displays to people.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Absolutely, that’s a great point, the fact that the interface is changing, the fact that they’re giving more and more information on the SERP, and all this on SERP SEO stuff, and with Brand SERPs it’s clear. And also John Mueller is saying, brands should focus on pool queries and pool queries is basically branded queries.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Okay. So if you could go back and have a look and think about all of the years of multiple successes whilst it wasn’t in the fridge, what would you say was one of the biggest successes to date, what’s been the biggest win?

Jason Barnard (Guest):

The book, to be honest. Just published a book literally three or four weeks ago, you bought a copy.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Nice extra plug there, Jason’s book is available on Amazon.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

And I actually wrote it as a Brand SERP experiment. I wanted to see how much I could control and how much it would bring to my own personal Brand SERP and my company Brand SERP. And it’s actually been very interesting because people are now taking what I’m saying or perhaps me, more seriously than they were before. And it’s brought in a lot of business that I didn’t have before and I wasn’t managing to get the traction from. I was getting traction from people talking about it, but not from getting people in to actually spend their money with my agency.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. I mean I’m beating the drum with a bloody podcast and waiting for the door to be bashed in, who knows? So the book was a big success and I’ve got a copy, I will read it, I promise. But one of the things that you say about there, is beating the drum for a while and it not necessarily chiming just yet. One of the things that you’d be pleased to hear is I definitely listen and I’m sure lots of other people listen, as soon as my book, which is available online also, was published…

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Punt, punt, punt.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I plugged the ISBN into my, same as Jason stuff, connected it to a bunch of other Wiki data entries and things like that, because I was watching what people do with these things and following the likes of the Brand SERP guy. So…

Jason Barnard (Guest):

And it worked a treat I’ll bet.

Chris Simmance (Host):

It works, it’s doing all right. I mean, if you search for my name you don’t see my German folk singing cousin anymore. I don’t think he’s very happy about that.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Right, no. Is he actually a cousin or is that a joke?

Chris Simmance (Host):

He’s a third cousin. So yeah, he contacted me back in 2012 to ask why he wasn’t visible anymore and I suddenly was. And that was just because I had a blog then, and so on. So if you could go… Go on.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

No, sorry. I mean from the Brand SERP perspective, the reason I started was because I was a cartoon blue dog in the naughties. And when you search my name in 2013, you saw cartoon blue dog, Jason Barnard, silly songs for kids. And when I was talking to clients or potential clients, they searched my name, they said we’re not giving our digital strategy to a cartoon blue dog. So then I thought I need to control that. I need to make sure the message that they’re getting is the message I want them to see, which will help with the conversion.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Is that where the red shirt came from, to be the exact opposite of the blue?

Jason Barnard (Guest):

It should, but it isn’t. No, the red shirt came from the folk punk musician period. When I was playing a gig and I was wearing a blue shirt in the first half and a red shirt in the second half and somebody filmed it. And I just looked and I said in the blue shirt in the first half I look boring and in the red shirt in the second half, I look really interesting.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Fair enough.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

So I thought, when you’re on stage wear a red shirt and it’s worked so far.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And it’s stuck. So if you could go back in time, pick a date within [inaudible 00:07:16] at time frames and talk to the younger, probably more sprightly version of you, what advice would you give yourself?

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Well, the agency isn’t that old, so it’s not that sprightly, it’d only be a couple of years back. But I would’ve got the Brand SERP SaaS Platform out of the fridge three years ago, two years earlier than I did. I think it’s been great this year, it’s been a really good year from a perspective of bringing it back to life. And I would’ve brought it out of the fridge two or three years ago if I’d had the courage just to sit and use it and wait for people to come and want to use it. As opposed to desperately thinking, I had to sell it immediately. Because I could have carried on doing the agency work, using the platform for my own agency work. And then bringing other people onto it as I move forward. But I kind of had this idea I had to get a hundred thousand people onto my platform in the space of a month, which is totally unreasonable. So I would’ve launched it earlier.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So I guess if you look at the influencers online, they get a million quid in funding on day one and they have a hundred thousand subscribers on day two. And that’s probably why you feel that it was a necessity rather than it needing to be one. But yeah you’re quite right. So I guess that advice would be, have a bit more push on yourself to do it rather than wait for the need, which is good.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

I mean, I have the courage, you kind of have to push on yourself and I’m kind of saying, well I didn’t have the courage, I didn’t have the self confidence, let’s say. And the other thing is I launched it a year ago and got loads of beta testers and asked them what they wanted to see in the platform. They gave me lots of feedback. So I built the platform around that and then it turned out none of them then became clients. And the platform didn’t do what I wanted it to do. And I realized that I then had to rebuild it or rebuild parts of it, at least. So it then reflected what it is I’m trying to do, which is optimize Brand SERPs and manage knowledge panels. And if I could have given myself some advice a year ago, it would be once again, build it so I can use it for my clients and get other people on board afterwards. Which is repeating myself, I do apologize for repeating myself.

Chris Simmance (Host):

It’s okay. You can repeat this podcast as many times you like on Spotify for free.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Genius.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, so I guess…

Jason Barnard (Guest):

You’re good at this pluggy thing aren’t you.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Oh you know, it’s all part of the act. So if there was one thing in life in general, but also maybe connected to the digital space I guess, that you’ve learned the hard way that set you up for future success, what would that be? Beyond take it out the fridge sooner, I guess.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Take it out the fridge sooner. That’s a new catch phrase, it could apply…sorry.

Chris Simmance (Host):

It seems to be.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Yeah. Well it actually comes back to the blue dog period as it will. That sounds like kind of Picasso or something, my blue dog period. I was in Mauritius making cartoons for kids, and we actually had a company with my ex business partner, with 14 employees. And because Mauritius doesn’t have very much in the way of qualified staff for this kind of work, for making cartoons, voiceovers, web work developers, database managers. I had to find people I wanted to work with, bring them on board and then find them a job to do within all the different things we could be doing. And so I built the company around the skillset of the people I was bringing in and I was bringing them in because I wanted to work with them as opposed to they had a specific skillset.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I see. Yeah.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

And it worked really well for that. And then with Kalicube, I forgot once again. And I spent the last year building a team. And it does work, well from my perspective at least, really well, if I’m flexible about… Obviously there are some things that have to be done. But if you say, okay let’s get that bit done. But then let’s say 50% of your time will be spent doing something functional that’s absolutely necessary for the company, and might be boring. And then we can look at the other 50% and say, what do you want to do? What are you good at doing? And what will you excel at? And have that kind of system where basically it’s promising people 50% of your job is going to be fun, interesting and something that you’re really good at that you’re really going to get a kick out of. And I’d forgotten it. And it works really, really well, at least from my perspective.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. I was talking to an agency owner that I coach, and we were trying to get to the point around why some of the team are a bit demotivated. And it turns out that the ones that are more motivated are the ones that get a bit more of a challenge than the ones that are getting less of a challenge. And it turns out that it’s the seniors that are used to the business as usual workload, that often get very little much more than here’s a big exciting client, exciting clients aren’t enough for them. And the more juniors, the ones that had a lot to learn but they fit the culture still, they had this sort of nice rhythm and cadence of learn a thing, get good at a thing, learn a new thing, get good at a thing.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And they were much more motivated and eager to move forward. And this isn’t a UK based agency. So it wasn’t necessarily that they were chasing after pound signs in elevation to a big London corporate or something. So the finding of the right people is essential, but also creating that kind of growth set mindset and the fun element is key. And I’ve met agency owners, I’m sure you have, that think fun is bringing pizza in on a Friday and having some tins of Heineken. It’s fun for the first Friday, but not for every Friday of the year. So again you’ve got to keep it interesting. And finding people that you like first, and training them up second, is quite a good way of doing that.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

No, yeah. A hundred percent. That’s what I’m now doing and it’s working out quite well. And one of the things that I kind of worried about back in the day, in the blue dog period once again. Was that if I was too nice, if I was too friendly, if I got on too well with the people I was working with, they wouldn’t respect me or that there would be some kind of breakdown of that barrier. And I had a really interesting experience with one of the guys who worked with me for 10 years, and he was the animator, he did the animations. And he started doing the animations in 2000. And he did it for 10 years and he absolutely loved doing that job. And one day I looked at one of his animations of the blue dog, and I said, “that is such a good animation. The blue dog walking across the room just looked so happy. And it’s so kind of like cool and relaxed. And how did you manage to get that?” And he said, “oh I just watch you all day.” And what was lovely about that…

Chris Simmance (Host):

So you are the blue dog. You are literally the blue dog.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

I am the blue dog, yeah.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Not just your creation as a company, but you are physically the blue dog.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Yeah I did the voices. And this guy spent 10 years just modeling the blue dog’s movements on how he saw me in the office. And what was nice about that was that he never lost respect in the sense of, I could tell him what to do, I was still his boss. But we could actually be friendly and chatty. And he could tell me that he was just watching me walking across the room in order to [crosstalk 00:14:44]and I thought it was lovely.

Chris Simmance (Host):

That’s a normal human being’s version of saying around those five dysfunctions of a team. In the sense that there was trust between you, you could show vulnerability, he could show vulnerability. He knew he could challenge you when he wanted to challenge you, because he didn’t necessarily agree to an idea or something like that. And therefore you didn’t have any kind of fear of conflict, which is why he was able to trust in saying, I just followed you around and watched you go. And you took it in a good way because you had that layer of trust and you both didn’t fear any conflict that came from it. So without saying it all, you’ve just given all the fodder for the transcription. However, I am nervous now that this transcription of this podcast may upset your Brand SERP for the blue dog.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Oh, right. Yeah. Well, if you end up ranking on my Brand SERP and it says Jason Barnard is a blue dog, then I will have a battle on my hands, but hopefully not.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So if there’s anyone out here who’s listening at the minute, who’s considering starting a new agency in the future, or has got a friend who’s started an agency very recently and wants to help them out. If you could give them any one piece of advice, what would that be, do you think?

Jason Barnard (Guest):

I think kind of processes. I’d hate to say it from a perspective of a free thinking, couching, making…

Chris Simmance (Host):

Boring is good.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Yeah. I mean what we’ve been doing and what we’ve actually been doing this month in January, is we’ve been creating processes for what we do. And we’re writing it all down, we’ve got the documents, so that what we then have is that everybody becomes replaceable. And that sounds horrible. But Mads Singers said something really smart to me, which was, “if you’re not replaceable, you’re not promotable.” And the idea that somebody can be replaced says to them, as long as you can be replaced, you can move upwards. And that ambition can be satisfied. And so people are buying into the processes saying, I’m going to write down the processes, I’m going to improve it, and then I will teach it to somebody else and then move upwards. And that’s delightful.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. That’s absolutely spot on. I say a similar type of thing. You are writing the training manual for the person that you are going to train.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Brilliant, genius. I haven’t said it that way, I will now.

Chris Simmance (Host):

The cool thing about stuff like that is you’re actually building in the ownership of those processes. Which is so essential to get the accountability for running those processes whilst you are sat in that same seat. One of the things that you find though with processes, is they can sort of take away a bit of creativity. So you don’t want them too rigid that they stifle creativity and too flaky, that anyone can get away with anything. So one of the principle parts of a process, and seeing as you’re writing them now, if you won’t mind me giving you a small piece of advice?

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Please do.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Every single process should have an example of, what good looks like. So the end result of, what good looks like, being this is the minimum viable output of this process. Which then means that when you’ve done it a million times over, you’ve still got the, what good looks like, as the basic benchmark. So you know that anything better than that is great. Anything that isn’t like that isn’t good enough. And then that means that the person creating it has to find out, oh what is good? Jason what does good look like for this sort of thing? And then that’s how they get the two way communication going between the peers, around how to build the process.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Oh, that’s lovely. And also, if you create the basic kind of core backbone process and say, this backbone process will get you to good, and the creativity will take you to great. Hopefully what I’m reading into what you said, it gives them that creative option to say, I can push this further and also indicates that they want to…

Chris Simmance (Host):

Exactly yeah.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

…go beyond.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And the cool thing about that sort of thing is that if you do it this way, and it prevents the team and prevents the people that you’ve spent a long time nurturing and enjoy being around, feeling like the process is just there to track them.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Right. Good point.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Because when the process is done, it’s ticked and find the little tracking thing, whether it’s on monday.com or whether it’s on a [inaudible 00:19:20] or something, that bit’s trackable. The intermediate steps are trackable. But the way that you are being creative isn’t necessarily trackable, but the output is. And if you make a process, step one click here, step two click there, step three write a thing, step four set it live. That’s really boring and terrible and people will run away from you. Whereas if you say these are the five kind of basics to getting this good thing done, then there’re offshoots to, here’s an example of that. And here’s a link to the tool and the whatever.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I know that Ross from Type A, he does a lot of video based stuff. So he’ll do a written down process with the team. And he’ll also have a video version of a similar type of thing to give people who learn differently, a different way of doing it. So you have to follow that process when you’re onboarded. And it works really well for them.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Yeah. Oh no, no, no video, it’s one of the things that I kind of… I got so bored writing out all this stuff. Especially for the guy who’s doing the front end development. I now just film the screen and talk to him, send it over and he’s got this 15 or 20 minute video. So he knows exactly what I’m talking about, exactly what I’m looking for. And that’s been really, really useful as well. As you say, video is a great format. And the only problem I would assume people then have with it, is not liking your own voice.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yes. Well, there’s not a great deal of that lacking in this industry. Lots of people like the sound of their own voice.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Oh, deary me.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I mean I’m one, I’ve got a podcast.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Too true. Me too.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, exactly. So, well it wasn’t until I made it clear that this was an audio only podcast that I got people asking to be interviewed, so that speaks volumes to me.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

They like their voice, but they don’t like how they look?

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, I think so.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Wow. Oh, okay.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So for about three weeks, I was promoting the upcoming podcast and got no signups. And I was begging and trying to get people on, not saying that the people who’ve been on already were the people that were begging by the way, because they certainly weren’t. So soon as I made it clear that it was audio only, I’ve had 18, 19 agency owners sign up to be interviewed.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Well, that’s a handy hint for me that I hadn’t thought of. Thank you very much Chris.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Well you know, I’m always here to help. So final quick question, of all of the things that you’ve done in all of the years of running the agency, and by years of the agency, I also mean the Brand SERP stuff as well. What’s the one thing that you have done that has really, that you would double down on if you could do, to grow? So what’s the big marketing thing that you’ve done?

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Oh, the big marketing thing. It’s actually the stuff I’ve been doing this year. And ironically, given what we were just talking about, it’s Kalicube Tuesdays. And it’s saying, with the lockdown, I thought, right okay I can’t do the podcast going around to conferences anymore. I will do a weekly event and I’m going to call it Kalicube Tuesdays, because Aleyda have got Crawling Mondays. So I went with Tuesdays, somebody’s going to go for Wednesdays, and so on and so forth. And every single week I force myself at 5:00 PM Paris time, to do a live stream video. And it forced me into regularity with what I was doing, forced me to create the content, even when I was tired, even when I was ill, I pitched up and I did it. And that reminds me of when I was a musician is that, you thought I have to go and play, I have to do this because there’s a crowd there. Even if we didn’t have a crowd in Kalicube Tuesdays.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

So it’s forced me to create the content and it’s forced me to be regular. And what has been interesting about that is how well Google digests that. Kalicube has gone from the most boring Brand SERP in the world a year ago, to one of the richest Brand SERPs for a small company. Because we’ve got this incredible content strategy, all of which comes from Kalicube Tuesdays and all the repurposing we’re doing from that. So I would double down on a regular content creation that’s valuable to your audience that you repurpose and you push out because, I’ll just say Google loves it. But in fact it’s bringing me in a lot of the clients that I’m now getting. And it took a couple of years to take off from that perspective. So double down, as you said.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So do it [crosstalk 00:23:50] double it down. Yeah. That’s awesome.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Sorry.

Chris Simmance (Host):

No, no, it’s awesome. I think the regularity is something that obviously, as you say Google quite likes. But also the regularity of these sorts of things is the consumer based thing as well. They know that it’s a Tuesday, they know what to expect. They know when to expect it. It’s a bit like when you only had a couple of channels on the telly and you couldn’t record anything, you had to be there if you wanted it. And that creates a bit of scarcity as well. And then if you matched that scarcity with your beautiful Brand SERP, then there’s a lot of people knowing that you know what you talk about, and want to work with you.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

True. True. Absolutely. And I mean, another thing with that is actually, it’s yet another lesson that I learned and forgot. Is that Boowa & Kwala, the blue dog and yellow koala from the naughties, we updated the website with two games, an animation of song and a creative activity, the first of every single month without fail for 10 years. And I would stay up all night on the last day of the month, finishing building the games, finishing off the song and putting it all online. Because the kids will be so disappointed and they didn’t understand that there might have been some kind of technical problem and they got on the case of their parents and the parents then got on our case. And so that regularity and the absolute obsession with saying, if I say it’s going to be the first of the month, it will be the first of the month. And I forgot it. And I’ve got it back again, thank you.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Well, there you go. We’re all there. Everyone’s a winner with regularity in more the ways than one, especially when you get older.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Right, oh dear.

Chris Simmance (Host):

With that in mind, we’ll say our goodbyes. Thank you very much for joining me today Jason, it’s been actually really enjoyable to have a conversation with you.

Jason Barnard (Guest):

Thanks, brilliant Chris. Thanks for having me, it’s been absolutely delightful. I’ve actually learned a lot and I was the one being interviewed.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Crikey. I’ll have to have a look at the word count later to see if I over spoke. But thanks very much, and in the next episode we’ll have another fantastic agency owner director. So feast your ears on this podcast. Repeat it several times over. And count how many times Jason repeated himself at the same time. Enjoy. Thank you very much.

 

Apply as a guest: