Episode 12 – Andrew Bloch – Founder Kaomi

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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. Welcome to the podcast, this week we’ve got Andrew from Kaomi, he’s the founder, South Africa and UK based digital marketing agency. Hi Andrew.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Hey, Chris, how’s it going?

Chris Simmance (Host):

Not too bad, thank you. First and foremost, give us a plug, who is Kaomi? What is Kaomi? Why is Kaomi? And where is Kaomi?

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, thanks, Chris. Kaomi is a digital performance agency, specifically focusing on Google optimizations, specifically Pay Per Click and SEO. And we are a global business reaching across different regions, with our team mostly based in South Africa. And who we are is just a group of passionate people, who have found a way to work together in this, called an agency. And somehow turned that into a commercial business and we get to do some really good work with our different clients. Our passion really is just helping brands scale. Initially, when we started, we did a lot of work with startups and found quite a niche space in South Africa, where startups needed a specific amount of help and acceleration in the Google space. So that’s really what got it started, more so now, I think our niche is really large listing sites.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

So we do a lot of work with sites that have large inventory, spend a lot of money on Google ads, help them reduce those costs or increase their ROI, for that and the mission, the thing that we are really keen to achieve, is by tapping into global markets, we believe that we can create more employments. Coming from South Africa, being South African, we know the poverty and the challenges within a third world country like that. So we are doing whatever we can into global markets and then create jobs back home, for me which is South Africa, but yeah, that’s us.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Very noble and also having had a bit of an insight into the agency previously, I know that you actually mean that, which is lovely. So how long’s the agency been running for?

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, so five years, been running just- [crosstalk 00:03:10]

Chris Simmance (Host):

A long five years or a short five years?

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

I think it was a quick first three years, and then year four and five were a bit longer. We had this grand idea to launch into the UK or just to go global and that was pretty tough. I think it’s… Launching into a new region and still running your initial core business, is quite a challenge. But it’s been a good five years, there’s been times that have gone faster than others, but we are here nonetheless.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So onto the questions then, Andrew, hopefully you’re ready for these because I’ve modified them, so they’re evil questions in this… No, they’re not, they’re not, don’t worry. For those of you listening, you can’t see his face, but it was worth every second of it. So what do you feel over the last five years, those three short and two long years, do you feel has been one of the biggest successes that you guys have enjoyed?

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, so I actually got to pose this question to my co-founder [inaudible 00:04:22] was just prepping this and essentially, it’s an interesting one, I’d say the reality, like the actual moment of huge success was we made a typo on an email that we sent out. So we had to get back to the clients on pricing and the way I worded the pricing was a little bit ambiguous and unclear.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

And they came back and said, is that monthly or annually? And we were like, well, if they’re asking the question, maybe they’re open to [crosstalk 00:04:51] the price increase, and it pretty much enabled us to start playing in the price game that we thought we could never get into. And essentially the business just grew from that moment. So I think it was just capitalizing on a mistake and realizing that’s we were probably worth a lot more than we realized at the stage. I’d say that was a big moment of success, is just coming to know that what we were doing and the scale of what we were doing, other people’s eyes was a lot bigger than ourselves, but the more fun or more… What’s the word? Polite answer would probably be client retention, I think we’re pretty good at that.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Ah, that’s the boring answer, [crosstalk 00:05:29] typo that made you rich is brilliant.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, so hopefully we make some more typos on that, that are ambiguous and grow from there. And then, just really, I think just in the last year, it’s really been growing up and just being a lot more mature. I, myself, am currently only 28 years old. So you go through a lot of laugh whilst running the business and growing up at certain stages, like often the business is limited by you as a founder and I think some of the recent successes and like we’re picking up a lot of momentum on, is really just been a personal journey of just growing up and dealing with your own personal baggage. And yeah, so that’s three things.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So, I think the lesson there is to pay yourself or not pay yourself or charge what you think you’re worth or try at least until you hit that resistance barrier and accept that you’re going to learn a lot along the way, I suppose. And that’s why some of the years are harder than others.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, a hundred percent. And I think on the pricing one, sometimes people can value what you do as higher than you’re willing to understand, like you’re within a thermometer, so you would feel like that’s expensive or that’s getting really well paid.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

And if I look back now at what we initially charged to what we are charging now with clients, yeah I wouldn’t have changed what we charged in the three, I think there was a lot to learn, but I think we were still… We were giving incredible value to our early stage clients. And yeah, pushing that and also being open ended with pricing, trying to keep pushing, that really helps. Because in an agency, your price point determines quite a lot, like your rates of growth, your cash generation, that typo, that mistake allowed us to start generating full months cash flow within two months at a time. So we became very profitable and I think that really allowed us to grow. And if we never got that pricing right, we wouldn’t have scaled to where we are now.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Fantastic, so if you could go back five or so years and talk to the younger, definitely, most sprightly version of yourself and your co-founder, [Joan 00:07:51], what would you tell each other? What advice would you… If you could get in your time machine and give some advice, what one thing would you say?

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, I’d say don’t rush it, like go slow. I think that’s more so for myself, but I think in starting it, I had this picture that, and just like personal goals, like on certain days you want to be somewhere. So personally, I had really defined goals of when I turn 28, what I want things to look like, and here I am and my goals now are very different [crosstalk 00:08:27] I thought they were. And I was like buy a property, have a kid, things like that, which are more personal goals, but the business has to be at a certain place to make that happen.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

So I would say not rushing things [crosstalk 00:08:45] probably would’ve been better. Every single decision that we thought we had to make quickly, in hindsight, we could have delayed it and mostly saved a lot of money on things that just were inefficient and crazy things like you try diversify after two years, trying to add a new service offering. There was no rush and I think looking back now, we can see that very clearly, but in the same light, going slow actually allows to grow faster because you focus on the basics, you focus on documentation, contracts, cashflow, getting those things right. Like suddenly the business picks up and we’ve been through stages in the last, well, where it’s moving faster than I could actually predict and understood and understand, so that’s been a big one.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And I think if you… There’s an argument for both sides of the coin here, but I think at the right times is when you can go fast, so some decisions you just shouldn’t make slowly. But other things, when it comes to getting those basics, like you say right, they’re essential for growth. You can’t grow without them. You get, you can up to a certain point, but as soon as you get to a certain sort of those resistance barriers, isn’t there within agency land and that you hit those resistance barriers and then you have to slow down and it costs money to build these things that you didn’t already have because you just can’t move further without them.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah true.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And so is there anything that you kind of regret that you’ve done or wish you would’ve done sooner over the years?

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, so lack in talking around the different speed and the pace of growth, prior to COVID and when COVID, the first year of COVID in lockdown, we actually did very well as a business. Initially, as per everyone did, we thought the world was going to end. But once we rallied together and we had some phenomenal and still have some phenomenal clients who just stood by us and yeah, they didn’t even flinch, when COVID hits, and that really gave us a lot of certaincy and everyone really pulled through that. But I think, the pace of change for us through that was, we really reassessed a lot of things. And coming out of COVID, I’d say the best decision we made which we didn’t do earlier, was actually hire an in-house recruiter. So through the process of COVID, we basically doubled down on our HR process and we got an in-house recruiter, full-time, just working on getting us the right talents and the right fit.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

And then we employed or contracted an amazing executive coach to come in and work with the business. And he was involved in the business at the highest stage, I think it was three days a week. And we just realized like an agency is fundamentally the people within it, there is nothing more, like your USP is really just the quality of the people that you have and your ability to treat them right. And you can have good RP or good tech or a nice slogan and that, but clients going to come with you for the people that you have, people that are there attract more clients than that. So for us, I think the one thing we should have done earlier was hire a recruiter.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Like we were to terrible at recruitments. If I look at us trying to do it without having someone who had the skills, it was like I apologized to everyone who went through our recruitment process before that, we tried to do it really well, but I think there are so many people we missed in that process just because we were quite like, we thought we knew what we wanted and we were very… We made a lot of decisions based on the scope of where we were, our mindsets, not looking into other cities and yeah, so recruits a huge one, I mean, every single agency at the moment’s battling with retention.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

You know that, that’s a fact, so a good way to solve that is really to get to double down on your HR, budget for it’s appreciatives and get involved in that.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, like you say, the people are the backbone of the business and not just in the ‘getting the stuff done’ perspective, so you’re quite right there. And having the right people at the right stage of the business is essential. And it’s really important, isn’t it? That you don’t hire just cheap because you… I always say you buy cheap, you buy twice, you end up having problems that you didn’t expect. I used to be terrible at recruiting as well, because I think that you look at it, like you say, from a very internal point of view, and it’s very one dimensional. So you don’t often necessarily know whether something’s right and your gut just says, I need someone right now, and having either an external company on a retainer or having an internal person is a game changer, I think.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, a hundred percent. I think we wouldn’t, the business wouldn’t have moved forward if that and having what is really a big move, and we figuring out how to keep it going, is we do a lot of one-on-one personal coaching from an exterior point of view, so we have a external provider, Apex coaching that’s coaches our staff before they actually start working with us. So while they’re in their notice period from their previous employment, or if they were taking a break and getting back in, they go through a series of sessions that are pretty structured and driven around understanding the culture they’re coming into. And we talk about this concept, like we want people to hit the ground running, but we don’t really do anything to enable that.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

So putting that together and having a recruiter, literally means we hit the ground running and we are having staff now, who’ve been in the company for like 20 days, 30 days, literally transforming processes, like winning a lot of credibility with clients, and a lot of that’s happened because of the recruitment process. And I think, initially, we thought that… We just had so many limiting beliefs, like we thought we were good at certain things and we thought like it was impossible to hire people in a certain area and no one out there was trained. It was just all these stories that really [crosstalk 00:15:12] are involved, but…

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, and you’ve learned from that, which is a good thing. So is there anything that you’ve kind of learned apart from the recruiting side of things, anything you’ve kind of learned the hard way that you kind of think, “Ah, I had to learn it the hard way, otherwise it wouldn’t be so successful now”?

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, I think those podcasts are not long enough to talk about- [crosstalk 00:15:33]

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, true.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

I could… I probably wouldn’t have the patience to write a book, but I could probably write a short book on it. And yeah, I think a lot of it has just been learning to allow other people to speak into your life, and realizing that you have potential and you are good at something, but being stubborn and being stuck on a certain idea really limits you to a certain number of outcomes. But as soon as you allow other voices and other people around you to speak into your life, so that you can be vulnerable and deal with those things, I would say that’s been huge.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

So for me, it’s been… Like the one key thread is I’ve had a good friend who’s coached me for about eight years. And it’s really helped because over a long period of time, you go through like different stages where you think it’s necessary and not necessary, but having that theme throughout, I think is really helped. And probably the biggest mistake is trying to be like, no, I can do this and I don’t need outside opinion. Somehow at 24 years old are no better than everyone else out there.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Well, you think that you think you do at the time anyway, regardless of how much coaching you get used, is I think that’s an inbuilt thing. Everyone up to about 30 thinks that they’re invincible and the best at everything all the time.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, so still working through that, but I think that’s been a big one. There’s been some decisions that we made on there. Other little points, like contracts, getting contracts, spending a lot of time discussing contracts, talking through the contract with your staff, your provider, ironing out every possible scenario on those contracts, improving your contracts consistently, huge help. We didn’t do it before, it’s just missed expectations if you don’t outline that, if it’s not documented, it’s just, I said, she said, he said, and people get hurt at that [inaudible 00:17:45].

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, so people who are listening to this, some of them may be in employment right now, but looking to start their own digital agency. And they’re asking, they’re saying, “Andrew, Andrew, give me one piece of advice before I start my digital agency”. So what is that advice?

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

My answer is slightly influenced by a previous individual you had on the show. I love the way Ross answered it. But yeah, I would say an agency as a means to an end and understanding that’s really crucial before you start it, having an idea to build an agency to retire or unfortunately die running an agency, which could happen from stress.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Sometimes feels like you can, but that’s why digital agency coaches like Chris Simmance exist.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Indeed, I would say just get very clear about what you wanted to do for you, the best stories I’ve seen and the story of journey that I’m on now, is that running an agency gets you to a point where you’re then able to go and launch a business or a product or something thereafter and there’s skills you learn in running an agency that are super transferable to everything else. But I do think there’s a start and an end date to being involved in agency life. For four, a lot of people employed within an agency, they might be toying with going in-house or doing their own thing or going to freelance and that, but I think what’s key in this whole industry is, is understanding that things grow and things start, things end and going through that cycle. So I would say if you’re going to start an agency, start working on an exit plan when you started.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

I know that sounds pretty crazy, but it’s- [crosstalk 00:19:37]

Chris Simmance (Host):

It doesn’t so.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

You’re going to run out of juice at some point because…

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, I mean, I always say you start with the end in mind, whether that’s a three year strategy or whether that’s a exit plan and these days you should probably never start anything new without knowing how you’re going to end it. And that might be, I’m going to build an agency for acquisition and fair enough, if that’s what you want to do. It might be, I’m going to build an agency so I can learn some stuff and spin up a fantastic SAS tool. It might be, it could be anything, but if you start an agency kind of on a “I can do it better than the agency I’m working at” mindset, doesn’t necessarily spell long term success. If you know where you’re going, then you know how to get there.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, hundred percent. I think one of the key takeaways from running an agency is that, and it’s a good concept in terms of running a business, people talk about using other people’s money and in running an agency, you get to spend other people’s money and see what works and what doesn’t work. So if you’re considering launching a product or being a serial entrepreneur, or in entertaining this idea of entrepreneurship, working in a small agency or starting an agency is a great way to get the grassroots understanding on that cycle of how to grow a business without the risk of everything involved in actually launching a product.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

So I’d say if you are coming out of an agency, if you’ve run an agency for five years, six years, I think you have a lot of potential to do something else if you’ve done that well, and it really gears you for other things in life, like it’s a really good incubator. It’s almost like if you didn’t have the time or the finances, like myself, to go do an MBA.

Chris Simmance (Host):

You took the word.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Running an agency is pretty much like an MBA that just [crosstalk 00:21:28] in the face, every single day.

Chris Simmance (Host):

You took the words right out of my mouth. I often say it’s the most expensive MBA you’ll ever do, but by far, the things that you can learn in running an agency are incredible. The things that you definitely wish you hadn’t done is a book like you say. So, yeah, absolutely agree with you. Now drawing to an end, what do you think has been one of the kind of most powerful growth tools or channels that the agency has deployed and used, that has really pushed things forward beyond a typo in an email?

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, I would say [inaudible 00:22:06], it’s our marketing strategy, since we’re a marketing company, is to not do marketing. No, I would say it’s events. I think events has been a key game changer for us. Not necessarily running them, but just attending and learning how to elevate a pitch to clients. I think that’s given us growth hacks that have moved us significantly forward on certain spaces and only chatting to the decision makers on certain things. I think there’s a lot of marketing effort out there that goes to people who aren’t the decision makers. So I think if you’re going to growth hack it, just go talk to the person who’s going to make the decision at the end of the day and just be bold, like learn how to sell, if you’re an agency owner, I mean, you’re going to learn a lot of things, but- [crosstalk 00:22:57]

Chris Simmance (Host):

That’s one extra thing on the list, everyone.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, thankfully I learned, I had to do a bit of cold calling and like sales stuff prior to all of this. So all of that came in super handy, so I would say like, go work in a call center for three months before you start an agency, because that’s what you going to be doing at first.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So you heard it here first, folks, before you go in to live your dream of an agency owner, go live your nightmare as a call center handler.

Andrew Bloch (Guest):

Yeah, and when, especially when things aren’t looking good and you’ve got payroll to run, suddenly you got to start phoning people and get things- [crosstalk 00:23:32]

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, have some doors slammed in your face, so to speak. So thank you very much for joining us today, Andrew, and very much in a very good conversation and as ever as honest as you usually are, so thank you. In the next podcast, we’ll have another digital agency owner/director of the awesome variety. And we look forward to speaking to you soon. Thanks a lot, Andrew, speak to you later.

 

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