Episode 23 – Duray and Fabio – Co-Founders Viaduct Generation

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Audio Transcript:

Announcer:

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. And on the podcast today, we’ve got a special podcast because this is the first one that we’ve recorded with both founders of an agency. So I’d like to say hello to Duray and Fabio, the founders of Viaduct Generation. Oh, I’ve done it wrong, nevermind. What’s your brand name?

Duray (Guest):

Viaduct Generation.

Chris Simmance (Host):

There we go.

Duray (Guest):

But the URL is viaductgen.com. See, I’m plugging away off the back.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I’m on your site, that’s why I said Viaduct Gen you see.

Fabio (Guest):

Yeah. We’ll use that. We’ll use that. Hello, Chris.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So, welcome to the podcast, both of you. So as with all podcasts, this is just a nice conversation. We’re going to be talking about your agency and the things you’ve learned, but first and foremost, tell us who you are, what your agency does. Tell us a little bit of the history of how that all came together and we’ll see what the hell happens because this is the first time two people have tried to answer questions, go.

Fabio (Guest):

Well, we are Viaduct Generation, an independent SEO agency aiming to represent underrepresented funders. So we are a 18 months old now, Duray, if I’m right?

Duray (Guest):

Yeah. About 18 months.

Fabio (Guest):

Yeah, we started this back in 2020, actually. That’s when the idea came about. Fun fact, Chris, that we didn’t mention to you before, we actually had two other founders as well.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And did you absorb them in like when you absorb a twin in a pregnancy?

Fabio (Guest):

Precisely. So I ate one and Duray ate the other one. No, it’s also two guys who grew up with us and we went to like more or less the same school as them. But what happened was they just had different interests in life. They were less SEO lovers and more creative lovers. One ended up being a DJ and the other one just went back to arts and cryptos from what I can see on socials. But yeah, all of this came about during the social unrest that was happening in 2020 after the unfortunate murder of George Floyd. And we all just came together and thought about a way to help underrepresented communities really. Then a few months later, my previous business partner and I were presenting the idea to Duray because I always loved Duray’s opinion. This is all before we launched, we just presented the idea to Duray. We had a slide deck of about 100 slides and Duray gave us really good feedback. And in that moment, something clicked in my mind. I was like, I think I want Duray on my side.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And you’re living with that mistake for the rest of time now.

Fabio (Guest):

Yeah. It’s a nice pleasant mistake I have to say.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And what’s your feeling on that Duray? So you weren’t there on day one, but you were there pretty much from day two in a sense.

Duray (Guest):

Yeah. Absolutely. I think I refer to the two previous co-founders as almost like the godfathers of Viaduct Generation. They birthed it, they were the brainchild of it. And I think Viaduct Generation had a few different iterations to what it is today. And that’s with a lot of businesses. We all think we doing this and we pivot and we change, but yeah. Fabio’s put that exactly right. They came to me with a massive slide deck. I gave really honest, I said, “All right, I’m going to give you some feedback here.” And it was I think pretty critical, but I think Fabio was like, that’s the critical analysis I want on my side. And I think that’s where Fabio and I work quite well, in that ying and yang. He will say something, I’ll say I disagree. And this is why and vice versa. Seldom are we nodding and going? “Yeah, we completely agree. Let’s definitely do that.” It is compromise and I think we work quite well together in that regard.

Fabio (Guest):

Absolutely.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So 18 months, it’s not a long time, but in agency world, it is a long time. You’ve got a what, 15 in the team I think now, you said? In fact, I met them. They’re all wonderful people, but in 18 months to get to 15 in the team with a nice repeating recurring revenue, that’s not easy. So what’s the biggest success that you’ve had beyond getting to 15 people at that point? What’s the biggest success you’ve seen in the last 18 months?

Fabio (Guest):

Duray.

Duray (Guest):

I think, BrightonSEO, the last one that we went to was a changing point for us. The previous one, we had two people, myself and our head of content, Danny. We went over and we tried to meet a few people, but we ended up at the end of the day being super tired because we are learning so much and we had a few drinks and whatever it is. But this time we rolled deep, we rolled with 10 people. We were all wearing merch. Everyone could spot us. We were at karaoke night and we produced a lovely video and summaries of BrightonSEO, but I don’t think there’s a single person that went to BrightonSEO that goes, “Viaduct Gen, who?” People know who we are now. And that’s really exciting. And I think that is just a really good reflection of the hard work that everyone doing to getting VG to where it is today.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So in that sense, a big success was bringing the team together in one place or bringing… I remember when I took all my team to Brighton a few times and a few other events. It felt pretty good because you got your tribe with you and it’s quite cool, but other people noticed it. And I know how difficult it is to hire in this industry at the minute. And you said to me the other day, in particular, you said this was a really good event because people were actually coming up to you and asking, “Got any jobs?”

Duray (Guest):

Yeah. I think that’s what culture does. If you can create an environment that looks attractive, but actually also when they drill down and they see the policies that we have in place, in that we know SEO is just SEO. At the end of the day, yes it’s really important and we do a lot for our clients, and why we do what we do is so important. But I think we have a really strong policy on putting purpose over profit and why we do what we do is so integral and that needs to reflect in our tribe as well. So we make sure we have a lot of policies to support mental health. We have duvet days, if someone is mentally ill. We have menstrual health days to support the females in our organization. We operate on a really flexible start time. We try and make things that are really going to… People will go to work and be like, “Yeah. I feel fulfilled. I feel like I’m making a difference and I’m not mentally burnt out because I’m ranking on position eight rather than position three.” Do you know what I mean?

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. Exactly. And I think having the right mix there is important and you don’t have to follow the list of all of the other benefits in order to have that. You’ve got to hire the right people with the right values first and foremost. Because then when there is a bad day, everyone knows you can trust each other with, “Oh, shit, I’ve had a really bad day today.” And someone will back you up, or take on some work for you, or do something to help you. And if you hire with values first and purpose in mind, then you’re going to have a good bunch of people. The trouble is maintaining that cohesion and clarity at a larger scale, you’re going to get to 30 people and you really need to make sure that you’re hiring based on values. Hire on values, train them up to the processes and keep at it, keep clarity, keep that vision really, really clear with people.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So if you could go back then, I want both of you to answer this individually. So if you could go back, Fabio 18 months, so say two years. You go back two years and you sitting there thinking about starting the agency off and the Fabio from now pops in to the past and says, “Hey, Fabio, it’s me Fabio. I’ve got some advice for you.” What advice would that be?

Fabio (Guest):

Two years ago? Get Duray on the team quicker. And-

Chris Simmance (Host):

Come on, just because he’s a-

Fabio (Guest):

No, it’s actually not. It’s almost like I’m a dreamer. I’m someone that has got very big ambitions for the business, for myself personally, in my own personal life. What Duray did not only helped me with, like almost carry the idea forward, it was almost like he forced us to come out of the ideation stage and go into the action stage. And the speed in which he helped us get to that, I wish we could have done a little bit sooner, because right now I think we’d be looking at a much bigger organization really. So if we’re talking about two years ago and not 18 months ago, I would say that, is the fact that we actually did spend a lot of months. We’re talking from April, May all the way to January ideating everything and trying to cover every single angle of everything. Our marketing needs to look like this, our culture needs to look like this, our ideal clients need to be this. And everything to the team we had planned. And it was almost like, why didn’t we just go out and get businesses instantly when we had that expertise ready?

Chris Simmance (Host):

You know they say done is better than perfect in terms of just getting something done.

Fabio (Guest):

Facts.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I edited that ever so slightly and I say, done is better than perfect, but done better be bloody good. So if you’re going start, you don’t go to the nth degree planning, and planning, and planning because no strategy survive first contact with the enemy. There’s no way you go alive, it’s going to have to change.

Fabio (Guest):

It’s true.

Chris Simmance (Host):

But you do need to plan something to have something to work with.

Fabio (Guest):

Absolutely.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Done is better than perfect and that seems to be what getting Duray and he has helped with. So now Duray, if you can let your ego aside after hearing that lovely bit of feedback, what would you do going back in time?

Duray (Guest):

Yeah. I’m going to fall off my chair, Fabio, that’s very kind of you. I appreciate you. Thank you very much. I think one thing that I would do differently myself, two years ago, I would’ve probably, I think gone all in from the outset. I was studying university while starting Viaduct Generation. I was working a part-time job as well. So Viaduct Generation, as Fabio says, we pushed into from almost a hobby, and a good slide deck, and a good idea into actually execution. Hey, guys, we’re losing 4,000 pounds a month by the way because we don’t have clients, like whatever it is. So I think it would’ve been probably like go all in, do what you can to put the next six months aside, whether it could’ve been pause my degree or don’t know what, but looking at what we’ve built here, it is really something that I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m really happy. I love coming into work. I love working with great people and I wish we could have done it with more velocity from the start.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. So in a sense you wanted a lot, you would give yourself advice to go hard, go, go, go. And Fabio, would’ve given himself the advice of bring you in sooner so that you could go hard and go, go, go which sounds brilliant.

Duray (Guest):

Yeah. I guess so. I think maybe that’s an easy answer to just say, oh, I would’ve gone quicker, gone faster. Reality is you don’t know that, reality is you don’t know what’s behind the corner. But reflecting back and it could have been different if we had gone that, maybe things wouldn’t have panned out as well as they are now. Looking at the way things are going, I’m delighted and I’m really proud to be part of this amazing company. So yeah, I would’ve said go in, go all in, all chips on the table and make it happen sooner than you think. So, yeah.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Well, I mean, it’s hindsight’s brilliant, isn’t it, when you look at it like that? And you can say, it looks really good now and it could have been better if we’d have done, and we’d have tried, and we’d have this and that. But this is the beauty of agency. Isn’t it? That you now know that. So when an opportunity presents itself in the future, the lesson you’ve learned should mean that you take your own hindsight advice and go, “Right. Okay, guys, we’re now going to offer this,” or “we’re going to do that,” or “we want to scale to double the size. Let’s do it in this way and go, go, go.”

Duray (Guest):

We’ve got to be bold. We have to. Because if we can’t do it, who else? Fabio and I, and the team, and the tribe that make up Viaduct Generation, we now have full confidence that we can execute on everything. We can go out and bloody to the moon, let’s do it. But before me and Fabio working on our beds, we were like with a couple of thousands in the bank account of our own personal savings. That was it. So we were trying to like, “Okay, can we afford this 200 pound, 300 pound investment?” And now it’s like, well, let’s go. Let’s try it. Let’s fail. Let’s move forward. Let’s learn from it. But now we are unapologetically bold, but I think we could’ve been bolder and braver from the outset.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Absolutely. And I think it’s really hard these days with digital agencies in particular, because realistically it’s a formula business, isn’t it? People go in, clients go in, deliverables come out. There is only a certain amount of what good looks like. And the majority of clients don’t know what that is either. So to be bold, that really has to be something that is mostly about branding in a sense, because the client’s not going to know the difference between you and another agency beyond branding, beyond results. And you can get all of the awards that you want and you can get all of the case studies and things like that. That’s great. It’s really going to bolster you. But being everywhere all the time and having that surface area covered, from a branding and a marketing point of view, that’s where you’re going to get that push, that drive and that’s going to take money and time and effort.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And if you really want to grow with people or you want to grow with revenue or whatever, you’ve got to be bold, like you said, focus on it, push, push, and push. It’s quite important, I think, to reconcile that because I used to do it when I was running the agencies. I used to look on Twitter or LinkedIn and see this agency, there’s 50 of them. And they’ve just won another award and another award, and there’s this and there’s that. And you think, why aren’t I doing that? And then you start thinking, well, actually, that’s not why I’m here. That’s not I’m for. My measure of success is something slightly different. Or I want to grow to this, which requires 50 people, but 50 people isn’t the measure of success.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Those people posting that, their measure of success may not be 50 people and multiple awards, but to get the biggest clients with the biggest revenue, they need 50 people delivering this amount of services and they need the awards. It’s just a byproduct of that, of being out there to prove that you’ve got that. So trying to look at it objectively is quite hard. In the last 18 months there’s been lots of success, there’s been a lot of very quick growth as well. Is there something that you regret doing that you, if with hindsight, would never have done or wish you hadn’t done in the way you’d done it?

Fabio (Guest):

Yeah. There are a few things. Absolutely, absolutely. I’ll give you a couple examples. At the start, we were very much… We signed a contract. I’m not going to mention names, but we signed the contract with a well known SEO platform. And we did that prior to having clients, because we felt like we needed to have something backing our services when speaking to future clients, or when doing research to approach prospects. However, we had no clients and invoices were coming. I do believe that, that was a little bit of a stressful position to pull us in from the very start. But perhaps you also did add that element of we have to go out and get clients. Otherwise, we can’t pay this and we are in trouble.

Chris Simmance (Host):

It lit a fire that could only be satisfied by clients.

Fabio (Guest):

Exactly.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. The fear of cashflow is stuck early doors, isn’t it?

Fabio (Guest):

Absolutely.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And it’s tough. It’s terrifying to see the cash going out, but not being at least topped back up. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. All the other terms of phrase. You can’t grow without spending and you can’t get clients without something in the background that is either driving you or is part of your tool set. So the lesson you learned from that is what? What’s the key thing that you took away from that?

Fabio (Guest):

I would say don’t commit to a contract if you can’t afford to pay it for the 12 months that you signed for it.

Chris Simmance (Host):

There you go, guys. There’s the advice. Everyone on the internet, everyone in the world needs to have heard that advice.

Fabio (Guest):

Honestly, it was a stressful situation, but hey, we managed to come out nicely and now we are one of their biggest clients. So, things have changed. And then just one more thing. At the very start, we had a clear mission and we had a clear understanding of the sort of clients that we should have gone for because we needed that cash to pay for these bills that we are talking about. Our first ever client was someone that was so far away from who we now would have as a client, and that client only lasted with us two months. And as a matter of fact is one of the only clients that left us from the time that we’ve been an agency. So that is another thing I would change, is we perhaps could have been a little bit more patient on that one. Because yes, he helped for two months, but after two months they canceled and it was sad because I don’t know, I’ve got a big ego. I feel like most SEOs do have a big ego, most agencies as well.

Fabio (Guest):

So I don’t really like the word cancellation, but unfortunately on that one, I do have to admit that the client did cancel. And it was because we weren’t aligned anyways. After three weeks he was calling Duray’s phone 10 times a day, “Oh, why am I not seeing more traffic on my site?” Yeah, we weren’t aligned at all. So yeah, that’s another one. If it doesn’t make sense for your agency, don’t take them on just because of the money.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, absolutely. And what about you Duray, is there something that you regret having done, or wish you’d have done sooner, or something like that?

Duray (Guest):

Yeah. I’m a bit of a romanticist. I’m a lover at heart. I wrote my dissertation, not dissertation, what’s the dissertation you do in A-Levels? Something project-

Chris Simmance (Host):

I never showed up.

Duray (Guest):

[inaudible 00:21:31] extended project. You have to write up a little dissertation. I did it on love. Is it like a box of emotions, whatever. I’m a lover and not a fighter, but Valentines day came around this year. And I was like, wow, this is such a great opportunity for us to be creative and to showcase that we’re a little bit different. And I have an amazing writer in my team, her name’s Harriet. She put together this amazing poet [crosstalk 00:21:59], perfect. And we thought, you know what? We’ll be different because we’re an SEO agency and we’ll do it via like a direct mail campaign. So we found 5,000 businesses. We found the right people to speak to and we sent them this poem, which was, what was it Fabio? It was like, roses are red, violets are blue-

Fabio (Guest):

What about free website, real view.

Duray (Guest):

Yeah. We’re not great at poetry, how about a free website review? I’ve butchered that. Sorry, Harriet. It was brilliant. And it had a QR code that people could scan and then go to our landing page. We sent this out to 4,000 businesses, including postage, including data and everything else. It came to approximately a 5,000 pound investment. We got one lead. The data was so bad, it ended up not even arriving. Only 30 people scanned the QR code and it was the most expensive marketing campaign we’ve ever run. And it was based on me being like, “I’ve got this great idea. Let’s do it.” Not leaving it to my head of marketing, and my marketing apprentices, and marketing execs going, “Hey guys, what do you think about this? How does this fit into your marketing calendar?” I was like, “No, Valentine’s days in two weeks, let’s do it now.” And yeah, that was an expensive mistake.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I can see that. I think, the lesson there is know your lane and stay on your lane. Jokes aside, it’s a lot of money to spend, to get essentially nothing in return. But it’s not necessarily nothing in return, you never know. There’s brand building. There’s all sorts of things that come from it, especially internally lessons. And the lessons, I always say that running an agency is the most expensive MBA you’ll ever have. All the lessons you make are expensive. They’re either jobs that have to go, or clients have to go, or nice fancy things in the office that have to go. You just can’t do it all. So making mistakes is expensive, but it’s worth it in a sense. You’ll never do that again, I hope.

Duray (Guest):

Sometime this year or next year coming, I’ll leave to the marketing team and I will call and speak to the people who scan the QR code. But that’s me for from a marketing side. As you say, I’m going to stay in my sales lane.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yep. That’s wise. So if people are listening to this podcast right now, and they’re thinking of starting an agency or they’re wanting to, they’re either at an agency and they’re thinking of starting themselves, or they’ve just started there a couple of weeks, couple of months in. And what one piece of advice would you give them? I go to Duray first.

Duray (Guest):

One piece of advice for someone starting an agency today?

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. Assuming they’ve asked you for advice, you’re not just unsolicited sending them a letter in the post with a QR code that says here’s the advice.

Duray (Guest):

I would say drill down in a niche that you understand. So particularly great. If it’s a niche that is due to explode, whether it’s crypto, or Web 3Vue, or it’s particular aspect that you have some experience in, drill down to that, so that you are able to speak the customer language. And fail fast, go for build up [inaudible 00:25:36] that is like an MVP, just what you need to get your clients through the door. So just build up a little bit of traction and nail that one industry. Go through it all. Pick your top 20 keywords that these clients would love to target and call everyone from page 3 to page 10, and just get an understanding of if this is something that you can truly do. I think there’s a few ways in which you can do it, I think some people take the freelancer to agency route once they get too busy, then they become an agency.

Duray (Guest):

We chose to just go straight to agency and fail faster, but if I was to start again, I would say, pick a niche, drill down into it so that you can speak the customer language and go out and speak to everyone and get 100 no’s. Because after two, three months of doing that, you’ll have a pretty good understanding if this is something that you can do forever.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yep, it’s fantastic advice. It really is. I think the two parts of that, or three parts I suppose, are just get on with it, in a sense, get on with it and do it fast so that the mistakes are less painful, but you can keep going at a pace. Then you’ve got, pick a niche because you’ll understand it and the people that you work with will understand it. And it’s a repeating theme in quite a lot of the recordings that I’ve been doing, where people have said pick a niche, or whether it be a niche in terms of a deliverable, like just technical SEO, or a niche in terms of an industry niche, like whatever it might be. Whatever that niche is, whether it’s deliverable or industry, makes you the experts in it, because that’s all you live and breathe.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And one thing which when I’m working with any agencies and they’re always, “Oh, we’re just not getting enough leads in. We can convert every lead, but we’re not getting enough in.” Go out there, like you say, page 3 to 10, et cetera, call everyone up. And there’s 100 calls in 20 days. Just literally do these calls, smash them through, every single day, 5 calls, 10 calls, 15 calls keep going. And every time the phone gets put down, you know that, that’s a lesson, you change the way you open the next call. Then when you get a no, and it’s a hard no, or you know when you’re getting the commitment or when you’re not getting the commitment and you know whether that’s a niche. Within 20 days, you know if the niche is worth it or not.

Duray (Guest):

Absolutely, yep.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. And what about you, Fabio? What’s your one piece of advice for someone who’s struggled all the way through this podcast to listen to us?

Fabio (Guest):

I like Duray’s advice because it’s very much like SEO focused, let’s say. Almost more from the business side of things, I would say, be consistent and be resilient. There will be tough times. We’ve had tough times. We’ve cried together, we’ve laughed together, we’ve bled together almost.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Okay. It’s really tough in that agency, 18 months?

Fabio (Guest):

Okay. We haven’t bled yet, but no, we’ve certainly cried together. The consistency is so important. It’s very important and if you do decide to do it alongside a business partner, just ensure that you do it with someone that you fully trust, someone that you know if you’re having a tough day, they’re picking up the phone themselves and doing the calls that the Duray was just talking about. I would say, be consistent. Honestly, be consistent in the way you service your clients, be consistent in the way you go out and kickstart your days for the agency. Be consistent in your approach. Honestly, for us consistency, I think it has been the biggest key for us. we’ve been consistent in the hunger. We’ve been consistent in the way we service clients as I was just saying. We’ve been consistent with our team and the values we present. We’ve been consistent with our partners and the charities that we serve. So I think consistency is key for any agency, I would say, but especially for business in general. So I would say that my advice is consistency.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. So if you start something, keep doing it unless you know it’s definitely not the thing to do and then change it by being consistent. I think consistency follows in terms of the values and the purpose as well. So, you can change niche a bit. You can change a few aspects of how you do the deliverables a bit. You can fail fast in that regard, but sticking to the reason why you get out of bed in the morning, why you started the agency off is key. And then consistency as you grow is essential.

Fabio (Guest):

Absolutely.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So quickfire question for you, Fabio. Best thing about Duray as a business partner.

Fabio (Guest):

There’s a few.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Go on. Just one pick.

Fabio (Guest):

Confidence.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Duray, best thing about Fabio as a business partner.

Duray (Guest):

He is one of the most ambitious people I’ve ever met.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Brilliant. Fabio, worst thing about Duray as a business partner.

Fabio (Guest):

He’s too strict sometimes.

Chris Simmance (Host):

That’s the South African in him. Duray, worst thing about Fabio as a business partner.

Duray (Guest):

He’s really bad at taking pictures of receipts.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And there’s the strictness. Yep. Okay.

Fabio (Guest):

He’s not wrong.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I can see which one of you two are the visionary and which one of you two are the implementer when it comes to the business. That’s brilliant. So, I mean, that’s a fantastic way to end the podcast. So thanks very much for coming on both of you, it’s been really good to have you.

Fabio (Guest):

Thank you for having us. Honestly, it’s been a pleasure.

Duray (Guest):

Yeah. Thank you so much, Chris. Really appreciate it. Yeah. Look forward to working with you in the future.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. Awesome. And in our next podcast, we’ll have a different agency leader hearing about the things they’ve learned and some of the lessons that they taken from it. Thanks very much for listening.

 

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