Episode 34 – Matt Bennett – Exited Agency Founder OKO

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Audio Transcript:

VO Guy:

Hello. And thanks for coming along to, and we have an office doc, 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 success and where they’ve learned some hard lessons. All will be revealed with your host Chris Simmons, 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 Matt, the founder of OKO and recently exited founder indeed as well. How are you doing?

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah, I’m doing well. Thanks, Chris. How are you?

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

All right. Thank you. It’s a lovely sunny day. Hopefully you listeners, when you are listening it’s sunny. We’re both in a bit of a bouncy mood because of the sunshine today aren’t we?

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Always, I definitely don’t get fed up when it’s rain and drizzle the whole time, but no it definitely makes a big difference doesn’t it?

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah, exactly. So normally at the beginning of the podcast, I give you an opportunity to give the agency to see a plug, but I think it’s probably good idea given that you’re recently exited to tell us what you did at OKO.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah, I guess I’m the imposter here. I think you normally introduce it as directors and founders earlier. Yeah I have no agency now. So okay, we started back in the mid nineties. Like anyone doing anything digital then we did a bit of everything. About 2013, we niched down into monetization. So working with websites to earn money through advertising. And we pretty solid name through there. Became Google’s first UK partners on that side of things. And that’s what we did. We websites make more money out of advertising.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Which is what those websites want to do.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yes, very much so. And then when you make more money, they want to make a bit more again. So the weather ends, but it’s good.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

I remember we spoke a good few years ago about things around site speed and stuff like that. Obviously that’s bit of my sort of heritage in the digital space. And I remember we were talking about you an incremental gain in speed and how much money that could make a website owner and just astronomical at times.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Absolutely. I stole a lot of your ideas [crosstalk 00:02:34] put them into our offering and yeah, I guess that was when, probably shortly after we’d niched down really and done the branding change and…

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah that’s about right.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Around that time where we were trying to figure out, we had this sort of rocket ship opportunity with Google and we were just trying to figure out how do we execute on this?

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

What is the thing we can sell off the back of this amazing endorsement?

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

So yeah. Speed certainly became part of it. A lot of it became around managing the ad stack, getting all the right partners in, obviously Google are the gorilla in the room when it comes to advertising, but they’re not the only player in the space.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

And just sort of building it all out as an overall offering for people.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Mm. So in this podcast, typically we focus on what it is that got you to where you are in the agency and things like that. But given that you’ve exited, I think this is a really good opportunity to have a conversation around things that were successful that have you to that point, obviously within the bounds of what we’re allowed to talk about because you’ve got contracts and things like that. So we’ll be careful there. So in all of the years, it’s a long time to have been running the agency since the what’d you say, mid nineties, late nineties?

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. I had this strange moment during the last days of the business where something came up regarding an old domain name and it was a domain name relating to the first website that I built commercially. And I looked at the who is on it. And I went lordy that’s 25 years ago. It was like 25 [inaudible 00:04:18]. And then I just felt incredibly old. But yeah, so 25 years been making money or making my living online. I suppose I was doing a little bit with that. Quite a long journey and not a straight line.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

So 25 ish years. Aside from obviously building a successful agency and exiting, what do you think has been one of the biggest successes over those 25 years?

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

I suppose it’s two parts, two kind of phases to the journey. So for a lot of that 25 years, we weren’t really building anything, we were just doing. It was a very much what people would slightly dismissively sometimes called a lifestyle business. It was better than a proper job, as I used to sometimes call it. Yeah, we had a team and we had a good reputation and we’d build web applications and do what has now become called SEO. We would do that for clients and we did quite well. It was about 2013 when we had that direction change about that time we had that [inaudible 00:05:24] side speed that really, I saw the opportunity to build something. Something that maybe had a bit more value than what we did before. So for the first part of that journey, I would say what worked was just being able to adapt. We had dot com, crashes and bubbles burst and all the rest of it. And the business changed absolutely wholesale changes a number of times. And I think to have stayed in business during that is something [inaudible 00:06:00] proud of [crosstalk 00:06:03]

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

It’s kind of adapt or die, wasn’t it?

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Oh, absolutely.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

A wild west.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

How much do we expose here? So we went from being a digital agency overnight to becoming a, believe it or not, a beanie baby shop.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Really?

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yes. Still okay, nothing I haven’t told everyone you’ve got an exclusive. So you [crosstalk 00:06:23]. We had a client who was a… They did a lot of selling through QVC and that kind of retail. We built and marketed their website for them. And we just kind of saw this opportunity around this one weird product line they had.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

And honestly, at the time when the dot com crash came and suddenly no one was spending, we just took this tiny little project and blew it up into something else. And it probably wasn’t what we dreamt of doing at the time.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

I can’t imagine so.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

But you know what, it became the biggest earner for a couple of years. Everyone stayed employed, everyone got paid and fine. We adapted, we changed and you know what, I learn a lot. I learn an awful lot about e-commerce by actually running it.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

And subsequently ended up running, as part owners doing those joint ventures again on two other projects.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

[inaudible 00:07:32] as well. So every turn there’s an opportunity to learn something isn’t there?

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. Every time a door closes, a window opens or something like that. Whatever the term or phrase is.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

[inaudible 00:07:45] known as the beanie baby guy after this, let’s not.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

I’m going to make sure we say beanie babies, beanie babies, beanie babies, just when the transcription turns up-

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

[inaudible 00:07:53] As well. Because that was built from that. But collectables, it was a bit of a savior for us for a while. But actually an absolute learning opportunity, learned a lot of skills. We did a lot of e-commerce after that. And having been able to demonstrate that, well we sold digitally delivered software, which were really early to that. We were doing that still in the nineties. We did that, we did the beanie babies, we did Pokemon, we got into watches and jewelry as well, these joint ventures. But then off the back of that landed a lot of e-commerce site builds because we demonstrate, look here’s one we’ve built and we’ve managed it and we could really talk the business with…

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. I think that’s quite important from a sales point of view. Lots of agency owners start out because they’re great at a specific thing or they’re great at working in an agency or something like that. Some of the best SEOs that I know some of the best agency owners that I know are the ones that also have on the side, initially on the side, their own things. So that’s their own e-commerce or their own affiliate business or their own, just a blog articles website. Those are the ones that really know it and really know it. Because how many times have you broken a website to know exactly how not to bloody break a website.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah, absolutely. I think that there’s a lot to running an online business or running the online for a broader business. And the more we understand, going back to agency hat as agency people, the more we understand about the business as a whole, the more value we can bring. Because we are not just some theoretical academic possibility for them, we can say, we understand how that fits into the bigger picture.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah, exactly. So if you were to go back, you built a beanie baby time machine and you went back. And you went back either right to the start or to the point where you pivoted the agency, the recent pivot, and you were to talk to the younger, more spritely, probably more head of hair-

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

What are you saying Chris?

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Version of yourself-

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

[inaudible 00:10:10] definitely hairier.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

What might be that one piece of advice you gave yourself?

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Oh, one piece that narrows it.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Oh, there’s so many. I think one I’m very aware of at the moment and I feel… I’ve done a lot of naval gazing since exiting you. End up having a lot of discussions about how did you exit with other agency owners and having conversations around what worked and what didn’t. One I’m really aware of is just defining what you do better. And I don’t mean that has to be rigid. I think you can still be really adaptable and agile having things defined. You just have to redefine them at points. But at any point, knowing okay, here is the end point we’re all aiming for.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

You knowing what we are trying to achieve, doesn’t have to be 25 years ahead. I don’t think I’ve had a crystal ball for that. But even this time next year, this is why we are working. This is what we want to do. And then breaking that down to, okay we know where we want to be this time next year. How does that look for each quarter? And just getting focused and then really importantly communicating that with the team. I think for a lot of the business, I maybe had the ideas, but for some reason, kept them all in my head and didn’t maybe communicate that out. And I think once we got that bit right, a clearly defined goal. I’m no saying we always got it right, but we were certainly a lot better at it by the end. Clearly defined goals, everyone understanding where we were heading, suddenly everyone’s pulling in that same direction. You don’t have to constantly micromanage everything cause everyone knows what the outcome is we’re aiming for.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. I keep coming back to this. I think that’s one of the hardest things about running an agency is that you start it and it’s all yours. You see the cash flow coming in and out. You might not necessarily get a handle on how that works yet. You’re trying to sell and operate everything. And it’s really, really hard to give anything up in terms of information or delegation. But as you grow, you kind of get to the point where you have to do it. And that’s really hard to get your head out of that, I’ve got to do into, I’ve got to lead. And the leadership piece of running an agency, you do have to get people involved and they do have to know what’s going on. If they know what’s going on, then they know the program of what’s happening day to day, week to week, month to month. But they also know the direction that the business is trying to travel in. So they feel like they’re part of something a bit bigger than their individual job role.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

I think there’s two things stopping us do it though isn’t there. I think part of it is by nature a lot of, oh I’d be nice about it, it’s a lot of founders are slightly controlling.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Oh yeah definitely.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

I think we are used to doing things our way and we certainly are able to do things our way, otherwise we wouldn’t have got to the point of bringing a team in. So I think part of it can be a habit or an inclination that we need to break. But I think part of it’s just the time, I think. Everything is always more urgent than strategy, isn’t it? It’s never…

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

It always feels like it, doesn’t it?

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. You never get that ah, we’ve got to get the strategy now in the next two hour or else we lose a client. It’s always the thing that can get pushed back and likewise communicating that out to the team. So yeah, there’s a number of headwinds that stop us doing that as well as maybe we would like to.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah, no, I totally agree. Do you think though, if you went back in time and gave yourself that advice, though, do you think you’d listen to it? Would you have known it was good advice?

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Well, so I just turned 50. So what, 20, 24, 25 year old Matt, I probably didn’t listen to a great deal. To be honest with you, Chris. I don’t know.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

It sounds reasonable. This is a theme I’m hearing in this podcast that most people who would physically seeing themselves from the future come back and give themselves advice, said, nah, you’re not right.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. I see it now, now being the older and supposedly wiser one that people occasionally come to. And you have these conversations with much younger founders and you can see the nodding and you’re like, oh [inaudible 00:14:27] listen. And I completely get that. We have to have a lot of faith in ourselves to start. It’s a big leap. It’s a big risk. You have to have faith in yourself and belief. And you have to be headstrong and stubborn to some degree as well. So [crosstalk 00:14:44]

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. I agree.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

[inaudible 00:14:45] different stages I suppose.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

I think quite a lot of the agency leaders and the owner founder, that I coach and mentor, they have to be ready to ask or ready for the advice. And there’s times when people aren’t quite ready to listen yet. And that’s not their own fault, it’s just the right time. And you know when it’s the right time to listen to advice because you are ready to hear it and you can mentor someone down a path that is suitable for them. And they’re kind of giving you all the signals that they’re ready to listen, and then they don’t do it. And it just becomes a every time you talk to someone, it’s how are we getting on with this thing or that thing? Oh yeah, it’s still on the to-do list something came up this week.

You start to get the picture of maybe this isn’t quite right for you right now. And at a certain point in time, like for me, it was a really hard watershed moment. I was a terrible boss at times. And definitely apologies. Again, I say this quite regularly in the podcast, apologies to anyone who’s listening who I previously employed. As soon as I realized I’ve got to get out of the way and start listening to advice was the time that I went from being an agency owner to an agency leader, and it was a big difference.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

What was your catalyst? Sorry to switch the interview hat.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

No.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

What was your catalyst for finding that out and making that change in the way you worked with people?

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Well, I did a really stupid thing, Matt. What I did was I set up a web development agency that ran concurrently and separately a to my SEO agency, which meant that my brain was context switching between two different sets of teams, two different sets of problems, two different sets of sales, marketing, and financial stuff. So I was basically running two similar, but very different businesses across London and Manchester and at a certain point in time, all of the stress and strain of that made me a terrible person to be around. And I started thinking something’s got to give, and I don’t know what it is. And eventually I just thought I’ve got to work out what to do here because I can’t keep doing it. And also I can’t keep talking to people badly. So I got to the point where I realized it need to get some advice. It needs to be relatively professional. It needs to be from someone who knows the sector. So I found an agency coach to help me through it at the time. And that was the catalyst. Don’t end up killing yourself and be hated at the end of it.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

You do need to get to those breaking point or close to breaking points sometimes to have these big changes in the way you do things.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Exactly.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Exactly. So do you think over the course of all the years leading up to the sale and exit, is there something you think that happened beyond the pivot, where you went into the monetization space, is there anything that you did in building from that point onwards that really did set you up for being able to exit like you have?

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

I think by that point I had realized that I couldn’t be the center of every decision. And that’s a big difference. Building something that can operate much as our fragile egos, as founders struggle with this, that can operate without us and be so successful is a key part of it. So I came up with a goal a few years back of, I’ve never been much of a one for taking holidays and taking time off like so many people [inaudible 00:18:09].

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

And I came up with this goal of, I wanted to change the agency in a way that I could take a full calendar month out of the business should I choose to.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

And I’d had kind of a little weird health scare just before that, which turned out I was told be nothing. Came up with this goal, bought a camper van [crosstalk 00:18:36] definitely wasn’t a midlife crisis.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

You’re painting this as a midlife crisis, but not.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

It does sound like it doesn’t and it? And it may have been. I thought, well look, if I can do one, the business really followed a monthly cycle. A couple of key points in that were really stressful. So I thought if I can get through a calendar month or we collectively can get through a calendar month with me not being needed, that was a real point in the business maturity. And that’s something we really aimed at. And I had this vision of, I don’t know, I’d jump in the camper van and pop around Europe for a while. Which clearly never happened.

What did happen, without getting too heavy. So I got really ill as you know, so I got cancer. That need to have time out of the business suddenly became very rapidly a reality.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Mm.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

And the, not saying it was my awesome planning, because obviously an awful lot of it was the graft and or willingness to take extra things on from the team, the business did all right in my absence. Certainly some of the long term stuff obviously got pushed back, money was being billed, everyone stayed in the job, I continued to get paid, which is, you know.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

That’s the important part. Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Well, huge worry when these things happen to you. So I never, I still haven’t got that month pottering on Europe in the camper van. But those changes we put in place in the business. So just things like let’s actually start documenting stuff. Let’s have a knowledge base with one single place that everybody knows where to look for something. And at least there’d be a fair chance of them finding it when they go there. And just people making a habit of adding to that documentation. Having those processes in place gave us to maturity to do a lot of things and subsequently had something that was worth buying at the end of it as well.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

And so I read a book a long, I say a long time ago, Monday feels like a long time ago to me now. But I read a book called Built To Sell a really long time ago. And it changed the way I thought about the agency as well in the sense that I wasn’t building it to sell at the time. But I thought actually building it to the point in which you aren’t involved in it, whether someone buys it or not is actually a really big thing. Because if you can build an agency where you are not really required to be in it and it isn’t all about you anymore, then you’ve made the most out of people. People have made start of the agency. People are generally happy, because they’re clearly motivated to stay and won’t wouldn’t work hard and you’ve elevated people in the business. But you’ve also afforded yourself the opportunity to put those superpowers to use elsewhere or just potter around in Europe in a camper van, up to you. But at that point you’ve built something which is way more valuable, whether it be bought or not, because there’s a lot more [cross talk 00:21:35] out of it.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

[crosstalk 00:21:36]. Agreed. I think I had a couple of people urging me to look at selling the company or at least consider selling the company for much longer than I really ever considered it. And my accountant in particular, I was lucky I had a really good accountant, who I still have the same accountant, who did a lot more than an accountant role. He was sort of informal financial director. Hopefully he doesn’t listen to this because he’ll want to bill me for that. But certainly paved the way for a lot of that. And when he was encouraging me to, I was often say to him, I can’t see a future where I’m selling. And he would say, well look, you can make a company that saleable without having to sell it. It’s still a better company. And that was certainly, I think I probably expected more to end up owning a company that I was less involved in day to day. That was probably more my goal than to sell. Things change.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

But you know, that was yeah. Totally agree with you.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. So to be honest to me that fits right? You’ve built something which you can walk away from and it’ll still run, you can sell it and it’ll still run. You can do more with it because you’ve got more brain space to grow it. So however you decide to run your agency, it’s probably a good idea to try and build it so that on, god forbid you get hit by a bus or taken to space by aliens or something like that, and it still goes, it still works. It still pays people’s bills. It still helps people get through life.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

And it’s quite important. So let’s say for example right now, there’s normally I ask the question. If there’s an agency owner who’s just started or looking to start out for themselves, what piece of advice you’d give them? But what about an agency owner that’s been building their agency over the last few years and they aren’t necessarily looking to sell, but they’ve been going for a good five, 10 years. What piece of advice would you give them if they asked?

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

I suppose it depends on what they want to do next. Is the goal to build it and sell it is the goal to work less or earn more or yeah. It’s going to differ, isn’t it? I don’t think there’s one piece of advice I’d give to everyone.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

So I would argue against that if I’m going to turn my own question around to me again, seemingly. I would say you’re totally right in that whatever their objective is, that’s the advice you would then potentially frame it as my piece of advice would be seek out advice.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Okay.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

And because, if you don’t know it yet and you aren’t asking for advice from your peers in mastermind sessions or group sessions, or you’re not asking for advice from people like yourself, who’ve been there and done it. And then literally gone through from very beginning to very end. If you’re not asking for advice, then you’re probably missing out on something. So my advice is to ask for advice.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

I’d definitely say that’s something that if I were to go again, who knows, maybe I will, maybe I won’t I’m yet to decide. That’s definitely something I would do different. So I think I have a tendency to hide behind a spreadsheet or hide behind a database and not talk to people. I think for someone who’s been around doing this for so long, there’s not that many people in the industry that I’m in that regular contact with.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Mm.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

There’s a small group, but I’ve never been a big one for events and face to faces and [inaudible 00:25:25] it’s too easy to hide when you work digitally, isn’t it?

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

It is.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

I think I’ve probably in the last year made stronger connections. So [inaudible 00:25:36] it’s now, well we’re two weeks short of a year since we signed the contract on selling. So basically since I’ve sold the business, I’ve probably made more connections that would help the business, which partly might be that prioritization and time, but I don’t know, just different priorities. So yeah, I definitely would. I think I’ve had conversations in the last seven days that had I had a few years ago, I think would’ve significantly added to what the exit was.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. And that’s hindsight for you.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

[inaudible 00:26:15] a lot of that I feel. And yeah, I think I definitely spent too long, we were physically located in a bit of a strange place down on the coast, not that many people in our surrounding area. And I think I personally had a bit of a tendency for, I might say isolationism, but maybe just kind of keeping it to myself and working quietly on whatever we were doing. And I think I would be definitely more collaborative in the way I do things now.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

I think everyone’s got to find the way that they work, and it is very much based on your own personality, isn’t it? If you’d have forced yourself way back then to not sit in the office and work quietly, like you say, if you’d have forced yourself not to do that, you probably wouldn’t have felt that it was right. And you wouldn’t have felt quite right.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

I would’ve felt like I was surviving enough, so I’ve got this weird mindset with work. So my first decade or so of working was in the hotel trade. So I did hotel management and chefing prior to that. So working there was being seen to be present and physically grafting. And it’s taken me a very long time to get out that. I always had the mentality of first in, first out. Look, be busy. And I think anything that felt a little bit, not like work, even if it had benefit, I always struggled to justify a little bit. Things like strategy go aside. Certainly things like building a network that can have massive benefits.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Never really felt like if I’ve stood there with a drink in my hand or a cocktail sausage or whatever you guys do [inaudible 00:28:03], so I don’t know. I wouldn’t have felt like I was working even if I was bringing real value.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

So I would’ve always, if I did anything like that, it would be sort of outside office hours, if you like.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. Fair enough. And so the advice that I would give is ask for advice. The advice that you would give is go and build a network if you feel like you can, I guess,

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. Just being around other people. You can call it a network. You can call it seeking advice.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

But I think just having input from other sources is so valuable. Isolation is always sort of said jokingly. But that becomes it if you bringing ideas in it can happen. It’s a lot harder to get that broad picture, understand where all the other opportunities are if you’re not having conversations. You can do it, but it’s a lot of reading.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah, absolutely. And what lovely way to end the podcast on with some great advice there. So thanks very much Matt, for joining me today.

𝗠𝗮𝘁 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗻𝗲𝘁𝘁 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

No, thanks for having me.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

And on our next podcast, we’ll have a different agency leader to tell us about their story and where they got to and what they’ve learned. So thanks very much and enjoy listening.

 

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