Episode 8 – Steve Hyde – CEO Push

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Audio Transcript:

cultureVO 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’ve got Steve Hyde, the CEO of Push. Hi, Steve.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Hey. How you doing, Chris? Good to see you. Good to speak to you.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Not too bad. That’s your radio voice, is it? Is this your podcast voice?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Yeah, it is. It’s my posh voice, yeah. Lose the Essex undertone, I think.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Fantastic. Brilliant. So first of all, Steve, thanks very much for coming along. Give us a plug about Push. What are you? Who are you? Why are you?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

We’ve been going… It’s going to be our 15 year birthday this year. We are planning to celebrate that. The last one we celebrated was 10 years. We started in 2007. We’re in paid digital advertising and we have been in that field pretty much, well, for at least a decade. I think in the early years, we were doing lots of different things. We might be described as full service digital before, although I don’t think the term was around at that point. What we are is very, very focused on spending other people’s hard earned money on Google, Facebook, Instagram, even TikTok, Amazon, so all paid advertising channels. We’ve got very good relationships with those channels, those suppliers, so we do, for example… We’ve been in the privileged position only this week of being identified as one of their top new Premier Partners, so they’ve relaunched the Premier scheme.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Wow. Oh, so it’s back?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

It’s back, and it’s kind of narrowed down. I don’t know the full ins and outs of it, but I think we kind of know where we sit in that kind of very top few percentages of agencies. We’re very, very happy to have that and very privileged. We’ve also got strong relationships with Microsoft, with Facebook and developing relationships with TikTok and Amazon. That’s us. About 50 UK people, mainly in London and then an office in Athens and an office in Dubai as well.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Fantastic. I’ve known you for a little while and I’ve heard of a lot of good things. I remember when the office in Athens was being put together as well, and I remember the heady days of opening overseas offices. Seems you’ve certainly grown with a big push, not to make a joke. Obviously it’s a terrible joke.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Yeah. We have, and we’ve done that all without investment as well so it’s all been kind of just plastered together with Ricky and I making all of the contributions.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And Ricky’s your cofounder, isn’t he?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Yeah, yeah. We met 2005, started working together when we set up Push formally in 2007.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Awesome. Awesome. In the last 15 years, what would you say is one of your biggest successes for the business?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

I think I’d have to say on a personal level, kind of a moment or a day would’ve been when we won the award for innovation in marketing for mobile and that was a global award we were given at Google in New York. There were about a thousand other worldwide partners there, and unlike a lot of awards it’s one you don’t pay for the Google award, you don’t pay and attend some sort of black tie dinner and there’s 20 different awards given out for whatever it is, Hertfordshire’s best search agency, B2B specialist or whatever. I’m sorry, I don’t particularly like awards where you’ve got to pay to get a table and then you might win an award. The Google awards, and indeed the Microsoft awards, are… They’re very [inaudible 00:05:03] in the sense that they’re judged by Google with external auditors as well. We won the European award for innovation in mobile marketing, and then we attended the event in New York. We really didn’t expect to win because we were up against agencies from Far East, South East Asia and we ended up winning. That was the most prestigious moment that I can think about.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I mean, to beat a thousand other agencies… I guess as well because you didn’t necessarily enter to win, as it were, it was mostly down to actual numbers, I guess. Was it something along those lines?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

I think so. I think it was down to levels of spend. I can’t even remember the case study that well now. It’s all a bit of a blur. What I do remember is that we were so modest or unconfident about winning that Ricky and I sat right at the back of the auditorium. [crosstalk 00:06:11].

Chris Simmance (Host):

That’s a power move. Don’t give me that, that’s a power move. Walk all the way past all the others the whole way there.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

No, it wasn’t because it really cocked it up because when they announced us, we walked down and they had to play the music twice because by the time they’d finished the kind of sort of buildup music, we were only halfway down. It really was, it really was… We weren’t… I think we’d have sat somewhere midway, really, but I think we genuinely didn’t expect to win that one.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Okay. Any of those agency owners listening that lost to Steve and Ricky…

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Sorry.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, having to listen to that walk on music a couple of times. If you could go back, then, to the founding of Push and you and Ricky or just you were to go back and talk to the younger, more sprightly, potentially more hairy version of Steve, what would you have said? What advice would you have given him?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Quite a few different… I mean, definitely say be patient and stick to… All sort of classic stuff about sticking to instincts and culture. We were quite set on understanding that we needed to build a culture within the business even when there were just two of us. Where we deviated from that, where we strayed away from our own personal values or cultural values either with potential clients or employees, it didn’t work out well. So that’s one thing I would say. The other, I would probably have… Knowing what I know now, I would’ve been at more aggressive with investors. We were bootstrapped, a difficult… I think we could’ve grown faster with the right investor backing at the right time. It kind of came along for us in terms of generating money and profits coming along really after 10 years. But yeah.

Chris Simmance (Host):

It’s hard to start a business on your own. It’s not necessarily to start it with someone else because you’re two different human beings who’ve had two different upbringings and different experiences and things like that. Are there times when you have both kind of disagreed with a route and come to a conclusion? Because you’re still working together, and obviously after 15 years there’s got to have been times where you wanted to go left, he wanted to right kind of thing. How did you handle that?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Yeah. We do have occasional differences of opinion, but the nature of us is that we… I mean, part of our makeup is we’re both actually quite similar and that has some positives, but it also means that some of the negatives are there too. For example, Ricky and I are not massive on conflict, we’re very typical entrepreneur, we’re sort of kind of all round very entrepreneurial, quite, I think, nice people so we don’t always make tough decisions that are needed in business. Generally, it’s been… Well, it has been a very good partnership and we’re still… Well, yeah, there’s not really been any point where we’ve massively disagreed about the direction of the business. I think we both respect one another’s opinions and we work things through. Yeah, it’s been… I think we’ve been lucky. We’ve been lucky because it doesn’t always work like that, and I know plenty of other businesses that have got partners where they occasionally will fall out or there’s some tension, but we’ve been fortunate we’re not in that position.

Chris Simmance (Host):

That’s a really good thing. It’s definitely hard to do. There’s an agency that I’ve been supporting that have five founders, which it depends how friendly you can be, but my prediction is that in a year there may be three or two founders just because they are very different people, met in university, creative guys. If you know that you’re similar enough that you can get along with each other, but also aware of your differences, it’s a little bit easier. But yeah, I think to go 15 years with the growth that you guys have had and the successes that you’ve had, it’s obvious that you’re a really good partnership.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Yeah. I mean, reflecting as well on the question earlier about what we might have done different is understanding our weaknesses and addressing those earlier on by bringing in the right people to support us. One of the things that we weren’t great on was classic not being… Really starting lots of different projects, but not following up as well and not being that kind of complete to finisher. One of the guys we introduced in 2016 has really helped cement that part of the business within Push, so that will be something else that I would’ve done a little earlier.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Awesome. I mean, the numbers speak for themselves, don’t they? Regrets are one thing, successes are another thing and you look at the good column more often, I suspect. That being said though, is there something that you have both… You’ve sort of alluded to one of the potential things, but is there anything other than the maybe taking of investment sooner that you kind of regret you hadn’t done sooner, or is there something that went wrong that you learned from early on?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Yeah, there are examples of… I think a good example would be Ricky and I built… We work on a lot of trust with our team and with ourselves, so we’re not… For example, Ricky and I aren’t checking relentlessly whether or not I’ve taken six days more holiday than he has or so on, so we’re very trusting people. There were examples in the early years where we had agreements with clients based on additional growth that we might drive for them where we would receive bonuses or revenue share or something like that. We had examples where they’d say… Despite us having made people millionaires in certain businesses, they didn’t do the right thing. I would say be very wary of people that perhaps don’t have the same values as yourself, which I think I alluded to earlier. We’ve now become a bit more… Well, a bit more contractual, really, with clients, but in the past where we had relationships and driven amazing growth it hasn’t always been reflected in what Push have earned out of that relationship. But that’s, like I say, I think we’ve learned from that now.

Chris Simmance (Host):

That happens more often than not in quite a lot of agencies, especially as they’re growing. Some things feel like the right thing at the time, and it might bite you on the butt. Sometimes you might do it two or three times, be bitten on the butt a few times, but it can be hard. The kind of promise of something on the delivery of something is often a red flag these days, I think.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Yeah. It’s hard saying no sometimes, and so one of the things that I think is linked to that, Chris, is that the opportunities that we should have jumped at or we ought to have jumped at in, say, 2014, which we did, if those opportunities come around now we still… We’ve not necessarily found it easy learning how to say no. As you grow, you should be turning down opportunities that you would’ve taken on two years ago. You should be now thinking, “Well, are they the right ones still for you?” You have to kind of go through that diligence and sense check that you’re still taking on the right opportunities.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. I guess listening to your team is quite important at that point, isn’t it? Because if you’ve hired the right people and they fit the values and the culture of the business, they’ll also be able to give you the early warning signs if it’s been missed at pre-sale point of view.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

That’s right.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Sometimes, it’s not necessarily the person that you’re selling to that you’re dealing with, which can also be part of a problem because there may be a time when your sales guys are not talking to the people that… They just might be talking to procurement people. The person at the end might still be a bit of a not so nice person. Equally, it could be the other way round, the procurement people might not be that nice and the people you work with actually might be nice. It’s very hard, and I think that sometimes listening to your team is a skill that you learn along the way. Early doors it’s, “I know best.” Later on it’s, “Tell me everything.”

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Chris Simmance (Host):

If there were anyone listening now that’s considering opening their own agency in the future, be it paid, be it organic or just general media, if they were looking to open an agency, what kind of piece of advice would you give them. If they were just open to one piece, what would you say?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Specialization. I think understanding that the market now… When we first dabbled in Google advertising in 2005, even before we set up Push, we were trying to be the jack of all trades, partly because at the time I think businesses weren’t that sure what worked in digital marketing. Was it SEO? Was it email? Was it conversion rate optimization or PPC? But I would say now if I was starting again, really focus, specialization. The specialization can cut across both the discipline and it could also cut across certain verticals or even international markets. You could be, I don’t know, that Amazon specialist for, I don’t know, the healthcare sector or even for, you know…

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

… supplements or something like that. So that’s what I would say is the single biggest thing, and on businesses that I see that are maybe struggling are too diversified in their service offering and their verticals.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s funny, isn’t it? I’ve been told that a few times in the course of these recordings, and it’s interesting that the people I’m speaking to are saying this but you don’t see it in the wider market. Look at your competitors, look at general digital agencies. If you go into Google and search for paid media agency, you’ll look at your competitors and they’ll be vastly different and offer multiple services in multiple different places, they just happen to have a landing page for what you do. But we’re all saying it. I think maybe there’s no necessity to specialization, however the real win in the long term is to be doggedly focused on something that you’re excellent at.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Yeah.

Chris Simmance (Host):

If you’re really good at selling, sell everything. If you’re not good at keeping clients, then you’re going to struggle later down line though, that’s for sure.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

Yeah. Totally.

Chris Simmance (Host):

If you look back through all of the things that you guys at Push have done over the years in terms of building the business, what do you think’s been one of the most powerful growth tools? I don’t want to use the word hacks, but one of the things that you’ve done that has really worked well that if you’d have known it worked that well, you’d have done it sooner? Or is there something that’s really been the thing that’s helped grow?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

I mean, I’ve already talked about focus. When we switched focus heavily into PPC in 2012, we really saw our business grow. I’ve talked about that, so another one I would say is actually, funnily enough, spending money on marketing and understanding, believe it or not, the cost for acquisition of a new customer and the lifetime value. It can get murky sometimes, but when we… There was a stage where in that period of real growth, our cost for acquisition of a new client was about 700 quid and the lifetime value was about £7000 or so in fees. This is going back some time, but really knowing that is very helpful because what that did, Chris, is it allowed us to be much more aggressive. At one stage, I would say round about the 2014, 15, maybe even a little bit before, we were the biggest spenders of Google UK for the phrase Google agency or PPC agency or all those kind of phrases. We were really big spenders, and that really powered our growth then.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Would you do that now that it’s like 50 quid a click?

Steve Hyde (Guest):

You know what? Funnily enough, we got out of the habit of really knowing in granular detail the source of new customers as well as we would like, so that’s something we’re trying to address right now. I guess 50 quid a click… I think it, again, comes back to understanding your numbers and what the ROI is. One thing that I would say that we have seen is that it’s still possible to go into other international markets where they’re, to some extent, behind the UK and it’s not £50 a click and there’s a ROI kind of ratio that is more favorable. That’s something that’s worth considering, but I think, again, it comes down to knowing your numbers and knowing the return that you’re going to get.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. I think you do a lot internally around the training and building up of your team, don’t you? There’s a lot of…

Steve Hyde (Guest):

[crosstalk 00:21:55].

Chris Simmance (Host):

… time, energy, probably money and focus goes on your people. I know that when you go to hire people, it’s mostly about the culture, in a sense, at that point because you’re finding out, “Do they get the job? Yes. Do they want the job? Yes. Are they able to do the job? More or less.” Then you spend a lot of time helping them do well, and a lot of career progression in the agency. I think that’s got to be a big positive as well because you’re not necessarily spending as much on the churn of staff, I guess, over time.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

No, that’s right. We’ve found it very difficult to recruit the kind of right type of talent in market, as everyone does, I think, so we focus very hard on graduate recruitment assessment centers which we run, which we’ve built our own kind of process internally for. Then we train people relentlessly, so even people that have been with us for a few years are being trained. Literally every week there’ll be a significant training session, sometimes several hours on a Friday. There’s a lot of times continuous learning. It’s fast paced and we’re trying to assess people and their ability to learn, their curiosity and how resilient they are because, as you know, it’s a very fast moving environment that you can’t…

Chris Simmance (Host):

It really is.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

It’s not one to kind of just sit with your feet up and expect the effort that you put in today to be good enough in a year’s time.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, no, growth needs challenge and challenge comes in droves in digital agency land, not just for the leaders but also for the teams as well. Thanks very much for coming along, Steve. Really good to chat to you again.

Steve Hyde (Guest):

You’re welcome.

Chris Simmance (Host):

In the next podcast, we’ll have an equally awesome digital agency owner, maybe even better than Steve, who knows. They might have won an award that Steve didn’t. But thanks again for coming, and thanks very much for listening to everybody else. Speak to you soon.

 

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