Seven secrets to agency success - Q&A with 7thingsmedia founder Chris Bishop
Chris Bishop opened the doors on digital agency 7thingsmedia, or rather his bedroom door as that is where it all began, in 2009 with his £10,000 savings. It was the height of the recession and clients were being particularly cautious with their spend. Now, three short years, the MiNetwork member agency has grown to turn-over £2m-a-year and has entered the lucrative US marketplace, while servicing clients such as Agent Provocatuer, Ted Baker, Liberty of London and Boohoo.com. Here Bishop discusses the development of the agency and offers some insight into the secrets to his success.
1. You launched at the height of a recession, did that ever affect how you set up the business in those early days?
On reflection, I feel it actually assisted the business. From the day the business was incorporated my mind was set on instant break-even and profit. Whilst we were conservative with our spend, we were profitable within a few months of operation and the business has remained profitable ever since.
I don’t look on enviously at business owners who haemorrhage investor cash month on month with conceptual “potential” businesses; I really prefer a true bootstrapped start-up mentality with absolute focus!
2. You’ve come along way quickly, what’s the secret of your success?
Looking back, as an agency we were able to quickly identify a gap in the digital service market and then back that with high quality and passion to demonstrate significant growth for our clients. These brands’ either had a lack of resource, understanding of the digital landscape, or sadly were working with agencies that were unable to unlock their full potential.
In our first year I remember the trade press feeding back they were unable to run our first case study because the sales increase was too high to be believable, as it was 851%. Instead, as it was my birthday, I treated myself to a full page advert in the magazine with the 851 numbers as big as the page. We’ve then since been able to repeat and in some cases better that success for superbrands such as Agent Provocateur, boohoo.com, Liberty of London & Ted Baker.
3. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced so far?
Those few times of doubt. I’d say they happen a few times a year – when all the external negativity gets to you - and you need the support of your family, friends and team to quickly snap out of it and get back onto the world domination vision.
4. You are entering your next phase of growth, what positions have you created in the business to enable to you to take that next step?
In the last year we have close to doubled our team, whilst promoting within. We are building a strong team of highly-experienced digital marketeers to work in tandem with, and mentor high-calibre graduates. Talent is very hard to find and maintain and we firmly believe in the principle of creating an environment for our employees to work to create their own purpose, mastery and autonomy.
5. You set up the business with no external funding, do you think you will ever require funding to grow the business and if so what would you use that funding for?
After three years and a multi-million pound turnover on the one hand we are more the acquirer versus the seller, as we’ve proved the initial acid test on the business model.
The board and I are now looking at how we can successfully acquire so that we can be in a position to better serve our clients and globally grow our business.
That is all based ultimately on our cash position, so naturally if our ambition stretches beyond that – when the time is right – we will review funding or a merger, to become a so-called “bigger company”.
That cash would naturally go on continuing to bring in the best people and building best-in-class technology to exceed the expectations of the biggest and coolest global brands that we work.
6. You opened an office in New York after only two years, why and how has that impacted on your business?
From spending time in the States I saw a thriving digital ecosystem full of gaps and opportunities. The agency already had American clients and based on servicing global UK-based businesses we were able to open up an office in New York to further our offering.
Being able to service global brands locally within the UK and US presents infinite opportunities to the agency and vice-versa. We are able to offer our services in the two largest digital landscapes and have already helped UK-based brands open up digital marketing for the first time in the States.
7. How would you like to see the agency grow and develop in the next three years?
The goal and the vision of the company is clear. We want to rise from a small start-up into a leading global digital media agency. Already being based in New York and London we will let data-lead opportunities for further expansion as we aim to “own” channels and territories.
In the last year we have matured and diversified our agency offering, including award-winning affiliate, display, lead generation, PPC, SEO and social media campaigns – and our clients are definitely seeing the direct benefits. We’ve close to doubled our team, launched our first proprietary software – Affiliate Manager Plus, retained our “Best Agency” title at the Performance Marketing Awards and have recently been shortlisted as the Digital Team of the Year at the forthcoming DADI Awards.