I'm putting my podcast 0-100 on a pause. I hope to continue these podcast interviews after the worst of the COVID-19 situation is behind us.
While this pause is unfortunate, it's still a great opportunity for me to look back at the past interviews and see what I have learned from them.
0-100 is a podcast about how to start a digital consultancy or an agency. I interview founders of Finnish agencies (in Finnish) and ask them how they got started on their journey. You can read more about the background of the podcast here.
Here are some of the main lessons I learned so far from my interviews.
Your network is your biggest asset when starting...
The initial growth engine of almost all the companies I interviewed was the founders' personal networks. Before you get your first customer references, you will end up contacting the people – mainly friends and old colleagues – who already trust you and know your work. It almost seems like one of the variables with most impact in your company's success equation is the size and influence of your current network.
If you can't rely on your network to bring in projects for the first year of operations, you should probably start building relationships now and consider starting your company later in the future.
...but cold contacting can still work
While it's easier to find new business and employees using your personal network, Wunderdog and Motley are both great case examples of the value of cold contacting (contacting people who you don't yet have any professional relationship with). Wunderdog's CEO Mika Viskari found his co-founders using LinkedIn and contacting roughly 200 people he didn't know before. When Motley was still starting out, it got Finland's national public broadcasting company Yle as its client by relentlessly cold calling people and suggesting possible projects to them.
When you find your "why", marketing becomes easier
One of the youngest companies that was featured on 0-100 is Mavericks – a software agency of around 15 people. Instead of having a cool office and lots of fun employee perks, Mavericks tries to minimize its fixed costs and maximize salaries as best as it can. This approach has allowed Mavericks to differentiate themselves from other software agencies in terms of recruitment.
Jouni Jaakkola, founder of Mavericks, told me that in the previous agencies he had worked at, standing out among other software agencies with similar names and vision statements was a big challenge. Now with a very clear and different value proposition Jaakkola has a much easier time marketing his company both to employees and customers.
Running a consultancy can be fun
There are some inherent downsides to agencies and consultancies compared to product companies: you can't scale your business and you constantly have to adapt to your individual clients' needs. Because of this, I always thought that running an agency is much less fun compared to running a product company. However, after interviewing the founders of Kisko Labs and Coventures (who have professional experience from product startups), I learned that the huge pressure venture-backed startups have to grow can make your work life much more stressful in a startup than in an agency.
Also, to avoid difficult customer relationships, you can do what the marketing agency Unfair does and allow yourself to say no to clients who are not a good fit for your company.
What doesn't bankrupt you makes you stronger
Many businesses are currently going through difficult times due to the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19. If you are working at a startup or a younger company, your company history up to this point might have been a story of continuous growth of revenue and profits. Maybe you're worried what the current crisis will do to your company culture that's so used to never-ending success.
If you are able to make it through the storm, your company might be better off in terms of strategy and culture than it was before the crisis. For example, digital agencies Motley and Kisko Labs have at one point had to sail through troubled waters only to come out stronger in the other end.
You can find the feed of 0-100 at nollaviivasata.fi. Here are links to the interviews mentioned in this post: