On this day in 2011, I found myself unemployed once again after surviving the recession until then doing ad sales for KIRO TV, Pacific Publishing and PopSugar. I had wanted to be an entrepreneur since I discovered what it was (at about age 13), and I felt I finally had the opportunity to get started on my dream career. After meeting nearly 1,000 small business owners in Seattle between 2008 and 2011, those small business owners helped me discover a need. To fill that need, I knew I had to create a completely new business model for marketing agencies, but at that time, I had yet to figure out what that was.
My business plan was merely a few notebooks full of ideas and insights that I’d been recording for the past 3 years, but I had no better time to get started. So, on this day five years ago, I filed the Articles of Incorporation for Gavroche Enterprises and began 6 months of research and planning that gave birth to a more materialized concept, model, pricing, and the name that would drive it all forward, Marketeering Group.
Since then, I’ve had the privilege of working with over 500 small businesses and their owners, and have employed 42 people over the course of that time. All of these individuals have taught me valuable lessons and made me a better service provider, better business owner, and a better person. It’s been one HELL of a ride.
By the time I settled on the name “Marketeering Group” and drafted our first contract (but before any clients signed on), I had literally spent every penny I had. I dug through my apartment and found an old iPod that I sold on eBay and used that money to buy things at the Value Village on Capitol Hill, fix them up and sell them again on eBay for a profit until I had enough money for a laptop, which I needed in order to get to work.
My first client was Tom, one of my best friend’s dad, who I hit up on Facebook. He helped me refine the idea even further by crafting a service package that works for a restaurants. Soon others followed, and within 2 months I had signed enough clients to not only pay myself, but also to setup an office. Back then, I knew the business model wouldn’t work unless it was at scale, with over 100 clients and about 15 employees. In the meantime, I had to do everything myself, which meant 100 hour work weeks and self education on every detail — conceptual and technical — of how to service the packages. And I had holes in my knowledge. A lot of holes. However, it turns out that if you’re determined, you can figure little things out on your own, such as how to write CSS/Java/PhP/Mysql, manage servers, build and implement localized SEO strategies, leverage social networks, and a lot more.
Once I had more work than I could handle, I put an ad out for an SEO intern who could do link-building. I’ve never been more grateful to luck, fate, God, or the restlessness of a guy who was working from home and wanted a side gig, than I am for the fact Mike Quayle walked in the door. It wasn’t just that he actually turned out to be one of the most qualified people I could have possibly teamed up with, because teams that really make a difference need to be based on something more. When we first sat down, a book on the 1066 Battle of Hastings fell out of his backpack and we kicked off a friendship. It’s been a friendship based on the iron-sharpening-iron concept of competing, yet friendly intellects that look beyond the sterile data and cliches of our industry and frequently descend into debates on the question of human nature, history, psychology, sociology, and all the nuances that shape people and societies. That perspective is fundamentally necessary to truly market to people, real people, real communities, and real networks, not just numbers.
The other secret ingredient was Norelle, to whom I definitely owe all the nauseating laud and thanks that many a husband gives their wife, including “my best friend”, “my parter”, etc. etc. However, in my case, these cliche terms don’t even begin to give justice our relationship, so instead I’ll just say the facts. She’s a brilliant writer, a fast learner, and has a stamina and endurance that outpaces the most committed and driven anybody who does anything. For the entire first year of our business, she helped with the workload of content marketing during evenings and weekends while working another full time job through the day. Just after Christmas in 2012, I received a contract that enabled her to leave her other job in order to come on full-time. So, I drove to her office and she packed up her workstation and said goodbye to ever working for anyone else again. On January 1st of 2013, after 18 months, the three pillars of this company were in place: myself, Mike and Norelle.
To say that “it just took off from there” would be a downright dirty lie. This job has taken a lot of literal blood, sweat and tears. I’m still getting used to that fact now when I look in the mirror I see a man with grey hair, and every single one of those grey hairs is a badge of honor I’ve earned from more failures, frustrations, and challenges on this journey than I can count. But success has to be earned, and I’m just getting started. So bring it on.