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Surround Yourself with Winners with Kevin Lee, eMarketing Association

October 12, 2022

Kevin Lee credits much of his success in the for-profit and non-profit marketing world to the people in his life, so one of his key pieces of entrepreneurial advice is to surround yourself with winners! During this episode, we also get into the importance of making your plans flexible and why “unsexy” areas are sometimes more fun to pursue than “shiny objects!”

About Kevin Lee:

Kevin describes himself as an “inventor and marketing-mad scientist.” He is the founder of GivingForward.org (a cause marketing nonprofit), Co-Founder of Didit (a marketing/tech firm), and CEO of the eMarketing Association (a digital marketing education platform). His innovative work in the for-profit and non-profit spaces has earned him worldwide recognition, and he is frequently quoted by high-end publications. 

Episode highlights:

  • Surround yourself with a team of people who you trust, who you can bounce ideas off of, and who will hold down the fort so you can take a well-deserved vacation every now and then! (05:02)
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of Human Resources and the recruiting process. People can either make or break a business, so being able to “pick out the winners” is essential to success (that’s where the HR expertise comes into play!) (07:02)
  • No matter how far along you are on your entrepreneurial journey, there is always room for growth! Continually seek out opportunities and business relationships that you can learn from. (10:18)
  • If you want to do good as an entrepreneur, you may want to get into cause marketing. When done well, businesses, consumers, and non-profits will benefit from this marketing approach. (23:33)
  • You can’t plan for every eventuality, and you don’t know when you’re going to have your next epiphany, so always be open to receiving whatever comes your way and pivoting as need be. (32:56)
  • Shiny objects may look like good opportunities, but if everyone is chasing the same thing, they may end up not being worth your while. Don’t underestimate the “unsexy” marketing areas (direct mail, for example); they can be the most fun to innovate within! (35:44)

Kevin’s best advice for entrepreneurs:

“Entrepreneurship is the ability to choose where to point your mental energies and where to deploy them.” (05:41) 

Connect with Kevin:

Follow Beyond 8 Figures:

Transcript

[00:01:21] A.J. Lawrence: He and I have met numerous times since. He does not remember, but I remember it. Kind of fun how the journey goes in this. He’s also the CEO of the eMarketing Association and he’s the founder of GivingForward, which is a cause marketing not-profit. And we’re gonna talk about cause marketing quite a bit in today’s thing because what Kevin does is he really just constantly creates these concepts and ideas that he spins up in ways that help people generate revenue for not-for-profit.

[00:01:53] Without just focusing on, Hey, give us more money. He makes it fun. You know, we’ll get into the different things. He’s also just, you gotta read his column. He’s written for ClickZ, all over the place, you know, eMarketing association, where he dives into the various tactics and sort of evolving space of digital marketing and how to utilize that as part of growing your company.

[00:02:17] So no matter what, if you’re looking to build a good company, following Kevin is an amazing thing. But more importantly, he’s just a really giving and open guy. What he’s talks about is a lot of fun. So hey, let’s go talk with Kevin.

[00:02:37] Hi Kevin. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I’ve known you for quite a while. Matter of fact, you even interviewed me at one point and I didn’t get a job with Didit back in the early nots. But even better is after my own company and success, you and I have been able to meet a few times and talk about some of the cool Not-for-profit work you’ve been doing along with agency life in general. So I’m just really grateful you came on the show today. Thank you so much.

[00:03:04] Kevin Lee: Thanks for having me A.J.. It’s always fun to catch up and even better when the podcast is being recorded.

[00:03:10] A.J. Lawrence: Yes. It’s not lot, we can talk anywhere we want. You have such a fascinating background, and just as I was telling the audience some of the things you’ve done, how you’ve built Didit, what I’m really curious to know is where do you see yourself as an entrepreneur these days?

[00:03:28] Kevin Lee: You know, the one thing that’s been consistent throughout the years is that I’m sort of an inventor and marketing mad scientist, right? And so when things pop into my mind, they may pop in for a specific client and solving a problem that they have for a group of clients.

[00:03:44] Or they may pop in for something that I think actually belongs to be a business, right? Either a for profit business or a nonprofit business. And so I have to sort of let those things percolate sometimes for a little while to decide whether that was just a wild and crazy idea that is not worth pursuing or if it’s worth pursuing. I’d have to decide should I try to spread myself any thinner?

[00:04:07] So that’s really the trick is, seeing which things belong under the Didit umbrella, which things should be independent of Didit. The one great thing about being in the agency business and I would say for consulting or business services, it’s the same way that you’re used to sort of spreading yourself around different clients. And similarly, you can sort of spread yourself around different initiatives. It’s all about prioritization and creating a choreography and a cadence that works.

[00:04:33] A.J. Lawrence: That is very, very true. But I still, as myself and then other, I think sometimes we do struggle. I like the way how you put it, where you trying to figure out the cadence and where it goes within the structure.

[00:04:47] What do you go through to make sure that it’s not just bright, shiny object, that there is value to kind of bring into your different capabilities?

[00:04:56] Kevin Lee: Yeah. Sometimes I’ll interview a bunch of folks, trusted folks, around me. Either Didit employees, other entrepreneurs or business owners or clients, and that’s sort of part of the percolation process where it sort of sits there and it evolves.

[00:05:11] Also compare the time and money investment. If it’s something where an MVP can be spun up fairly inexpensively and my gut is telling me that it’s got significant potential, then I’ll be more likely to sort of say, Maybe I need a little less research and I’m willing to go with my gut.

[00:05:31] And you know, part of that, the beauty of that having a great agency with great people is that while I’m still very involved strategically with a bunch of clients, in particular the larger ones, if I take a vacation, I don’t have to worry. They know what they’re doing. They can handle everything really well.

[00:05:48] And so from that perspective, if I’m sort of spending a bit of time going down a rabbit hole, figuring out whether some piece of technology or even new service under Didit umbrella is worth investing in, I don’t have to sort of worry that things won’t get done. If you don’t have that, it’s much, much more difficult.

[00:06:04] You really have to have a fantastic team supporting you to give you the flexibility to go down those rabbit holes and see how deep they are and then decide if there’s something there.

[00:06:14] A.J. Lawrence: This kind of brings up a good question cuz as many of us search firm and now you’re sort of moved into a full service, but also just the description of the difficult, while it is straightforward for you right now, that is the type of thing, building the team, the structure. Maybe we can kind of go into how that has evolved for you as the entrepreneur, how that skillset has changed over time for you.

[00:06:43] Because I always love talking to experienced person like yourself cuz you’re like, oh yeah, we do this, we have a team, we have a structure. And it’s like talking to a more junior, like, how do I do that? What’s the first step? Who do I bug? So how has that changed just over the past 10 years for you doing this?

[00:07:00] Kevin Lee: One thing one gets an ever increasing respect for is the importance of human resources and the recruiting process. Pre-entrepreneurship, when one is on the job hunter side, one sees HR as an impediment, like, Oh, those HR people. All I need to really do is talk to the senior C-level people and I’ll make an impression on them. And you know, I hate these HR people. They’re just a roadblock to getting what I want, which is your dream job.

[00:07:25] Of course, once you’re an entrepreneur and running a business, you realize that the business is all about the people, right? And having a good recruiting process in place and being increasingly better at picking out the winners is key.

[00:07:40] But you also, at least in the agency business, you need to have a process by which you can hire junior people and bring them up through the organization. And we’ve tried and failed it at a bunch of ways and continue to evolve the way in which we do that. And that’s changed within the last three years.

[00:07:56] And we’re still looking for the sort of perfect new formula. But it used to be sort of, we had official trainings and then we went more with a mentorship model, which seemed to work really well. But now that we’re hiring more junior people and there’s an opportunity to have overall staff mixed as in-office and remote and hybrid, we are realizing that people learn more quickly in person.

[00:08:18] And so interestingly, even the candidates, for the most part realize that as well, right? They realized that their careers could probably progress more quickly in an in-office environment so they’re actually looking for three days a week or potentially even more in the office because they know that not only will they learn more quickly there, but I think there’s also an element of being visible.

[00:08:41] So, you know, when it comes to raises and promotions, right? It’s more difficult to know exactly how much value a remote employee is delivering if they’re green and and new. It’s much easier if they’re sort of mid-level or higher. So that’s something we’re continuing to play with just from the perspective of growing and hiring.

[00:09:01] There’s no perfect model. I think it’s different for every company, depending on the corporate culture, depending on what subject matter experts you’ve got, and also depending on what percentage of your SMEs can also sort of pinch hit in other categories, right? Also that particularly the agency services and marketing services area is you’ve got some specialists that there’s only really one thing that they’re excellent at, and then you’ve got folks that are much more well-rounded and can sort of step in and help out in another area.

[00:09:32] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, I mean that is very true. My experience is seven plus years outta date since I sold, but yes, it is that kind of ongoing balance.

[00:09:41] You’ll have a system that works great for a couple of people. But the people you think it’s gonna work with have no success. It is that constant dance to adjust and not chase after that process because it can get crazy. So I like that.

[00:09:57] In kind of looking at how you are growing now that you’re the Executive Chairman of Didit, you do keep involved with some clients, but you are looking more and more at the big picture. Is there anything you look to, to help you grow as an entrepreneur? To help your understanding or your capabilities as an entrepreneur grow?

[00:10:18] Kevin Lee: Whenever I come across a biz dev opportunity where it’s either in an industry category that I’m not fully immersed in yet, or there’s a senior level marketer or a C-level executive that I feel is compatible with both the agency Didit and in particular with me, when I feel that I found that, that’s super exciting because then I feel like I’m learning and growing while I’m teaching and helping.

[00:10:46] It’s a really compatible arrangement. In the agency business as you well know, there are some biz dev opportunities that you chase because you sort of feel like you need the revenue and then there are others that you chase because you think it’ll be valuable for you and the whole team because it’s gonna take you in new directions.

[00:11:06] It’s going to allow you to have some wins, which are always a lot of fun, right? When you realize that philosophically, a prospect is in growth mode or you know, just overall appreciates the help they’re going to be receiving, that’s just, that’s a huge win all around, right? Because then the teams can get excited, then I can get excited and so that’s sort of how I use the eMarketing Association for example, to have opportunities to chat with folks that I might not otherwise have an opportunity to talk to and, you know, overtly sell because I’m really more of the, Hey, here’s what we do when you need us or your current agency screws up, give us a ring.

[00:11:44] Things are so busy now, to some extent we can cherry pick. We can turn stuff down if we don’t think there’s a good fit. So that’s sort of how I’m thinking about it on an ongoing basis. But HR is, is really more the binding constraint on growth right now, I think, than clients. And for that reason we have to be picky.

[00:12:03] A.J. Lawrence: That is interesting because yeah, I mean talent, it’s been very interesting watching the growth of sort of employer-led companies and companies that are trying to craft around the employees. Versus years ago where it was kind of like, Yeah, you know agency life, you’ll get paid well but you’re gonna work 90+ hours and that’s if you’re slacking. It is kind of cool.

[00:12:28] We had the CEO and Founder of We Are Rosie, which is not an agency yet, that approach of building and embedding marketing teams within companies is really interesting.

[00:12:40] Every time you hear someone saying agency life or agency structures are dead, then just a couple years happen until that news kind of settles and agencies are back in, you know, obviously slightly different, but still at the end of the day, the same deliverable becomes popular.

[00:12:56] So that’s cool that, you know, you use the people you’re meeting. Do you have any structure around that or is it something you just kind of open yourself up and let happen based on who comes in?

[00:13:09] Kevin Lee: I have, it’s a combination of both. At the moment, I am trying to add some more structure to it. I just recently hired an executive assistant, which I haven’t had for a while. It’s just a part-time executive assistant that’s a shared person, shared with some other folks.

[00:13:24] We we’re literally kicking off this month to try to add some structure to that. Up until now, it’s been more serendipitous, person I’ve run into at a conference or a person I know I’m going to see at a conference or certainly referrals. You can’t control what comes in over the transom on those, and I think those tend to be good because I find that people who refer us, business, are often former clients, and so they know our culture and they know our capabilities pretty well.

[00:13:50] And so, it’s almost everything is prevetted, right? Not only am I prevetted for the prospect, but the prospect is prevetted for me. So that’s in the case of where I get that kind of referral. But in the case of the eMarketing Association when I do the podcasts there, it’s really just, do these people have some knowledge I think that they could impart simultaneously to me and to the e-Marketing Association audience?

[00:14:17] And so that tends to drive that particular decision making process. But again, it’s ad hoc at the moment, but I need to add some structure to that. So my executive assistant and I actually next week have a meeting specifically around adding structure to that, determining whether I stay within certain categories, whether I rotate throughout categories, and really thinking through that process. So stay tuned on that one.

[00:14:44] A.J. Lawrence: It would be fascinating to hear because I think of myself as a geek in the space, but I know in the couple of conversations you and I have had, and not to go too far into geek dump, but like you geek out much heavier into some of the specifics that I think I now, I haven’t kept my hands dirty.

[00:15:05] But I do remember, I mean, this is four or five years ago now, but it was like you were breaking down some schemas and I was just like, the guy still keeps his game on, which is fun. What we’re doing is so straightforward yet so, so different from how so many people think of how the work occurs or how engagement and attention goes.

[00:15:29] So it’s kind of cool. All right, a little bit of flicker in the background here. Before going off on that, one thing I am really curious because something I’m looking to model myself after is your efforts in the not-for-profit. I was very impressed when we have talked. I haven’t quite built my level businesses, my new businesses after selling the last one, but my new ones up to the level of feels right.

[00:15:54] But like I was very impressed in the type of not-for-profits you were both backing, both industry and truly and then sort of cause based, but then also the not-for-profits you were building. Was there sort of a time period that you felt you were capable or did it evolve? And then maybe dive a little bit into what the not-for-profits are doing?

[00:16:15] Kevin Lee: Sure. Well, as you may recall, my first venture into sort of cause marketing was We-Care, which has gotta be about 14 years ago that I started that. And that was cause marketing powered commerce as an idea. And we were about seven years into that and had generated over 8 million for nonprofits by just using the affiliate networks to generate the revenue and then splitting the affiliate profits between the nonprofit that ourselves and the nonprofit that the shopper had selected.

[00:16:44] And at that point, Amazon asked us to do an A/B split test to demonstrate that there was lift, cuz they were extremely skeptical that people’s behavior actually changed and they really thought we were just a tax on the ecosystem. And we didn’t know either. So we ran the A/B split test and it showed double digit lift in conversion rate and double digit lift in shopping cart size.

[00:17:04] And so you can pretty much guess what happened then. They were inspired to terminate our agreement and they launched Smile. And from a calmer perspective, I’m fine with that. I mean, they’re at a 380 million generated with Smile. I cannot imagine having reached that level in interims six or seven years since they launched Smile.

[00:17:22] So I think from a social impact perspective, that’s not a bad outcome. Obviously, some of the employees that I had to lay off, they disagree with my karma level analysis of the situation. But I continued to be really passionate about cause marketing and I thought I was going to relaunch We-Care or something, either under that brand or different brand when I had the idea of cause marketing powered content about four years ago.

[00:17:47] And so I tried to buy five different domains of defunct publishers and I was unsuccessful at any of them. The most famous of which was, was Gawker. So if you google my name and Gawker, you’ll see the story of me becoming the stalking horse bidder there. So I didn’t get it and Bryan Goldberg ended up wanting it, and there’s a whole story around the auction, but that’s for a different day.

[00:18:09] But what was interesting is, you know, that was quite the journey, and it forced me to really think through that business model and the challenges that might be there. I wanted to hit the ground running. And when I couldn’t buy anything, I decided to start GivingForward as a nonprofit that would be focused on cause marketing platforms. Cuz again, I’m sort of the marketing mad scientist, so I wanna build platforms.

[00:18:29] So the journey there was, okay, I have enough spare time and all of this sort of against these philanthropic activities. While I could write checks directly to nonprofits, I felt like I could never write checks as large as a platform could.

[00:18:44] And so that was why I always decided, even if I failed at a platform, the opportunity to succeed at the platform was so much bigger that while I do write the occasional check directly to a nonprofit, I sort of feel like, well, if I can build something that generates millions, you know, I’m not gonna at the millions. I would love to be at that, the millions direct check writing area. But, I’m not going to get there.

[00:19:07] And so I started GivingForward. I rebuilt the cause marketing powered content technology, which had been based on third party cookies, and so now it isn’t anymore. And I launched GoodBuzz right before the pandemic hit, and of course had to sort of focus on Didit, keeping it on the rails during the pandemic. Though the launch was slower than I wanted, but I was able to test both cause marketing card content and cause marketing powered events with the idea that events are no longer restricted by venue size.

[00:19:37] And so once you go and you can do almost an infinitely large virtual event, you need not constricted to a one event, one nonprofit. You can actually build a system like a Ticketmaster or Eventbrite and let the consumer pick which nonprofit they prefer. So we did a test with that, although it was fully sponsored by a sponsor, so there wasn’t any ticket cost.

[00:19:57] It was a wild success, but reminded me just how much work events are. We didn’t have enough employees for that. And we’re about to try its street team event tomorrow at tomorrow evening, tomorrow as World Blood Donor Day. And we’re about to try a fun street team’s methodology using my latest technology, which is a clone of Omaze and Prizeo.

[00:20:18] But run by a nonprofit, which just sweeps for a cause. So I continue to allocate a little bit of my time. I still put in the 60 hours a week that the agency would typically expect and then there’s a little bit of extra time for experimenting with nonprofit stuff. So it’s enough of a passion that I don’t consider a work. And I think that would be true for both Didit and GivingForward, is you know, when you’re doing stuff that feels so much fun that it doesn’t feel like work. It’s not as exasperating putting in the hours.

[00:20:50] A.J. Lawrence: I definitely agree. It’s the fun part, the growing, and you kind of even mentioned earlier, sort of like the interesting clients. The clients who want something a little bit out of the box or want you to kind of play around with their stuff, their data. That gets fun and all of a sudden you’re not working 50 billion hours, you’re playing with stuff and you know, it’s the other ones that are like, Why isn’t this two Ts? Why is it one T? Why are you bidding 3 cents on this keyword versus 2.5? Yeah. It’s like, oh god, please.

[00:21:26] I like that concept of the energy. Though you started almost 14 years ago, it was this effort to kind of expand out, and I love that you were ahead of Amazon on Smiles cuz I had looked at- We ended up just doing pro bono work on a consistent basis, but we saw that there were some things like even with like selling cookie data and all that, there was like, wow, there’s all these additional monetizations for not-for-profits that tend to be run. They barely have any type of excess capability and you know, finding new ways of revenue. I think that’s pretty cool.

[00:22:08] You said you kind of wanted to not do checks, you had done checks, but was that just something that kind of built up from where you were as sort of the CEO in your own entrepreneurial journey? Or was that something you had kind of seen earlier you wanted to get to, so then you could do more as an entrepreneur? Did it just happen?

[00:22:30] Kevin Lee: It was primarily an outgrowth of being that marketing mad scientist. Along the way, I think it was probably just a confluence of events where right around the time where I could have started to write checks with a couple of extra zeros, I had to decide where do I write those checks?

[00:22:46] Then you start to have to worry about the efficiency of every cause. And you know, you can decide, well, is the formula that Charity Navigator uses, do I agree with that formula? Do I need a different formula? And sort of as I’m thinking that through, I’m really just thinking through the entire ecosystem, right?

[00:23:02] And as I’m thinking about the ecosystem, I started to learn more and more about cause marketing and I just, I sort of fell in love with cause marketing. I said, Well, if we could figure out how to get marketing budgets, which are huge, into the coffers of nonprofits, that’s gonna be way bigger than anything I can do personally. Right?

[00:23:19] And sure, I will do the pro bono work and we’ll have that other stuff that we do as Didit. The more I looked into cause marketing, the more fascinated I was about creating the triple win, which was the business, the consumer, and the nonprofit, all at the same time. And We-care was part of that and I continue to sort of push in that direction.

[00:23:41] We’re running pure cash sweepstakes that sweeps for cause at the moment but the hope is that the second half of the year we start to get companies to donate in stuff for us to sweep off in exchange from promotional consideration, as prize donors. And in that case it looks like a turnkey sweepstakes for them.

[00:23:56] They don’t have to do anything. We take care of the rules, we take care of everything else and it becomes a fundraising vehicle as well. So that was really the catalyst there, right, was this idea that I can do more good as an inventor than I can as a philanthropist.

[00:24:11] A.J. Lawrence: Philanthropist inventor. Yes, coin a new thing for you.

[00:24:15] That is really cool. Cuz yes, sweepstakes, when used wrongly, it’s just spam. But I’ve seen and used for clients, especially when it’s collaborative with multiple brands, you get that wonderful impact and just increase in awareness. That is really pretty cool. Cause it would look pretty straightforward to a typical, Ah, I like, I like. Very cool.

[00:24:40] I think there’s a lot of, no, let’s see. I can’t wait to see it. Please. I’ll make sure you know when you guys are doing that. Shoot it, I’ll include it so everyone, all of our listeners, can check it out. We’ll put it in our socials and put it in the newsletter. When you get your first one out, we’ll include it.

[00:24:55] Kevin Lee: Yeah. Well SweepsForACause is live now with the cash sweepstakes and we just haven’t focused on recruitment of donated prizes because we’re refining our conversion rates where we’re finding our KPIs. We’re testing new strategies around getting the people in the door, figuring out exactly how we collaborate with the nonprofits.

[00:25:15] The fundraising day in New York happens to be in a few days from when we’re recording this, and it’s what’s fascinating about most nonprofits is that the marketing teams and the fundraising teams are quite separate, typically, which is somewhat non-intuitive, right? Because you would be like, Yeah, but the fundraising teams, they all go out there and they get the donations and so then what is the marketing team doing?

[00:25:38] Well, they do overlap in event diagram, but they’re surprisingly separate. Particularly for those nonprofits who exclusively do sort of whale hunting style philanthropy, right? When they look for the 6-figure checks, the 7-figure checks, the bequests, right? It’s a very different process than a typical marketing process for folks who might try to put you on an annuity style donation process.

[00:26:02] And then the marketing team, obviously, is also looking to market around getting awareness out for the cause that is their mission. So it’s surprisingly how siloed they are and I sort of see opportunities to maybe use some of what we’re doing under GivingForward to sort of break down those silos within some of these nonprofits and getting the marketing team to sort of think through how they can collaborate more with the fundraising team and use us as a bridge for that.

[00:26:28] A.J. Lawrence: I would love to talk to you about that offline. But I think this is really, cuz I’ve been, both for the pro bono work and then as a board member of different not-for-profits that did do that whale hunting.

[00:26:41] Just by doing email segmentation and doing small asks from your non-engaged list, we were able to add 25% overall in donation in small donation base, which just gives you long term opportunity to engage further. So yeah, I mean this stuff is, it’s so sad how lack of sophistication keeps a lot of not-for-profits just chasing whatever amount of what they can get for the next couple of days versus more strategic thinking in the space. So I think that’s cool, that you’re building out a whole organization to help them do that is really cool.

[00:27:19] Well, you have a successful, now full service, you’ve done some nice acquisitions in going through direct marketing and adding other capabilities. You’re very active in the not-for-profit space building these capabilities. What does your long game look like as an entrepreneur? Is there like even bigger for you?

[00:27:39] Kevin Lee: We’ve recently had promoted up our SVP of client services to the ceo, which allows me to continue to be the visionary in the biz dev engine. And he and I are actually talking about what that’s going to look like and the speed, the velocity at which we can get there.

[00:27:54] We really do wanna get bigger and bigger. We’ve been doing more and more work for private equity firms and the occasional VC funded entity. It’s a very different engagement in those instances because there’s a mandate for change in particular under PE. When a company is either, you know, typically a majority purchase or sometimes an outright purchase, there’s typically due diligence process that is identified. You know, room for growth, right?

[00:28:21] And so otherwise they wouldn’t bother doing the transaction. And so there’s an unusual mandate for change that is less likely to occur with a typical corporate client, right? Typical corporate client comes in maybe they’re feeling one particular pain point when they talk to me. They’re like, Oh, we think our PPC is not efficient. How much efficiency can you add to that?

[00:28:38] Or, Oh, our SEO has been underinvested for many years. Can you fix that? And sure, there’s always opportunities to add high single digit or double digit, sometimes significant double digit efficiency to those in areas like you just mentioned for the email marketing for nonprofits, right?

[00:28:56] Just by doing segmentation and treating your customers differently and all those kinds of things. Wait, those are all good, good wins, Right? And they’re incremental. Right? What happens typically with something that’s VC funded or PE funded? With the PE-funded organizations, typically they have already something that’s succeeded maybe in spite of itself, right?

[00:29:17] In spite of the fact that they’re not using best practices in marketing or integrating sales and marketing together. And so when you have an opportunity to jump in at that point and deploy both strategy and tactics, it’s really fun. So a lot of our growth, I think over the next five years or so, will be trying to do more in those areas where we’re not just fixing a point solution.

[00:29:40] We won’t turn away the point solution repair jobs, cuz they often end up being the Trojan horse into the organization. And then we end up becoming closer and closer to the AOR. But it’s more fun when we can go in and say, Okay, here’s a top to bottom prioritization of everything you could be doing. We’re not a 100% sure this is the perfect punch list, but we can find out fast.

[00:30:01] And then we can do agile marketing. We fail fast, we fail forward. We double down, triple down, and quadruple down on the channels that are working. And we can think holistically, not just pure last click attribution, direct response KPIs, but really look at the extent to which other media and marketing touchpoints are stimulating curiosity for consumers and causing them potentially to end up in search or in social.

[00:30:27] So that’s what I’d like to do. I’d like to double or triple the company in the next five years. Do it strategically and continue to grow out great team members as I do it. Our alumni base after 26 years, as you can imagine, is all over the place, right? Got quite the footprint of those alumni and it’s been, that’s another rewarding thing about having run Didit for 26 years, is to have watched the careers of our alumni. Right.

[00:30:51] So I’d love to continue to be a training ground for great people. Keep the ones as long as we can, and have a lot of fun as we’re doing it.

[00:30:58] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, I mean, I only had just about 13 but it is amazing seeing the kids who you were like, How the hell are you even gonna be able to tie your shoes tomorrow end up being CEOs of companies 10+ years later.

[00:31:11] One guy’s company just went public that he started. The Blade company that goes back and forth between New York and the Hamptons. I was just like, You did what? Oh, yeah, yeah. A friend was into helicopters.

[00:31:23] There are many great things about doing it, but it’s that moment when you sit there and you say, Oh my god, this person has gone off and done amazing things that get so exciting about it.

[00:31:36] So as you look to kind of grow and you’re looking to grow the company and your capabilities there as a company, are you looking like, Okay, if we get here, I’m gonna expand my not-for-profit? Or I’m gonna go further into inventory territory? Do you plan that or think about that? How does that look for you?

[00:31:55] Kevin Lee: I do think about that. I’ve got a few technologies percolating that don’t really belong under Didit, that are sort of not necessarily directly marketing related. And in some cases, again, I’ll just sort of let those things cook in the back of my mind. At the moment we’re so busy with the launch of the GivingForward platform and with a couple of new business wins under Didit that probably, won’t be able to invest as much time chasing those things.

[00:32:24] You can’t really plan the inventions right, or the epiphanies that you have. Some of them sort of fly into your head while you’re in the shower or while you’re driving down the street or whatever. And I will send myself an email, pull over if I’m in the car. And if I’m in the shower, I’ll just repeat it a few times hoping that it sticks and it doesn’t fly out of my head by the time I get out of the shower. But I just leave myself open to continued invention and improvement in areas that I feel like I know enough about that I can add value.

[00:32:58] And again, sometimes it’s client specific, right? Sometimes it’s just a little mini-epiphany for a specific client. And so I can’t plan too far down the road given that that’s my modality, right? I can have sort of a, certainly corporately I can have like one year, three year, five year plan. None of my longer term plans matriculated, right?

[00:33:20] Cause the ecosystem around us moved so quickly and so unpredictably that, you know, everything becomes a living document that you have to look at again. When we launched Maestro as a bid management platform, we didn’t realize Marin Software was gonna go out and raise 101 million in venture capital and price so aggressively that they had put pressure on the entire market, go public, and then really struggle from a profitability perspective because they had used low prices there, one of their primary selling tools, which just put pressure on everybody who was in the bid management business, right?

[00:33:55] It caused us half the layer services on, which made us look increasingly like an agency until people kept saying, Oh, can you do this? Can you do that? And the only way to solve that was M&A, right?

[00:34:06] I didn’t wanna hire people until I had the clients ready to do it. And so, the only way to get the expertise at the same time as the new business was to do M&A. And I think we’re probably, I don’t know that we’ll do any more M&A in the short to intermediate term, but we took that route to sort of solve that problem.

[00:34:24] I’m not gonna go too crazy down into a five year plan because we’re not gonna be an NFT marketing agency, unless NFT has become so big that there should be an NFT marketing agency.

[00:34:36] A.J. Lawrence: I’ve gotten some private equity folks asking if it could be spun up. I’m like, No. By the time we spin it up, it will be dead or it will be three variations beyond it. The short term gains are all gonna be captured by a few people overpaid and very little. Yeah. I don’t miss that. Like, can we do this? Yes, you can do that, but do you want to?

[00:35:05] Kevin Lee: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I mean, shiny objects, right? They look like they’re high priority and high opportunity, but it’s really sort of sussing out whether or not it really is high opportunity, and of course, looking at the competitive landscape and saying, Well, is everyone chasing this shiny object now?

[00:35:19] Then what are the odds that we actually managed to end up being the winner at the end of that race? It’s almost more fun to invent stuff that is in a non-sexy area. So within direct mail, one of the little tests that I wanted to build is I had the tech team build, a hyper personalized QR code tracking platform for B2B and high end B2C sales and marketing because I sort of realized that in those categories where the Glengarry leads are really, really valuable.

[00:35:51] The fact that a person scanned a QR code for a personalized offer in the direct mail piece was a hand raiser, which is very similar to search marketing hand raising, right? People don’t search unless, Hey, I’m raising my hand, I’m interested in this right now. And so the idea that each QR code on each piece of mail would be unique to that individual and fully disclosed on the piece of mail that they were getting personalized offer.

[00:36:15] And they get to the landing page and we personalize that or not, but at least if that QR code is scanned, tagging the CRM and letting the sales team know, Oh, by the way, this is a Glengarry lead. You know, their cat may have puked behind them right after they scanned it and they didn’t consummate the transaction or the price was too high or they didn’t understand.

[00:36:35] But if you’re gonna call anybody, I would put this person at the top of your list. Make it not creepy, right? Cuz you don’t wanna say, Hey, you scanned our QR code 10 minutes ago, because that’s just creepy. But the ability to sort of use direct mail to generate leads on a little micro conversion as opposed to the macro conversion alone was just really exciting to me.

[00:36:55] So we built the system and it works, right? So is it rocket science? No, it’s not rocket science. Is it sexy? Not particularly, right? It’s direct mail, but it works.

[00:37:06] A.J. Lawrence: I mean, it’s like retargeting and then lookalike audience development and all that. It’s all incremental. It’s an audience that you’re moving from that fictional 1% conversion, when in reality it’s probably a smaller fraction, to maybe twice, three times.

[00:37:24] And it’s the focus of your resources that kind of get you like, okay, now we’re a little bit more focused on what’s gonna lead to that mode, so therefore that much more efficient. I mean, it makes complete logical sense. Dang.

[00:37:39] Okay. All right. We’re just gonna have you sit there and you know, and I know you do this on eMarketing, so everyone listening really, if you do geek out in marketing or you want to kind of understand concepts and stuff, you do have to listen to Kevin on the eMarketing cuz it is, and then on other interviews he does.

[00:37:58] This is kind of the fun of talking to him. It’s like, Oh, and that, Oh, and that, or use this, which is, I think, you know, going a little bit meta is the fun of these things because combinations or utilization of these tools are still, even 20+ years into, it is still pretty young of how to make things work.

[00:38:21] Some of the AI stuff is kind of like overly complex but dang cool. When you can kind of get some combinations working, you’re like that was two weeks worth of work. That just took me a week to figure out the process and now an hour? What? Everyone will have links to this.

[00:38:39] So actually one last question and then I would love if you can share how the audience can come find out about your different not-for-profits, Didit.com, obviously.

[00:38:48] What do you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur?

[00:38:52] Kevin Lee: Well, certainly controlling one’s own destiny is probably the best, or the illusion that we control our own destiny. Cause we don’t really fully control our own destiny, but we at least control the decisions that bring us down the pathways, right? And so entrepreneurship is about that, clearly for me, being able to be in a situation where if I look in my marketing toolbox or my business toolbox and there’s a tool missing, the idea that I can invent that tool right is just, that’s super fun.

[00:39:21] That makes it really fun to get up in the morning knowing that I know how to use all the tools in the toolbox. But if I reach for one and it’s not there, I could probably build it, right? If I’m thinking that tool is important and I don’t have it in my toolbox, there might be somebody else thinking the same thing, and that’s part of why I have a list of basically tools and or problems that need solving that I think about, right?

[00:39:46] Is this doable by me or is this gonna be doable by somebody else? And so that’s entrepreneurship for me, right? It’s the ability to sort of choose where to point your mental energies and where to deploy them.

[00:39:57] A.J. Lawrence: Very cool. Thank you.

[00:40:00] Beyond Didit, we’ll have your LinkedIn profile, we’ll have you talk about some not-for-profits. Where they can find more information about them and how to engage.

[00:40:10] Kevin Lee: Sure. They’re all in my LinkedIn profile, which is variousventures, it’s the ending to my LinkedIn. You’ll see if you look me up on LinkedIn. And so you can get to GivingForward from there, you can get to the eMarketing association from there, you can get to Didit from there.

[00:40:25] And luckily, I have good domains for everything. So Givingforward.org is the nonprofit. And I thought it was sort of a fun meta extension from giving back and paying forward, combining together, GivingForward.

[00:40:39] And there’s several brands underneath that. There’s goodbuzz.org and there’s sweepsforacause.org. But you can get to them from givingforward.org and the e-Marketing Association is easy to reach as well. And that’s where I put my podcast. So we’ll have to flip the script at some point. I’ll interview you and we’ll do an M&A podcast for that.

[00:40:58] A.J. Lawrence: I think as a marketer, you know, I sit there very high picture like, do you have structure? These days, it’s like my conversations nowadays are all the businesses that like, Oh, we need structure to this. It’s like, Oh, yes, please, please.

[00:41:17] Okay, we’ll talk about that. But no, thank you so much for coming on today.

[00:41:21] Kevin Lee: My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

[00:41:24] A.J. Lawrence: We’ll talk with you soon, Kevin.

[00:41:29] This episode of Beyond 8 Figures is over, but your journey as an entrepreneur continues. So if we can help you with anything, please just let us know. And if you liked this episode, please share it with someone who might learn from it. Until next time, keep growing and find the joy in your journey. This is A.J., and I’ll be talking to you soon. Bye bye.

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