You can find Charlie on LinkedIn or Twitter. This is our recent interview with him, as part of our Kinsta Kingpin series.
Q1: What is your background, & how did you first get involved with WordPress?
I started my career as an executive consultant in the financial services industry typically serving as a hybrid business and technical teams. I spent 10 years in the corporate world leading large-scale financial systems implementations of projects ranging from 1MM to 500MM in budget for companies such as JPMorgan Chase, Accenture, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and GE Capital.
In my early twenties, I had an entrepreneurial itch that led me to launch a consulting & staffing firm. It did quite well and allowed me to travel extensively around the world and invest in other companies. Eventually, I partnered with others on various ventures and investments ranging from sports facilities to franchising to Internet startups. Being a serial entrepreneur, I’m currently juggling a few companies that include 99 Robots – a digital marketing and WP development agency, Triberr – a content & influencer marketing SaaS, and JuiceTank – a startup incubator.
I got involved with WordPress out of sheer necessity. Frankly, I was tired of paying others to build websites. In 2008, my partner and I launched a theme shop, which immersed me into the WordPress ecosystem. Nowadays, our agency is focused primarily on WordPress development and develops plugins for marketers and publishers.
Q2: What should readers know about 99 Robots, & what kinds of clients are a good fit?
Our team is a mix of marketers and developers so we compliment the needs of our clients extremely well. We have folks on the team that manage millions of dollars in advertising budgets and developers who have worked on both open source and premium products used by thousands of sites. We’re a small team that gets more done in less time than much larger agencies.
For our digital marketing services, our clients are both large and small ranging from industries such as financial institutions, real estate, home services, consumer products, and personal brands (coaches, authors, info products, etc.).
For our WordPress development services, our clients range from large online newspapers and magazines to corporate brands.
The common denominator between all our clients is that their biggest revenue channel is their website. Therefore, we don’t have to educate them on why it’s important to invest in in marketing and technology.
Q3: What should readers know about JuiceTank, and what kinds of customers are a good fit?
JuiceTank is a 3-part company that offers the following:
- Startup Incubator
- Coworking Space
- Consulting Services
We see approximately 500 startup pitches every year, and either invest or strike a deal with only a handful.
The ideal fit for JuiceTank is a startup that has a strong team with a track record or unique advantage in their respective market, and some form of traction such as revenue, users, or customers. However, our coworking space is open to anyone seeking an open, energetic, and collaborative work environment regardless of whether we invest in them or not.
Q4: What challenges did you face in building your agency?
I’ll list the biggest challenges we faced, and what actions we’re taking to address them:
Revenue Peaks and Valleys – Agency life is filled with financial ups and downs. It’s difficult to run a business when you don’t know how much you’re bringing in next month or the following or this year. Therefore, we’ve consciously tried to focus on retainer-based projects as opposed to one-time transactions. This applies not only for marketing services, but also our web development and support packages. Additionally, we use our idle time to build WordPress plugins or SaaS products that bring in additional recurring revenue.
Saying No – Like many agencies, sourcing enough clients is critical. However, it’s important to calculate the cost of engagement, as some projects or clients can quickly become financial or time liabilities. We’re now adamant about saying ‘NO’ to projects that simply do not meet our financial metrics, company goals, or interests.
Too Broad – In fact, most agencies struggle with this challenge because they offer too many services. Guilty! While we’ve eliminated certain offerings, I’d love to narrow our services further. Focus!
Q5: Did anything surprise you during the process of growing it?
The one thing that most agency owners don’t realize until it happens is the power of partnerships. In fact, we have an internal initiative to create more agency and referral partnerships before year-end. More than 50% of our clients come from referrals. Total cost = zero ☺
If I had to do it all over again, I’d start with this first before pursuing or spending on content, social, or inbound marketing.
Q6: Since you run Juice Tank, what tips do you have for those looking to raise money?
Here are 3 tips based on what I’ve seen over the years:
Tip #1 – Revenue, Users, and/or Customers – Pick One!
I created a poster for our space that reads:
“It’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen.”
Investors don’t care much about ideas, yet most founders raising money focus on that alone.
Everyone has a library of ideas. Unfortunately, almost nobody takes action on them. As an investor, I look for the ability to execute on the idea. Said differently, show me that you’re capable of any of the following:
- Generating Revenue – demonstrates team’s financial competency
- Generating Users – great app? Show me that you’ve acquired users without breaking the bank and that user base is actually valuable.
- Generating Customers – proves someone’s willing to listen and pay money
Don’t start raising money until you have traction on one or more of the above elements.
Tip #2: Know Your Math
Many founders raise money but don’t know their own numbers. When you’re raising money, you have to be financially knowledgeable about your business as well as your industry. Lacking solid answers to the following questions is an immediate deal-breaker:
- How much are you asking for?
- How did you come up with that amount?
- How much do you spend per month? (i.e., burn rate)
- How much time will X dollars of investment buy you?
- How will I get 10x ROI as an investor?
- Why invest X dollars in your company vs. your competitor(s)?
Surprisingly, more than 50% of startups can’t provide substantial, data-backed responses to such questions.
Tip #3: Avoid Raising Money
I find that some companies raising money do not actually need to raise money. In fact, many of them would be better off engaging an industry expert or spending that same amount of time getting more customers. Raising money becomes a full-time job for one or more of the company’s leaders. So if you can avoid it, spend your time elsewhere. If you cannot scale your team or business beyond your current position, raising money makes a lot more sense.
Q7: What do you enjoy doing when you’re away from your laptop? What countries have you traveled to?
Coincidentally, I’m responding while in transit to Montreal, Canada. I’ve had the good fortune and opportunity to travel to over 70+ countries. Whether backpacking in Myanmar or bungee jumping in New Zealand, or sightseeing in Jordan or Brazil, the world’s a small place nowadays.
When traveling, I try my best to stay away from the laptop. Though, I admit that’s difficult. If I had to do it all over again, I’d visit fewer countries but spend more time immersing myself in the local scene, making friends with the local people, and learning the language. That’s my idea of traveling.
Q8: Who should we interview next, and why?
I’ve been impressed with the folks over at Freemius. They’re doing creative things and really nailing product development and content marketing. Give Vova Feldman or Kobe Ben Itamar a shout.