What types of services does Rocket 55 provide?
Rocket 55 is a full service digital ad agency, primarily providing Web Design, SEO and internet marketing services.
What inspire your to found Rocket 55?
I have a background in sales and marketing. The Internet has always fascinated me, particularly in how it could be used for marketing. Around 2005 I became deeply involved with Search Optimization and felt it would result in a paradigm shift when it came to how companies reach prospects and customers. I had worked with several web agencies through my career in sales and marketing, and observed a lack of solid business strategy behind what was quickly becoming the primary channel for communicating a company’s value statement. I felt I could make an impact by starting a firm driven by strategy as defined by a business’s financial goals. I did and still believe that everything from design, messaging, and selection of marketing channels should be driven by this strategy and not the other way around.
How did you fund your startup?
I started the company in my apartment and grew it, as cash flow would allow. Around two years in I started getting approached by potential investors. It was very tempting to take venture capital and make a big push in accelerating growth. In the end I chose to continue to self-fund the business and even now I put a great deal of revenue back into it. I believe that I could have been bigger revenue-wise if I had taken on investors, but I did not want to give up equity or have someone telling me what I could and couldn’t do. Six years in I feel like I made the right choice, we have maintained a steep growth trajectory, experienced stable revenue, and I still control the direction we are moving.
What surprises or bumps in the road did you run into while launching and growing your business?
For the first two years I think everything was tougher than I originally expected. Acquiring new business and making sales is always the toughest part of starting a business from scratch. What surprised me the most in later years was how difficult growth can be. I went from a small client list and doing work myself to needing to hire talent. So I would say for me, being able to scale in a way that does not erode profit was a very big hurdle. You always need that next employee to get the next level of clients, and it is often hard to write the check for that employee until you have landed those clients. So it is a double-edged sword, but hiring the right talent is key to breaking the barrier from very small business to something that is scalable.
Tell us how you got your first customers, and how has that changed now?
In the early days we relied on old-fashioned prospecting. We cold called and talked to friends and business colleagues. In later years our own efforts in search marketing opened up a pipeline to new clients. We are now picky about who we take as clients. We look for long-term partnerships with solid businesses. There is a huge opportunity cost in bringing on a new client and we want to make sure they are a good fit for us over a long period.
Tell us about your future expectations for Rocket 55?
I am always pushing in every respect. I never coast, and wake up each morning ready to do battle. I always want what we are working on in the now to be the best we have done. You need that mentality to succeed in the digital industry. Digital moves quickly and SEO specifically, extremely fast. I tell my SEO team that to be great they have to embrace chaos. You never know what is coming down the line, but to be great you have to be tuned in to what is happening in your industry and make adjustments quickly. I also do not advise people to get stuck or overly focused on what digital channels they are working with. Solid marketing strategy is key: the channels may change tomorrow, and you have to be prepared to make that shift.
Tell us what you learned that you would now do differently, had you known ahead of time.
I would have spent more time stepping back from the business and building processes that guide how things get done. I think that some of our growing pains came from the fact that we were reactive rather than proactive to problems we came up against. Again some of that comes with the territory, but I now see the value in business elements like contracts and process.
Tell us what advice you would give to new start-up entrepreneur thinking about a start-up.
I think any good entrepreneur needs to be adaptable. You need to be able to shift gears quickly and expect that road blocks are going to pop up all along the way. I also think that you need to wear many hats in the beginning. You will want to spend your time doing what you do best, but when you are understaffed, as most startups are, you need to have the work ethic and humility to do whichever role is needed at the moment. Later on that will be an asset. In the beginning I did pretty much everything myself, and now as I hire for those roles I know what skill sets will be needed to do any job within my company.