Victories + Lessons: A 2017 Recap from CEO Kenny Nguyen

Below is an excerpt from our CEO, Kenny’s letter to our strategic advisors. We hope that our wins, losses, and lessons can help you to better embrace your creative confidence.

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Thank you all for your support in 2017.

As the year comes to a close, I’d like to reflect on some of our achievements and lessons. The merger between Big Fish Presentations and Hatchit proved distracting (I learned process and culture integration can be difficult) but, this year our leadership team shifted the attention to three major focuses:

1. Improve our processes as a fully integrated team post-merger between Big Fish Presentations and Hatchit

2. Focus our marketing on improving the creative confidence of our community by producing the events that we would want to go to

3. Think big and position TSE as a firm with national influencers interested in our growth and our work

Consequently, we celebrated the following achievements: 

  1. Surpass our 2017 agency revenue goal
  2. Create and launch a growing speaker series with Assembly Required (with three events so far in less than a year with the fourth one – Creatives in Tech – coming February 2018)
  3. Redevelop TSE’s positioning when communicating to external forces on a national level – “sell ideas not services”
  4. Launch a partnership network by supporting local and national agencies to act as a referral and outsource network
  5. Develop a network of strategic advisors with influencers in different industries to advise us on critical growth decisions
  6. See The Big Fish Experience translated into Spanish and Mandarin!
  7. Develop a space for a new office in 2018
  8. Rank sixth on the LSU 100, a list of the fastest growing LSU alumni businesses
  9. Pick up global influencers as clients that include Quantcast, Mizuho, and McGraw-Hill Education
  10. Make Clutch.co’s list of Global Leaders for 2017

However, I actually had an easier time writing out the lessons we’ve learned as a team. Why? Simply, because you remember a punch on the chin more than a pat on the back.

Here are some big lessons we’ve learned this year along with some insights:

Executing an events strategy in your marketing is extremely hard work, but ultimately pays off  

We developed Assembly Required this year to deliver the creative conference our community always wanted. We saw success years ago in executing 99u Baton Rouge, which came with an established brand, audience and message. However, we didn’t realize the amount of work it would take to launch a new conference series that was completely unestablished (not easy with the sponsors and those potential ticket buyers unfamiliar with your brand), On top of building the conference brand, we made the decision to produce an event every quarter (we wanted attendees to benefit from doses of inspiration every few months instead of the annual conference high). Each event is also completelydifferent (we aimed to do a different theme every event with a matching venue). Through this, we learned many new skills, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. However, we recommend anyone looking to produce a conference series to consider their goals, and weigh the work against what their team can output sustainably. We produced three blogs that can help you ultimately decide if events should be part of your business strategy:

  1. Five Reasons your Company Needs an Event Marketing Strategy
  2. Creating Personas for Event Audiences
  3. How To Create Events that empower your audience

It’s much harder to work on the business than in the business

A goal we missed this year was to redevelop our website and it is our first and foremost goal in 2018. Like most businesses, we fell in the trap of prioritizing client work over internal work and we learned to treat major internal projects as investments in the valuation of the company. I want to establish a period in the week to focus the team’s energy on learning new skills, researching trends, and attacking internal priorities. The ultimate goal? A day for no meetings. If some of the best companies in their respective industries can do it, why can’t we?

At the end of the day, your work speaks for itself

This year, we lost two opportunities because we didn’t have case studies and results readily available. We subconsciously ignored featuring our work and this led to some prospects seeing us as, “They seem cool, but what can they do again?” When it comes down to sales time, hearing the prospect saying, “we wish you had more examples” hurts like hell. One of our major goals of 2018 is to release a minimum of 10 case studies and feature more work in our marketing strategy.

Prepare the clients for the long term, not the short term

We lost a client opportunity this year because we let the client dictate the process. In an effort to please the customer in the short term, we really got bit in the long term. We’ve spent years refining our processes and clients we pick should respect and trust us. Our lesson is to be flexible, but to always guide the client in making the best decisions now to ensure success in the long term.

Don’t be afraid to ask for the things you want to ensure the best results

When we started Assembly Required, I was nervous to ask sponsors and community partners for support as we were an unproven conference series. Eventually, when I remembered our focus on thinking big, I started asking brands like Facebook, Adobe, Unilever and Simple Banking to let us use their brands to display the credibility of our mission. As you can see on our page here, all four said yes and this gave me the courage to recruit speakers that I thought we would never be able to get, nationally recognized individuals such as Mark Ramadan, CEO of Sir Kensington’s, Vanessa Lavorato of Marigold Sweets, or Sarah Anthony, producer of The Defiant Ones. All three spoke at various Assemblies and have been fan favorites along with many others here.

To grow with those close to you is much more sustainable

Our original growth strategy was so focused on obtaining new customers it led to a massive spike in sales near the beginning of the year. However, once we had exhausted our network and outreach by mid-year, we realized how unsustainable our focus was and reconsider our growth strategy. We focused on growing our current accounts (after all, it costs way less to grow a current customer than obtain a new customer) and shift in thinking led us to formally restructure our organization. This required us to dive deeper into clients’ current overarching goals, strategies, and team and not every customer is a perfect fit in the long term. We identified that the best customer and partners we grow with are:

  1. First and foremost, those that respect us and our processes
  2. Those that pitch for new business consistently and have opportunity to grow
  3. Those that add new service lines often
  4. Those that have clear strategic growth agendas and clear business goals

These lessons stung but I wouldn’t trade them for anything: they shaped our team into who they are today. However, my eye is already on 2018 and I already know some of the things that I need to accomplish to make it our greatest year yet:

1. More time for our team to focus on internal tasks

Focus on our website and case studies! Creating habits and scheduled time to allow our team to focus on internal tasks/projects can ultimately improve the valuation of the company in the long run. While no-meeting Tuesday or Wednesday is a big goal, I believe it can be done.

2. Improve decision-making process when attacking new internal initiatives

In his 2016 letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos wrote about high velocity and high quality decision making is integral into their culture and success.  After attending Admerica, I learned from John Boiler, founder one of the world’s best agencies 72andSunny, that if you can create a decision-making process that aligns with your vision/purpose, deciding upon new initiatives will be less of a challenge. Check out their playbook here and see how we have adopted their playbook into our own processes

3. Launch a growth committee

One of the things I’ve admired from Etsy is their commitment to auditing their own processes. In 2018, I plan to create a small committee to routinely 1) audit client experience, 2) accelerate employee growth, and 3) hold accountable changes in client experience and employee growth. My goal to have a team to help always tweak our processes and employee growth initiatives will better ensure the long-term growth of the company. This committee will be in charge of:

  1. Hack days – a day every quarter our team gets together to work on internal projects for the company
  2. Implementing change post-Town Hall Meetings [Town Halls are the meetings every other month at TSE where we have open discussions on improvements we need to make at the organization. During these meetings select team members have tasks that they need to have accomplished to better improve the organization]
  3. Manage and schedule Leadership Program within organization [more info on below point]
  4. Meet monthly to audit customer service + organizational processes based on feedback from team and from select customers.
  5. Assign accountability of executing new improvements discussed in monthly audit meetings.

4. Create an internal program that can help develop young leaders grow to middle management and beyond

One of the most important things to me is to identify the potential leaders within the company. In 2018, we plan to introduce a monthly leadership program all employees are able to attend to teach critical leadership skills. We will include teachings from current staff members, outside speakers, readings, and tasks. The result is higher learning budgets for each staff member that completes the course and the opportunity to evaluate their interest in moving up in leadership throughout the company.

Keep me honest on the above goals when you see me and I’ll gladly let you know how the above is going. After all, the real reason why I’m so transparent is that I hold myself accountable  to our staff, advisors, and shareholders on what I say to get done.

The quote I had ringing throughout my mind during the first year we merged Big Fish Presentations and Hatchit was the Steve Martin quote of, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” This quote still sets the standard of how we go about our business in ThreeSixtyEight and always will.

We’re all about making our mark and we’re honored to have you join us on our journey.

Thank you for your support,

Kenny Nguyen

CEO + Co-Founder, ThreeSixtyEight

Kenny Nguyen

Kenny builds partnerships with powerful brands and shares his entrepreneurial tips with the community through outlets like TEDx, Forbes and Huffington Post. He co-founded Big Fish Presentations after hearing the “worst presentation he had ever seen” and now leads ThreeSixtyEight in its mission to help brands rediscover their creative confidence.