As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing JB Kellogg.
JB founded Madwire at 28 years old and grew the company to 500+ employees. With over 20,000 SMB clients, JB knows small business, and small business marketing. JB has been on a number of industry-focused panels and podcasts, and offers a unique understanding of the SMB space. He boasts vast experience with B2B and B2C marketing and truly understands the struggles and opportunities that small businesses face today.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My dad and I founded Madwire in 2009 when I was 28 years old, in the midst of a recession. We knew small businesses were going to need to jump on the digital bandwagon, and fast, if they wanted to grow. We started Madwire with a mission to help small businesses grow, and that mission has held true ever since.
Since 2009, we’ve grown the company to over 100MM+ in revenue and over 500+ employees. We currently have over 20,000 active SMB clients in over 100 industries around the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
A funny memory that comes to mind is searching for answers on Google, in real-time, as I was on client calls when they’d bring up things I was not familiar with yet. I remember the first time a client asked me about SEO and I frantically searched the meaning and then sold them on adding SEO into their monthly marketing plan without even missing a beat. The lesson I learned there is don’t be afraid to sell things you don’t know how to do yet when you’re first starting out. Capture the revenue and figure out the details later.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I listen to business, leadership, and marketing related content often. I enjoy adding videos to my “Watch Later” playlist on YouTube and streaming that content on my drive daily to and from work. I’ve learned a ton with that process over the years. I actually created a YouTube video which walks you through that process if you’re interested — https://youtu.be/_J174yC8xtM. Outside of that, the book Good to Great had a big impact on me early on.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
From the beginning, our mission has been to help small businesses grow. We feel there’s no greater impact we can have on the world than doing that one simple thing. Businesses fuel our economy, provide jobs, put food on tables, fund charities, put kids through college, the list goes on. Our vision to do that is to provide businesses with best-in-class business management and marketing technology and dedicated talent. Everything a small business needs to grow and succeed. I have no doubt purpose driven businesses are more successful because they have a deeper meaning behind their work. They understand their “why”. And when you understand the meaning and impact of your work, it gives you the perseverance to push through when times get tough.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Behind our mission and our vision we have a core principle that runs through our company in the form of our company motto which is: “Execution excellence is our standard and our standard is non-negotiable”. This reinforces all our company values, but also ecompasses everything between the gaps. It means to always do what’s right and never do what’s wrong (even if the right way is harder). To not be afraid to step outside of your job description. To carry a standard of excellence in all areas. To go the extra mile. To never repeat the same mistake twice. To be accountable. To put “we” before “me”. With this principle at the core of our culture, it has helped us continue to stay ahead of the curve and maintain a standard of excellence through the ups and the downs.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My wife and I have three kids still in grade school, who have all been stuck at home. That can be challenging. Thankfully, my wife is an all-star and has done a great job with helping them through online schooling and keeping them entertained. But it’s a lot to deal with so I’ve tried to do my best to give her some quiet time and breaks in the evening while also running the kids through some after dinner activities. It’s been fun, but cutting the emotions of a hard work day off at the door and putting on a genuine smile can be difficult at times. What I’ve found, though, is if you just commit to it, about five minutes in, you’ll feel the mental transition take place and you’re golden the rest of the evening.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
This pandemic has been, by far, the most challenging period in Madwire’s history. Madwire’s customers are small business owners, so it was no surprise that the government induced recession and shutdown had an incredibly negative impact on them and, as a result, impacted Madwire. But, we’ve remained nimble and through a series of mass changes and proactive adjustments, we’ve managed to survive the storm thus far with much less negative impact than most other businesses during this same period. We know we’ll be a stronger company on the other side of this and are excited about our future. There’s no way we’d be able to navigate these rough waters without a truly championship team. Our culture is built for this.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Just as it’s important for a leader to stay engaged with their team, whether their team works right by their side, or remote across the world, it’s also important for us to stay engaged with family and friends in the same way. We’ve trained our leaders to be strong leaders in a remote environment. They perform continual, one on one check-ins with their team throughout the week, as well as multiple team tag ups to keep everyone connected and engaged. We’ve required video conferencing for all calls and meetings so everyone can maintain the emotional connection and read body language. In this same way, I’d recommend engaging with friends and family via video conferencing and/or facetime, as well.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
When my Dad and I started Madwire in 2009, it was during the last major recession. I saw firsthand how businesses who continued to invest in their brand and marketing during that time experienced tremendous growth. Because of that, I have no doubt there is a prime opportunity for you to grow your business and capture significant market-share now and over the coming months and years.
Let’s be honest, most small-to-medium-sized businesses will completely pull back on marketing during this recession. That means they will be “out of sight and out of mind” when people need the products and services they offer. And trust me, people still want and need the products and services you offer. That will not go away. This means that the businesses that continue to market their brand will capture all the “mind-share” and, as a result, capture all the market share.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
This pandemic will further propel us toward a digital world. There will be a massive adoption of remote working, creating less demand for commercial real estate. Outside of that, businesses will further invest in new digital channels to access their customers, as well as embrace new technologies for both business management, marketing, and customer engagement. Unfortunately, many businesses will die during this period, but there will also be a boom of new businesses started by a wave of new, young, and tech savvy entrepreneurs.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We have released a new version of our Marketing 360® platform, which targets the wave of new, tech savvy business owners looking for a singular platform to both manage and market their business in the new world.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Visualize the world and your industry in the next 3–5 years. What does it look like? What will your customers demand and expect? What moves do you think your competitors will make? What moves do you need to make to be the leader in your space? Once you have a clear vision of this, create a plan to make that vision a reality. Then attack it with execution excellence!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are two quotes that I consistently fall back on and share with others. One is, “Do what you feel is right, for you’ll be criticized anyways,” which is a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. When in doubt, follow your heart and trust your gut. The other quote is this quote by Lou Holtz,
“Nothing is as good as it seems, and nothing is as bad as it seems. Somewhere in between lies realty.” It’s a great reminder to not allow yourself to get too high or too low. Always stay level headed.
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