As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Maxim. He’s an app founder, growth hacker and yogi nerd — who spends his free time teaching entrepreneurs to meditate. After leaving his “big corporate job”, he founded an app that gives users rewards for working out and grew it to 25K users. Currently serving as managing director at K&J Growth Hackers — a boutique marketing firm serving clients like Xfinity, TikTok, US Dept of State and University of Delaware.
Thank you so much for joining us! 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?
I run a scrappy group of marketing experts, often called growth hackers — known for innovating edgy sales and marketing strategies. We’re 100% diverse, with New Zealanders, South Americans, African Americans, British, Israelis and of course, local Americans — with offices in Los Angeles, New Zealand and UK.
As a Managing Director, my main responsibility is client’s getting ROI from their marketing, followed closely by building a rich company culture of candor, innovation and contribution.
My career started at San Diego State University, where I first majored in graphic design, then went on to study marketing through their Masters in Business Program. From there, worked at a Fortune 500 company as a marketing strategist, then founded a fitness rewards app, Vea Fitness, which grew to 25K runners worldwide. After exiting that in August 2017, Kale and I came together to found K&J Growth Hackers, where we took these crafty and effective marketing strategies, that were developed on a slim budget but garnered crazy results, and began applying them to other businesses, eventually doing growth hacking for some of the largest companies around today, including the social media platform Tiktok, which gained over 100,000 installs using our proprietary Instagram DM strategy, and opened private messaging divisions in UK, USA and Brazil. Since, we’ve launched two in house eCommerce brands, Rugby Bricks and Friendly Paws.
Since launching February 2017, K&J grew from $5,000/mo in revenue to over $500,000/mo in August 2019.
It really all started when I quit my corporate job and took on creating a mobile app, what I consider the hardest endeavor of my life. But the low lows allowed me to unleash my greatest potential, and learn that no one of us is better than the next.
Among all the lessons, the greatest lesson was that in business, our ultimate goal is to serve and create value for others. Understanding and appreciating that allows us to enjoy our work more, produce better results and ultimately live an amazing life ourselves.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Kale and I were competitors. We both pitched a client, and were fighting for the same contract. Without knowing this, we’d been introduced online, and setup a call for the following week. When we got on the call, we realized we were rivals, in a sense. But instead of getting defensive, we thought of how we could build something even bigger if we teamed up.
And K&J is born.
Since, we ran the business for 2 years without ever meeting in person because of the physical distance between Los Angeles and Dunedin, New Zealand. Since, we have served over 150 clients together, including the one we were competing for, which turned into a long-time K&J client.
Both of us being meditators and heavily focused on presence and mindfulness, we did our best to look past our perceived differences, and focused on how we could create exponential value by combining our expertise and networks.
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?
There are so many “funny” things that happen in business, most of which are scary or might feel backbreaking at the time.
The story that resonates most with me is the second client we took on. It all looked perfect on paper, but we had no sense of work division among the team members. We all thought the other person was working on (you name it) and ultimately accountability was lost and the campaign fell apart.
It’s laughable now, but at the time felt very scary. Our second go we had screwed up. Not a moment of promise, that’s for sure.
We headed the lessons the universe imparted on us as best we could, and started building extensive systems and job descriptions to make it 100% clear who worked on what, and when. Since, we’ve become a very process-driven business.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our company purpose is woven throughout the organization. It’s not written in a “handbook” and we don’t force anything down anyone’s throat. Instead we try to live by example. Our company is anchored on truthfulness, accountability and wellness.
The things we’ve done to live a beautiful life as founders, while going through the immense stress of starting a business are what we try to inspire among our team members, clients and the community.
Our purpose is to improve our clients’ profitability in a substantial way. So they can determine the path that they want to take in life and business, but do so in a way that is determined by them, not their company’s revenue.
Beyond building marketing campaigns that generate great revenue and ROI, we lead retreats, events and create thought leadership content to inspire and educate.
Our events and retreats are for high-earning entrepreneurs, and we teach them the fundamentals of mindfulness and living a purpose-driven life. This includes yoga, meditation, journaling, sound bath, hypnosis, shadow work, fitness, and diet.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
We offer countless resources, experiences, events and even coaching to those who are open to learning and improving.
Some of the resources include:
- The Million Dollar Morning eBook: a guide with high performance habits of top CEOs
- Growth Hacker Academy: teaching young entrepreneurs all the strategies we’ve developed at K&J to use on their own businesses
- Invite all clients, partners, and select community members to attend our Mastermind Retreats
- Invite local community to mindfulness events that teach, inspire and connect brilliant minds
- 5+ free handbooks and case studies to help others learn to market their own businesses
Beyond the tangibles, we ardently live out our values. Early on in any client relationship, we have a detailed onboarding experience that sets the expectations and accountabilities on each side, covering things like communication patterns, what’s okay and what’s not okay, teach them technology adeptness, how to handle conflict, when to expect results and so on.
Once that foundation is set, we have clear and open communication, often times integrating into their companies very deeply, using their Slack and messaging platforms, and setting up systems to help both sides succeed. We even offer our paid resources free to clients who are eager to learn.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Mindfulness, without a doubt, is our guiding principle. This powerful concept opens up candor, trust, presence, managing tempers. It allows us to close feedback loops fast, resolve conflict, and more importantly, unlock amazing opportunities on and off the mat.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
One client asked us to run a 6 month campaign in 1 month. They offered handsome pay, but the deliverables were almost unimaginable. Normally we take 1 month to recruit 10 influencers, which requires interviewing over 100, honing the list to 40 keepers, 20 ambassadors, and 10 final partners. In this case, we recruited 200 influencers in one month.
We strategized, researched and built for the first two weeks, then launched in week 3. After launching over 1,000 social media posts, we were only to about 2% of our goal by week 4.
We found out later, the client had already marketed to all these audiences and they were stale.
Among 5 agencies on the project, 3 refunded six figure payments (without prompt) and lost a lot of money. The fourth was forced to refund.
K&J somehow survived the gauntlet, and delivered 85% of the client’s goal on day 30 of the campaign. The remaining 15% of goal was delivered within 3 days of the due date.
Being the smallest agency on the project, if we had missed this, we would have folded as a company. And put 14 employees out of work, and their families would have been financially impacted.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Things are robust. Currently, client results are better than ever, which is the backbone of any successful marketing agency.
One eCommerce client reduced their cost per customer acquisition from $30 down to $4.66 for a $65 purchase, which increased their ROI dramatically.
Another eCommerce client gained $14,000 in sales for every $5,000 spent in month 1.
So we’re expanding our team to better accommodate more clients, and ramping our own marketing which has been fruitful.
The other factor for success has been that both founders ourselves, and have two other companies that we own and have grown from the K&J systems and growth tactics that are operating with 6 figure margins.
Most importantly, we’re making more and more client’s dreams come true, and pocketbooks full.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
Great question. Here’s our top 5:
- The client’s success is your most important priority
- Communication and candor unlock both sides’ true potential
- Have the services/capability and risk tolerance to take on large clients, even if you’re built around smaller ones
- Your people are your profit engine. So you need to have backup and overflow team members in case you lose one to a competitor, or need to expand quick
- The more case studies you have, the more margin you can command
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It would be easy to say someone like Tim Ferriss or Ryan Holliday, who wrote the narratives we live by and do our best to improve upon.
But the truth is, negative experiences shaped our company more than positive motivators did. These are the moments where we’re forced to learn, persevere and get creative.
That moment when we had spent $50,000 on media, gotten almost no results and were challenged to refund out of our own pocket, was the moment where we were forced to dig deep.
I attribute our greatest successes to a creative team, more than any outside force.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would teach people to meditate on a mass scale. Meditation takes many forms — prayer, formal meditation, even something like road biking.
The act of removing distractions and taking quiet time allows us to silence our active mind, listen and observe — and notice things exactly as they are, rather than how we feel they are.
It fosters empathy and compassion, but also empowers us to be direct, honest and non-reactionary. This is something I think could resolve international conflict, reduce crime and improve life quality in a dramatic way.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My personal handle on Instagram is @itsjmaxim, my partners is @kalepanoho. You can also find us and connect on Linkedin. We publish most of our content and free resources there, as well as invite to events and retreats on our social channels.