How This Entrepreneur Went From Solopreneur to Employing More Than 500
Kelsey Humphreys sits down with entrepreneur Matt Britton to discuss how he built a multimillion dollar award-winning agency.
Since founding the now award-winning New York-based agency MRY in his bedroom in 2002, Matt Britton has worked with some of the world’s leading brands, such as Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Visa. He has also become a leader in social media marketing and millennial marketing. Britton has spoken at industry conferences around the globe and has become a featured advertising expert for CNBC, Mashable, Forbes, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, among others.
How did he go from solo consultant to employing more than 500 people and then a multi-million-dollar exit?
First, he faced failure, launching an internet marketing firm out of college that burst along with the internet bubble. Even with clients such as Sony, eBay and Evite, the firm couldn’t survive and was bailed out by Youthstream Media Networks. He stayed at Youthstream as an employee for less than two years, then took the leap again, forming Mr Youth, which later became MRY.
Britton has lived out the romantic one-man-show-turned-giant-agency story. Here are his best pieces of advice for consultants and freelancer out there eager to do the same.
Learn from failures.
After Britton’s first failed business, he tried to absorb as much as he could while employed at Youthstream.
“I learned a lot from [Youthstream]," he says. "How to work with brick-and-mortar traditional companies, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola -- how those companies worked, how they evaluated agencies, etc.”
He also believes there is tremendous value in finding a mentor and joining groups such as Young Professional Organization, two factors he says were vital to his success.
But don’t play it too safe.
Like many successful entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed, Britton recommends that you build a substantial financial cushion before you take the leap. But this cushion, Britton explains, should allow you to relax about your bills, and in turn take more risks. He says you have to go all in, right from the start.
“If you’re playing scared at the beginning, you’re going to make a lot of short-term decisions, and short-term decisions come back to haunt you later on,” he says.
Create a clear vision.
His number-one piece of advice for brand new entrepreneurs is to do one powerful, practical vision exercise: If your business had a dream press release written about it in 10 years, and received coverage in all the major business publications, what would that release say? Write that press release. At the start, many entrepreneurs don’t know how to manage time or what tasks to tackle each day, so Britton recommends they print and display the release where they can easily see it.
“Hang it up on your wall, and every day when you’re doing things, ask yourself, ‘Is what I’m doing at this moment, contributing to me getting there?’” he says.
Project that vision.
Britton shared that when he launched Mr Youth in 2002, he would disguise his voice when answering his phone to give the appearance of an administrative assistant who didn’t exist. At the time, his small team of freelancers was virtual, but you wouldn’t have known it looking at the company website. He was confident he could deliver, and didn’t want potential clients to feel uneasy.
“When you’re in your early stages, make sure that you portray stability and portray a certain level of sophistication and prestige,” he says.
Today, it is even easier to fake a great online presence. Remember that that’s not enough though. Projection only works, Britton says, if you can deliver. Cultivating relationships and building trust, he explains, were the keys to securing his first few giant clients, such as Red Bull, even though the company knew he was running a small shop.
"The best way to get a disproportionate amount of business relative to the size of your organization is through relationships and trust," he says. "They knew I would run through a wall for them if I had to, and because of that, they were willing to take a chance on me.”
Britton then delivered for those clients and publicized the glowing testimonials he received, which started to build a name for himself and Mr Youth. More large clients followed.
Find amazing people (and let them go).
Scaling from one to 500 does not happen without hiring and retaining amazing team members. How do you find them? By getting out of your existing employees’ way.
From there, word of mouth takes over, and the best of the best start seeking out your firm. What about the “free agent” movement that we’re living in? Use it to your advantage, Britton says. Hire freelancers to cut down costs, especially during your slow season. Know that a lot of your best talent has a “side hustle.” Leverage those rock stars while you have them, and you may get to play a part in their future success.
“Get out of [your employees’] way," he says. "The companies that are unable to scale is because the founder hug the businesses so tight that they suffocate and paralyze them.”
Britton practiced what he preaches, letting a product manager at MRY experiment and eventually leave to create Crowdtap. Britton served as an advisor of the on-demand participation network, which went on to raise more than 12 million in funding and is used by more than 100 of the largest brands and marketing agencies in the U.S.
Keep up the pace.
Britton noticed a distinct disconnect between C-level executives who knew that Mark Zuckerberg was smart, yet didn’t value the 20-somethings within their companies. Brands and their executives need to continually think about, and listen to, the upcoming generation. MRY exploded because Britton could discuss big business in the boardroom, but build a campaign for the streets. Today, Britton says that means building memorable, short form, micro-targeted, mobile-ready messages “designed for the flick [of one’s finger].”
One of the biggest mistakes Britton sees young founders making is going for the big money too early. Instead of trying to cash in on your first crop of ideas as soon as possible, Britton says, plant as many seeds as possible.
“Too many entrepreneurs and young business people are thinking ‘how can I make money tomorrow?’" he says. "You really have to think long term and build something you believe in and stay focused on the vision and the plan and know it’s ultimately going to pay off.”