There have been a lot of people that have helped me along my journey as CEO of but very few have given as much time and as many valuable insights as Raj Choudhury. This guy is incredible, he started his first agency out of college and grew it to 85 people before selling it at a great multiple. From there he grew a few more agencies which all sold and now his on his newest venture as President of BrightWave, the most innovative and strategic e-mail marketing agency in the country.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Raj this week and have summed up our discussion below:
The first gig
His first project at his first agency, Spunlogic, with his partner Jeff Hilimire was to design a new website for Canabus.com. Raj will tell you he is extremely operationally driven so web design was probably not going to be his strength. He and his partner also didn’t have a ton of experience in web design at this point so selling this project was definitely a big risk! His main takeaway from the beginning was to not fear the unknown, instead embrace it because you may never know what you are really doing. If you wait until you know what you are doing you may never start!
I can’t tell you how many culture speeches I have been through. I went through so many years of training on the best way to grow an agency’s culture and I was DELIGHTED to finally hear something new and different from Raj on how they maintained a great culture even at 85 people. He mentioned having 2 people that were cross departmental meet every month to learn how to develop EMPATHY for each other and the daily struggles they go through in their position. They were asked to spend time together and learn how each other did their jobs. That way when problems arose with clients there were a lot less frustrations because the other side of the table knew what the pressures were like coming from the client. Each month those 2 same people would present back to the whole agency on what they learned from each other at the agency wide meeting.
As you can tell from Raj designing his firs website with little experience in designing sites, he believes NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE. This was a big Mantra at Spunlogic. He constantly worked to get his team to think bigger than they were, to dream that they could execute larger campaigns & sign larger clients.
Raj believes that a big part of how to grow an agency is to define the gaps in the market place and then plant your flag. For Brightwave, he saw that there were really no agencies playing in the strategy side of e-mail, almost every email agency was merely a production shop. Seeing this, Raj sought out to position Brightwave as an email innovation & strategy shop. To take that a few steps further, they hold a yearly convention where they bring in e-mail thought leaders and clients & marketers to learn everything there is to know about where e-mail marketing is going in the coming years.
Backing up the position statement
While some of the positioning statements Brightwave uses are a means to differentiate, they do back it up with actual business objectives. To ensure that clients are feeling the innovation from Brightwave, Raj makes sure that their Account Managers are bringing at least 3 new ideas in each QBR. They don’t see QBRs as only a way to recap the work performed, they see it as a selling opportunity to change a client’s perspective on where email is going and how Brightwave can help them get there.
To further pack up their positioning as the leader in e-mail thought leadership, they doubled their strategy & technology teams. This was a big bet for them but one that is paying off well as clients are definitely feeling the increase in higher level thinking and integration of new tech platforms.
Since Brightwave is now seen as the strategy & creative partner to many of their clients, Brightwave beefed up their technology teams so that they could make sure they were there to integrate each client’s platforms. Doing so means that Brightwave is helping control the data and technology, making it far less likely that a client would want to leave.
Raj went onto say that naivety has probably been the biggest factor in his success. The fact that he has grown & sold so many businesses can actually play against him. When he goes to a new agency and pulls out the old playbook to try some of the old tricks he finds they oftentimes don’t work. Each scenario and agency is different and you have to look at the qualities of the agency and go from there.
Naivety is key to business and helps enforce the dream that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.
Thank you Raj for spending time with me!