Why Agency Owners Should Invest In Other Businesses

Why Agency Owners Should Invest In Other Businesses written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Marketing Podcast with Ben Young

Ben Young, a guest on the Duct Tape Marketing PodcastIn this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Ben Young. He is the founder of Nudge, an analytics company, that was a commercialized product from his agency. Nudge helps you measure the performance of your digital properties through the lens of what people are paying attention to. With the retirement of Google Analytics, many are re-evaluating what options are out there. 

Prior to Nudge, he co-founded an agency in New Zealand that was the 8th fastest-growing business at the time. Today, he will explain why agency owners should invest in other businesses.

Key Takeaway:

Agency owners should consider investing a portion of their own capital into other businesses as a way of personal development and to gain valuable insights from different industries. By investing in other companies, they can learn from other founders, gain exposure to new sectors, and understand emerging trends. While it’s essential to prioritize investment in their own agency, diversifying their investments can make them better founders and provide additional benefits beyond just financial returns.

Questions I ask Ben Young:

  • [02:26] What do you mean by investing in other businesses?
  • [03:00] Agency owners are sometimes really invested in their own businesses. Shouldn’t they invest in their own business?
  • [07:45] How do you analyze an investment if you don’t even know some of the terminology and what it really means?
  • [10:29] Tell me a little about when you first started because you were an agency owner. Were you naturally drawn to maybe tools that you had used or tools that marketers use, or do you think that you actually got completely out of your comfort zone?
  • [14:27] As an agency owner, one of the best investments I ever made was in a company that was a good fit and provided a core service that we can sell to our clients. Where have any of your investments fit into that category?
  • [15:31] When people invest in things, the hope is that they’re going to make money out of this investment. Should there be a measurement or criteria of time in which they can see some sort of return or you can’t really calculate all the benefits of return?
  • [18:02] Can you give an example of one investment that was a disappointment, but maybe you learned something from it?
  • [19:52] Now, can you give an example of an investment that was a success and what you learned from it?

More About Ben Young:

  • Follow Ben on Twitter.
  • Nudge website.
  • Check out Ben’s blog.

More About The Agency Certification Intensive Training:

  • Learn more about the Agency Certification Intensive Training here

Take The Marketing Assessment:

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(01:14): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Ben Young. He’s the founder of Nudge, an analytics company that was started as a commercial venture or product from his own agency. Nudge helps you measure the performance of your digital properties through the lens of what people are paying attention to with the retirement of Google Analytics. We’ve talked a lot about that on the show. Many are reevaluating what options are out there. Prior to Nudge, he co-founded an agency, a marketing agency in New Zealand that was the eighth fastest growing business at the time, and it was in that, that he started investing in today. That’s what we’re gonna talk about, how agency owners should invest in other businesses. So Ben, welcome to the show.

Ben Young (02:00): Thank you. It was great to be here.

John Jantsch (02:04): So I guess we need to set the table first. You and I were talking off air a bit about the, this idea of investing in other businesses, and I think some agency owners, because it’s a common model, might interpret that as you go to work for somebody for a piece of, of quid or profit sharing and you’re really, you’re talking about something different. So maybe let’s define Yeah, what you mean by investing in other businesses.

Ben Young (02:28): So I, I’m sure a lot of small business owners and agency owners have had those requests where they’re like, can you do some work for some equity? And that’s not what I’m talking about today. What I’m talking about today is for agency owners to take a little bit of their own capital, set it aside and invest it as a proper investment as a, Hey, here’s some things I’m interested in. And to do that as a bit of personal development and to see how those investments grow and foster.

John Jantsch (02:55): So, so I think one of the obvious questions, somebody listening to this might say, I’m already like really invested in this business that I’m building, right? Shouldn’t I take every dime that I have and put it in that?

Ben Young (03:07): Yeah, it’s, it’s funny, I had this exact thing from a, a founder I was looking at investing in and they’re like, well, Ben, you’ve got an agency, you’re just gonna put all your money into that, so I’m not even gonna ask you for money. And I was like, well, okay, you’ve made an assumption there, but I think you’re right. As an agency owner, you want to keep investing in your own business and you want to make sure it’s growing, but also the learnings that you’re getting are only from your own business. So if you’re able to go, Hey, look, if I kind of think about over the next three years, I’m gonna do a bit of a personal development and learning and I’m gonna take away a little bit of cash and invest it in other businesses as a way to learn from other founders, because I think that’s an amazing thing. By investing in other companies, you are getting the collective intelligence and learnings from all these brilliant companies doing amazing things, and that’s in addition to what you’re already doing. So of course you should be investing in your own business first, but do consider kind of the bigger picture and how these investments can make you a better founder in your own business.

John Jantsch (04:09): Yeah, so, so it’s not merely a oh 8% return on investment, you know, kind of calculation. Yeah, I mean, you’re saying that in some ways, even if you don’t have the money, the funds, you know, directly that go find them because in some ways it’s an investment in your own business.

Ben Young (04:25): Yeah, and there’s a few things to touch on there. So it doesn’t have to be a lot of capital. So through websites like angellist.com, you can invest with as little as a thousand dollars per deal. And yes, investing a thousand dollars isn’t as as sexy as saying, I’m, I’m Mark Cuban investing on Shark Tank. Right? But it’s getting you into the deal and it’s getting you learning. And so if you committed to five deals a year, that’s $5,000 a year. And again, that’s not nothing. But I, the point is that you can start with a small amount. And then the other thing, and this is how I actually did my first deal. So my first deal kind of came about, someone said, Hey Ben, you know the incident? I was like, well, yes, I do . And they said, there’s this funny company, I don’t really understand it.

(05:12): Can you have a look and would you consider investing? And so I had a look at the business and I was, I did understand it and I thought, you know, I, I thought it had a lot of potential. And so this was the very first deal. So this is like big stakes for me personally. So I went home and spoke with my wife and she said, but what if we lose it? And I was like, that’s a very good question, , what, what if we do lose it? And so I kind of sat and thought on it and I kind of went, Hey, look, if I do this sort of investment in other investments, I think from the learnings that will make me a better founder and help me identify new opportunities faster for my own business. So even if these investments go to zero, I’m gonna make that up through gains elsewhere. And I kind of detailed a few things where I thought it might help. So it was believable. I gave it to her and she said, okay, I get it. We can try it. ’cause worst case, you’re just gonna get the gains elsewhere. And I think that’s a good lens to look at it to go, Hey, look, let’s just start off and invest amount we’re comfortable with. But if I lose it, then I, I’ve made the gains or learnings elsewhere. And initially for my first investment,

John Jantsch (06:23): You know, you make a,

Ben Young (06:25): You go,

John Jantsch (06:26): What I was gonna say is, you make a really good point though, is that, you know, a lot of times people get pitched and they’re like, okay, I’ve got, you know, and I think there’ll be a decent return, but you really ought to go in with like, here’s what I want to get out of this. Like, be very, even if it’s just access, right? I mean that should be identified or you should know that, but then you should also communicate that, shouldn’t you?

Ben Young (06:45): Yeah, you should have a bit of a, an objective with it of what you’re wanting to do. And I think the best objective really is go in with from a point of curiosity and say, I really wanna learn, like I’ve done about 70 deals over the past 11 years and the best deals are the ones where I’ve learned a lot. And so it was something that I was innately interested in, kind of curious. And for founders, they also really like having agency owners or small business owners as investors because they get it. They, they know how hard it is to start a business. And also the intelligence you can provide, in my case it was marketing intelligence. So I could say, Hey look, here’s some areas to focus on, or here’s how you can position the company or hire some talent that’s really valuable for them too. So they really like that, right?

John Jantsch (07:30): So let’s say somebody’s listening to this and they’re like, well, you know, I look at some of those things and I, I’m just not that sophisticated of an investor. I don’t even know how to analyze, you know, whether this is something, I mean, I might be interested in what they’re doing, think it’s pretty cool, but how do I analyze an investment if I really don’t even know some of the terminology?

Ben Young (07:50): Yeah, good question. So I think the first thing on how most deals are structured, so when you are a angel investor and you’re investing a small amount of money, and typically you’ll invest through a platform like AngelList or a local Angel Association mm-hmm. , and they’ll, they’ll put together a S P V or a special purpose vehicle, which is like an entity to hold all the investments. And this makes it easier for the the company to manage it and also easier for you because you get the tax forms that you need each year and um, it just makes it easier to maintain. So technically that’s how it’s structured, but, but each deal is going to have some sort of terms associated with it. Um, often with angel investment, it’s called something like a convertible note. So you are providing some capital mm-hmm. that will convert into equity down the road. And that might be in 1224 months and there may be some discounts associated with that, or other times it is on an equity basis. And there’s lots of terms you’ll get like pre-money and post-money. But basically if, if you read the fine print carefully, you should understand it. Pre-money is the value of the company before the money goes in and post-money is after the money goes in.

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(10:22): So obviously a lot of, you know, through are a lot of websites and places that can explain, uh, some of what you just talked about in great detail. Tell me a little bit about when you first got started because you were an agency owner. Were you naturally drawn to maybe tools that you had used or tools that marketers use? Or do you think you should actually get outside completely of your zone of comfort?

Ben Young (10:44): Yeah, so there’s two approaches that I did initially. One was to do direct angel investments where I knew the founder or was introduced or they’d pitched. And then the other focus was to provide a little capital into funds where they would pick the investments. And so through that I’ll get into companies which I might not have selected and that helped avoid my selection bias. So if we look at the first five years of investing, all of the companies I picked were marketing and advertising, right? And that was great because I had, I had an edge there like, well, I felt like I had an edge, like these are emerging trends and areas which I know brands will spend a bit more on. And also it helped me with clients to go, Hey, look, the smartest founders that are starting companies today are investing in these things.

(11:30): So I could kind of pass that intel back to clients to go, Hey, look, there’s a lot of investment going into this space. Maybe next year or the following year, consider putting more budget that way. And so between the two, I was initially mainly focused just in one sector and then I got these learnings from other sectors and some of the investments that came through the fund. I looked at it, I was like, I would never invest in that company. And in hindsight though, some of these companies perform really well and that’s where, where I’ve got some learnings. Whereas the initial investments in marketing and advertising, there were some benefits there, but I wasn’t learning as much. So over time I’ve kind of broadened my focus to, to kind of fit this criteria of what’s new and exciting and, and what’s where, you know, where can I really learn?

(12:14): So like a couple of more recent examples invested in a fusion company. So the idea of bringing fusion energy, the energy demands for the US and around the world are set to double by 2050 and wind and solar and hydro fulfill some of those needs, but there’s still a place for fusion. And so that, like, I had to read the investment documents a dozen times to to go back to fully un understand what fusion is and I’m still like 0.01% and then another was colossal, which is the effort to bring back the wooly mammoth. And so that’s kind of an interesting investment because it’s a big project to bring the wooly mammoth back to life. And through that they’re going to spin off other companies through the intellectual property they create. And it’s like, these are two examples of things which are completely new and additive learnings, but have exposed me to new things in the energy sector. Um, and as an agency owner being on top of what the energy sector is doing mm-hmm. or, um, gene editing and biotechnology. So like it, it is just a nice way to improve your own learnings as well.

John Jantsch (13:26): Yeah, that’s interesting. I hadn’t really considered the sort of the industry research aspect that it kind of forces on you that that might be of some value in the sector, you know? Yeah. In terms of attracting or serving a client.

Ben Young (13:39): And one other thing that you mentioned is like, what sort of like, what sort of analysis do I do? So for the marketing and advertising, it was a little bit easier, but when you get into these other sectors, you’re like, what? And it’s kind of a, it’s a bit of a sense test of how curious you are. And so I, I will try and first up, read all the documents that you’re given, then go do your own independent research to see, you know, is this supported or where are the weaknesses in it? And that’s a part I really enjoy digging into to go, Hey, look, if this is successful, how big could it be? Is what they’ve told me believable in forming my own opinion because answering those questions helps me really understand the investment.

John Jantsch (14:18): So we started at the outset talking about the idea, we’re talking about agency owners investing in other companies, but I, I have to say, as an agency owner, one of the best investments I ever made was in a company that provided a core service, uh, that we could sell clients because it was such a great fit, there was a need for it in the market, made total sense. So, you know, we’re, have any of your investments fit into that category?

Ben Young (14:43): Yeah, so I’ll tell you about a couple. So, so one, one was a video advertising platform and I got the presentation, I went through it and I just went, nah, I’m not sure about this. And so six months later I’m chatting with, with our head of advertising, he is like, Ben, I’ve been using this new platform that helps with video advertising. I was like, oh, how much we spending on it? And he is like, nearly a million bucks a year . And it was the , it was the exact platform I passed on. Uh, so that was, that was not, not a good example, but, but others have been in, in the email and um, like analytics and uh, video space and we have ended up using the solutions. So Yeah. Yeah.

John Jantsch (15:26): So I’m sure that you, when you start, I, I know that when a lot of people invest in things, you know, the hope is that I’m gonna make money. Yeah. Off of this investment, obviously it, should there be a measurement or a criteria or like a window of time in which, you know, should say, I, you know, I need to see some sort of return, or is it really, you know, you can’t calculate all the benefits of return?

Ben Young (15:53): Yeah, good question. So I think you do want to be seeing the benefits after you’ve made the investment through your own professional work and, um, through your own learning. So you want to see that and see that you, you’re getting that value. And if you’re not, you might need to change the types of investments that you’re doing, but this is a long game. Um, it can like, it can take 10 years to get your money back. So you do need to invest in a manner that you’re, you’re comfortable with. So like some of my oldest investments are on that 11, 12 year mark and they’re still going there. They’re great companies, but I just haven’t got my money back. But in other companies, I’ve had things sell as soon as 12 to 24 months and a few more at five years. But, so it’s not a, a fast-paced return.

(16:39): You should kind of plan depending on how many investments you’re doing, but maybe after five years you might get your money back and then you’ll have a whole lot of other value tied up in these companies where you’re like, oh, will you sell please or exit? And that, that also is part of the excitement. You don’t know when these things are gonna happen. You just wake up one morning, you get an email and say, yeah, yeah, we’re excited that later today there’ll be a press release announcing our acquisition through this company. Or you get sent an email saying, we’re gonna pay a dividend soon. And you’re like, dividend . So, so yeah, it is a long term.

John Jantsch (17:13): There’s one company we’re involved in that same thing. They have 10 x the business, I think now’s the time to sell, but the founders are like, oh, we know we can do a hundred x . Yeah. But you know, it’s their baby.

Ben Young (17:26): Yeah. And, and, and that’s the thing, like you gotta support the founders like the, the other ones that, that know the business best and the other ones one, the other ones that got it there. And I think fortunately these days there are more opportunities to, to sell down along the way as companies get big enough later stage investors will come in and offer to buy a small chunk of earlier investors. So there are more opportunities, whereas in, in the past it used to truly just be, put the money in and throw away the key. You, you’re not gonna see it again.

John Jantsch (17:56): Yeah. So do you, you’ve talked about a couple examples, but, you know, maybe give a, let’s see how to position this, give a example of what turned out to be a great big win. Yep. And then maybe an example of, and you could use this for either and maybe an example of one that that was a disappointment, but maybe you learned something in both of those instances.

Ben Young (18:18): Yeah, so I’ll, I’ll start with a disappointment. And this was a disappointment ’cause I was convinced, I was like, this is good. And, and, and for, for all of my investments, I do chat with my wife to make sure I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid too much. . And, and I explained this one to her and the idea was that if you’re selling something online, you could just drop it off at their de depot and they would take the photos listed on eBay or wherever else and cut you a check once it sold. And I was like, this is great. I’ve got all this stuff I wanna sell on eBay, but, but never do. My wife was like, that’s not going anywhere, . I was like, and so we did invest and after a year the founders, and this is a, a case of really good management, but they, they went, Hey, look, we’ve spent some of the investors’ money, we’ve tested it, we just don’t have the confidence that there’s a big business here, so we’re closing it down. And they returned some of the capital back to the investors. And so that was one where I was like, nah, I think this is big. And it, it was in the, it was in the time where we were getting all these apps where you could press a button and someone could help you with something. And I thought, this is another app that sit sits in there. Like we’re kind of three or four years after Uber. But it just, I think there were too many moving pieces.

John Jantsch (19:32): So the learning on the learning on that one was that your wife’s really smart, is that yeah,

Ben Young (19:38): She should do all the investment, right? , but in fairness of the other investments, she has kind of said yes. So like maybe my performance returns are really associated to her. And yeah.

John Jantsch (19:52): So what’s been the success that you learned from?

Ben Young (19:55): So the, the, the first early success was a company called Screen Hero. And it wasn’t a direct investment, it was through a fund. So it was one that, um, someone had selected and they did screen screen recording and screen sharing software. And then, uh, a company called Slack acquired them and said, Hey look, can you enable phone calling and screen sharing in our app? And so through that ended up with some Slack stock, and then of course they, they later iPod. So that, that was a, a nice one where I was like, okay, we’ve good team, good product executed really well. Another company said, Hey look, I want that they acquired it paid with stock and then I’ll forget, but I think it might’ve been seven years all up or something like that. Like it was still a long time to to hold. But it, it was pretty nice. Like when, when Slack IPOed, I went down to Wall Street and saw the banner up there and it was kind of cool. Like you’ve got a fraction of a, like a participation in the journey. But, so that one was pretty cool. Yeah.

John Jantsch (20:58): But to get to say that you had, uh, 1247% return is not bad. .

Ben Young (21:04): Yeah. So on some

John Jantsch (21:05): Of those deals, right?

Ben Young (21:06): Yeah, there’s, there’s a good question around performance and there’s a lot of analysis on venture capital as a sector and usually like it’s between 15 and 27% return year over year. But those numbers are always reported before fees. And if you’re investing through a fund, they take their fees of course. And so they should, and there are administration fees even if you’re doing the deals yourself. So I kind of guide people like 17 to 19% is not unreasonable. If, if, you know, if you’re kind of spreading out through a few different companies and you’re being smart about it. My, my own returns have been a bit higher. But the problem is when you’re looking at your returns, there’s how much cash you got back and how much is on paper. ’cause the stuff on paper can still go away. So till it’s mm-hmm. , you know, till it’s all said and done, that’s Yeah. Yeah. Doesn’t count.

John Jantsch (21:57): Well, Ben, I appreciate you taking a few moments to come by and talk about an interesting thought provoking topic. Obviously there’s lots to learn in this topic, but you wanna tell people where they might connect with you or, uh, find out, uh, about the work you’re doing there at Nudge?

Ben Young (22:12): Thanks. Uh, the, the best place is on Twitter or threads. And we can say threads now, and my handle is my initials. It’s @bwagy, at B W A G Y and that’ll have links through to nudge my blog and ways to get in contact. And if you see any good deals, do like, do send them my way. ,

John Jantsch (22:31): Awesome. Again, I appreciate you taking a few moments to stop by and hopefully we will run into you one of these days out there on the road.

Ben Young (22:36): Thanks John. Hey,

John Jantsch (22:37): And one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy, strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It’s called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find it @marketingassessment.co, not.com, dot co. Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That’s just marketing assessment.co. I’d love to chat with you about the results that you get.

This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network.

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