Kaizen CEO Pete Reis-Campbell, 30, founded his content marketing agency in his bedroom five years ago. Today he employs 20 people and clients include Npower, Lastminute.com and TUI. Kaizen was named “Content Marketing Agency of the Year 2018” by The Drum and was ranked as one of the top 50 tech companies in the UK by Deloitte.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
While I was working at other agencies, I realised that they were increasingly failing to keep up with what clients needed in terms of an operational model. Brands were beginning to have in-house marketing teams, and instead of looking to outsource every marketing channel to a generic agency, they began to favour “specialist” agencies that plugged a certain gap, such as content marketing or digital PR. Many of our competitors are traditional publishers and PR agencies – companies that do not tap into the data and technology resources out there to offer everything they could. They do not fundamentally understand technical SEO, which limits their offering to clients.
I saw the niche for building a completely new type of agency that could accommodate this exact need. We could assist in-house digital teams in achieving their content and SEO strategies by offering them a specialist team of marketers for hire.
What experience do you have in your sector?
When SEO began hitting its stride, I began a role in the sector straight out of university, and went on to work at iProspect UK, where I helped to grow the SEO team into the biggest in the country. I won the Rising Star of the Year Award at the Travolution Awards in 2013 for my SEO work with Thomas Cook, and I began to think about where the industry would go from there – the start of the road that led to Kaizen in 2014.
Do you consider your business to be a disruptor – what’s its USP?
Content marketing and SEO are both industries that can change direction quite rapidly when new technology becomes available, and both are still quite new compared to other markets.
Our USP is that we work in the whole process from start to finish – for each client, we start with ideation and push our ideas and solutions right through creation to outreach, all managed by Kaizen, with no need for the client to devote their own valuable time and resources to something we can do ourselves.
We’ve built a team of specialists – a content team, a PR team, designers, web developers – who are not only able to provide consultancy but are also able to create and implement solutions. The client is able to scale up their operations by using our abilities as and when they need us, and it’s a more complete service than hiring specialists individually, as we can plan, create, and implement solutions all in-house at a fraction of the cost.
What part does technology play in the business?
Our disruptive quality lies not only in our unique business model, but also in the creation of our own proprietary PR technology, which automatically discovers online PR coverage in real-time, and produces a beautiful “look book” utilising APIs to report its value in terms of traffic, social shares and website authority. This automates the usually manual, laborious process of finding coverage and demonstrates the true impact PR has on a brand. We aim to launch the tool onto the public market this year under its own brand name, CoverageTracker.io.
What funding did you have to start the business and where did it come from?
During my last full-time role, I did freelance SEO and link-building projects on the side and used it to build up £10,000 capital I could either spend on the business or use to pay the bills.
As the business has grown what are the major challenges you have faced, and have you overcome them?
When I started, the key challenges were:
- Building a customer base – I scaled this by freelancing before quitting my job and then afterwards, I bid on a lot of PeoplePerHour.com jobs and did white-label SEO work for other agencies.
- Marketing the business – I made a habit out of trying to land a speaking gig at local conferences and contributing articles to industry websites.
- Loneliness – After two months I joined a hot-desking club where I could work from another office a few days a week to conquer that.
- Business planning – I found several mentors (just find a competitor you admire and ask the founder for a coffee … most will say yes) so I could learn what mistakes they made, and how to solve my own.
Have you turned to external finance to grow?
I’ve started and grown Kaizen through zero external investment or funding.
How do you measure success for yourself, your investors, you staff and your customers?
Growth – and Kaizen’s growth has very much come from within. Kaizen literally means continual improvement, and this is something that we prioritise in our search for employees. Every team member is given a budget of £1,000 a year to find relevant training courses, and this year we formulated a new system whereby employees can move up through an operational model or a creative model, depending on whether they excel in management or innovation.
For clients, we set KPIs for projects, typically by the number of pieces of PR coverage, or by the percentage of visibility growth in SEO terms. However, we tend to go above and beyond of targets, and are constantly looking for new ways to impress our clients – whether it’s seizing reactive PR opportunities, pushing ourselves to experiment with our content or taking on additional projects.
For myself, I measure my success by the obvious factors – company growth, client retention, etc – but also by managing the company in all its forms. Breaking through the five-year point is an important landmark for any start-up, and in our last year in particular we grew from 12 to 20 employees, which is huge. Being responsible for so many individuals can be daunting, but one of the biggest successes has been creating an awesome company culture. Every quarter there is a company-funded event, such as a trip to Thorpe Park or a bowling alley, plus weekly Friday drinks in the office.
What business (or personal) tip would you give to other entrepreneurs hoping to scale up their businesses?
If you’re thinking about starting a company, first treat it as a side project you do at the weekends or evenings until you either save up enough money to quit your full-time job or have the confidence too. I did both.
In terms of growth, I’ve learned after five years that my network has been the biggest driver of growth for us and that remains true even today – we just picked up a dream client from a contact I made seven years ago in my last full-time role. Keep your head down, work hard and start shouting about the positive results on LinkedIn, Twitter alongside attending/speaking at events, conferences to share your knowledge. Also, just generally help people out – making them better at their job or going that extra mile, it’ll pay dividends years down the line.
Who has most influenced your working life?
I found podcasts like Startup by Gimlet Media, as well as autobiographies of entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson to be extremely inspiring when I was starting out. However, my journey into starting a company was also heavily influenced by the strengths and weaknesses of the businesses I worked for prior to Kaizen.
How do you relax outside of work?
I use running as both a means of exercise, a means to break up my commute and as a means of switching off. Last year I pushed myself to run the London Marathon with a friend, which was as challenging and rewarding as everyone said it would be. To balance out this heroism, I’d also like to stress my HUGE love of Nandos, and pretty much anything else Deliveroo has to offer after a long day’s work. As a self-confessed nerd, I spend a lot of my free time on my Nintendo Switch, too.
Kaizen CEO Pete Reis-Campbell was speaking to Tim Adler