Most twenty-something entrepreneurs follow a certain blueprint. They have an innovative app or tech product they claim will ‘disrupt’ the market and seek a pot of VC funding to make their dream a reality. During our first meeting, it’s clear that 26-year-old British entrepreneur Leon Emirali doesn’t fit that mould.
Last year he left a comfortable consultancy job to co-found PR and marketing agency, Crest. Nothing revolutionary here. “I didn’t see the point in re-inventing the wheel, I just wanted to make a better wheel,” says Emirali. “Professional services is tricky. You’re constantly pandering to clients and the job is notoriously demanding. But I could never quite grasp why it had to be that way. My aim was to create a successful agency with happy clients and a happy team.”
Less than a year since Crest was incorporated it has an impressive client roster that includes a multi-billion-dollar American coffee brand and a publicly-listed pharmaceutical company. The agency has recently re-located to trendy central London headquarters and is expected to make a six-figure profit in year one.
Operating in a competitive market, Crest has had to persuade clients to adopt marketing tactics they haven’t previously given much thought. Alongside traditional PR and marketing services, Crest is becoming one of the go-to agencies when it comes to influencer marketing and social media strategy.
The agency’s speed in achieving success seems to have come as a shock to Emirali. “We didn’t take clients from our old jobs and as a pair of 25-year-olds (referring to his co-founder) we didn’t exactly have a jam-packed contact book,” he says. “Every client came as a result of aggressively pursuing cold leads and convincing them to take a punt on an agency with new ideas.”
It’s not a surprise the affable Emirali has been able to win over an ever-expanding client base. Whilst some young start-up founders opt to emulate the frostiness and rigidness trademarked by business heroes such as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, Emirali bucks this trend too. With self-deprecating humour and playful conversation, he is instantly likeable and comes across bashful when talking about himself. But there’s more than a hint of self-confidence beneath the nice-guy exterior.
“I knew I was going to do something different,” he says. “At school, I wasn’t the best academically but I knew how to get people on board with my ideas and persuade them to believe in me.” Despite his success in business, he still lists being elected head boy at high school amongst his accomplishments.
Now, he’s on the brink of launching his second venture. He describes LVE Global (bearing his initials) as a “publishing house for the 21st Century,” buying up and managing social media properties and selling ad space to brands and agencies.
By building a diverse portfolio of social media accounts, LVE Global straddles the fields of marketing and publishing to present a new proposition to the £16.1 billion UK advertising industry. “People don’t consume media like the old days,” says Emirali. “Instead of picking up newspapers and watching TV, we’re all glued to our phones, and that’s not just young people by the way,” he is hasten to add. Unlike some other organisations operating in this space, Emirali is keen to work with brands seeking the attention of “silver surfers”. “My mum uses Facebook and Instagram more than I do,” he says with a smile on his face. “Yet, many marketers think the best way to connect with people of a certain age is the same as it was twenty years ago. We’re going to change that.” LVE Global has recently completed a number of acquisitions of digital media properties with more pencilled in for the coming months.
With big ideas and considerable success under his belt already, it’s easy to forget Emirali is still less than five years out of university. I ask him how he balances being a regular 26-year-old living in London alongside ambitions to build a multi-million-pound business empire. “That’s something I haven’t really thought about,” he says. “I guess I just want to keep having fun and stay healthy, everything else I can control.”
Follow Leon on Twitter @LeonEmirali