Sabri Suby has gone from cold calling in his bedroom to establishing Australia’s 28th fastest growing business, with clients all around the world.
King Kong is a full-service digital marketing agency founded in 2014. Sabri has bootstrapped the business since day one, a conscious decision, with the whys behind doing so explained within our interview below.
Now he has a team of 61 specialists and generates over $20million in total revenue (year to date) – so quite clearly he’s doing something right in the startup/small business world!
Sabri has founded and ran multiple business ventures in the past, and his experience with digital marketing agencies was that they could not or would not explicitly discuss Return On Investment. This was the gap that he set out to address in the market, and is now King Kong’s point of difference – they guarantee results for their clients, something a lot of other businesses are unwilling to do.
He talks about the importance of being a customer-focused business, making the right hires at the beginning and shares the usually undiscussed hardship stories of startup/entrepreneur life!
Sabri deservedly won our Top10 Dynamic Entrepreneurs award last year, and it’s obvious that he has not stopped achieving since. He has also delved into the details of his key business strategies that he’s used to see growth at King Kong – we highly recommend reading through his key learnings after you’ve finished here!
What’s King Kong’s origin story? Give us the who, when and why!
“Like many entrepreneurial efforts, King Kong was created in a bedroom. Five years ago, I discovered an irresistible gap in the digital space and committed to starting the first full-service digital agency in Australia that not only focused on ROI, but also guaranteed its clients results.
“With zero capital and no connections, I started cold calling 150 prospects a day in an attempt to get the ball rolling on what I believed could be a massive operation – but my dream wasn’t without prior experience.”
What was the prior experience you had?
“My thirst for sales and marketing began in my first corporate job when I was just 17. I was dedicated to mastering my craft and I became an expert in cold calling.
“During a time working for a digital agency selling AdWords, I was asked by a prospect if I could get their business on the left-hand side of the page (otherwise known as organic rankings). I dove deep into research about SEO and, soon enough, I was offering SEO services within the business I was working for.
“I focused my efforts on building my first digital agency, growing it to about 16 people and $1 million in revenue, which I later sold.
“After running and selling a number of successful ventures (and a few failed ones too!), I had honed my skills and understood what clients wanted. I realised no digital agency in Australia would talk to me about what the return on investment would be for my business.
“With a service so measurable I couldn’t understand why agencies were hiding behind vanity metrics like impressions and click-through rates. So I decided it was time to shake the trees and call out the digital cowboys by starting the first full-service digital agency in Australia that focused on ROI and guaranteed results.
“My sales expertise, combined with a passion for customer satisfaction, set me up to score my first client for King Kong by the end of his first-week of cold calling. Less than 12 months into my venture, I invested in a radio campaign which generated enough revenue to help King Kong move from a bedroom operation to an office and bring on my first employees.”
How did the business grow from there?
“With a small team on board, I was able to scale the business and, as the company gained momentum, they were generating of leads and tens of new clients each week. I learnt very early on about the importance of having systems in place to scale.
“The team was making 180+ phone calls per day, feverishly trying to follow up every lead up. I then set up marketing automation that would nurture each lead and service them before they even got around to calling them. This meant one person could service the level of enquiries of a team of 5-10 salespeople.
“Fast forward to five years after inception and King Kong has transformed from a one-man operation into a digital powerhouse with an ambitious team of 61 of the sharpest digital marketers in Australia – with the expectation of having more than 100 staff over the next year as a result of the sustained business growth.
“King Kong has won many awards, including being named Australia’s fastest growing full-service digital agency on the AFR Fast Starters List (two years in a row) and Smart50 List, having achieved an overall growth of 314% and total revenue in excess of $20 million.”
How did you manage to grow without investment? What made you to chose to go without any external investors?
“I did not raise venture capital. I wanted to have complete control of the business and didn’t want to have some board of investors that could tell me what to do, how many people I could hire or how much money I should invest in marketing and so on.
“We are a service-based business and in my opinion that makes us a business that shouldn’t go out there and raise venture capital, because you don’t need a lot of money for inventory. For example, we don’t need to get moulds made or bring in really expensive developers in the beginning.
“Being bootstrapped teaches you to be highly resourceful and to value all the money that is coming into the business. It allows you to be sharp. For example, you are not going to go out there and spend a lot of money on marketing if there is a high risk involved and it is all your money that you have watched build up from the very beginning.
“I look at venture capital in most instances like cheating, it’s like business steroids. 75% of venture capital backed businesses fail in any case. They essentially fail with other people’s money.
“So, it was a conscious decision, I wanted control and there wasn’t really any need to go out there and raise venture capital because I could fund it completely off the cash flow of the business.
“Essentially, you want to just keep selling and getting hordes of cash and not be spending it, being extremely frugal – keeping at least 6-12 months of cash reserves in the bank that you could pay for all of your overheads. Everything else, you want to invest into marketing.
“Done properly, and with the right attitude, bootstrapping doesn’t harm a business. It teaches you to be resourceful and to respect every dollar coming in so you can then get more value out of that dollar.
“There is a chance you will miss out on some opportunities that require investment but, in the longer term, your business will survive because of excellence, conviction and drive, rather than relying on wads of easy cash.
“When you are starting out, draw as little money from the business as possible. Businesses die if they run out of cash, and every dollar you pull out lowers your success rate.
“If you are hungry enough to succeed and grow your business you can propel it to reap maximum benefits. Having a start up is not the time for treating yourself. Only pay yourself what you need to survive until your business is worth more than what you would earn working for someone else. The faster you grow the business the faster you will see the rewards of your labour.
“I also built failure into the business model. If you’re planning to fail, then you’ll be prepared when you do, and you’ll no longer be scared of it. At our agency, the tribe has built strategies that mean we only need to squeeze a small percentage of people down the funnel to be a huge success.”
What tips do you have for finding the right people in the crucial startup phase?
“If you’re a service-based startup, the product is the people that are inside your building.
“Retaining the right culture while growing your business is challenging, but it’s the culture that will help you achieve initial growth.
“Hire good talent who are the right fit. You need to look beyond the resume. A good resume is only part of the equation. That means they can do the job, but it doesn’t mean they can be part of the team you’re building. Someone who works hard, someone with a can-do attitude, is far more valuable than someone who merely ticks all the boxes on paper.
“Our interview process takes place over three sessions so we can get a better idea of the candidates as people. When we hire managers, we have them meet their potential team so our existing staff can see if their management style resonates.
“Get to know what makes the candidate tick. Do they have the same values as your company? When you are a start-up, you can’t afford to get too many hires wrong, so investing the time to increase the chance of getting it right will save more time ongoing.
“You need an engaged team – a place where you have people rallying together, agreeing on a strategy and really trying to make things happen. Show them your vision, where the company is going, what that company is trying to achieve, and how they contribute to that plan – rally your team and get everyone to buy into the same mission.It’s too easy to be heads down concentrating on business success, but it’s vital that the small wins along the way are celebrated together.
“The quality of the inputs into a system will determine the quality of the outputs, so you need to ensure your team is happy. You also need to ensure that you celebrate all the wins together – not just the big wins but the little wins along the way. This keeps the team motivated and shows them that they are part of the growth and success.”
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
“In the beginning there were a few people that came on and then they did not work out, so I would have to jump straight back in and do their roles myself. It was a real challenge to get the team to 10 team members, and it is so important at this early stage to paint a very vivid picture of what the future will look like.
“I remember when we got to 10 steady team members, I could take my first holiday after working every day straight for about a year and a half.”
Looking ahead, how do you plan to continue growing your business?
“Our business is really centred around solving the number one problem that all businesses face, which is: ‘how do I get new customers?’
“A lot of businesses are competitor focussed – they always look at their competition and see what they are doing and think about how they can do it better.
“Instead, we are a customer-centric business and we are customer obsessed. We continuously look at how we can solve this problem of getting more customers for our clients in the most effective way. We are looking at ways that unlock even more scale for us to be able to do that, and to solve that problem on a wider platform, to a much wider audience worldwide.”