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WME Group founder and MD Nick Bell

Going out on an a high, making a global play: Nick Bell on WME Group’s sale and what’s next

Having sold WME Group for $39 million, this week, serial entrepreneur Nick Bell caught up with Dynamic Business to discuss why it was time to leave the digital marketing agency he founded in 2008, the lessons he learned at its helm, and what he’ll do next.

DB: How did the sale to Melbourne IT come about?

Bell: Mutual connections. I’ve known the team at Melbourne IT for a while now – we met through business. We basically got talking and decided there was an opportunity here, and it just evolved.

DB: Were you approached by other potential buyers?

Bell: Yes, we had interest from other companies who were offering a bigger prize… but they weren’t the right fit for the business. I knew that Melbourne IT wanted to leave WME running the way it is but enable it to develop into something even bigger and better for both the team and the customers. I’m handing the reins to Dim Apostolovski, the current General Manager of WME, and the entire WME management team. They will continue to drive the business forward.

DB: What role will you play ahead of your departure?

Bell: I’ll be focusing on making sure it’s a smooth handover and that WME endures under new management following my exit at the end of June. It will be business as usual during this time.

DB: Why was it time to sell WME Group?

Bell: I’ve done everything I wanted to achieve for this business and am ready to take on new challenges. I recognised that in order to take the business to another level, we needed to partner with a larger organisation.

DB: On a personal level, was it a tough decision?

Bell: Initially it was, but when I finally made the decision and realised the time was right to sell to a potential buyer, I was all in. It was tough to let the business go, but you just have to make that commitment. And I’m selling the business at an all-time high in terms of revenue, the team, and the services we’re offering. Melbourne IT is buying a great company.

DB: What are you most proud of with WME Group?

Bell: There are a lot of things I’m proud of. Considering the business started from my bedroom, I’m pretty happy with how it’s grown and what it’s become over the past nine years! We’ve established ourselves as a leading brand in this industry – I’ve even had competitors tell me that WME has helped put SEO on the map for Australia. However, I think one of the things I’m most proud of is the people who have grown with this company and remained loyal to the business. The WME culture has attracted a lot of good people over the years who are extremely talented at what they do.

DB: What lessons did you learn at the agency’s helm?

Bell: There are three key ones I can pinpoint:

  1. Hire the right people: In my experience, personality, common sense and work ethic trump education. On that note, don’t be afraid to fire quickly – if someone isn’t the right fit for your company, don’t hold onto them.
  2. Make sure your product or service is strong from the ground up: Test it thoroughly – one negative review can damage your business.
  3. Culture is very important: I never thought it was in the early days because I was too focused on building the business, but with a good, strong culture you retain the right people.
DB: What is next for you as an entrepreneur?

Bell: I’ll probably look at launching a new start-up. I’m not sure what that will be yet, but I want to go for a global play.

It definitely won’t be an agency: I’ve been there and done it for nine years. I need a new chapter in my life. They say you have five to ten career changes in your lifetime? I think this is my fifth career change. If I keep doing the same thing, I think I’ll become complacent.

I’m considering something along the lines of a SAS (software) business. It’s something I’ve never done and it has a global reach. I’ve always done service-based digital agencies. I would like to IPO and run a publicly-listed company –maybe my next venture will take me there.

See also: Five marketing lessons to learn from Trump (Nick Bell)Find your niche, ride the entrepreneurial wave, operate like a start-up: Nick Bell on his journey (Nick Bell)When there’s a will there’s a way: founder of WME, Australia’s largest digital marketing agency rises from failure to $45 million

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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