My name is Pat Ahern, and I’m one of the Partners at Inter (formerly Junto) - a solutions provider for growth-centric businesses.
Inter serves as the parent company of several brands. Intergrowth helps businesses scale their online visibility with content marketing; Interweb helps brands maximize conversions with new websites; Interdev helps agencies fulfill web development services. Our team is also in the process of building several software solutions to help businesses to grow more effectively.
We started four years ago as two guys trying to build a digital marketing agency from our apartments. Today, our team consists of 39 people spanning eight different countries and has helped hundreds of businesses to scale their sales.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I grew up in Boston as the oldest of four kids. I couldn’t have asked for a better upbringing.
Since childhood, my parents emphasized the importance of work ethic above all else. Getting an “A” in school was good. Getting a “B-” while trying my hardest was celebrated.
I wasn’t the smartest kid in my classes. I didn’t have natural athletic ability. However, I learned early that I could outwork anyone and succeed in whatever I set my mind to.
Don’t put up with customers who talk down to you or your team. They’ll create a toxic work environment that harms the business far more than the revenue gain is worth. Give them one warning before firing them as a client or preventing them from purchasing a product from you in the future.
My first experience with entrepreneurship came in high school. I noticed that many students threw away their old textbooks at the end of each school year. I spent the last week of school each year dumpster diving for those textbooks. I then spend a small part of my summers selling those books on Amazon. I loved it.
I spent a large portion of college drumming up new business ideas. I launched a social media network revolved around music when I was 19. I spent a year building the business plan and launching version one. I never took the time to validate that idea before launch, so that idea crashed and burned pretty quickly when I realized no one was interested in what I had built.
During my senior year, I co-founded a marketing agency with a few classmates that did much better. However, my business partners and I struggled to win enough work to pay ourselves a salary, and I stepped out around graduation.
Each venture reinforced the importance of work ethic. Each business venture came in the midst of full-time classes (and oftentimes a part-time job). More importantly, I was broke. I didn’t have money to pay for others’ expertise, so I had to learn everything from building my own website to how to do email marketing.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
I moved to Denver in 2015 and started working at a marketing agency in the area where I met my business partner, David Freund. We regularly found ourselves working late nights at the office, drumming up new ideas of how to help that agency grow. We spoke about everything from content marketing opportunities to how to drive better results for clients.
We resonated on more and more values every day. David opened my eyes to the freelance economy. Today, we have the opportunity to enlist the best talent in the world to grow a business, rather than limiting ourselves to the people who live within a 30-minute drive of our office.
We pushed to test out many of these ideas at the agency. However, this agency had been around for ten years. The founder had been in the game for a long time. Understandably so, he wasn’t going to change his whole business based on the ideas of some 20-something-year-old kids.
Over time, David and I decided to build an agency focused on these principles. We spent the next six months working nights and weekends on defining our services, gaining our first few clients, and fulfilling client work.
At the end of 2016, we jumped into our agency full time and named it “Junto” off the Spanish word for “together”.
Our idea was to build an agency of the best talent across the world that was obsessed with process. Our goal was to make the Chipotle equivalent of agencies - a company that provided remarkable services and helped clients grow by obsessing over quality control and consistency in our services.
For the first year, we worked out of David’s apartment.
I bought a $20 IKEA desk and we worked out of his living room, sharing 10 square feet between us. We paid ourselves the little that we could afford and worked towards building our client base.
Over time, we started to build our brand name. We spent our time helping other businesses in Denver with free consultations and focused heavily on content marketing for our own brand.
In January 2018, we leased our first office space. We hired our first full-time employee a few months later.
Since day one, we’ve seen glowing reviews and unprecedented results in helping clients grow their businesses. Couple that with our emphasis on content marketing for our own site, and we’ve been fortunate to see strong growth.
In four years, the team has grown from the two of us with a handful of freelancers to 9 full-time employees and 30 freelancers.
However, over the past two years, we’ve realized the limitations of viewing ourselves as just an agency. We have a remarkable team of people and skillsets. With the rebrand from Junto to Inter, our goal is to invest much more heavily into building out software that further helps clients to grow their businesses.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, we’re still seeing healthy growth. The company grew by ~40% in 2020, despite the global pandemic. We get all of our clients from inbound leads and referrals and had an average customer review of 9.4/10 in 2020.
With the rebrand to Inter, our team is taking a much more focused approach to our services.
We’re retiring some services so we can focus on the services that we’re specialized experts at data-driven WordPress web development and SEO-centric content marketing. We have collaboration between the two solutions. However, each member of the team spends 90% of their time concentrated on one solution.
To add to that, we’re solving our own problems by building the software that we wish already existed. In 2021, we’re putting apartment leasing on autopilot with LeaseLeads and bringing peace of mind to website management with InTrack.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Absolutely. I’ll share a few of the big lessons that Dave and I have learned along the way:
Sell solutions, not features.
Most of our customers don’t care that we build websites using WordPress CMS. They want a website that makes their brand look more professional and helps them convert more of their website visitors into customers. Identify all of the problems that you help customers to solve and use these as your selling points.
Document and systematize your product.
Obsess over delivering the same quality product/service for every customer. Document each step of the process and regularly update that documentation as new industry trends emerge.
Obsess over hiring (and retaining), great people.
A bad hire can ruin your business. Hire people that you are 100% sure are the right person. Bend over backward to help those people succeed personally and professionally. Great hires take pride in their work, care about their team, and want to grow personally and professionally. Have the respect for them to hold them accountable for being the best version of themselves.
Look for friction points in each step of the customer experience. Do everything possible to eliminate those elements. Obsess over making the customer experience as simple and enjoyable as possible. Apple’s product packaging is my favorite example of this. However, you can apply this mindset to any business.
- Make emails to clients more skimmable by writing shorter paragraphs, using bulleted lists, and bolding/highlighting key takeaways
- Make your products easy to open. Don’t use that pain-in-the-ass hard plastic packaging that everyone hates
- Don’t require clients to pay invoices via check. Make it easy for them to pay invoices online with their credit card (and eat the 3% processing fee as a business)
Customers are your equal.
Customers give you money; you give them a product or service. It’s an equal trade that both parties agree to. Some customers will assume that they are above you because they gave you money, forgetting that you gave them something of equal value. Don’t put up with customers who talk down to you or your team. They’ll create a toxic work environment that harms the business far more than the revenue gain is worth. Give them one warning before firing them as a client or preventing them from purchasing a product from you in the future.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We build client websites and our own websites on WordPress. We hard-code as much functionality as possible into our sites. However, we install the following plugins on all sites we work on:
- Yoast - our go-to plugin for opening up SEO functionality
- Advanced Custom Fields - this functionality empowers clients to make smaller updates to their website, rather than needing to hire an outside developer for every change
- TinyPNG - our image compression tool of choice, which helps sites to load faster
- WP Rocket - a browser caching plugin that also helps increase site speed
Our sales stack consists of the HubSpot CRM for lead management, PandaDoc for proposals and legal agreements, and Calendly for simplified meeting bookings.
Our project management system is evolving as we speak. We currently use Teamwork and Airtable for project management, tying the two together through Integromat. However, we’re in the process of switching to a new system that we’re hoping will integrate the functionality of all three in one place.
A few other miscellaneous tools that play a large role in day-to-day operations:
- Google Drive is our source for all client deliverables, process docs, file templates, and more
- We use QuickBooks Online for our accounting system
- Upwork is our favorite platform for finding talent
- LastPass makes password management simpler and more secure
- Some of our favorite SEO tools are Ahrefs, SEMRush, Clearscope, Screaming Frog, Moz, and Google Search Console
- Some of our favorite web development tools are Figma, Pastel, GitLab, Laravel Valet, and WordMove
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Here are a handful of the most influential books that I’ve come across:
- The Marketing Agency Blueprint, by Paul Roetzer. Despite being written in 2011, this is still the most insightful book that I’ve come across for understanding the marketing agency landscape and insights on how to build a successful agency.
- The 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss. Admittedly, I’ve still only read half of this book. However, Ferriss’s emphasis on delegation and the Pareto principle (80% of results come from 20% of efforts) opened my eyes to the importance of stepping away from the do-it-yourself mentality as your business grows.
- The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber. Once you get around the cheesy backstory, it’s a must-read for all entrepreneurs who find themselves “doing everything”.
- Good to Great, by Jim Collins. This book is based on a large-scale research project intended to identify traits of the most successful publicly-traded companies. All business leaders should embrace the principles discussed in this book.
- The Ideal Team Player, by Patrick Lencioni. This book has become the backbone of our hiring process. The breakdown of core traits that great hires have (and how to vet for those traits) has helped us to redefine what we look for in every hire.
- The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Entrepreneurship comes with ups and downs. Some days, everything is working as it should. Other days, everything seems to fall apart and you find yourself working nights and weekends fixing one thing after another. Holiday sprinkles in stoic philosophy while sharing helpful insights about overcoming obstacles and turning them into opportunities. This book has helped me better recognize emotions that might negatively influence my decisions and better manage the positive and negative times.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Absolutely! I’ll break this down into a few general thoughts:
- For those looking to get started, read this article that I put together about the lessons that I took away from the six months that Junto was my side hustle before jumping into the business full time. It breaks down my biggest takeaways from the time.
- Focus on thought leadership. Cold sales outreach is hard. I gave up on it six months into doing Junto full time. We shifted all of our marketing and sales efforts towards creating educational content about the topics that our customers were searching for online. Today, all of our sales come from referrals and people who reach out to us directly to learn about our services.
- Obsess overbuilding the best solution for one person. Our initial focus was on building consistently effective content marketing and web development services for the busy founder who wanted to put their marketing on autopilot. That mindset forced us to build solutions that are frictionless for businesses that want to be hands-off and obsess over making our services better every day. We were then able to build a spectrum of ideal involvement that clients can choose from.
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