This is a follow up story for DSM. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Darren Magarro and I am the Founder and President of DSM. DSM is a full-service marketing agency based in Mahwah, NJ. We’ll be 14 years old in February 2021 and I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world.
We’re labeled a marketing agency, in reality, we’re a “results agency”. It’s pretty simple and definitely not rocket science. Our core competencies are digital marketing, creative, traditional marketing, and without a doubt really good account management. Without good (truly passionate and empathetic) humans managing our client’s portfolios, we’re nothing. Over the course of the last 7 years, we’ve almost tripled in size because of our team and a straightforward love of what we do. In that time, I would say our main services have really shifted into the digital space with regards to our marketing tactics. The transparency and accountability it provides our clients and our staff to “fail fast and learn quickly” has been paramount to our success. Our motto at DSM is “stop selling and start helping”, and it permeates everything we do on our own behalf as well as our clients’ efforts. 2020 was a difficult year for everyone, and we’re proud to say that we were down just a few percent on the top line to 2019 (which was our best year in the company’s history). We really focused internally on creating more efficiencies and providing a better process for our clients, and our own employees. We’re extremely data-driven and this was definitely the theme for 2020 as we realized we weren’t going to grow. We’re currently doing over $500K/month and our mid and bottom line have never been in better shape. The members of the team at DSM get all the credit here. They worked very hard this year to make sure we’re leaving 2020 in better shape than when we entered it. Our goal in 2021 is to provide more education, growth opportunities and really allow our team to continue to push the envelope. At DSM, we constantly say, “best idea wins” and it’s creating a culture that is pretty amazing from top to bottom.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Quite simply, we’ve more than doubled the size of the company since the beginning of 2019. This has been done with an extremely overlooked (and simple) tactic. We’ve worked really hard to grow and streamline processes as we do it. We’ve figured out that it’s more important to know what WE DON’T WANT TO BE. We were 22 employees 4 years ago, .now we’re 14. Financially, we’re 3x to what we were in 2016, simple math. We’ve learned to bring in the right people who love what they do and are really, really good at it. Many companies fall into the trap that growth is all about addition, it’s really more addition by subtraction. DSM has grown (in a very difficult landscape) because we’ve focused on getting results. In marketing, not every campaign is going to be a home run, what our team has done has figured out how to fail fast, iterate quickly, and LISTEN TO OUR CLIENTS. We’re not “yes people”, but we’ve learned from the failures and understand that collaboration is key to success.
If you are going to lead, lead from the front. Don’t shirk that responsibility. Don’t expect people to follow you and your dream if you’re not being responsible to them.
As a “general statement” I would say the majority of our focus as an agency has shifted from traditional media (not to say that it doesn’t have its place, we still have a handful of clients that only do traditional media) because that’s what they’re audience dictates. However, our focus has been on digital platforms and the transmission of messages. This is because 1. Digital media has allowed our team to provide better data and analytics and transparency to clients on results and 2. Digital media provides an endless canvas to test messages and creativity in a way traditional media simply can’t. Our creative team has a blast...it’s really a win, win.
I believe if you read our Clutch profile or Glassdoor, basically, take your pick, our clients love the folks they work with at DSM. Our team is “grab your lunchpail and go to work”. We aren’t fancy and it’s definitely next man up. This is one of the things I am most proud of as a leader. Our team is the heartbeat of who we are and what we do at the agency. I guess in a pretty crappy year overall, two of the most recent accolades that we’re pretty stoked about were being named for a second time to the Inc. 5000 list (#3137) and being honored by NJBiz Magazine to their Fastest 50 list for 2020 (#33). Overall, it’s been an amazing year put forth by our team. Mentally and physically, it’s been exhausting. It’s presented challenges of working from home with kids, to not being able to see each other in our space (we’re a pretty close group) for like 4 months. It was a wild and crazy year!
Personally, I launched a series on social and our blog to honor the 25th anniversary of my father and the loss of my mentor (and basically my second dad Kenny Sullivan) in July with a series called Homage. I have completed three episodes and it’s been pretty amazing therapy. I look forward to thanking folks that have meant something to me in my life. Guess I am getting old, I’ve really started digging deep into who I am and what/who has helped me get to this point in life. It’s helped in business a great deal because it allows you to really use the mistakes of your past to help others in the future.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Wow, this is a loaded question in 2020. SO MANY THINGS COULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT! 2020 itself was one big obstacle. Every time you thought you had something figured out, it changed...sometimes better, sometimes worse. Definitely always moving though. I would say that the biggest thing I have learned as a leader and entrepreneur is to trust the people in your life that share your values and views on the world. Not being narrow-minded, 2020 has brought some of the most amazing people into my life (from other countries even), but definitely to have a tight-knit, close group of people in your corner that really care about your wellbeing. In a difficult situation, you really see people for what and who they are. 2020 made this exceptionally easy because we were all so spread apart and frankly isolated.
To answer the questions above simply and succinctly (because I could write a book on this someday), 2020 presented challenges...the likes of which most of us have never experienced. As a company, I think our design and set up was extremely to maneuver once all the lockdowns came because we were pretty well set up to work remotely anyway, all we had to do was take our laptops home. So I guess from that standpoint it was easy. Our worst nightmare was not being able to work together at the office, our team really likes each other, and hanging out together is a big part of who we are. We’ve done our best to do “virtual get-togethers” but come on, it’s sorta lame. If I want to beat you at the pool (not me per se, we have a few really good pool players at DSM). I wanna show you up in person and then drink a beer with you. That’s the way we’re built. That has been extremely difficult.
Personally, 2020 has been a year of growth and reflection. I’m learning as an entrepreneur and leader that I can only control what I can, the rest is going to fall where the chips may. I used to pride myself on working longer and harder than the next guy, that’s physically impossible. I am learning to work smarter. The one thing that I’ve enjoyed (sometimes) is spending more time with my family. My wife and I both work and having our three kids (11, 9, and 5) out of school and virtual learning has been a challenge. Overall, it’s been a blessing, and looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. We’ve taken nature walks, ate lunch together, and teaching a 5-year old kindergarten, TO ALL THE TEACHERS OUT THERE, YOU SHOULD BE GIVEN NOBEL PRIZES! 2020 made me realize that I’m very blessed on all fronts.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Here’s another good one, 2020 has taught me to not get so far ahead of myself that I don’t take care of what’s right in front of me. To be “in the moment” so to speak has been 2020’s gift to me that keeps on giving. As noted above, we finished 2020 down a bit on the top line, but in way better shape on the mid and bottom line. The total credit is due here to our CFO Charlene and COO Zinka. These two ladies work their butts off to ensure this company runs smoothly and effectively. They allow me to focus on the things that I love - relationships and networking. I can be the brand ambassador of DSM and they manage the money and operations seamlessly. One goal for our team in 2021 is to really work with our manager at the company to get them running teams. We have a great “Core 4” as I like to call them...of managers at DSM that have cut their teeth learning the trade. Our job is to help them to keep growing so they can become leaders in the coming years.
The future - I am excited. I think 2021 is going to provide an amazing opportunity for those that prepared in 2020. All the experiences were there to be had - I think those that will excel coming out of 2020 are those that took the time to “take the kick” and have set themselves up for success. Life always presents challenges - you’re not judged by how you get knocked down, rather how you get back up. I want to reiterate here - I DO NOT THINK THAT 2020 WAS TRIVIAL. So many people have been hurt in so many ways. What I’ve learned coming from the last two years through various trials and tribulations is that THE SUN WILL RISE. We have to honor and take care of one another...but quitting is not the answer. I’ve had so many people come around me to “be there” when I was struggling, hence why I started Homage. To show people that you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be. Supporting each other and making sure that we’re prevailing together is what I am most excited about. I’ve personally seen so much of this happening through new relationships. 2020 sucked, but it won’t keep us down.
Simply, my goal is to continue to provide and be available for my family, friends, and work-family. I preach it at DSM and I have come to grips with the knowledge that when I started this company, I was accepting the challenge of being a servant leader. Putting others before myself and ensuring that they were taken care of - physically and mentally. We all have to work, DSM was created to provide something more. A FAMILY. It sounds corny and stupid...to me, it’s everything when it comes to my peers in the company.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Book of the Year:
Because I Said I Would by Alex Sheen
I know I’m a little late to the game here, but this book and the message of accountability and empathy are just spot on!
Podcasts of the Year:
Agency Life with Clodagh Higgins
Podium Stories with marti sanchez
As noted above, 2020 has allowed me the opportunity to meet so many new people across the globe. Clodagh (in Ireland) and Marti (In Spain) allowed me the opportunity to be a guest on their podcasts respectively and they’re both phenomenal humans.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Learn, learn, learn, did I mention learn? While you’re learning, own the mistakes you make and correct them. One person that I admire greatly is JJ Watt (the dude is like the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to accountability and empathy). Just yesterday, he had a post-game rant for the ages about these topics. If you are going to lead, lead from the front. Don’t shirk that responsibility. Don’t expect people to follow you and your dream if you’re not being responsible to them.
I have personally made so many mistakes over the course of the last 14 years running this company. I am not perfect and certainly at times have not been the greatest leader. One thing though that I ALWAYS DO IS SHOW UP, this is something that cannot be underestimated if you want others to follow. That example of being there every day, being available, and building trust with others is what sets good leaders apart (IMHO). I’ve worked for good leaders and not so good leaders. You can always, always, always spot someone who puts themselves before others. That to me is not someone that I want to follow into battle. To me, personally, I want folks to know that I have their backs and will fall on a grenade for them. Give the praise up and yolk up with sh*it goes pear-shaped. Be like JJ Watt!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
A digital marketing manager to enhance our already rad team.
Job description here.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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