This is a follow up story for Never Settle. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published almost 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hey guys, my name is Kenn Kelly and I am the co-founder of Never Settle an award-winning digital marketing agency. We partner with businesses to build them a bigger story through technology, marketing, and design.
Story is the fabric that has lasted through time, whether great leaders or great companies - what survived was the stories they built and lived. While our team is full of expert designers, marketers, and developers - in some regards each of those skills is simply commodities. What set us apart was our ability to listen and understand our customer's long-term visions and help them craft a plan and story to help them achieve their dreams and vision.
When we started the business we believed that “if we build it, they will come”. That worked for quite a while with consistent 20% YOY growth as our retention and customer referrals kept the business growing. The shortsightedness of that, however, was that while it was a good plan, it should have never been the only plan. Because something works don’t mean it’s the best. A few years ago I realized we were very comfortable with our consistent and moderate growth and that comfort is a great sign of passivity. With that, we hired into our weaknesses (a senior sales leader) and started challenging our status quo. Since then we’ve seen larger, yet healthy, growth that has put us in a place of increased profitability, not simply increased top-line revenue.
While we serve our clients with white-glove world-class solutions, nothing matters if our people or culture are off. The thing I love the most about Never Settle is easily our people and culture. There is a consistent message we hear from new hires that goes something like “I never knew work could be like this, full of transparency, excellence, and love.” While the revenue and profitability are nice results of a good culture, our people and culture are simply the most important thing about Never Settle.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
We’ve been growing, but more importantly, growing healthy. Our bottom line is better than it’s ever been and I have found that the more we cut back the better we become. As an entrepreneur, you’ll find one of our largest challenges is not chasing all the shiny objects and ideas that you come up with. It’s been said a thousand times, but this ancient wisdom is powerful when truly applied “You can go narrow and deep, or you can go shallow and wide, but you cannot do both.”
It’s really hard to say no to new and exciting things, yet the truth is, every time you say yes to something you’re saying no to something else. Instead of your no’s being a reaction to your yes’ the wiser thing is to intentionally plan lots of no’s so that when you do say yes, it’s an all-in, lazer focuses YES!
As we started eliminating some products and services we offered (which felt like children, and are VERY difficult to let go of!) we found our team satisfaction increasing, and larger projects and more prestigious clients coming to us for help. This year Amazon reached out to us asking us to build an eCommerce application for them. That’s one example of a constituent story we’re seeing and it’s an exciting time in the business.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there is no substitution for consistent hard work over a long period. It’s fun to read about others who have ‘made it’ per se, but once you dive into their story you’ll find the same thing over and over. Nothing came easy and it was consistent hard work that got them where they are.
Maybe it’s because we’re coming up on our tenth anniversary and have a decent history to draw from, but one thing is certain there were no big bang moments that brought us to where we were. It was thousands of micro-actions over the years that have compounded to create our success and health as a company.
Due to covid, 2019 and 2020 were challenging years for lots of businesses, including us. One of the lessons I re-learned during that time as a leader was the ability to share the burden. We were 100% transparent with our staff and asked them to partner with us in a 30% pay cut (founders took 100% pay cut) to weather the cash shortage we had to ensure we didn’t have to lay anyone off. That was extremely humbling, yet a great moment in growth as a leader to let go and walk with my team side by side. It took us over a year but we tracked every dollar our staff gave up and paid them back for their sacrifice to help us in our time of need.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
To continue distilling and simplifying the business to create more impactful growth and focus for our business and clients. Again just applying the ancient wisdom of consistency over a long period will set you apart, so today is day 1, we’ll show up, give it our best, and keep moving that ball down the field.
It’s fun to read about others who have ‘made it’ per se, but once you dive into their story you’ll find the same thing over and over. Nothing came easy and it was consistent hard work that got them where they are.
The second thing we’re pretty excited about is a new type of project management tool we’ve been developing under the radar that’s in a beta right now called DashMode. It’s made to make your tasks work for you in the background so you can get work done, instead of wasting so much time on managing task management.
It’s built around video and image-based tasking, as we all know a picture is worth a thousand words so why describe something in 10 paragraphs that can be captured in a moment with an image. Here is a quick beta walkthrough below, and if you’re interested in joining the free beta email [email protected].
Have you read any good books in the last year?
While I never read a book until my junior year of college (my eyes couldn’t track the next line on the page so I would re-read the same thing over 50 times) I have since grown to be a lover of books and learning from others’ life experiences. It feels like every book I read was amazing but if I had to narrow it to two books it would be:
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by Mark Comer which takes a ton of ancient wisdom and breaks it down into four practical things you can do that personally have had a radically positive impact on my life, family, and business. In an age of overstimulation, hyper-input-driven culture - the truth is out: we're the most informed people who have ever lived and yet simultaneously one of the most unhealthy people of all time. Learning how to live in harmony with our ancient wiring is a way to live healthy, thriving, and happy in a society dominated by mental and physical health issues.
A person who likes a little bit of tough love and a good call to get after it, my second one would be Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins. As a person always pushing my physical, mental, and leadership limits so that my previous best is my new baseline - reading this book was a good kick in the ass to keep going. Hearing about Goggin’s doing BUDS SEAL training three times, and completing it on two broken legs (just one of many stories) was a call to get up and get after it, every single day!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
For us, the wisest thing we did was get external help and quit being afraid to sell. Being a tech and marketing company our team is filled with creatives and engineer brain types. Neither of which love the idea of ‘selling’... it was almost a curse word to talk about “sales” as it felt forced and pushy.
Over the years, we learned as Dan Pink would say, “to sell is human”. We’ve learned that offering people solutions to their greatest challenges, providing our very best talent and experience is a win-win situation. Having a team that can see that and appreciates it, actually gives us a culture that is growing in sales through relationships with our customers.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, we are currently looking for frontend and backend developers, WebFlow experts, and Project Managers!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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