Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there! I’m George Chilton, and I’m the co-founder and Creative Director of a content marketing agency called Hubbub Labs. We work with companies big and small - from early-stage startups to multinational corporations, mostly in the education and technology space.
My co-founder Dan Shepherd and I began the company in Barcelona, Spain, in 2017 - and it was our mission to help companies grow through world-class content.
We start with strategy and then help create articles, press releases, social media content, videos, scripts, e-books, you name it.
We’re now a 10 person + team of employees and freelancers. Some of us work from the office in Spain - but there are other team members in Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, Canada, the UK, and other countries around the world.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before starting Hubbub Labs, I’ve worked as a teacher, an editor in an international publisher, and a managing editor in a public relations firm.
In my last role, as managing editor, I realized that startups (and even larger corporations) struggle with communications big time. Much of the time, they assume too much knowledge of the customer and fail to describe their service adequately. Or they pitch their ideas to the wrong audience and don’t get market traction.
Frankly, you can have the best product or service in the world, but if you don’t explain the benefits clearly, you won’t get very far.
It’s always been an ambition of mine to have a project of my own - and, seeing as I love writing and communications, a content marketing agency seemed like a great fit. My objective is to help companies express their ideas, services, and brand clearly. Most importantly, to give value to their customers and potential clients through journalistic-quality content.
My partner Dan Shepherd had a background in education management and ran one of the largest language schools in Barcelona. After growing the student intake by about 40% in just under two years, he wanted to take on a new challenge.
I certainly gave him that.
We started with something like €500 in the bank. Our idea was simple: build a website and network as much as humanly possible. We did this in person and online - and met with local business owners, marketing managers abroad, and grew a network of people who could help us expand.
Take us through the process of finding your first clients.
We tried a little of everything to start with. While I’m a writer by trade, people expect more than just a well-written article or landing page: they want you to have expertise in search engine optimization (SEO), strategy, marketing, and many other aspects of the business.
If you are looking for a co-founder, look for someone who stretches you, has a contrasting perspective (but a shared vision) - and someone who has a different, but complementary skill set.
Our first big client was a local business school. We found them in a local Facebook group, where the marketing manager was asking for content creators to help grow their blog for SEO and product promotion purposes. We pitched our services and they accepted our proposal, paying for a year of content upfront.
The cash injection we got was what we needed to kick off our own marketing efforts, and we took things from there.
We began by simply asking people what their greatest challenges were. We saw where we could fit in and help. In situations where we didn’t have the expertise, we found people who could advise or execute the work for us. Slowly, in this way, we were able to build a portfolio of services.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When it came to the launch, we tried to make as much noise as possible. We kicked off with a party. We had a few customers by this point and we invited them, of course.
Other connections, friends, and colleagues came along too. It was fun, got people talking about us and we were able to make a bit of a splash in the local business scene.
If you’re a new agency, it’s definitely worth doing something similar. First, it’s fun - but more importantly – you are establishing a public vision for your new project. People get to hear about you and it’s an immediate way of building some buzz.
Make sure to have some champagne, nibbles - and, if you can, run a competition to get some people on your mailing list. In our case, we raffled away some blog posts!
As for outcomes, we made connections with guests who came with our connections and it was a great, motivational beginning for Dan and me.
In terms of financing the initiative, as an early-stage service-based business, we had very few overheads. We didn’t pay ourselves much (there wasn’t much to pay ourselves with), and we did a service exchange with a developer friend, who built our website for free.
Your network is your net worth. Be open to opportunities.
The biggest takeaway from launching for me is this: Spend money to save time, don’t spend time to save money. The former frees you up to focus on the bigger picture and grow your business. The latter leaves you with no means to focus on growth.
I would caution, however, to weigh up what you need to spend your money on very carefully though. Prioritize and be ruthless - only do what is necessary at the beginning. After all, an early-stage business should be a minimum viable product that you work on to make better - it’ll never be perfect.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As a bootstrapped business, we wanted to grow relatively slowly. It might sound counterintuitive, but we aimed to retain customers with consistent, amazing service and high-quality content. Growing too fast would hurt our processes and lead to lower quality work.
But as we added more people to our team, we’ve seen our capabilities and capacity grow. We’re able to take on more clients and continue to deliver what they expect.
Niching and word of mouth was the way forward for us;
The simplest way to grow in a service-based business, in our opinion, is to be good at what you do. Treat your clients with respect, deliver quality on time, every time - and they’ll talk about you. You’ll see new business come in as you get more case studies, reviews, and testimonials.
We specialized in education marketing and marketing for startups. Niching down in this way really helped us grow.
As you build a portfolio, you can reach out to other ideal prospects and grow your business picking and choosing the clients you want to work with. It’s not easy by any means, but it is far more satisfying.
Our ad spend was zero, aside from a few boosted articles on our blog. Through my contacts in the startup world and Dan’s in Education, we got the word out and quickly grew our network. Effectively, all our growth has been through word of mouth - and expanding contracts.
Outside of our contacts, we found clients on LinkedIn, organic SEO (using our own blog), and through local face-to-face networking events - which we occasionally sponsored. Barcelona has a really dynamic startup networking scene and we integrated pretty quickly!
We also gave (and still give) workshops at local events and in marketing conferences here and in the UK. This is great for building awareness and lead generation too.
We’ve also worked on PR initiatives, featuring in Entrepreneur Magazine, The Next Web, local press, and national press. While customers rarely come directly through these efforts, they make for excellent social proof.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, we’re profitable and growing at a rate of about 40% year on year.
My prediction for our future is that we will venture out into new areas - offering a broader range of services, from design to PR. But as always, we’ll add these carefully - making sure not to overload the team, so we can develop these new processes and keep our level of quality up.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
If you are looking for a co-founder, look for someone who stretches you, has a contrasting perspective (but a shared vision) - and someone who has a different, but complementary skill set. This will help you keep moving forward when you personally feel stuck in a rut and will constantly force you to think about the company in new ways.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Internally, we use lots of tools in Hubbub Labs: Notion for project management, Slack for communication, G-suite for email and collaboration tools, Semrush for SEO, Wordpress for our CMS, Canva for small design projects and Adobe Creative Suite for others. We also use loads of other tools with our clients, especially when we’re embedded in their marketing teams.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There are so many great books I’d recommend:
- Disrupted, by Dan Lyons,
- Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, by Nancy Duarte,
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz,
- Hooked by Nir Eyal,
- Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne, W. Chan Kim, and many others.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
- Your network is your net worth. Be open to opportunities, give more than you receive, and connect people. The more good you put out there, the more you get back.
- Start before you are ready. If you want to start something, go for it. You’ll learn by doing. This isn’t about “faking it till you make it”, it’s about launching something you know about and have passion for. The fact is, no one ever feels “ready” - so if you wait for the perfect moment, it will never come.
- Don’t run before you can walk. This connects to the second piece of advice. Don’t try to take too much on and over-stretch yourself. “Death by success” is a thing. You need to take it all one step at a time. It’s far better to reach your goals slowly than not at all.
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.
Get our 5-minute email newsletter packed with business ideas and money-making opportunities, backed by real-life case studies.