Ep # 1 | Dare Mighty Things - Company Culture and Values

Joe Koufman

Joe Koufman has always been a connector of people. In his 20+ years working in marketing and business development, he has built out a large, distinguished network of corporate and agency contacts.

Joe spent over six years as SVP of Marketing and Business Development at Engauge (now Moxie, part of Publicis), focusing on landing marquis clients such as Hershey's, Cisco Systems, AMC Theatres, Newell Rubbermaid, Chick-fil-A, and Turner Broadcasting. Soon after Engauge was acquired in 2013, Joe recognized a gap in the market that he was uniquely suited to help fill - helping brands and agencies connect with each other. He founded AgencySparks in early 2014 to solve these problems.



Shantel: Hey everyone we've got Joe here with AgencySparks. Joe, welcome to the show.

Joe: Thanks so much for having me Shantel. I'm excited to be here.

Shantel: Yeah. We're excited to hear your story and how you've imagined born your career. Can you kick us off with telling everyone a little bit about your company?

Joe: Sure. AgencySparks, I started it about three and a half years ago in early 2014. I had spent six years leading business development and marketing at a pretty large agency called Engauge that got bought by Publicis Groupe which is one of the massive holding companies. It became clear to me that the big holding company wasn't for me. I had built a really repeatable and scalable business development process that wasn't just based on relationships that I had, but, also based on discipline, outbound outreach, nurturing opportunities and nurturing relationships. I took that skill and experience and built a company that is essentially a matchmaker for brands and for marketing agencies.

Shantel: That's amazing. Did you always know ... What was that pivot moment for you in that larger company?

Joe: TPS reports, for those of you who've seen Office Space. I was doing three versions of TPS reports. It became clear that the agency that I had joined was not the agency it had become. I felt that the tools and the skill that I'd used to help one agency could then be leveraged and shared across a number of agencies.

Shantel: Okay. Joe, I'm imagining you ... You know the scene when he un-drills the cubicle space and just kind of pushes the walls down, kicks up his feet?

Joe: I actually did that. I un-drilled all of the cubes in the entire office.

Shantel: No you didn't.

Joe: No, I mean...I was never a really fantastic employee. I always joke that I was somewhat unemployable so I had to start a company.

Shantel: Okay. Let's drive a little bit deeper into your company. What industries do you work with? What's your sweet spot? How did you learn your sweet spot?

Joe: Yeah. We work a variety of different industries. We're pretty industry agnostic in that we have ... Because, the lingo is a little weird for our company, because the agencies that we work with are actually the ones that pay us. Most people would call those clients. But, we never call them clients because that would be completely confusing since we are connecting those agency partners with actual brands or clients. For me this began with some relationships with some agencies that knew about my ability to help connect them with potential clients. I was able to convince them that it wasn't just about the Joe relationships that could fuel their growth. It was also about the repeatable process that I had built over time. I've been really careful over the last couple of years to say that the network of relationships is just one little piece of what we offer clients.

Shantel: Okay. Well, you talked a little bit about the process and scaling. Just from my experience being in a service based business, it's tough sometimes as you grow and grow quickly to not make that front line want to be working directly with you. Have you experienced something like that as well as you've grown your team and your partner and brands that you're working with?


Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. To your point, I just extended a job offer right before we spoke to a young lady that ... I was fortunate enough that she accepted the offer and will be working with us. One of the things I talked to her about was that as AgencySparks grows I will have somebody specifically focused on handling the relationships with our agency partners. I don't think they all need "Joe time". I think the reality is we can add value for our agency partners by delivering what we promise, which is introductions to brands that are appropriate. It doesn't matter whether it's me doing the introductions or not long term.

Shantel: That's great. And, this new colleague, employee of yours, did you ... Is this a new position on the team?

Joe: It is. She's somebody that worked as an intern over the summer, and we had made a plan to end that internship at the end of July. Either bring her on full time or not. It was sort of one of those "try it before you buy it" for both her and for us. Her primary role and function on the team will be to create content. So, she is writing our blog. She's curating our social media content and also creating new content for social. Then she's also working on some campaign stuff. From our perspective, our business, we are promoting that we have this network of specialist marketing agencies and so that the client ... The actual brands, if they need an agency we're in a position to refer them to an agency that can help them solve that marketing challenge that they're having.

Shantel: Thanks. Well, congratulations on the new hire. I know it is a true testament to the culture you're building and your team, especially if they started off as an intern.

Joe: Yeah. Thank you. It's funny because this is the third intern that I've hired ... No, sorry second ... I think it's the third intern that I've ended up hiring full time. I think that's also a great way as an entrepreneur for you to experience somebody who you're not certain of what they could bring to the table yet and they're not certain what you bring to the table as an employer. But, then once that internship concludes you're going to get a really good feel of what you're getting on both sides.

Shantel: Certainly. Are you the person currently managing and recruiting piece for the internship program, or do you have someone on your team helping with that?

Joe: Well, when we were interviewing interns we would often do a group interview. Usually a phone interview initially and then in person. I actually like to interview the person first and then have my team talk to them after. Many organizations do it the opposite way, where the CEO is the last word. But, to me, I'm looking first if they're a cultural fit and that's the most important piece. We have some very clear values that we've established for AgencySparks. I'm looking if they fit with those values. Then if the fit those values then I'll want the rest of the team to talk to them about their skills.


Shantel: And, we've talked offline, Joe a little bit about your daily cuddles. Can you tell the listeners about ... More about your culture and what that actually is?

Joe: Yeah. Well, the name actually came from somebody on my team just mishearing the huddle. But we actually do ... Actually it's a weekly huddle where we have each person on the team brings a sheet where they outline what their biggest priority is for the coming week. They outline where they need help where their challenge is. They talk about things that we should start doing, things that we should keep on doing and things that we should stop doing. Then, the last thing is that they highlight any big wins or shout outs. That's the time when we usually talk about the other people in the team and they work they're doing and what we appreciate about their work. But, we begin each one of those cuddles with ... We list out our six values and we highlight one value for the first five or 10 minutes of that conversation. We talk about what that value means to us. It's funny, because we rotate each week to a different value. We've already started recycling the same values over and over again. But, it's interesting to hear different perspectives even as we've gone through a second and third time. People are coming up with new ways that those values apply to our world and our business.

Shantel: That's amazing. Have you felt that those values have completely shaped the culture? Did you have them written before you had additional teammates and colleague or did you do that collaboratively?

Joe: We did that collaboratively. What we did was we went through an exercise as the team to start with a lot more than six. We whittled them down to the six and we argued and debated to try to understand if the ... If we could even get them down to four or three or two. But, the reality is we ... Every year I readdress those values with the team to ask if they need a change or be updated. So far they've been pretty consistent.

Shantel: That's neat. We have not applied kind of that re approaching the core values and talking about it on a year to year basis, but, that's an interesting ... But, for the most part they've stayed the same?

Joe: Yeah. It's sort of like when and old married couple renews their vows. We like to renew our vows once a year to make sure that they still make sense.

Shantel: Wow. That's great. Do you take the values that you have and also apply those to hiring questions? Where else do those core values translate outside of the cuddle?

Joe: Yeah. It's so funny to hear you still calling it the cuddle. We call it a cuddle too, but, what started as a joke has now become an HR violation. We do. We are listening ... In the interview conversations I'm mentally checking off and actually usually on paper literally checking off is the person ... And I'll go ahead and share what our values are with you now.

Shantel: Thank you.

Joe: Our values are that AgencySparks is honorable. We're resourceful. We're insightful. We're collaborative. We're tenacious. We're connected. I'm looking for people to join our team that are honorable, resourceful, insightful, collaborative, tenacious and connected. If they're missing some of those values, they're probably not a fit.

Shantel: That's great. Thank you for sharing those values. Those are awesome.

Joe: Thank you.

Shantel: Yeah. Let's dive into your day to day. I imagine as a business owner it's a little bit different every day, but, is there something routine wise that sets you up for success in the morning?


Joe: Yeah. I begin my day by reading. It actually begins early in the morning. I usually get up 5:30 or 6:00 at the latest and I read for a good hour. Then I go workout. Then I shower and get ready for my day. That reading time is ... My team will tell you they often get emails from me 5:30, 6 AM because I often will find something that's interesting for the team and also I'm thinking in terms of content that we could curate for the rest ... For our social and things like that. Then I get into my day, which usually consists of phone calls, conversations, meetings. I try to block time specifically for the team internally where I know I'm not going to have external conversations just so that I can ... We do, every Monday for example we have a content conversation that's about 45 minutes where we come up with ideas for content for us and topics as well as specifics. Then we have our weekly cuddle every Wednesday. We do free lunch Wednesdays every Wednesday. We go buy lunch for the whole team and we have our cuddle while we're eating lunch together. Then there are other things like every Wednesday we film our Marketing Mindset, which is a Facebook Live and also sits on our YouTube account. Video where we'll discuss contents that relevant to marketing professionals. Usually we'll end up talking about something that's happening on our blog that week.

Shantel: Nice. The weekly lunch is such a great idea. I think that's a great value add for all of your employees for sure.

Joe: Yeah. It's casual. They know not to bring a lunch on Wednesday. We switch it up, what restaurants we get food from. We usually pick it up and bring it to the office. It's not a field trip. This is a catered lunch in. It's relatively inexpensive for ... Considering the value that it brings for the whole team having a meal together at least once a week.

Shantel: Yeah. Certainly. We just started working with a company called Sifted. Have you heard of them?

Joe: No.

Shantel: Sifted, they do weekly meal delivery ... Lunch deliveries for companies. They work with companies like Warby Parker, but, they also helped provide us weekly catered lunches. Since we've done that ... I mean it's just nice to unplug and sit down with the team and really carve out that time and be intentional about it. But, I'm happy to share the link about Sifted if you want to look it over.

Joe: Yeah. It sounds great. That sounds great.

Shantel: Okay. You and I, we've talked a little bit about this offline, the big productivity junkies, I guess, if we want to call ourselves that. But, you send out a weekly email blast about all your favorite tools and resources. Can you tell the listeners a little bit about that?


Joe: Yeah. We started the Marketer's Toolbox. The purpose of the Marketer's Toolbox was to literally to be a resource for marketers to just review the tools that could help make their lives better as marketers. The tools end up coming into a bunch of different categories. They're broken up into a bunch of different categories. For example, there are tools around productivity. There are tools around web optimization. There are tools around creativity or collaboration or sales enablement. What we did was basically have our very large list of subscribers who have subscribed to receive this. Every Friday morning at 10:00 AM in their inbox, they get a different tool. Most of the tools we send are tools that we use. Some of them are tools that we don't use but we've just discovered and are either experimenting with or want to experiment with. It's one of those things where it's a great way for us to provide useful content without having to write something from scratch and create from scratch. At least once a week we write a blog post that is completely proprietary content ... We shouldn't say proprietary. But, we write a unique blog post that's 100 percent our content. But, then curating the Marketer's Toolbox on a weekly basis has been a really great way to engage marketers in a way that provides a lot of value without a ton of effort on our part.

Shantel: What is your favorite one or favorite tool you're using right now?

Joe: I love, love, love a tool called Lucky Orange. I think I've even mentioned it to you before. It's an inexpensive tool. It costs us $20.00 a month, but, it provides almost like a DVR how you can record a show. It records every single user's session on your website and you can sort of ... Like a DVR it's as if you're looking over the person's shoulder and you can watch where they're clicking on your site. What they're reading and hearing and when they fill out a form. It's a beautiful thing to match that with our analytics data to be able to see what people are actually doing on your site. It also has some other cool functionality like you can use chat. It has built in chat functionality. So, if a users on your site and wants to chat with you, they can do that. You can put surveys on the site, so that you can ask your users a question. It even have heat maps so that you can see what portions of your site are getting more eyeballs than others. That's a lot of functionality for 20 bucks a month.

Shantel: Absolutely. How do you digest that information? Are you looking at it every day? Do you have someone on your team analyzing? I would find myself probably just sitting on the website all day.

Joe: Oh yeah. That's actually ... You asked about my day to day and that's pretty much 95 percent of most days. Just sitting there looking. No. I'm just kidding. It could be ... It can be a creepy tool if it's not used properly. But, it's very interesting when you send out a note to somebody or have a phone conversation with them and you see that they logged onto the website. You see what pages they're clicking through on the website. What we'll often do, as we launch a new blog post or something, we'll then take a look at them realtime data that's coming into Lucky Orange to see how people are interacting with that new piece of content. What used to take somebody a long time to really see if the content they're creating is really resonating, you can now get almost immediate feedback by just realtime seeing if people are on your site looking about that content and consuming it.

Shantel: That's really neat. We'll have to check it out and I'll certainly link to it in the show notes. Thanks for mentioning it.

Joe: Absolutely. There's so many good tools that are in that Marketer's Toolbox that I would definitely encourage anybody that's interested, you can subscribe. 

Shantel: Great. So, jumping back to your previous experience at an agency, there's a quote and I certainly can't translate it right off the top of my head, but, it's something about how entrepreneurs will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40. How do you feel about the transition going from corporate to owning your own business? Do you feel like you've created a good balance in being able to unplug and turn off your company?

Joe: Yeah. I think we've ... I hopefully made a pretty good balance and I think my family would agree. I've got two young kid ... A wife and two young kids. We are very careful about screen time for the kids, but, also when we are around the kids we stay off of our screens. There's time for that after you put the kids to bed. On the one hand, being an entrepreneur I think about the business constantly. There's no turning off like there was when you just collect a paycheck and you go home and that's the end of your day, then you're beginning again the next morning. While we never turn it off there ... I think I've been very careful to ... When I leave the office, leave the office behind. I'm in home mode. Then when I leave home, I leave home mode and home behind and I'm in office mode.

Shantel: That's great. It seems like just kind of setting those parameters. That's wonderful. Is there any-

Joe: I was about to say, after I get home, after we have dinner and put the kids to bed, and I'm sitting on the couch with my wife, I'm not on my laptop knocking out some email. That happens too.

Shantel: If you're ever feeling drained at the end of the day or midway through the day, what do you do to recharge?

Joe: Well, having two little kids, twin seven year olds, helps recharge. Because playing with them, they don't care if you had a hard day at work, or if you had a tough situation of some kind. They just want to play. Between that and ... I'm a runner. This was my 15th straight Peachtree Road Race that I ran. I've been a runner for at least 15 years. I also play tennis as well. So, it's good to have some physical activity to kind of relieve some of the stress.

Shantel: Do you think the entrepreneurialism will rub off on the two little ones?

Joe: Yes. In some ways I really hope it does and in other ways I hope it never does.

Shantel: Fair enough.

Joe: I think there are a lot of things they can learn from their dad being an entrepreneur that I think will be really valuable lessons whether they choose to be entrepreneurs in their lives or not.

Shantel: Is there one piece of advice or one thing you wish you would have known when you first got started that you'll probably tell them?


Joe: Well, I've had a lot of conversations about asking for permission versus begging forgiveness. I've always been a just do it and then beg for forgiveness later if it was wrong. I like that. I would teach my kids that it's better for them to try something. There's a quote that I absolutely love by Theodore Roosevelt. The actual quote is long, but the short part of it is, "dare mighty things". It's called the Man in the Arena is the name of the full speech or quote. But, it talks about better to have challenged and tried and actually been the man in the arena than be the critic on the outside that can hurl bombs and insults. It's the concept of ... The thing I love about entrepreneurship is, it's easy to talk about business and talk about somebody running a business. But, unless you're actually doing it, the critic doesn't matter.

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. - Theodore Roosevelt

Shantel: I think that's really powerful. I recently had a conversation with someone and their biggest piece of advice that they heard is don't come to the business owner or the team or your family with a problem, but, come with a solution. So, I think that translates ... I mean, the beg for forgiveness piece, do you think that has translated to your company culture as well?

Joe: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. My team ... In conversation with my team I told them I would rather them try something and have me have to try to reign them in later than to come to me timidly asking for permission to try something new. I think that always as an entrepreneur your mindset somewhat carries over to the rest of the organization. I think my team is really good at trying things and being bold with choices without necessarily ... That doesn't mean to be stupid. They know that they're never going to be punished for trying something even if it may not be perfect.

Shantel: I love that. All right, Joe, I got two more questions for you to wrap it up. First, what is next on the horizon for you?

Joe: We are in the process of filming a series of content designed to help marketing agencies learn how to do business development better and more efficiently. We're going to be selling that via eCommerce. Any agency that wants to learn how to do business development better, will be able to purchase it and learn from it and hopefully get a lot of value from it. The other thing is, we have shifted our model a little in that we have started to add more agencies so that when a client comes and needs to solve a marketing problem we can offer them multiple different choices. We're growing. We're adding more agencies and thus we'll be adding more employees and team.

Shantel: That's exciting. I'm excited to check out that series that you mentioned. I would love to link to it when it's live.

Joe: Great. Thank you.

Shantel: Yeah. Of course. And, last, how can people get in touch with you if they want to work with you, if they want to learn more about AgencySparks? What's the best way to reach out?

Joe: The best thing is to just go to AgencySparks.com. There are contact forms there and if they reach out, it absolutely will get to me. Also, it's a great place to learn a little bit more about some of the things that we discussed here. There's a whole section on the Marketer's Toolbox. There's a whole blog archives section, so it is a great place to get in touch at AgencySparks.com

Shantel: Wonderful. Well, thanks so much, Joe. Appreciate you joining us.

Joe: Thanks so much, Shantel. I'm excited to be here.