Asked how King Kong came to be crowned Australia’s fastest-growing digital marketing agency, founder Sabri Suby said his team practice what they preach, put skin in the game, don’t hide behind vanity metrics and focus on bringing cash in the door – “We’ve had no choice, being bootstrapped, but there’s no smarter way to grow”.
The Melbourne-based serial entrepreneur spoke to Dynamic Business about King Kong’s latest accolade – being ranked 35th on the Australian Financial Review’s (AFR) Fast Starters List, bootstrapping the agency to $10m in revenue and beyond, and why Australia’s digital marketing agencies need to lift their game.
DB: What does the Fast Starters ranking say about King Kong?
Suby: I started the agency three and a half years ago from my bedroom without any funding, venture capital or safety net. All I had was a computer, a headset and $50. Not only was I entering a highly-competitive industry but there were already thousands of digital marketing agencies in the market. To grow King Kong, my team and I have used the same direct-response marketing principles that we offer clients – and our record growth is proof that these principles work.
So, I would say that being ranked 35th on the AFR Fast Starters List – which makes us the fastest growing digital agency in Australia – is a testament to our ability to grow a business. Equally, our success is attributable to our company culture. Being a service-based business, our people and our expertise ARE our product. To deliver our clients the best results possible, we’ve invested a lot into not only cultivating the right culture within our team but nurturing team members and helping them grow. It’s funny, there are numerous business coaches and agencies coaching people on how to grow their companies but they aren’t practicing what they preach in their own.
I’ve known for a long time that there’s no other full-service digital marketing agency growing at the pace that King Kong is, so it’s wonderful to have that validated. Despite all the milestones we’re beginning to hit and the successes we’re starting to see, I believe we’re still at the very beginning of our journey. That said, being recognised as a Fast Starter certainly fuels our desire to execute our vision of becoming the number one digital marketing agency in Australia, if not the world.
DB: What are some of the agency’s key success indicators?
Suby: We’re at a stage where we’re experiencing 20% growth month-on-month, and we’re growing very, very quickly. Our agency has over 34 employees operating out of smart offices in South Yarra, Melbourne and we’re working with major clients nationally and internationally, including Metricon, Marshall White, Koala Mattress, Caruso Natural Vitamins and First National amongst many others.
We obviously use internal KPIs to continually assess if we are getting closer to our goal of being the number one digital agency in Australia. This includes: how many clients we have, how our top line revenue is growing, what are the results that we’re achieving for our clients and for our own business, and are we hitting our goals. And that’s something that I personally look at daily and then weekly, quarterly, bi-yearly and yearly, and really being laser-focussed executing the vision that we have for the business.
DB: What sort of mindsets play a central role at King Kong?
Suby: Our mindset is growth. My title at King Kong is Head of Growth and as the founder I know what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are, so I focus on my strengths. I know how to grow a business and I know how to apply those digital marketing strategies to grow other people’s businesses.
Also, I have focussed from the very, very beginning on basically bringing cash in the door. We had no choice, being bootstrapped; however, I don’t think there is any other smart way to grow a business, other than to make it profitable from day one. Getting money coming in and growing that top line revenue meant that we would have enough money to then start advertising, to get an office, to hire a team and to build the business.
In today’s day and age, where venture capital flows freely and entrepreneurs raise millions in seed funding with little more than an idea, something like 80% of venture-backed companies fail. Having an idea is easy – everybody has one. The real value is in the execution. Ideas are easy, executing is everything.
DB: Has being bootstrapped worked to your advantage?
Suby: Look, yes, definitely. In the absence of either startup capital or a safety net, we’ve had to stay focused on bringing revenue in by servicing clients well and getting them phenomenal results. As a result, we have a very high stick rate and, obviously, then we have a really high lifetime value. And we operate in a very, very lean and efficient manner, and all of our business decisions are guided by growth and asking if that spend or move is going to contribute to client satisfaction and growth.
DB: Has being named a Fast Starter generated business?
Suby: It most certainly has. We’ve had a number of companies on that list reach out to congratulate us and we’re now in discussions in terms of doing business together. Also, we’ve had numerous other leads come in as a result of being on a list that’s so public and credible.
DB: Can you give a sense of your career pre-King Kong?
Suby: I started my first business during my university years a result of a phone call I had while working as a sales and marketing consultant at an agency selling Google AdWords.
A client called and said to me, “I don’t want to be in the right-hand column with the ads, I want to be in the left-hand column with the organic search results. Can you do that?”. Being a salesman, I said ‘yes’. I got off the phone and told my business leader. He just said I had to figure out how to do that, because they didn’t offer that service.
Long story short: I researched everything about SEO, became very proficient in that, and it worked. That lead to starting my first agency and building it to a team of 16 people, and then selling the business.
After that I founded other businesses, sold them, and repeated. That included e-commerce businesses and creating a joint venture with the Sydney Swans, the Collingwood Magpies and also Hawthorn Football Club, to do a AFL group buying website. Whatever the business, I’ve always used direct-response marketing principles to really grow sales.
DB: What circumstances led to King Kong’s creation?
Suby: Throughout my professional career, there have been times when I’ve had to deal with other digital agencies. The fact that so many only spoke about intangible metrics (i.e. rankings, impressions, traffic, click-through rates and time onsite) made me realise there was a huge gap in the market for a digital agency that focused on REAL results. There were no agencies that operated on the principle of putting $1 in and getting $3, $5 or $10 out – whatever the case may be.
I saw an opportunity to establish an agency populated with people who actually had business acumen, understood unit economics, understood sales and marketing could really apply those levers to help businesses grow. Thus, King Kong was born. We’re filling a gap in the market for real results by killing vanity metrics, using true ROI and only charging for success, and as a result, we are disrupting the digital marketing space.
DB: Do Australia’s digital agencies need to lift their game?
Suby: Yes, they do. Businesses in Australia are completely underserved when it comes to digital agencies that actually know what they’re talking about. There are around 4000 digital marketing agencies in Australia – and that is because the barriers to entry are miniscule. You just need a laptop and you can basically be in business.
Lots of digital agencies are one and two-man bands, working from their garage. Many read handful of articles about how to do online marketing and then suddenly believe they have enough knowledge to go out there and teach other businesses…and yet their own business isn’t on page one of Google for any of the key terms that would be driving traffic for their industry, and they’ve never really applied these principles to grow their own business. Really, what makes us stand head and shoulders above our competition is that we not only guarantee results, we also apply – every single day – the same methodology we teach and implement for our clients.
Further, most digital agencies are measuring success with intangible metrics like social reach, engagement, ranking, click-through rates. That is essentially like a barrier for them to hide behind because they would not be confident in their ability to talk straight ROI dollars-in, dollars-out. Those metrics could be indicators of progress, but they aren’t results for the client.
We’re willing to really partner with our clients and have some skin in the game to get them the best results possible, to the point where, if we don’t deliver on what we promise, then we simply do not get paid. So, I feel that there is a huge gap that we are meeting in the market, that that is the reason we have seen such phenomenal growth and success in a market that is saturated but still underserving the Australian business community.
DB: What have been some of you highlights with King Kong?
Suby: Hiring my first employee, moving into our first office… and now being named Australia’s fastest growing full-service digital marketing agency. I’m also big on celebrating all the wins – big and small – along the way. For example, when we recently hit some big sales goals, the team and I flew to Bali for some time away to really reflect on and celebrate our growth. Every time we secure a new client, a gong is rung in our office and we have a big copper ship bell that we ring whenever a client gets the first lead on their campaign. So, we have orchestrated a situation where everyone in our agency is aligned to help our clients win, which will ultimately help us keep moving on the same kind of growth trajectory as we have.
DB: Any advice on what future trends SMEs should embrace?
Suby: Look, my methodology is very different from a lot of other agency owners. I’m not really about the next shiny object. It can be particularly tempting for entrepreneurs to jump at the next big shiny object but you need to focus on the fundamentals.
We practise direct-response marketing, which involves the psychology of selling and buying. Human psychology hasn’t changed – the principles that worked 200 years ago work the same, if not better, today. So, we look at what underpins the pains, fears, hopes and dreams of a client’s market, and then we look at positioning sales measures that address those. We look at all the digital channels as simply a delivery mechanism for those things. Whether it’s SEO or Google AdWords or Instagram ads or Facebook, all of that is a mere practicality for us in terms of traffic.
At the moment, the two grown-ups in the room are definitely Facebook and Google. They account for the majority of traffic. Facebook is very exciting purely because it’s a push medium – it’s being pushed it in front of eyeballs just like the modern-day television and there’s really no limit to the scale on that.
In terms of what we’re focussing on, we’re also looking at YouTube. In fact, we’re looking at whatever big channels have the potential to emerge as a third player in the duopoly of Facebook and Google.
Chasing the latest hack or the latest loophole is like a fool’s errand where, basically, the amount of traffic that you can get these days is unlimited. But instead of looking at what others might be doing, you need to look at what your prospects want and what medium will actually create a response that can lead to sales.
DB: What will you do to capitalise on King Kong’s rapid growth?
Suby: We’ll use the momentum to continue growing rapidly, to own the digital marketing category, and to be the go-to growth agency that will help companies go to that next level.
Because we are growing very, very quickly, a lot of revenue is coming into the business and that’s allowing us to not only get the very best talent there is but also train people up to be world class. We’re also spending more money than our competitors on advertising, to acquire our customers, and investing more in digital marketing because we know it works.