It’s the turn of Adam Ludwin and Dominic Joseph from digital advertising agency Captify to step into our real business hot seat. Founded in July 2011 by Adam and Dominic (when 23 and 26 respectively) Captify specialise in search retargeting and can already name brands such as American Express, British Airways, Orange, Warner Brothers and Late Rooms amongst their clients. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve just been named as a Smarta 100 winner: “an annual celebration of the most resourceful, original, exciting and disruptive small businesses in the UK”.
We caught up with Adam and Dominic at their Covent Garden office.
Tell us a little about your backgrounds.
Dominic: Neither of us went to university. I left school and wanted to work, I didn’t want to go to uni for the sake of it. I fell into TV, I was a camera assistant for a couple of years and eventually left because I got a record deal with my band and did four years of drumming full time. We got dropped from the record label and I ended up in media, which was far more rewarding as I craved control over my own career.
I started a job at Media Corporation and over five years built up a name, a reputation and a client base. I moved up through the ranks to Sales Manager but eventually succumbed to the urge to set up my own business.
Adam: I actually went to university for four months and decided after that period that I wanted to go out into the real world and start building a name for myself. So I left after one term, everybody thought I was pretty crazy because I was lucky to get accepted in the first place.
I went straight into sales, starting off in an estate agency and then in the city. I was a trainee broker for a short period of time and from there I went into recruitment where I stayed for about two years.
I started to research into training courses about how to make money online, so whilst working in recruitment I was also studying. I was working from 8:30am to 6:30pm, going home and then studying until the early hours and then going to work again.
After 3 months I’d made about £50. Once I had made £50 I knew that the concept worked, and that I could then turn that £50 into hundreds, hundreds into thousands and thousands into millions. So I left the recruitment company, set up a little desk in the home I shared with my mum and started an affiliate marketing company in 2009.
It was at this point I met Dom. We really hit it off and both knew exactly what we wanted from our careers. We had a vision, put it together and started Captify.
What does Captify do?
D: We’re a search retargeting company. We offer an advertising solution for brands that targets users rather than websites so there’s no wastage, it’s purely targeted for what people have searched for online.
A: As online marketing evolves, targeting has become more and more granular. Currently we offer the most granular form of display marketing, producing better ROI for our clients.
Tell us about your roles at Captify.
D: We have complete split roles. We both run this company but we both have totally different roles. My background is ad-sales, selling advertising and working on the product. Adam’s role is making the company as big as possible. This combination is complimentary and has worked from day one.
Were the separate roles planned or did it just happen?
D: I think that’s just why we work together. I need an Adam and Adam needs a Dom. I run all the ins and outs of the business, manage the teams and the product, but I needed that guy who was going to help me turn that into a scalable business.
A: There was a reason why I wanted to work with Dom and that’s because his experience was incredible and his relationships were the best I’ve seen. We really played to each other’s strengths and more importantly the trust was there, which is vital for any successful business relationship like this.
D: We’re taking huge risks a lot of the time. Sometimes you need that other person to say “let’s go for it”. I know that most one-man bands don’t do that because they’re so worried about staying alive. Adam’s really good at doing this as he is always pushing for growth. When setting up Adam said “let’s get a much bigger office than the one we need because it will inspire us to fill those desks” and that was incredible. There were two of us and we took a six man office and within two months there were six people sitting there. Now we have a much bigger office and shall shortly be taking on our second office as our team continues to expand.
Did you create a business plan?
A: The first plan we had we smashed within a few months. After 3 months we were producing figures that we thought we’d produce within the first year.
D: I got it out the other day; we were laughing at it because it’s so different. Within the space of 8 months we had around 6 more employees than originally planned.
A: To have a plan in front of you is vital because it’s something to work towards. You are always amending the business plan, so if you are exceeding expectations then the business plan is amended to accommodate the growth, so you are always pushing.
D: It’s key to have structures in place. Our entire company is now completely focused around the plan. It didn’t start like that; it was a very vague thing. Now it’s very much the spine.
Captify started out as Forward Digital but had to re-brand because of trademark issues. Can you tell us a bit about the name change?
A: As we are starting with our overseas expansion, we wouldn’t have been able to own the trademarks in all these countries and we didn’t want a different company name for each country, so we decided to go with a full re-brand and deal with the problem straightaway. Hence we created Captify. We made up the word because we knew we wouldn’t have any trademark issues with anyone.
D: We achieved great things with the start up of Forward Digital and built up a good brand. Changing the brand was a very difficult thing to do, because it’s your company you feel very precious about it. But it was definitely the right move and if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it sooner rather than later.
Do you think the company suffered at all because of the re-brand?
A: No. We received great feedback. It pushed us on even more.
D: It’s possible that there was a cloud of potential clients that lost interest because they got confused about the brand. However, we did not see a dip in revenues. Regardless, we thought the positives outweighed any potential downturn. We’ve a much stronger brand now. In online industry people change their names so often, it feels like a big deal to us but to other people they’re like “alright”.
What does the future hold for Captify?
D: Our company has to develop a global footprint. The next couple of years are really about which route we take. We ultimately want to produce a fantastic product that adds genuine value for advertisers.
A: We want to remain the most innovative company in the space right now. Our technology is always developing and we will always strive to be the market leaders. In terms of the product itself, we want to continue to make sure that our product is always increasing performance and achieving great results for our clients across the board.
D: We are a search retargeting company but we want to be accessible to all brands. The product will evolve because we’re using all different kinds of technology to make sure these campaigns work. We ultimately want to become a one stop base for brands; we can potentially fulfil four or five different roles because of our expertise and our technology. It’s quite interesting to see how this company will change.
What are the major difficulties that you’ve encountered?
D: Payment terms. In our industry the people we invoice take an incredibly long time to pay us and we don’t have that kind of flexibility with our suppliers half the time. Some of our supply comes from large American corporations who fine us the minute we’re late. We had to employ someone full time just chasing payments.
You now employ 16 full time staff. How do you find managing other people?
A: That’s probably the thing that we both enjoy the most. Having managed before, we know how to handle a lot of the situations that arise. The key to it is finding that medium between being the friend and being the person who has to discipline the staff when they are in the wrong.
D: With any member of staff, one of the most important things is to be listened to. Everyone has a say in this company.
Do you think managing staff will become harder the more the company grows?
A: It definitely will be but we’re really selective about the type of people we employ into the business. We are training a lot of the staff right now to be managers. We’re quite aware that in sales companies whoever sells the most is often the manager, but we disagree with that. You have to able to prove yourself as a manager; it’s not all about sales.
High point and low point.
D: For me a high point was hitting our first million in revenue, proving that our business model was working well and the lowest point was getting burgled.
A: The highest point is right now. We’re seeing everything blossom from all the hard work that we’ve put in. We’re growing the team quite rapidly now and it’s an extremely exciting time. I’m really looking forward to the future and seeing how far we come in the next couple of years.
What advice would you give to a budding entrepreneur?
D: Really obvious one for me. Get a good accountant. Absolute number one piece of advice.
A: My advice is, if you feel you’re ready, go for it. There are a lot of people out there who wait until it’s too late and then can’t take the risk because they’ve got a family or a mortgage. If you’re going to do it, do it sooner rather than later, but whenever you take the plunge, research heavily beforehand.
D: Don’t be too small time with your thoughts. You’ve got to think big. We’ve never once thought about just surviving and that has certainly enabled us to grow.
Do you think the government and banks could do anything to make life easier for startups?
A: I definitely do. The government do have schemes out there, but they won’t come to you, you need to find them. One that we have benefited from is R & D tax credits.
D: Banks could do more to build. If you’re starting a new account and you’ve clearly got a business plan, it’s in their interest to help out. We went from nothing to multi million pound revenues in the space of 18 months and that’s great for that bank. They could be a little more proactive at building relationships and understanding our business needs, helping SMEs like us to grow with them.
Finally, are you enjoying it?
A: We are loving every second of it. Of course we have to take the bad with the good, but there is no better thrill than watching the company develop from all the hard work that we have put in.
D: I wouldn’t change it as it is incredibly fulfilling and thrilling. However, when people say “I’d love to run my own company”, you want to say “have you thought this through?”. It’s incredibly intense, life changing and all encompassing. You can’t get away from it. It’s always with you and is a real test of what you’re made of.
Interested in finding out more about Captify? Take a look at their site:
This post was brought to you by Mathew Aitken at Companies Made Simple – The Simplest Company Formation Service
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