Nearly five years ago I left Latitude, an agency I’d been a part of for twelve and a half years. In fact, my entire career at that point was in the agency world.
As well as a thrilling detour as Head of Tech North, I found myself falling into the Non-Exec/Advisory world. What started with Ruler Analytics has culminated in eight Non-Exec/Advisory roles with a mixture of agencies and tech start-ups.
In the past couple of years, two thoughts had been percolating away:
- How could I help more agencies? – While I was initially convinced my experience was transferable to other businesses, my first few roles really boosted my confidence in the techniques and approaches I’d developed in my roles. Furthermore, I regularly met more agency founders who wanted help. However, I couldn’t worth with them because I was already at capacity or they were competitors of the agencies I did work with.
- Building something scalable – I’ve been fascinated by the contrast between the agency space and the tech/SaaS model: the former requiring a continual increase in headcount to support growth; the latter being dependent on quality code, scalable hosting and repeatable sales. I wanted to build something that wouldn’t be impeded by the current skills shortage.
Years ago, when I took the helm at Latitude I had to really ramp up my personal development. What was the best model for setting the companies strategy? How can we make appraisals more uniform and regular? What’s the optimal level reporting for the board? Is there a better way to hold interviews?
I’d created a folder on Google Drive called “MD playbook” where I stored all the templates and pieces of advice I’d shared multiple times. It contained sub-folders on Finance, Recruitment, Strategy, People Management, Operations etc.
I regularly meet-up with Agency MDs and founders and the same topics around cashflow, recruitment and new business continually surface. Rather than repeating myself could I provide access to a more polished version of this repository for a fee?
I also created a 40 point scorecard to allow founders to benchmark their agencies. While you’ll see a polished version on our website, the original was a fairly crude Google Sheet using simple formulas.
Armed with my questionnaire/scorecard and a load of templates I spoke to a few friends running agencies. Those that knew me well enough to tell me what they really thought of it…they weren’t going to be polite.
The initial feedback was amazingly constructive and surprisingly positive. Sure, I ‘d need to tweak the scorecard a little more (the first iteration was too difficult and demoralising, while the second was too basic and made every agency look brilliant when the owners knew they had room for improvement) BUT the scorecard and templates weren’t going to be enough. The agency founders still wanted someone experienced to talk to. They needed a sounding board outside of the business.
The platform needed a panel of experienced Non-Execs, who had been on the agency “journey” and were willing to guide others.
…and then there were three.
In early 2019 I was chatting the concept through with Nick Jaspan, over a glass of wine at an awards do. As usual.
He thought the idea had real potential and wanted to roll-up his sleeves and get involved. Between the two of us, we drew up a list of agency founders and MDs who had excited their businesses and had experiences to share. However, before we could approach them we actually needed a website!
Enter, the wonderful, Anthony Diver of Mosquito digital, who had been involved in the development and roll-out of a number of L&D platforms. Within weeks of bringing him into our venture, we had a working website to show our NXDs.
I’ll save you the details on recruiting over 40 experienced NXDs, crafting and uploading content and testing the booking platform. That’s a conversation over a pint.
Fast forward to today and we have a subscription product that provides an online scorecard, learning modules and templates, and a monthly video call with a choice of NXDs from our extensive panel.
There’s lots more to do as we evolve the product and I’m extremely grateful for the patience of our NXDs and the agency MDs who’ve beta tested the product over the past weeks.
Say hello to AgencyNXD – we hope you like it!