The Molzi Story, from toddler to teenager
Starting our second year as the perfect lifestyle business
As we started our second year we were a great lifestyle business. Every day was fun, I don’t remember there being a tonne of stress and I was able to spend every Tuesday with my daughter to take the opportunity to see her grow up. That was my goal when I set-up Molzi, but I found myself daydreaming at any given opportunity about how it would feel to have the first £50k revenue month, or £100k revenue month and, you get the idea.
Deep down I didn’t want a lifestyle business at all. I secretly wanted world domination but hadn’t prepared myself or my family for what that might mean.
At this stage we had around 5 people in the team, all in one small office in Farnham. Business is pretty simple with a small team as you can make fast decisions, and easily check on the health of the team. It felt like every day we made a real needle moving impact on the business. Maybe a new service offering was dreamed up, or a client win that doubled our revenue, or a new hire that made us much better.
Revenue was growing steadily and so was the size of the team. Our focus was really on winning new clients, and from our perspective no one was off limits. We were one of only a handful of agencies in Europe offering this Amazon service, and that gave us a pretty big market to go after. Basically if you sold some kind of consumer product, you should expect our call!
Crucially though we were winning clients but also keeping them. I always gave us a hard time throughout the Molzi journey about constantly getting better, but never really stopped to acknowledge that we were very good at any stage. And we were very good. There was no way we could keep growing without that. Looking back I feel a bit bad for the team, that they must have been wondering when we would hit the top of the mountain, but we never really even got a look at it. If you’re reading this, you guys were and are incredible!
Turns out we were very good at doing Amazon, phew!
Turns out we're bloody good
What surprised us the most during this period, was not how good we were at managing clients’ business on Amazon (we were!), but how bad other agencies were. Not intentional or negligent, but Amazon was just so different to other media platforms like Google and Facebook. On the surface it seemed similar, but Amazon was a retailer and had so many levers to pull to make the advertising work – supply chain, profitability, conversion etc. Because we were sales people dabbling in marketing, we were able to win against marketing people dabbling in sales.
While this Amazon opportunity was exploding for us, I was fully focused on the original side of the business – selling products to retailers. It was going well, and at this stage it was responsible for over half of our revenue. But, it was bloody hard work, very unpredictable and not very scalable. Basically weeks and months of work would boil down to whether a human being (the retail buyer) wanted the product or not. Unlike Amazon where any product can be listed and it’s down to the customer to decide what wins. This was the first big decision I had to make running Molzi. We genuinely had the chance to be a market leader in the Amazon space, but only if we cut loose of the manual, human-based selling. So we resigned the clients and revenue and went Amazon only. Ouch.
I would say that this period, about 1.5 to 2 years in to Molzi was the best time of my life so far. The business was successful, we had a solid plan, an amazing team that I loved working with. And nothing but fear of going too slowly was keeping me awake at night. The kind of stresses I had at that time was the fact we had a fire survey in the office that said we needed a new fire alarm system. The cost was £10k and at the time that was a big problem. I managed to get the supplier to agree to spread the cost over 6 months, and by the time the final payment was made, £10k was a drop in the ocean, such was the pace of growth.
The AMAZING Molzi team past and present
Culture forming - Work Hard and be Nice to People
As the team grew to 10 people, all still in the Farnham office, it became apparent that we had accidentally started to cement our company culture. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what this meant, I just knew that I wanted people and clients to want to work with us. A sign hung on the wall of the Molzi office from day 1 to the final day (now in my kitchen!). Work Hard and Be Nice to People. Who knew that poster would be powerful enough to create a company culture that still exists today.
I was invited to Seattle by Amazon to the launch of Sponsored Ads. In true Amazon fashion, the trip was all expenses paid, apart from flights and hotel. Very generous :-) But it was great to see the Amazon HQ and be amongst so many other Amazon agencies from around the World. I was introduced to one of the founders of Factor-a, a German Amazon agency who had just sold to DEPT. I remember feeling so envious of him, and trying to imagine how it must feel to sell a business and all the opportunity that brings with it. The plan was always to build a company to sell, but from this moment I was excited about it and thought about it A LOT.
Made it to Amazon HQ
The problem with wanting something a lot is you suddenly have a lot to lose. For a short period of time I became a bit cautious and anxious when it came to the numbers. Worrying that we weren’t growing fast enough, followed by worrying that we were growing too fast. It was the only time during our journey that I took any notice of our competitors and became temporarily obsessed with the progress they were making. But knowing that I was now on the path to selling the business, albeit a long path that we were no where near ready for yet, I hunted for a business mentor that could help with taking our business to the next level. As a bonus, that business mentor also happened to be a global CFO who became part-time CFO for Molzi. This gave me the faith that my bookkeeping was in good shape and we were doing as well as I thought we were!
Steven, our new found mentor and CFO was brilliant at adding the structure and stability we needed, but I also felt the need to be pushed harder. In previous jobs I had always thrived on hitting a target and the resulting praise. But it never quite feels the same when you hit your own targets. So it was time to bring some external investors into the business. The money they would invest was a bonus, but they were very much tasked with driving us to grow the business. As soon as you take any external funding, you are no longer your own boss. For me that was the desired impact, and it was instant.
Suddenly our growth hit a new level. I was almost fully focused on hiring to keep up with the demand. Ethan was signing new clients like they were going out of fashion. We had to take a second office in Farnham to house the ever growing team, but made sure we still met as a team once a week for lunch. Amazing times that I look back on very fondly. Also amazing lunches.
The World is about to change forever (dramatic, but true)
One development that I skipped over in the above whistle stop tour of our toddler to teenage years was opening offices in Hong Kong and Spain. Looking back on this now, it’s a pretty big project, filled with risks and hurdles. But as a growing start-up business you don’t worry about that. We wanted the international presence to help sign clients in China, who made up so much of Amazon’s seller base, and also to hire brilliant people with multiple language skills. The office in Spain in particular has been instrumental to our successful growth. Not just because of the superstars that have and do work there, but because it made us figure out running the business remotely. Video calls were already common place, spreadsheets where already shared and people were used to working with colleagues that weren’t sat next to them. Why is that important? Well, it’s now February 2020, we have 25 people based across Farnham, Spain and Hong Kong, and the World is about to change forever.
If year 2 was some of the best times of my life, the next year was up there with my worst. See you in episode 3 (read it here)!