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Season 01, Episode 01

Founder and CEO of Knucklepuck, Brett Snyder

With Founder and CEO of Knucklepuck, Brett Snyder

About the Episode

Today on The Fastest Growing Companies podcast, we’re talking to the Founder and CEO of Knucklepuck, Brett Snyder.

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Full Transcript

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22:08

Chris:
Welcome back, everybody. Today. I’m talking with Brett Snyder, Founder and CEO of Knucklepuck. Hey, Brett. Welcome to the show, man.

Brett:
A pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Chris:
For joining. So real quick, tell us a little bit about your business, like the elevator pitch or what

Brett:
It’s all about. Yeah, so Knucklepuck is a digital marketing and web development agency. So on the marketing side, we have SEO paid media content marketing services, and on the website, we’re doing exclusively in WordPress development, but the range of projects that we’ll work on can be anything from small businesses to highly complex, you know, associations with different integrations. And we’re doing a project now with a large commercial real estate firm that you know, is helping us build out various segments of their business. And so we really look for, you know, what are the actual needs that we have to address, and then we scope the workaround that.

Chris:
So if you go back to the beginning, why this business, why, why did you start this thing?

Brett:
So I think why I started on the SEO side is I fell into a, um, you know, digital internship. I was actually running Speedos at the time was Google ad words. You know, now Google ads campaign during the Oh eight summer Olympics. You know, that was my first kind of introduction to it. And seeing the amount of impact you can have and how much frankly, how much money is being spent through these channels to drive that visibility was really, really exciting. Um, so I got an opportunity to join at the time, a very small SEO and digital media shop, um, in Philadelphia called SERE interactive. Um, they have since gone on to pick their 150 plus 200 people now, um, you know, will their founder, who’s a mentor of mine is, you know, speaks around the world as, as kind of an evangelist and advocate for SEO. And so I got to really get a sense of learning the space there. And a lot of that has informed what I wanted to do when I started up a book. So if you can do a

Chris:
SEO or AdWords for Speedo, I feel like you can do it for anything in the world like that.

Brett:
I mean, that’s, that’s the appeal of an agency, right? At least for me, right? You don’t, you know, I, I like to have different kinds of things that I can look at. And I think the folks that we work with, like being involved in several projects at once, because you’d be surprised at what you can learn from a moving company in Ohio that can apply to a, a SAS company, you know, doing compliance and regulation software. You know, that’s just understanding, being involved in search results, being involved in these dashboards, tweaking bids, you know, really kind of getting some exposure to various things, I think makes us stronger.

Chris:
Used to say my consulting business was industry agnostic and it was, that was part of the fun was borrowing solutions from over here and using them there and seeing what people are doing everywhere. So I totally agree. Now, this show’s all about growing, scaling a business. You’ve had some tremendous growth over the years in terms of the people side, you went from a couple of people up to about 18, you said now, but revenue’s grown dramatically. So, you know, and where are you at now?

Brett:
I think we’re at 18. Yeah. Where we’re looking to add some new folks now to, to accommodate some growth that we’ve, you know, some, you know, initial growth we’re seeing in 25. Awesome.

Chris:
As you’ve grown, what do you think has been the secret sauce that really helped has helped you attract people and build the right team?

Brett:
Yeah, I think there’s kind of, there are two sides of the coin, right? There’s the culture side, which, you know, is an answer for everybody, but how it manifests is, is kind of what stands apart. And then, then there’s the logistics of it. And so I think the logistics aren’t really spoken about us as often, you know, I think that’s like understanding, like, not just that there’s a growth path for you, but like, but what is that? What does it look like to go from a junior consultant role to a consultant role? You know, we talk about having a management track and an individual contributor track so that we don’t see people who could be very high performers in an individual contributor role that may struggle with management. Um, and I think that’s been another big part of what has allowed us to be successful in growing is the logistics behind the investments we tried to make in our middle management to provide some leadership exposure.

Brett:
Um, you know, really trying, knowing that everybody has to kind of own their own destiny a little bit, but then managers have to own a little bit of everybody else’s, you know, and finding that right balance and the way that that’s able to come through in the way that we meet with our team, you know, the way that we try to give enough autonomy, that people feel that they can do their work, right? We’re at your pirate for your brain. You know, we need to, if we need to see it go to work, but also make sure that we’ve got support and guidance.

Chris:
Sounds like you’ve put a lot of proactive attention into the people management versus individual contributor paths. And a lot of people don’t realize that those are different things. They don’t think about the next role that just the one they’re being hired for. So that’s a great tip. Who, who was your first couple hires and, and how did you know that that’s who you needed for the team?

Brett:
So my first hire is actually a really, really interesting story because Megan worked for us for about three years. Got a really great in-house opportunity a couple of years ago, but then we actually brought her back in to run the marketing team, you know, to run the entire marketing team last January. I love it. And a lot of it was for similar reasons. And one case that I, you know, I’ll speak to that is we always tell people to leave the right way, both as a company and as an employee, you know, your reputation carries on and you know, Megan got a great opportunity and I will never begrudge any of my folks for pursuing an opportunity. That’s going to enrich their lives and, and, you know, advance their career. Um, but she put us in a position to be successful. And then we had a chance to bring her back.

Brett:
But the first time I hired, I hired her with no experience. And she actually went to, both of us are Villanova university alums. She went to the Villanova alumni group and said, these are my skills. And this is, this is where I think I’d be strong. Um, and I called her, I had no office. I actually got an office. Our first office was so I didn’t put her on my couch. My townhouse I’ve always said, I can teach you SEO. I can teach you the core building blocks of the service we provide. I can’t teach you to care. I can’t teach you to own your own, your own circumstances, and take advantage of the tools. One phrase I use a lot is that you know, I can, I can give you the tools, but you have to build a house.

Chris:
And it sounds like she was a little bit of a risk-taker if she was willing to be that first person to come and work on the first desk that wasn’t your couch.

Brett:
Yeah. Right. I mean, and we met, I told her exactly what it was like, look, we don’t have any other people, but here’s the plan that I have. Here’s the, you know, here’s the trajectory I’d like to take it on and you’re going to work with me. Here’s the stability of the business as it stands right now, you know, so that, you know, that there’s, you know, there’s not something that’s going to disappear on you in a couple of weeks, but she certainly took a, took a chance on me.

Chris:
Remember the same thing hiring my first person in my first business. It’s so much of it’s selling them that your business is not about to collapse. Right.

Brett:
But that, it’s a real thing.

Chris:
So then as, as a, and I love that you mentioned the offboarding too, and the transitioning out, and that, that says a lot about your culture, that you want that to be a good experience for people. So kudos on that. What do you think has been the hardest part about your team getting larger?

Brett:
Oh, you know, ear, your recruitment pipeline, and your biz dev pipeline never quite seemed to line up. Do they? You never, you never quite seemed to have them both peak at the same time. And I think that’s been a challenge for us over the years. You know, we’ve had times where we’ve hired, expecting, you know, to have, or, or overhired, and, you know, and then we had to do a reduction a couple of years ago and one of the worst experiences, but very much a necessary one for the health and success of the business longterm. Um, but it really got us to understand like, all right, how long does it take for us to train up a junior person to be able to really be effective on projects, versus how long does it take to onboard to recruit and onboard somebody with experience. And so that’s why we really look at our hour’s allocation very, very heavily because we want to get a sense of how much buffer do we have left and looking at, you know, for our junior roles, for example, we have a kind of a six-month ramp up, you know, we have a six-month plan for folks that come in, you don’t have to have any experience, but if you prove that you can learn the skills you improve, that you can start to have an impact, you know, then we’re going to try to grow, you know?

Brett:
And so you said

Chris:
Right before we started recording, you had kind of a ratio or a percentage that you aim for in order for your di to do your capacity planning, right?

Brett:
We actually do us, we do our capacity planning and 75% billable margin or billable threshold margin. I’m not sure what the word is there, which I know is, is very low. Um, just in terms of what’s expected of, of generally of agency work, you know, and, and the consultants there, but we always look at this and sound like it’s going to take more time than this. I’m going to ask you to do something in the third week of the month because we got a proposal or we have a new project kicking off. And I have to know that there’s an opportunity for us to have a pace that we all agree is a reasonable and acceptable baseline pace because we are going to have to sprint off of that. But we have to know, you know, what we’re sprinting from. So

Chris:
Exercise for anyone listening is to do exactly what you just recommended and come up with some sort of forecast for their hiring because it doesn’t just magically happen that you’ve got more work and you’ve got people willing to do that work on the same day. As you said, it takes a lot of planning, a lot of effort. So if anyone listening, hasn’t done that work, please put together a headcount, sort of forecast a projection for where you’re going to meet certain capacity thresholds and where it makes sense to hire. I think that’s such a great tip. So, so Brett, you mentioned hitting a couple of harder times. Was there a point in your growth where you just worried that things wouldn’t work out, that the business wouldn’t make it? Was there any, any of those like dark,

Brett:
Dark? No. Yeah, there was, I mean, I remember actually very vividly. We were talking before my, my actually the only time I’ve ever been to Arizona, it was for a bachelor party for a friend of mine from college and a roommate afterward. Um, and that was at the point where I had a very, very toxic member of my board who was just absolutely poisoning everything from our client relationships to our team, to different work we had done together. Um, we had had, that was right around when we had to do a reduction a couple of weeks earlier. And then we lost two of our three managers in the span of like six days. Um, both were great opportunities that, again, I can’t progress to them, you know, pursuing the opportunity, especially with, you know, we were, we were working in a huge, huge client, um, you know, one big enough that we can’t talk about it.

Brett:
Um, but that I had not scoped properly, so big revenue number, but huge, huge hours hit. Um, and I remember like looking, you know, and just having everything just closing in and feeling like it was closing in, and the straw that broke the camel’s back was actually losing my Fitbit of all things. I was packing up to go to the airport for, you know, if this thing, something else had gone wrong. And I was just, I was hanging on by a thread and my Fitbit fell out of my, my, off my wrist packing through my laptop in my bag. And that just, that was just the thing. That’s just like, I can’t do it anymore. So like, I may not come back to this office. I was in tears on the way to the airport talking to my wife. Um, and so I finally said, look like, I’m going to go, I’m going to see some friends we’re going to have a good experience.

Brett:
And on the way back, I said, something has to change. Um, so, you know, we made some of the changes to the business. I demanded this person be removed from the, you know, I, I took control of the circumstances I could, can take control over. Um, but yeah, my, my toes were curled over the edge and I had, you know, I think it’s probably similar, a lot of folks that you talk to, you know, most people in our roles don’t really see the edge very often, but when I found it, it was, it was scary, but it was also enlightening and gave me a lot of clarity.

Chris:
Wow. Congrats on getting through that. I know a lot of us have had those kinds of moments and it’s also impressive that you took all of those steps to improve your business without your Fitbit. Yeah. Unintended. All right. So if you had to pinpoint, like, as you came out of that, as you were growing, um, thinking through some of your big wins over the years, what do you think has really unlocked some of the quick growth? Was it a certain client, an idea, a connection, a new service that you offered? Can you pinpoint

Brett:
Anything? Yeah. I mean, I think it’s, it’s the people, right. You know, it’s, it’s w you know, it’s, it’s the folks that stepped into these roles, the woman who now runs operations for us when we lost our other two managers, she had been running our paid media team at the time. Um, and she basically took over our SEO and our content team. And I think at the time paid media was three people. SEO is like 10 and content was like two or three. And so all of a sudden taking on services that she didn’t know, but, you know, she had a commitment to, you know, to get it done and to figure it out and to make sure that the people who were here and committed to us were able to see the return on their investment in Knucklepuck. Um, and so I give them more, a lot of credit for, you know, after that’s not here, you know, she really helped steer us in a better direction.

Brett:
Um, I acquired a small web development agency a couple of years ago, you know, and once that he really onboarded, they’re very new. They’ve been working together for a long time. They have a lot of independent vision for what they want to do with this department. Um, and I think that was another reason why we brought Megan back to the marketing role, you know, who was my first hire and, and came back. It was because she had that vision. And she had an ability to say, it’s aligned with mine, which is critical for, you know, for an executive team, but she had her own independent vision as did Maura. You know, when she took over marketing and moved to operations as this Cory overseeing the dev team. And when I think that’s really been, the big piece is knowing, do you have the right folks around that have an alignment of vision with you, but also the ability to execute on that vision.

Chris:
So they’re aligned with your vision. They can execute on the vision. And what I heard is that they have some of their own vision as well. That may be extended.

Brett:
Yeah. Yeah. Go ahead and ask it, as they have, you have to care about it for yourself, right? Like if you’re just going in there and you’re only doing it because you want to impress me, or you’re only doing it because it’s my baseline of what work-life balance means, you know, there’s, there’s a, an end date on that, right? Like there’s a natural time where next one mortality, but that kind of mindset. But if you go in there and you say like, no, like I want this, like, this gives me the balance that I can, I’m able to travel where I want to, I’m able to have the flexibility to see my family. I’m able to work with people that respect me for who I am and science, that, that appreciate the value that we bring. You know you have to, you have to care about that yourself, or there’s no incentive for you to give it your all I think, or at least a, not a maximum incentive. Yeah. A hundred

Chris:
Percent agree. Okay. So let’s turn, to what some people say is the hardest part of growing your business and that’s delegation letting go passing things off to other people. Um, what’s, what’s helped you get better at delegation.

Brett:
Um, that’s a good question. That is a hard one because it’s not something that it just, you know, you don’t graduate from delegation school, right? Like, and you don’t, you don’t get it right the first time. Right. You kind of, you over-correct, you know, I, I probably can speak to this in our operations role. So we’ve had three operations, you know, people have been hired to, you know, to run operations. And it was either a business operations manager, Morris, and our director of ops. And that’s because I never really had an interest in running a business. And I was the marketing guy that started a business to support my marketing habit. So the actual running of a business was never all that appealing to me. I’m good at it, but it was something that I would love to be able to afford. Um, the first time, I didn’t know what the role was at all.

Brett:
I deferred to, to, you know, be since been removed member of my board, who referred over somebody who was not qualified to do the job, but I was not qualified to evaluate whether he could do it or whether he was doing it while I was paying him to do it. Um, and so at that point, I had delegated too much. I think, where I decided, I didn’t know what it was. I just took somebody’s trust for it. But then I realized I have to learn. I can’t make that mistake again. So the next business operations person I went and I wrote down every possible operational or administrative thing that goes into running a business from fixing the printer to re you know, doing the PNL to our taxes, to our hiring and onboarding, running HR, everything, it filled, it filled 12 feet of whiteboard wall in our conference room.

Brett:
Um, and I said, cool, I’m not going to mess this up again. Like, here’s what it is now. It’s just a matter of carving it up. Um, and in that case, the fatal flaw, there is, there were too many things that I put out there where it’s very easy to pick out. Here are a couple of things that I can speak to very intelligently. Whereas none of that mattered when I couldn’t trust you with financial analysis, the way that I would expect to, or I couldn’t trust you with being able to do document management. So that there’s the consistency of our, you know, of our documentation, um, in our templates. And so I learned that the second time that I almost tried to get too granular for it. I mean, at the end, I really, I don’t know that I solved it. Right. I think it was, you know, I found somebody who, who works, who had gone through both of those people previously, who understood why it didn’t work and understood what I needed as, as an executive to have somebody take things off my plate or prove that you’re trustworthy enough for me to give you control of things that previously I would not get rid of.

Brett:
And the last two times I did it, it kind of bit me. Right. And so I think the difference was just finding somebody and being open to, and, and trusting a new relationship. Right. And being able to know that if you’re going to trust it, then you have to go into it believing it will work. Yeah.

Chris:
I mean, great example and a couple of things that you said that I want to just repeat back, you had to know first what to take off your plate, and that was part of your evaluation. It sounds like. And then you had to know how to evaluate if someone could do those things. And so just knowing enough to scratch the surface, to find the right person was part of the success criteria, and then not overloading them with the things on their list of responsibilities. So, I mean, three amazing tips baked in there to really get better at delegation. So, um, what, whether you think you’re, you’re, you’ve solved it or not. It sounds like you’ve figured out definitely, uh, some more steps

Brett:
It’s ongoing trial and error, right. Where we’re in a, we’re in the cycle of trial and error until, until what, until it’s over. So, so what’s next

Chris:
For you. And Knucklepuck what it’s, what’s one thing you’re working on right now that you’re excited about.

Brett:
Um, so one thing that we’re really excited about that we focused on throughout most of last year and really over the last couple of years is we’ve been building out, we’re calling it our small business platform. Um, it’s, it’s basically a WordPress custom WordPress theme instead of tools that we’ve realized that you know, we’re building these sites over and over and over again. And we’re being asked to build very similar tools. And when it’s an accustomed site with some of these tools, you know, you could be talking 15, 20 grand for a site, which is cost-prohibitive for a lot of small businesses. But if we could build a platform that allows us to bring these tools together, to have something that’s consistently managed, and we can price it at 10, because we know that we have the ability to then work with you to architect it, to skin it with your branding, your, your styling give you the capacity to, to build out as much depth as you need to on this platform.

Brett:
Um, so we just actually launched a demo site that we use called happiness agency.com, um, that we use just completely fake. I wrote all the content. There are consultants who do not work. Contact us, goes to me, you will not there. None of these services exist, but we’re really excited because now we have something tangible that we can show. You know, we have a demo site that we can bring in and we can show people, you know, our goal is to make content management easy, but we can show you how that works. We can show you what the thought we put into the backend design as much as, as the front end and the flexibility that goes with it. So had some good, positive feedback on that and excited to see what we can do with it. So in a sense, yeah,

Chris:
It’s kind of productized, like all the experience that you’ve had building these sites for people, and you’ve found what’s repeatable and what tools and you figure out, how to offer that at a better price. So it’s more accessible. That’s awesome.

Brett:
Yeah. And I think that’s, that’s probably applicable to anybody listening, right? Like that’s, that’s kind of a standard, you know, business goal, right? Like, find ways to scale. And in that sense, and it just came from being conscious of, Hey, we keep building this, meet the team block. Everybody asks for a light client logos block, everybody. Like we should find some way to do this in a more scalable fashion because our approach has always been about speed. We don’t care how, you know, I don’t care how expensive the site is. We’ve done 10 grand sites. We’ve done quarter-million dollar sites. I’d I care about is how much, how long is it going to take for us to get it done? And can we move through it quickly and efficiently? Um, and that’s, that’s really been the core focus of all of it, efficiency,

Chris:
My kind of guy. I love it. All right. If people want to connect with you Brett or learn more about your business, where would you, you direct them

Brett:
To? Yeah. So, our website is Knucklepuck media.com. I’m still trying to get the folks@knucklepuck.com to sell it to me. They’re not going to plug media.com. I’m in my email is Brett B R E T T at Knucklepuck media. So feel free to reach out. Definitely let me know that you’re coming in from the show. Amazing.

Chris:
Right? So, Brett, you heard from Brett and everyone, um, some tips on how he went from just him selling Speedos on Google all the way up to a team of almost 20, uh, is doing a lot of cool things. So congrats Brett on your success. And if you’re listening, hopefully, you can borrow a page from Brett’s playbook as you build yours. We’ll see you next time. Thanks again, Brett.

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