The Agency Founder Podcast by Moonshine Marketing aims to interview successful founders of marketing agencies at different points in their journey to pass on their victories, defeats, challenges, and lessons learned to help take your agency to new heights.
This week we’re speaking with Kevin Urrutia of Voy Media, an agency focused on performance marketing.
Kevin reveals his emerging process with his career in Marketing. With a computer science background and a keen interest in startups, he streamlined into getting into the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) space, following by starting some side projects and businesses of his own, which entailed marketing and growth of his own businesses. Since then, he has launched Voy Media which has seen widespread success. He also shares some of the victories he’s had, and lessons learned.
The link to the podcast can be accessed at the top of the page. A full transcript of the podcast can be accessed below. Thank you for listening, and happy marketing!
Speaker 1: Welcome to The Agency Founder Podcast. Are you ready to grow your marketing agency? We pull back the curtain to show you how real marketing agency founders struggled, built, and scaled their agencies. Practical advice, lessons learned, wins and losses. We hold nothing back now. Your host, Jeromy Sonne.
Jeromy Sonne: Welcome to The Agency Founder Podcast by Moonshine Marketing. Every single week, we interview successful founders of marketing agencies at different points in their journey to pass on their victories, defeats, challenges and lessons learned to help you take your agency to new heights. This week, we’re speaking with Kevin Urrutia, Founder of Voy Media, an agency that focuses on performance marketing. Kevin, thank you so much for being here today.
Kevin Urrutia: Thanks Jeremy, for having me. It’s really a pleasure to be here with you today.
Jeromy Sonne: So Kevin, really excited to have you on here today. Could you do a little bit of introduction to kind of our audience and how you kind of got into the marketing game?
Kevin Urrutia: So my background is actually in computer science. So I went to school in upstate New York, Binghamton, and I studied computer science because growing up obviously I was really big into computers, programming, games, and that’s kind of how it got started to that. And then kind of always in college, I’ve always wanted to do something related to startups. And that is really how I got into just working on my own things. Me and my partner for the agency, Wilson, he was actually, I met him in college. He’s about three years younger than me, but we were also, we were always working on new apps, new websites. And we even started our first agency there. But that was not something like Voy Media. That was called One Tiny Bit and that was our programming development agency.
Kevin Urrutia: And it’s funny because we didn’t… at that time we didn’t realize we were doing marketing, but I wrote a program that would scrape Craigslist and then it would email people looking for web development jobs. Or-
Jeromy Sonne: Oh, that’s amazing. I love that.
Kevin Urrutia: Yeah. So at that moment that I didn’t realize it was like marketing was just like, “Hey, we have this thing. We’re in college. We need to find leads.” And I was like, “I just don’t want to email them all at once.” Right, but manually.
Jeromy Sonne: No, that’s incredible. I really love that. Usually you actually see like people go to the… I see a lot of people go to the opposite. Right. They’ll get into marketing and they’ll do ad ops or something like that. And then suddenly they’re trying to learn programming.
Kevin Urrutia: It’s interesting because again, for us, when I was doing it, like I said, like I told you, I was really interested in web development programming. And eventually I graduated college and I moved out to California and that was working at Mint.com, that personal finance website, as a front end developer. And so I was there for a year, but the reason why I went out there is because I wanted to do startups, entrepreneurship. That was the thing that always drove me and kind of at that same time Wilson came to California, too. And he was working at Google and then he went to Salesforce and I went to another startup. But nights and weekends, we were working on our own projects. We made this thing. It’s so funny, we were like, you probably know… what are those meal kit plans for food?
Jeromy Sonne: Right. Yeah. Yeah. Like a Blue Apron or something?
Kevin Urrutia: Blue Apron. Yeah. So we thought about that. And then a long time ago, obviously people are like, “Oh my God, that was my idea.” But we actually thought about that a long time ago. It was called Recipe Tonight. I think the website’s not up already, but it was literally [inaudible 00:03:13]. But anyways, we thought about all these random projects and ideas and we were developing apps. But one thing that we kind of never realized were for us, because we were sort of software background, we always heard of tech crunch like, “Hey, if you build a cool product, people will just come to you.”
Jeromy Sonne: What is it, field of dreams, right? If you build it, they will come. Yeah.
Kevin Urrutia: So for me for the longest time, that’s really how I thought it was because that’s sort of the whole, that’s everything I kept reading. “Hey, if you have a really cool software product, people will find you because the best stuff bubbles to the top.” that’s what people say and sometimes still believe now.
Jeromy Sonne: Right, right. Yeah. I think that that’s a really useful founder myth that Silicon Valley tells itself because it’s just a more, it’s a sexy story, “Oh, we built this amazing thing and it was such a market need that everybody just came in in droves and started handing over piles of cash to us.” But the reality is very different oftentimes. I actually come from kind of the tech startup world myself. I’ve worked at FinTech companies and things like that. So I totally get it. So you’re out in the Valley, you’re with your partner, you guys are jamming on different ideas and just building stuff that isn’t getting traction basically. They might be cool products, but they’re not necessarily going the direction that you want.
Kevin Urrutia: No, exactly. And then really, I kind of got started into doing SEO in the beginning because that was… I was like, “Hey, I have no money. I don’t really know what to do.” But I kept seeing… obviously that it’s the same sort of agenda you hear now. Oh, SEO is free traffic, but you don’t realize that people are paying for SEO in different ways, in links, guest posting, your time. But that’s kind of how I got started into more marketing.
Kevin Urrutia: And the reason why we started that it was because I left Silicon Valley, came back to New York and then I started doing another business here. And here, I really focused on home cleaning. So I started doing local SEO for my own home cleaning company. And that’s really kind of how I got into more marketing because I have to actually grow my own business. That was about five years ago I started that. But then I was running that for about two and a half years. I got kind of… I was like, “Hey, this is a great position. I want to do something else.” And then Wilson at that time was doing, I mean, you probably know Amazon FBA was like a huge craze three years ago. Two years ago.
Jeromy Sonne: Oh yeah. Well it still is for a lot of people, but yeah. I think it’s starting to fade a little bit. But yeah, Amazon FBA, there’s a lot of people that built some pretty, pretty successful like companies on that. But what you don’t hear is the 99% of people that tried to launch something and it went nowhere.
Kevin Urrutia: Yeah, no, exactly. So basically at that time we started a company called Monton. It was an outdoor gear company. We’re still running right now. So usually how I’m kind of thinking about businesses right now is I start the companies and then I hire people to sort of help me run them. So for Monton it has three employees that work for that company. So that was my first sort of launch into DTCs, direct to consumer brand. And with Monton we basically built everything out. Obviously we did WooCommerce, we’re doing the whole sort of Amazon as well, and then also advertising on Facebook.
Kevin Urrutia: And then that’s kind of how I got into more online advertising and learning about the sort of online marketing space, not just SEO. But then Monton really taught me everything. For Monton, we go to, we do cold calling. We go to industry events. We do SEO. At this time, if you search trekking polls, we are two or three right underneath REI. And then we also do YouTube reviews, blogger reviews. So basically kind of an absolute, like you are with DTC founders, it’s all building the whole business, not just sort of one channel.
Jeromy Sonne: Right. Yeah. And that’s sort of experience of being in house, building up the entire thing is pretty invaluable, to be honest. I haven’t worked inside of a DTC brand, but in the past I’ve been a marketing director for a startup. And so it’s like you sit there and having to consider every single angle is really a different experience. And also it’s really good for agency founders, I think to have done that at some point, because there’s so many… when you get into that mindset and you understand the competing concerns and things like that, it makes it a little bit easier to jive with a potential customer or a potential client and understand what their needs are and stuff like that. Not just, “Why won’t you buy Facebook ads? Facebook ads are great.” But really kind of getting the competing concerns inside of an organization and how to manage stakeholders and things like that.
Kevin Urrutia: And that’s really why we started our agency. It’s like, obviously have Monton, one of the companies we have there. But then we started another company called Chester. Again, same concept. The main… basically any businesses really run by me, it’s like we basically make the business and then we hire people to help run it, kind of like, I’m not sure people call it incubators or accelerators. Where you hire people to make ideas and then you sort of bring in a team to sort of help execute. So then we also have this other company called Chester, which is a luggage company. So we basically design luggages, beautiful luggages. And then we sell them on Amazon and also on our website. So for us, it’s all about like D to-C brands and sort of scaling them up, kind of what you said before.
Kevin Urrutia: But for that, when we do a lot of Facebook, Amazon influencer marketing, YouTube blogging, because with any brand that you’re doing, you learn so much. For the Chester, we realized that the influencer marketing space worked really well for that brand. And the reason why is because it’s a travel product and if you send it to an influencer and they love it, they’re going to use it again because they’re always traveling. Whereas for Monton, for example, we would send to influencers, but they would use it once, but never again. So that kind of… that marketing cost is kind of just a sunk cost. Whereas for Chester, it’s they’re using it again. So they’re constantly posting it again.
Jeromy Sonne: No, I love that. That’s really interesting. So clearly you’re incredibly successful and much smarter than I am and much better at kind of building those brands and understanding not just the products and stuff. So my hat’s off to you. I’m already learning a ton from you right now. I guess the question that I have then is, all right, so you’re jamming on, you have this awesome background in software. You’re able to build all this stuff. Clearly you’re an incredibly talented entrepreneur because you understand how to outsource processes right away and hire in teams and stuff so that you can kind of move on to the next project and the next kind of revenue opportunity. But you’re doing client services. So as you’re able to build and scale these brands, a lot of startup studios or kind of funds or whatever, they focus internally on their own projects, but you’re focusing externally, too, helping clients grow their brands in addition to growing your own. Can you talk to me about kind of the decision to do both of those things?
Kevin Urrutia: Yeah. Really the decision was that, for me, you can probably tell, I want to be learning a lot. And I think working with other founders that also have really great DTC brands is super helpful for me just to learn kind of how they think and sort of how they work. And really for me, selfishly, was to meet other founders because I would be like, “Hey, I want to see if I can invest in this company or brand later on.” Because I want to be like, and we’ve learned so much, me and my Wilson, we’re like, “This is a great way to meet founders. We can help them because we actually have the real world experience of making our own DTC brands and scaling those up.” That way, when we work with them saying, “Hey, look, this is why we think you should work with us because it’s, we don’t just say we can do it. We’ve actually done it. And here’s the proof.”
Kevin Urrutia: So, and like I said, it’s also really about just connecting with these people. They need help and sort of, we think that we can help them. And also, I think it’s just a great sort of model to sort of just meet new people that really want to scale their businesses.
Jeromy Sonne: No, I love that. I mean I think that I can definitely tell that you’re kind of one of those lifelong learner sort of folks that really kind of are interested in kind of learning about new spaces and finding the opportunities and stuff. I think a lot of the sort of top tier entrepreneurs have that sort of attitude which is really great. So you’re doing the Amazon FBA stuff. You’re launching your own brands. Tell me about how did the external agency part get started and how did you take… obviously you have impressive case studies and stuff like that, but how did you actually go out and find the right clients for you? Or did you find the right ones right away and end up niching later on? Talk to me about that process, the early days.
Kevin Urrutia: The early days of the agency was really kind of people just asking us for help because they would see our stuff. And the people were like, Hey, I also have a DTC brand or my friend has a DTC brand and they’re looking to launch, can you guys help them out?” And that’s kind of how me and Wilson sort of started, by just telling people, “Hey,” and the reason why it’s Wilson has a network too, because Wilson started his own outdoor gear company as well. So I started one and he started one. So I started one because he started one. I was like, if you could do it, I can do it.
Jeromy Sonne: Yeah. I like that. A little bit of competition among co-founders. That’s awesome.
Kevin Urrutia: He’s also one of my best friends. So I was, and then he helped me out. So I’m like, “Hey, we’re friends, let’s help each other out.” And then we started the agency together, but that’s kind of how it came up because people were asking him for help. And kind of what you’re saying before is working with these founders, we’ve seen niches and segments of stuff that we would never think we work really well. And then now we’re seeing them. We’re just like, “Wow, I can’t believe they’re spending half a million on Facebook ads with one person running it at such a high efficiency.” And we’re really just so surprised sometimes.
Jeromy Sonne: Right. No, that’s really interesting. I think that, yeah, the sub-niches inside of the niches are… it’s wild to me, how much money flies around in some of those spaces. Because it does solve a very, very specific problem for somebody and it doesn’t have to necessarily even solve it for that many people. You know what I mean? When you think about like the scale of the, what, almost 8 billion people in the world, you only have to appeal to some infinitesimal percentage of them.
Kevin Urrutia: It’s so true. Yeah. I mean, yeah. I believe that, too. But yeah, going back to the early days, I mean, obviously back then, over three years ago was so different. The budgets we were taking, the clients we were taking, it was just sort of really finding out for us, we always tell brands we don’t have too much agency experience, but we have that real D-to-C experience. So that’s why learning how to run an agency or building an agency was something that we just read books about and sort of talked to people about. Our friends are doing agencies, so I would text them sometimes like, “Hey, how do you guys do your pricing?” Pricing of an agency, it was really hard because we didn’t know how people were charging. So we had to call places and be like, “Hey, how much are you charging?” or, “Hey, this is for Monton. How much are you charging?”
Jeromy Sonne: No, that’s really interesting. I noticed that one of the biggest kind of typically it falls into a few buckets, but people have very strong opinions about pricing agency services. Did you run through a different, a couple of models? Because I kind of have a little shiny object syndrome, so I kind of ran around and tried literally every one of them at one point or another, which was a nightmare for my poor, poor bookkeeper when I had at one point two clients on one pricing model and two clients on another and then and… So nowadays, I landed on just doing percentage of ad spend. And that’s works well for me. But did you work through that process or did you just get it out of the gate? Talk to me about that.
Kevin Urrutia: Yeah. So it was funny because out of the gate we knew we wanted to do percentage of ad spend with a minimum. Our minimum initially when we first started out was $1,000 a month and then we were charging percentage of ad spend. Yeah. Now we just updated our pricing. At this time it’s about between $3000 to like $4,000 minimum because now it’s like, we are just bigger. We offer more services, but we still kind of do percentage of ad spend because that still works for us. And I mean, you probably hear it sometimes, clients push back on it, but we’re saying, “Hey, we’re only going to scale and spend your money when it makes sense.” I mean, you probably hear this question all the time. They’re like, “Are you some money?” I’m like, “No, it doesn’t make sense to just spend your money. We’re here to build a longterm relationship, not a one month and we’re out type of thing.”
Jeromy Sonne: Yeah. So, I mean, that’s the big thing that I always say is my contracts are month-to-month so they can cancel at anytime. I go in, worst case scenario, you’re out one month and you always control the media spend. So if you don’t think we’re doing a good job, just fire us. But if we’re scaling it’s because we’re making money together profitably and we want to continue to make more absolute dollars together. So yeah, definitely something I hear all the time. And it’s interesting. So it seems like you’re still doing that, but with higher minimums now, is that right?
Kevin Urrutia: Yeah, exactly. And for us, we actually were doing month-to-month, too, kind of what you were doing before we switched to really between a three to six month minimum now. So anywhere between there, clients were looking to negotiate and one of the biggest lessons learned is really as an agency, you want to have some sort of predictability in the revenue are you going to have for the next few months. So that really helps out. And for us too, when working with a brand, it’s sort of we’re just pre-framing the question. I wish, I mean, I want to promise you the best results the first month, but I’ve done this before and if you were going to need at least a good three months to sort of figure out what creatives are working, what copies working and going from there. That way as a brand I tell them we’re going to figure it out together.
Jeromy Sonne: That’s funny. Actually I say something very similar, too. I say, “Look, this is month-to-month. Give me 30 days to hit break even. And then we’ll hit profitability by 90 days.” A decent profit multiple and then we can start scaling after that is the typical sort of timeline. But I’m kind of weird though, because honestly, at this point I’m doing white label services for creative agencies and stuff like that. They resell. So it’s folks that are like really talented graphic designers or copywriters or video editors resell our services. So through a white label way. So we’re just pure media buying at this point, mostly. So I’m almost a meta agency, so I’m not the best person to compare to.
Jeromy Sonne: But yeah, that’s really interesting. I love hearing that. One thing that you hit on earlier that I wanted to kind of touch on was you talked about how you have these brands and you’re able to effectively outsource and hire folks to run them. And then you can kind of move on to focus on whatever’s next or the next client, or what have you. Talk to me about how do you go about finding the right talent in order to be able to find the right people to run those brands in the way that you want, keeping the quality of work really high and everything, while being able to move quickly to fill roles?
Kevin Urrutia: Hiring for the Voy Media agency is a very different hiring process than hiring for my brands. So for Voy Media, we have maybe a five interview process for one person. And we learn this all from just a hiring book. I need to think about the name of it. But this is for Voy Media is because we’re looking for basic specific people to do specific things like media buying, creative buying, creative design, the graphic design, video design. Whereas for running a startup or entrepreneurship, you’re kind of looking for guys like us that are wanting to do something that kind of have a chip on their shoulder. So you’re writing stuff, you’re looking for guys who want to prove something.
Jeromy Sonne: You’re right. Yeah, yeah, no, I get it. You want the person that’s a little scrappy and can do whatever it is you need them to do. I get that because when I’m looking to bring somebody onto my team, I’m looking for somebody that’s what I call a turtle. There’s somebody that wants to, their goal in life is 10% improvement in every ad account that they’re in month over month. You know what I’m saying? They’re slowly going to just keep cranking up the profitability, cranking up the scale. They’re going to look at the details really, really closely. They’re heads down workers typically. Where a startup, I want a hare. You know what I mean? I want somebody that’s willing to jump around and try weird stuff and jump in. And then when they find something kind of crank that up to 11 in order to kind of capitalize on some weird growth hack or something like that. It is a different role. I would agree. How do you go about finding those folks? A lot of network referrals or…
Kevin Urrutia: For the guys right now, it’s just network referrals of people you know and sort of talking to people and say, “Hey, my friend’s doing this.” And I’m like, “Oh, it’s kind of interesting.” Or, “Hey, my friend just came out of this role and he’s not too happy.” And then I ask them a little bit about their background and what they’ve done before. Really what I’m looking for is people that really show initiative in stuff that isn’t given by a job. It’s very easy to say, “Hey, at this role I was doing this.” Then I asked, “What have you done outside of work that is kind of related to that?” And it shows that you’re willing to solve something that no one’s paying you for.
Jeromy Sonne: No, I love that. Yeah. The ability to take initiative on your own and actually kind of dive in and solve other problems, those creative problem solving is so key. So I’m a little bit embarrassed. You’re such a… I’m talking to a way more successful entrepreneur than myself, clearly able to scale these brands and started this agency and all that. So I’m I’m really, really-
Kevin Urrutia: We’re all learning. We’re all learning. I’m learning, too, trust me.
Jeromy Sonne: For sure. Well, you’re learning a little faster than me. So that said, what have kind of the biggest chat… it seems you’ve been incredibly successful, but what have the biggest challenges been? Have you hit walls and specifically on how did you kind of over overcome those in the process of building your agency?
Kevin Urrutia: For the agency, some of the biggest challenges, it’s, I mean, you’ve probably heard this before. It’s people, hiring enough people. It’s hiring the right people. But even then I think one of the biggest challenges is still, I told people, in the first three months, you kind of know when someone’s going to work out or not work out, sometimes even quicker. And I think us as humans, we want to give people the benefit of the doubt as they’re going to get better, they’re going to learn. And sometimes they just, that doesn’t happen. And it’s the truth. And it’s just like, “Oh.” And then you are just thinking about it, “Come on, please.” You’re hoping to yourself, “Please prove me wrong.” I just, sometimes I’m like, “Please prove me wrong, please.” Because I don’t want to let people go because it sucks. It really sucks.
Kevin Urrutia: And so that’s one of the biggest challenges is people. Another big challenge, at least for the agency-wise is how do you hire another, for example, media buyer. Because then if you hire a media buyer, you think, “Okay, I need to bring in X amount of clients now to sort of keep them busy,” that way they’re not just not doing anything.
Jeromy Sonne: That can be tough, kind of balancing we need X client… because with agencies, with any professional services, you have to have the work on the table before you can confidently go hire somebody. Or you have to have a big pot of cash. And so that always makes it really difficult. So yeah, how do you approach that?
Kevin Urrutia: Basically we, even right now we’re looking to hire a media buyer because we just onboarded a bunch of new clients. So yeah. I mean we’re basically just working with the clients to say, “Hey, we’re going to set you up, but in a month or two, you’re going to have a new media buyer.” Because basically we just like way too many for some. And we’re sort of trying to at least balance it out for people where we want to still provide a great experience and a great service and not overwhelm our existing media buyers. But I guess sort of a challenge, I would say, let’s say you’re always hiring or for us we’re always interviewing people and sort of have people in the pipeline that whenever they’re ready, we’re like, “Hey, look, you’re done with step three. Let’s now move you to step four because we’re ready to hire you.” And so at least you’re sort of get the pre-interviews done.
Jeromy Sonne: Yeah. So definitely kind of having a full talent pipeline at all times helps you with that sort of flexibility, would you say?
Kevin Urrutia: Yeah, exactly.
Jeromy Sonne: Okay, perfect. No, I love that. I really love what you’re hearing. I asked about challenges. What are kind of the biggest aha moments and victories been? And if you could tell yourself, “Hey, I wish I would have done this six months or a year ago.” Do you have any of those sort of moments or kind of lessons to share with the folks that are listening and are thinking, “Okay, I’ve got something here. I’m starting to get some clients and stuff.” What would you have changed to avoid some pain, avoid some heartache and kind of get to where you want faster?
Kevin Urrutia: I would say really establishing a process on how you do things. So for example, the agencies, how do you onboard clients? How do you have a sales process? How do you offload from your sales guy to your media buyers? And then sort of, what does that sort of process once you’re working with them? How is the creative testing going to be? How’s the media buying going to be? How do you present things to them? Having just sort of that process helps you because then everybody in your team knows exactly what to say or do in a way that is a great experience for every client that you have on board. So one thing that we try to hear is every time you work with a bunch of us, it’s going to be the same experience, no matter who you’re working with, the same templates, the same layout, the same way we present. Everything is templatized that way.
Kevin Urrutia: That way there’s no, “How come when Kevin emailed me, it looked better than when John Schmo emailed me? How come his emails are a different format?” So we tell people, “Hey, you’re going to have to, your email is going to be like this. You’re going to have a photo here. You’re going to turn on your webcam whenever you talk to a client. You’re going to have a signature like this because we want that same experience for everybody.”
Jeromy Sonne: No, I love that actually. And it’s like you’re saying all the things that are the common threads of all the really successful, much more successful than me, folks that have been on my podcast that I’ve been lucky enough to have kind of repeat over and over. Which is it’s great people and it’s great process and you just kind of go from there. And so that seems to be kind of the underpinning of everything.
Jeromy Sonne: So Kevin, I truly appreciate your time today. I’ve learned an incredible amount and, honestly, I’m in awe of a lot of the things that you’ve been able to accomplish. I always give the folks that are on my show one or two minutes to quick pitch whatever they want at the end of the episode. So I’m going to go ahead and let you take that time now.
Kevin Urrutia: Oh, I mean, for me, if you’re interested in learning more about me, you can just follow me on Twitter. That’s my username is Danest, D-A-N-E-S-T. Or just email me Kevin@voymedia. Or like I said, check out our website Voymedia.com. And if possible we have a podcast, too, called Digital Marketing Fastlane where we just talk about marketing stuff, so you can check it out.
Jeromy Sonne: And yours is a much better podcast than mine. I was really impressed. I was super nervous coming into this. I was like, “Oh no, he’s a way better host than I am. What am I going to do?”
Kevin Urrutia: Yeah, you can check it out. It’s quick episodes, between five to 10 minutes, just some sort of actionable insights on e-commerce or just marketing in general.
Jeromy Sonne: That’s wonderful. Well, Kevin, thank you so much again, for sharing your time with us. For those of you listening, take these lessons to heart, use them to grow your own agency, especially around process and people and kind of being a lifelong learner like Kevin is and really kind of taking that next step. So everybody listening, happy marketing.