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 Joshua Chin of Chronos Agency,an agency focused on E-commerce E-mail Marketing.
Joshua is a graduate from National University of Singapore (NUS) Business school. Growing up, he always had a drive to work hard and financially support his family. Throughout college, he had worked a plethora of different jobs and side hustles, but he didn’t like the strictly transactional aspect of some side hustles. Instead, he wanted opportunities to develop relationships with clients and people in general. He then stumbled upon a course on E-commerce E-mail Marketing, and from there, Chronos Agency was born.
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!
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 Joshua Chin of Chronos Agency an e-commerce email marketing agency. Joshua, thanks so much for being here.
Joshua Chin: Thanks for having me, Jeromy. Appreciate it.
Jeromy Sonne: So tell me about Chronos Agency, obviously an e-commerce email marketing agency, but tell me a little bit more about that.
Joshua Chin: Yeah, absolutely. So we partner up with high-growth e-commerce brands that are typically making about a million dollars in revenue and above. The sweet spot is between one mil and 50 mil in annual revenue. High fast-growth e-comm brands. And we take their email marketing program basically to the next level, adding an additional layer of profits, turning email into a super profitable channel that drives growth instead of it being just a random communication channel that most brands would see it as. We have been doing this for about three years now and it’s been great.
Jeromy Sonne: That’s wonderful. Yeah. So three years and your agency, I assume, has been growing well during that time. About how many folks are there at Chronos?
Joshua Chin: Yeah. There are, I believe 67, 68 of us right now.
Jeromy Sonne: Wow. That’s quite the growth in three years.
Joshua Chin: Yeah. It’s been crazy to say the least. And I started this out off my dorm room, back in university in Singapore. And yeah, it really grew beyond what I imagined it to be initially. And we just continue to set new heights, new goals, and we just kept kind of pushing towards those new goals. And it’s been great. The whole team is remote. We do have an office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, just as a little experiment at the start, just to see how it’s like to build an office team. We have a really small team of 11 in Malaysia and it’s been fun. But I enjoy the hybrid approach to working. While having a HQ of sorts, we still enjoy the idea of having the flexibility to work from basically wherever we want to work from.
Jeromy Sonne: Yeah. That’s incredible. That’s really cool that you’ve been able to kind of strike that balance and do a little bit of both while having a lot of flexibility. What you said, it makes me want to take a step back. How did you personally get into marketing? Tell me about that, in the run up to before you started your agency and all of that.
Joshua Chin: Oh, sure. Yeah. So, dorm room. This is an interesting story. It was, I believe October of 2017. And at that point in time, I was basically near my breaking point. My business was brand new and I’ve landed my sixth client in just two short months. But the problem was I’m also a full-time university student in Singapore with a full-time internship. So I was waking up at 5:00 AM, working until 11:00 PM, just trying to keep up with it all.
Joshua Chin: And I was working really hard, primarily, to give my myself, my family, my dad, my mom and my sister, a better life. So as a kid, I grew up in Johor, Malaysia, a little town just over the border of Singapore. And when I was 10 years old, my parents declared bankruptcy and they divorced. Before the divorce, my life was simple, it was peaceful and in my mind it was perfect. And after school, my sister and I would play in a toy store surrounding my parents’ fruit shop at the mall, they were wholesalers of fruit.
Joshua Chin: The bankruptcy and divorce basically left my family kind of fractured. It also forced an excruciating choice on me. I had to choose between staying with my mom or my dad. And as a kid, that was an incredibly difficult. I was staying with my dad at a point in time, so I chose to stay with him. Making a choice like that broke my heart and probably, even my mom’s too. It gave me a deep sense of the fragility of relationships and at the same time, the sanctuary that it gives. So I decided that I would do whatever it takes to provide a good financial security for my family and I would do whatever it takes to steep my life in meaningful relationships.
Joshua Chin: Next, I went to university in Singapore. I did a lot of side hustles. I did a bunch of stuff just to make money and get past the day. But I like the idea of making money and making an impact. But I didn’t like the fact that it was strictly transactional. Things like drop shipping on eBay, tutoring and waitering. There was no opportunity to develop any relationships with my clients or people in general, at least I didn’t have that experience.
Joshua Chin: So determined to find a line of work that I loved, I took basically all the penny of the little savings that I had, I reinvested them into online courses and books about various online businesses. And that’s when I found a course on e-commerce email marketing. I loved it immediately. Like eBay it had the immediacy of selling, of drop shipping, but I could also build relationships with my clients. And I was able to build relationships with our clients’ customers in a very meaningful manner that is not just in for the short term.
Joshua Chin: So working out of my dorm room I [inaudible 00:06:12] at learning everything I could about it. And within a month I convinced a few strangers that I met online to let me work on their email marketing for free. Soon after, I gained two paying clients. And then the miracle happened, my first ever paying client referred me to superstars in the Singapore e-commerce scene. And they liked the work that I did. So, soon after, I was sitting across a large desk from them. My palms were sweaty, I had a lump in my throat, and I was just dying from impostor syndrome, but they became my first major client. And they referred me to, basically, even more clients in their immediate network and people that they knew. My confidence grew.
Joshua Chin: That was how I got my first six really meaningful, substantial clients while being a full-time student and with a full-time internship. And that’s how I ended up stretched to my limits. So, something had to give, I needed more sleep and I needed a business partner. I knew I didn’t want just anyone suited for the position, I needed to be surrounded by friends and meaningful relationships that I trusted. So I called up and my childhood friend, Louis. And I recruited him to be my COO. And together, without any experience in building a business or marketing, we hired our first employee in the same month. And we basically kept applying all our profits in growing our team and our knowledge and our experience. And that’s basically my single obsession for the second half of my university life. And by the time we graduated we were a team of 30 people, remote with an additional office in KL, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Jeromy Sonne: That’s incredible. It’s a really amazing story. That’s got to be an interesting mix of your day-to-day, when part of the day you’re a student, part of the day you’re leading a team of 30, which is really huge, right. Can you tell me about that? What it was like to switch in-between being a student, being a founder, running a business of that size and everything.
Joshua Chin: Yeah. Jeromy, you know what? Most people think, “Josh, just quit. Why wouldn’t you just quit school?” It’s both a practical reason and also some degree of fear. But it worked out fine in the end. Firstly, I was holding a scholarship, which meant that if I broke the contract it would mean a large penalty that I probably cannot afford at that point in time, especially since we were basically pouring all our profits back into the business and growing the team. And on the flip side, I just wanted to continue building the network that I had and the experience that I was having in school, but with a completely different set of contacts.
Joshua Chin: Now that I was building a business that was profitable and growing, it gave me a deep sense of meaning behind what I was learning in school. And I was in business school, in the National University of Singapore. So that gave me a lot more motivation and understanding and pursuing the subjects that I genuinely had interest in, instead of what could make me money by being employed in a massive investment bank farther down the road.
Joshua Chin: So, what ended up happening was I spent about 20 odd hours per week on school, both on classes and schoolwork and all that stuff. I skipped all the non-essential lectures and classes that I could skip. I took notes from friends, I prerecorded lectures and basically, rewatched them on 2x the speed or 3x even sometimes if the lecturer was really slow. And for the remaining hours of my time, I was basically just spending it on the business, finding new clients, learning about new aspects of growing the business, meeting new people. Yeah. It was primarily agency, Chronos first, then school second. And yeah, that worked out fine.
Joshua Chin: And I was living in a dorm. So, that gave me the super, hyper-focused environment. I really didn’t have anything else to do. I had the choice to not, basically, embark on social gatherings and social activities. That was my compromise and I was a hundred percent okay with that. And having my family away from me, it’s not great. They’re still in Malaysia. I’m still based out of Singapore. But being apart gave me a lot of space to myself to really work on the things that I really needed to work on to make things work.
Jeromy Sonne: That’s really incredible. I think it speaks a lot to your character that you were able to take that experience of being in a dorm, being in university and all that, and turn it into this advantage for actually growing your agency. Where a lot of people might get distracted with social gatherings and things like that, you were able to turn it into this hyper-focused time. Do you have any sort of tips for people that might be lacking focus or are trying to figure out how to best make use of their time, in order to focus on growing their agency while balancing the other necessities of life and obligations and things like that? So it seems like that’s your super power, is the ability to balance and focus that way.
Joshua Chin: Oh, trust me, there was no balance. There’s definitely no balance. I was in a longterm relationship, at that point in time. I mean, we’re still together, but at a point in time, it got so unbalanced in what I was prioritizing in my life that my girlfriend felt so neglected that she basically broke down one day. So that was when I knew, “Okay. I probably pushed the envelope a little bit too far here.”
Joshua Chin: But I believe in this analogy that a mentor gave me. Life is like four stoves and you have a limited amount of gas that you can use to turn the stove up on high at any point in time. So, the four stoves were health, family, business, and social, basically, fun. And you can only have two on high at any point in time and the other two will be on low or zero, basically. And if you have all four of them on low, you’re basically accomplishing nothing, you’re cooking nothing.
Joshua Chin: So at that point in time, I had family on low, I had social on low, I had my health on medium and business on super high. So that was kind of how I thought about things. And I thought about it, not in terms of how it’s so unbalanced in a single timeframe, but instead in seasons. I knew that at that point in time, I needed to get things working. To get things off the ground I needed to basically put business on high and everything else on low. And I have to be okay with that. Because once there’s some progress and growth in my business, I can then kind of ease off on that as per what I’m doing right now and turn up the gas on family, health and social.
Joshua Chin: But even today, social is on super low, I’m moderately high on family and high on health and moderately high on business. And that’s kind of how I thought about things. And just being aware of that gives you the sense of control that you’re doing it intentionally and life is not happening to you, now that I’m taking things back into control. That was a really helpful analogy to me.
Jeromy Sonne: Yeah, no, that’s a really good analogy. I like hearing that. I think that something I know that I’ve struggled with in the past is trying to go super high on all of the different burners at the same time. And it fails pretty spectacularly when you don’t have that.
Jeromy Sonne: But it’s good to hear that you talk about the intentionality and the thing of, it’s not something that happens to you, it’s something that you can affect. And while obviously, there’s lots of things outside of your control, you can always choose how you react to situations, how you adapt and things like that.
Jeromy Sonne: Could you tell me a little bit more about how you utilize that day-to-day? Because I think it’s a very common trait I see among successful entrepreneurs is understanding, yes, maybe I can’t control the outcome of every single thing, but I can always choose how I react. Just so they focus on their own process and their own ability to affect change and their own abilities like that. So I would love to hear your perspective on that.
Joshua Chin: Yeah, absolutely. I have a few points to add to that. Number one, it’s kind of a culture that I’ve been able to build with my co-founder in our company, focus on the things that we can control. The things that are outside of our control are completely irrelevant. And if you’re being bothered or affected by it, it’s no one’s fault, but yours.
Joshua Chin: But at the same time, it’s super important to have a sense of control to some degree, basically on a daily basis. Without that sense of control, that sense of self and knowing that I am in control of myself, I tend to go, basically haywire. And I know that my emotions and how I make decisions are going to be really, really bad. So what I’ve done is I anchored myself to things in my life that I have absolute, 100% control over. And knowing that if I’m able to achieve or complete those things that I have absolute control over, I’m good to go. Things like my diet, choices like going to the gym.
Joshua Chin: And you don’t have to be alone. You can always find an accountability partner, which I’ve always had in working out. Today, I’m much more fortunate to be able to afford a personal trainer that keeps me accountable to basically everything that I do in the gym. But prior to that, I was just working with friends and that worked out just as well. With my diet, knowing what I eat. And right now I’m on a keto diet. And I’m just keeping track of everything that I eat and how I feel. Knowing that all of these decisions that I make are 100% of my control gives me a sense of confidence that just cannot be replaced by anything else in my life.
Joshua Chin: Even making a million dollars a month or a million bucks a year, it doesn’t compare to having that sense of internal control and confidence. I firmly believe that all of that comes from within and the decisions that you make on daily basis. It’s a small little things. I’ve actually heard this from, I believe it was an interview with the Rock, Dwayne Johnson. He said that at his lowest point, he remained resilient… Obviously I’m paraphrasing here… but he remained resilient and confident, knowing that he’ll get through this. Because he knew that no matter what happened, he had his two hands to work, to go to the gym and continue working out and put in the hard work and sweat. And that was the principle that I bought into.
Jeromy Sonne: I love that. And I hear it from a lot of very high performing people too. There’s a… He was a US Navy seal and then he became an Admiral in the US Navy. And he talks about how every single day you should wake up and make your bed. And he said, because then you’ll have accomplished the first task of the day. You’ll know that you can handle anything from there. It’s this sense of control, you’ve pretty much always can get up and make your bed. And so that’s how he starts off his day, every day and makes it very crisp and clean, like the way that they taught him to. And it’s a really interesting speech.
Jeromy Sonne: But yeah, it’s this common sort of attitude that I hear between high performing people, whether they’re entrepreneurs or athletes, or what have you, is this focus on what they can control and just doing it really, really well.
Jeromy Sonne: Kind of shifting gears a little bit. I love hearing about this mindset, but looking back, kind of getting started with your agency, is there anything that you would say that you would repeat and you would wish you would’ve done sooner? And then alternatively, are there also things that you wish that you wouldn’t have done, or you would do a little bit differently with the perspective that you have now? I’m just curious about that, kind of some lessons learned, I suppose, both good and bad that you could share with the listeners.
Joshua Chin: Yeah, absolutely. So, I’m not sure if this is unique to me, but I’m a super risk averse person, just in general. I hate taking risks that I have no control over. And it’s weird. It seems like an antithesis to being an entrepreneur, but I mean, I’ve come to realize that actually a lot of entrepreneurs are also pretty risk averse. But yeah, anyways, because of that, I’ve been really conservative with a lot of the decisions that I made in the past. And a lot of it comes down to the speed of how quickly I make decisions that were important and not wanting to take that leap. And kind of finding that balance between being too aggressive in making a choice without enough information versus being paralyzed by too much analysis.
Joshua Chin: It’s easy to read about it and to know, to kind of fire first and then you get ready and to aim again and you fire. But it’s not as easy as one might think, especially if you’re in the field and you’re actually faced with a really difficult decision. Like should I make this super expensive hire when I don’t know if my agency is going to be meeting its goals in the next month. Should I hire first, then worry about sales? Or should I sell something that I didn’t have in capacity first and then worry about hiring later? These are things that from an outsider’s point of view, on hindsight it’s super easy to see, but in the field at that point in time, you’re obviously blindsided by just so many things.
Joshua Chin: So what I’ve come to realize at the end of the day is that it has nothing to do with making decisions or being risk averse or risk-taking, it has to do with getting enough information. And I found that the best way to get the right amount of information is to rely on communities of entrepreneurs and agency founders. And I guess, my biggest regret is not being able to find that tribe earlier than I did. I mean, I’m pretty lucky already to have found mentors and friends and people and peers who are willing to share and generous enough to impart their knowledge to me. But had I found some of these folks a little bit earlier and had these conversations a little bit earlier, I would be so much better off today than what we are currently. So yeah, I guess if there are any regrets, it would be not making that leap to reach out and to research on people who might have been there, done that.
Jeromy Sonne: Yeah. I mean, selfishly, that’s why I started the podcast, right, so I could learn from a lot of people smarter than me, get their perspective, learn from them, create relationships, right, through getting to know the people that I have on my show. I think it’s absolutely critical. I think it’s almost a cliche at this point, but if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. Right. You can make lots of very quick decisions on your own, but are they necessarily the right decisions? Having that kind of perspective from others is incredibly valuable.
Jeromy Sonne: No, that’s amazing. I loved hearing that. And I loved your general perspective as well. If you had any sort of advice that you wanted to impart or any sort of last thought here for people that are maybe thinking about building an agency or have started the process and are trying to find their niche or they’re trying to find that growth inflection point, what would you say to them right now? Like an early agency founders.
Joshua Chin: Yeah, absolutely. know what you’re getting yourself into, not from the perspective of what the upsides are, but rather what the struggles might be. I found that no matter what business you’re embarking on, there’s bound to be lots of upsides that’s going to be super enticing, that’s probably the reason why you’re in the business in the first place. Being an the agency founder, we are probably in the agency world because it’s easy to get started, it’s relatively easy to grow and it’s also highly profitable and it’s relatively lower in risk. But that doesn’t matter as much as what the struggles are going to be because that’s what’s going to stop you. The upsides are not going to keep you going as much as what the struggles are going to hold you back on doing. At least that’s what I’ve come to realize.
Joshua Chin: And coming to terms with the struggles, like managing a massive team without much experience and having to face all kinds of clients that may not be the nicest, maybe toxic to your team and knowing how to deal with that are sometimes things that we don’t want to be doing as a business owner, but are inherently the struggles that come with the business model of growing an agency. Obviously, there are ways of going around it, circumventing them, but fundamentally knowing what they are and whether or not you can accept them will be the cornerstone to, not just success, but just sustainability in the business in general.
Joshua Chin: So yeah, for me, I’ve come to terms with the struggles that I have to face and they’re mostly people problems. And my entire calendar is pretty much filled with meetings, mostly internal. And I know where we want to be, and I know where we got to go, and this is the process that we have to take and the struggles that we have to face.
Jeromy Sonne: No, I love that. I think that it’s too easy to get blinded by the rose-colored glasses, right? You just see only good things in the future, not acknowledging the struggles that come with it. And planning around the struggles, understanding them and how to deal with them, I think is incredibly important. And arguably more important than focusing on the upside, the dream vision, right, is just be realistically grounded. No, I love hearing it.
Jeromy Sonne: Well, Joshua, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really appreciate your time. We always give our guests quick 30 seconds, one minute to pitch whatever you want, whether it’s your agency or anything else. So I will go ahead and give you that time now.
Joshua Chin: Yeah. Thank you. So, if there are any e-commerce brands out there wanting some help with email marketing, taking things to the next level, turning email into a super profitable channel, that’s generating 20, 30% of your total revenue with email alone, the best way to contact us is [email protected] And if there are any agency founders who might want to connect with me, I’m always available on LinkedIn, Facebook or email. Email would be [email protected] Happy to have a chat, to share some ideas and basically share what I’ve learned and learn from what you have learned in your journey. Happy to do so.
Jeromy Sonne: Joshua, thank you so much for being on the show again. This is a really jam packed, value filled episode. I know that I learned a ton from Joshua and his approach on the things that you can control and the things you can’t. Take these lessons, apply them to building your agency. And good luck out there everybody. Happy marketing.