In 2018, I pitched the idea of partnering up with a client. I’ve done some marketing work and we had a good working fit. That partnership brought life to the business that became LEAD. For 4 years (2018-2022), I headed marketing and sales. Through the years, I took on multiple roles to grow the business – from operations, hiring & managing a team, to designing products.
Last month, that journey ends for me.
My departure was a hard one. I have a lot of sadness, regret, and even a little resentment. I believed strongly in the company’s mission. The team we’ve built was one of the most hardworking and willing people I’ve worked with. Together, we’ve put in a lot of effort, persistence, and grit.
I’m deeply thankful to all the clients and people who have supported me and LEAD over the years. I’ve met many people who made me better. Clients who challenged how we work, innovate, teach and do marketing.
The experience of building a company from nothing to over a thousand paid clients, with close to yearly revenue of a million, with a clientele of brands like Citibank, Mitsubishi, and Shell. A company that actually cares and helps its customers. One where people feel empowered working in – is an honor.
A door closes, an another opens.
Many people have asked why I left and where I’m going next. So I felt compelled to write this post to share what’s next and the lessons I’ve learnt during my time at LEAD.
LEAD wasn’t funded. We were profitable from day 1 and 100% of our revenue was from our customers. We were very proud of that fact. It was through the collective creativity & genius from every team member that enabled us to do wonders. We were always the underdogs and despite all odds, we became known as the data science school in Malaysia.
I’m really proud of everything we’ve achieved at LEAD. But at this point in my entrepreneurial career and due to some internal reasons that I can’t disclose at this point of time, I felt that it’s time to move on.
So what’s next?
My passion has always been about marketing. Using it to create positive change and to help businesses grow. So 3 things:
- Doubling down on my marketing consultancy. I started Cat Insights back in 2016 to help businesses with their marketing. It’s a little low-profiled because I’ve not talked about it much. Even so, the company has helped brands like Honda Boon Siew, Q-dees, and Caltex with marketing. The main focus of Cat Insights will always be implementing marketing strategies, the same way it has helped LEAD grow.
- A new education company! I have a big passion for teaching what I know and will still continue teaching. The programs I’ll launch will be centered around marketing, business, and tech. If you want to do better marketing, you’re probably going to love the courses I’m putting out. One fundamental difference I always put into courses is that they should be outcome-based and should focus on getting students to get a quick-win.
- A new marketing + business daily. Creating content is something I’ve done for a very long time, from the blogging days – even before it was called ‘content marketing’. Over the years I’ve been randomly posting videos and articles, but there isn’t one place I’d consistently post them. I’ve been inspired by companies like The Hustle, Hubspot, Morning Brew, and our local, The Coffee Break – not because of the amount of money they make, but because of the value they provide to their readers. I love sharing the lessons I’ve learned doing marketing, so Daily CMO will be that outlet.
- Bonus: Audio Mentor was a blog that I started around 8 years ago. I had no plans to monetize or grow it – and was simply blogging because I loved music production! Somehow over the years, with a little consistency, the blog began building traffic. To date, it has generated over USD30,000 through affiliates, sponsorships, and ads. Not too shabby for a small blog. I’ll be spending more time building this as well.
I took a leap of faith when I decided to all-out with LEAD. Selling courses was no easy feat. We’ve tried many marketing strategies, did countless of events, workshops and pivoted a lot.
Working with the team gave me a lot of experience and a unique perspective. We’re not a big company, but maybe some of the lessons I’ve learned might be useful for you.
1 – Always have it in black and white.
The common mistake that many entrepreneurs make. Two or more people team up to build an exciting new venture. A client waiting to start the project. The energy is at an all-time high. Paperwork? Agreements? Nobody got time for that. Let’s move!!
This is all great until something major happens. The client want extra work done, and the number of revisions provided weren’t specified.
Things quickly get ugly from there. Always have agreements with every party you work with, signed in black-and-white – even if it’s for a small matter. Because it will matter when the time comes.
Specifically what will be done? When should invoices be paid? What are each person’s responsibilities? Have everything agreed in black and white.
2 – Zig-zag marketing.
Many companies practice copycat marketing. They see what their competitors are doing – and then copy it.
The biggest marketing success at LEAD was when we did the opposite. When everyone is zigging, start zagging.
For example, before the COVID-19 pandemic, webinars and online events weren’t something too popular. We found lots of success running webinars, live videos, and even organizing an online conference during that time.
When local universities started launching their own data science courses, creating competition with us, we did the opposite. We launched a 30-day online data science bootcamp that became wildly successful.
3 – Bring your personality to marketing.
Customers buy from people they know, like, and trust. Our most successful marketing and sales campaigns were the ones which we injected our personality into.
I would go so far as to suggest you show a bit of your personal side and vulnerabilities. I remember creating a few video ads for an online course bundle at LEAD, where we added our bloopers and bad recording takes in. That became one of our most successful ad campaigns.
When you put your personality into your marketing, someone who sees it will go, “Hey, I like that too…”. This creates a connection, irreplaceable by anything else, and is a step toward turning strangers into superfans.
4 – Avoid a Single Point of Failure (SPOF)
In computer terms, a single point of failure (SPOF) is a part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working. This is something that we realized quite early on at LEAD.
We were known for our data science courses and they were selling really well, especially with Dr. Lau’s remarkable credentials. Even so, we kept working hard on building other types of courses and products that covered other subjects.
In hindsight, we should have actively explored other revenue streams as well – for example, affiliate marketing, advertising and consulting.
5 – People don’t buy ‘value’. They buy outcomes.
The term add value has been so grossly overused, that I get shivers every time I hear someone saying it.
- “How do I get more subscribers?” Add value!
- “How do I get people to join my webinar?” Add value!
- “What would make people engage with my content?” Add value!
And yet, almost nobody knows exactly how to ‘add value’.
What I’ve learned from marketing our courses is that nobody actually buys a course. Do you? Did you buy any courses in the past 6 months?
Instead, people buy outcomes. When someone buys a data science course at LEAD, they don’t want to go through hours and hours of tutorials. They want to become a data scientist. But what’s the outcome of becoming a data scientist? Well, they want to receive a bigger salary. And what’s the outcome of a bigger salary? Well, they want to feel more respected and valued!
So when people enroll in a data science course, they actually want a bigger salary and more power! The course is simply a means of achieving that.
Yet, most schools promote features; e.g. the hours of content they have in their course. Those are nice, but what people truly care about are always outcomes.
When you market your product or service, think about the outcome it provides for your customers.
6 – ‘Handshake’ everyone.
One of the reason that brought us success at LEAD, was because our team ‘handshakes’ everyone. If you were to drop us a message, email or even attend one of our webinars – you will experience us shaking your hand.
This means answering every comment on our blog, YouTube and social media – including the nasty ones. I remember us going so far as to visit the site/profile of commenters, and complimenting the work we see on their site.
Behind every comment and message is a real human being with emotions. You’ll be surprised how impactful the handshake everyone strategy is. We were connecting with people who came into contact with us, building a lot of likability in the process. As a result, our courses became much easier to sell, as more people know, like and trusted us.
Don’t make the mistake of ignoring people who come into contact with your business. I’ve come across businesses who don’t even bother replying to comments on their Facebook ads. And yet, every week they ask about the next cool tactic to get customers.
7 – Don’t be a ‘wantrepreneur’.
How bad do you want it? Most people only love the idea of being an entrepreneur. However, they don’t necessarily love the hard work, grit, and humility it takes to get there.
Running and growing a business is tough. And it’s definitely not for everyone. And that’s OK. But if you choose to be an entrepreneur, please be prepared to face lots of hardships. Be prepared to get rejected, ridiculed, and to look stupid.
A wantrepreneur fears rejection. So they hide behind their computers, perfecting every button and link on their website, posting on social media – instead of going out there to sell their stuff.
Want to be an entrepreneur? Go out and pitch your stuff to people. You don’t have to get fancy. You don’t need the coolest marketing funnel or the swankiest social media strategy. Just pick up your phone and call up a few prospects. Do they want your stuff? Why not?
Here’s a challenge for you if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur: Forget the marketing hacks. Go on Facebook or LinkedIn, find people you can help, and offer to do something for them. Get your first 3 customers. Once you find something that works, do more of it. Then build a system for it.
My experience working with the people at LEAD has been nothing short of amazing. There has been tough times, disagreements, quarrels and not everyday is a sunny day. But at the end of the day, we all see it as opportunities to learn and grow together.
Right now, I’m really excited about building businesses again. The startup life is always fun and you always want to find momentum when doing anything. I’m lucky to still have a hardworking team working with me. I’m really proud of how they have grown over the years, and today, we’re working hard to help bring positive change to our customers.
If you’ve been following our work so far, thank you. I hope you found value from them. Feel free to follow our ongoing work at Spiccato and get your scoop of marketing lessons from the Daily CMO.
One thing I really love is also connecting with you (remember the handshake strategy), so feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
Hi, Reuben, thanks for your sharing. At First when I saw lead Fb Ads, I really astonished with how the ads ‘presented’.
Now I know, this lesson learned is the secret recipe. Hope to learn more from your experience.
Thanks for that. I’m glad you found the lessons useful. Use them and tell me how that works out for you!