SUCCESS IS IN THE MIND PODCAST: Listen to Harry Hugo – Influencer Marketing Agency Goat Interview

Harry Hugo_SIITM Wall Post

At 25 years old and with over 120 staff Harry Hugo seems to be doing everything right. Aged 18 he raised £25 million to start his second business after being turned down earlier on by the Bournemouth Echo for being ‘too young’ to write for them.

Founder and Entrepreneur Oliver Bruce speaks with owner operator entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders about their failures, barriers, mistakes, passion and persistence to achieve their vision

Now Harry is one of 3 founding partners at the influencer marketing agency Goat and with offices in London, New York and Singapore.  Harry talks to Oliver about how COVID-19 and enormous overheads left them with 3 options; to sell, raise funding or trade out the crisis.

You can listen to the latest podcast with Felix Favor Parker Co-founder of Fairfax and Favor here via your preferred provider either Apple or Spotify

 

Apple – E1:Success Is In The Mind: Harry Hugo – Influencer Marketing Agency Goat Interview

Spotify – E1: Success Is In The Mind: Harry Hugo – Influencer Marketing Agency Goat Interview

Full transcript for this episode of the podcast can be found below.

Oliver Bruce:

Success Is In The Mind is proud to have partnered with, and be supported by, the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and Community, a programme that recognises, celebrates, supports, encourages and champions entrepreneurs in Great Britain. Hello, and welcome to another episode of Success Is In The Mind with me, Oliver Bruce. If you’re new to the show, we’ll be discussing with current owner entrepreneurs, their failures, mistakes, passion, and continued persistence in the face of business adversity. Not all entrepreneurs have completed their vision just yet. Some are just starting out. I want to give you a sense of business reality in a world full of idealism. What does it take to become successful, to grow a brand, or to start a business? Join me to find out from those that are currently doing just that. So today I’m joined by one of the three founding partners of global influencer marketing brand, the Goat Agency. Based in London, New York and Singapore Goat has been recognised as one of Adweek’s fastest growing agencies of 2019 and boasts over 120 staff. You may have seen them through their disruptive and highly engaging daily vlogs online, and today I have the pleasure of being joined by one third of a goat, Harry Hugo himself.

Harry Hugo:

I’ve never been introduced as one third of a Goat, but I like that.

Oliver Bruce:

Well, welcome to the show and thank you so much for joining. For those that can hear pots and pans and frying in the background, in true COVID style Harry’s housemates are cooking a fry-up.

Harry Hugo:

Yeah they’ve got very little respect for the podcast. But, you know, that’s going to have to be how it goes.

Oliver Bruce:

Harry thank you so much for joining me on my inaugural podcast, what a way to kick it off. As you may or may not know, unlike the majority of business podcasts out there, this podcast is based entirely around the failures, mistakes, passion, and persistence of owner entrepreneurs currently in business. So many podcasts focus on the exit, the millions and the lifestyle after the daily grind, not the daily goat, but I wanted to know that I’m not the only person getting up at the crack of dawn to make my vision a reality. Harry, it started for you over 10 years ago, aged 16, when you were told by a local newspaper that you were too young to write for them. Was this the chip on your shoulder that made you kick into gear and start your first business?

Harry Hugo:

Yeah, I think challenging anybody and especially someone with an entrepreneurial mindset is a positive and telling them ‘no’ at any point is going to make them really, really push forward. And this is more than anything else, you know, one of the times in my life where I thought, okay, I can actually go and do something different. They were a position of authority to me at that time, but you know, the Bournemouth Echo is not, you know, the Daily Mail, it’s not The Times, The Telegraph, you know, it’s not a world renowned paper. So I thought, okay, I can, I can do better than that. Very, very fast.

Oliver Bruce:

Did you message them after you got the job with Liverpool FC writing on their website, just to let them know that actually, whilst you are still younger than most of them you have got a job in Premier League football?

Harry Hugo:

Yeah. I’m not very proud of the message I sent sort of six to twelve months later after I got rejected, but you know, you live and you learn. I was a young 18 arrogant brat, so, you know, some things change, some things don’t, but I do regret the message I sent to the editor of the Bournemouth Echo.

Oliver Bruce:

Was it that arrogance, that kind of want to prove people wrong, and that kind of massive amount of irritation that kind of made you so successful over the next sort of, I suppose, five to 10 years, because you’ve gone on to obviously start Sportlobster as well as kind of go through and found the Goat agency, which as I said earlier, has got over 120 staff. Have you got a certain amount of passion and drive that is stemmed through being told no?

Harry Hugo:

Yeah. I think, you know, when it came to Fresh Press, you know, my first business that was about being told no and wanting to go into football writing and, you know, having sold that and going into Sportlobster as one of the first five people, and being told that, you know, building the next Facebook was very, very difficult and almost impossible. And trying to defy those odds was something that we were all up for and having raised 25 million pounds and growing into a business of 80 people, you know, that was something that we did relatively well. Product wasn’t there, but the marketing was, and that’s kind of when we fell out and moved into Goat and, you know, from there we really, really pushed forward and yeah, I mean, it was the time where everyone was saying that influencers was going to be a fad. It was something that was never going to take off, it wasn’t here for the long term, the bubble was gonna burst. You know, you’ve heard all of these different things before and you know, we’re five years into this story now and we’re genuinely only just beginning to see brands really understand this. So it’s an exciting time.

Oliver Bruce:

You made that sound incredibly easy by raising 25 million quid and growing the business fairly swiftly. I mean, surely there were issues, there were mistakes and there were sort of barriers I suppose, to overcome when you started?

Harry Hugo:

Yeah. I mean, Sportlobster to be clear, is a completely different company to Goat. And yeah, in that business, it was all about raising money for this billion dollar idea, which was kind of the thing to do in the early tens, I suppose, you know, there was a lot of problems, you know, we didn’t make payroll lots of times. You know, I remember having to- being sat in a room and being told that we aren’t going to get paid for three weeks because we just didn’t have any money in the bank account to make payroll. It’s a scary time, but, you know, for some reason I stuck with it, I was incredibly hungry. I’d moved to London, you know, I’d moved away from home, which was Bournemouth and moved away from my friends. I had no friends outside of work. And so it’s kind of like a do or die, even though I wasn’t getting paid for a three week period, you know, there was, you know, a willingness to kind of prove that this decision was the right decision, because I didn’t go to university.

Oliver Bruce:

And you as a sort of manager, I suppose, of a staffing that is over now 120 as we say, there’s a lot of entrepreneurs out there, myself included, who have never actually been managed. How do you go about managing people successfully?

Harry Hugo:

Yeah, I wouldn’t say I’m brilliant at it, by any stretch of the imagination, I think it’s something that probably comes of age more than anything else, you know, I’m still only 25. Bit of life experience helps, bit of personal experience of different situations helps, and being able to see those situations and see what the outcome, the consequences are. I think I have genuinely learned on the job, but I saw a mix of management styles when I worked for somebody else. Definitely seen both the carrot and the stick. Stick doesn’t really work for me, but I can see how it works for other people, but, you know, I’m less good at handing that out if I’m honest.

Oliver Bruce:

No. And that makes sense and everyone’s got their different styles, but with regards, I suppose, to your success over the last seven weeks in terms of hiring those new personnel, you and I spoke at the beginning of the pandemic before the chancellor released all of his, you know, grants, schemes, loans, et cetera. And you were genuinely concerned that your opex was going to be too much per month to be able to sustain. There may have to be redundancies. There were a lot of things that a lot of businesses were up against, and they couldn’t really figure out where they were going. At what point, and what did you do to be able to actually maintain your staffing and hire more?

Harry Hugo:

I think, yeah, we always have this conversation around kind of trading out of any crisis and I think any good business which is actually a good business and makes money that has the ability to grow, can always trade out of a crisis. Now that could be an internal crisis. It could be a macro crisis like this one that we’re facing. And again, it comes back to that self belief, I suppose. It’s like we sat down and we drew up the different options at the start of this process, and went, okay, well, these are the options, you know, option, A, B and C, you know, A, B looked like the easy way out, that was raise money, sell the business, you know, because we had no idea what was going on and that level of uncertainty, you know, rose, you know, options that we possibly hadn’t thought of properly before, like sell the business and option three was trade the way out. And we kind of sat down and went, okay, these are the two easy way out. And then the other one is the difficult one, but it has the biggest reward. And you know, that’s when the entrepreneurial spirit comes in, I suppose. And we were like, okay, well, all we have to do is, you know, bill X amount every month, you know, we don’t have to bill what we’ve been billing over the last few months, we just have to lower it down to a break even point and push forward with real vigour, galvanise the team around us, make everybody feel empowered, make everybody feel part of this journey, i.e. We’re not going to make anyone redundant. We’re not going to do this. We’re going to take our pay cuts, but we’re not gonna make you take pay cuts, all these things. We’re going to take the hit. We’re going to take the hit. If we say the business’ll raise money, we will take the hit and then get everybody to the point where they go, okay, well, these guys are going to do that for us to keep us in a job, to keep us being paid. We’re going to have to work hard to push us through and fair play to the team; amazing work to put us through into a position where we’re now up on where we were pre COVID, in a post COVID world. So that’s- or you know current COVID world.

Oliver Bruce:

If I’m setting out, okay, never run a business in my life, and I’ve got this idea that I want to bring to the market. I successfully raise funding. I raise investments, and I’ve got this cash. What do I spend on? Do I go and spend it on marketing, website, branding, social posts? Beause you guys at Goat, you don’t spend money on your own brand. You don’t spend money on marketing, which I find fascinating because you’re in three different countries. How do you actually go about A) successfully marketing yourselves and B) if I were to start a business with a pot of money, what would you advise me to do with that money?

Harry Hugo:

I don’t think that, you know, we spend zero on our brand. You know, it’s not cheap to spend, you know, your time recording videos over the last year, every single day. You know, creating that daily vlog is certainly a high expense to us, an expense that’s well worth it. And it’s really cultured our brand into something that we’re very proud of. But what I would say is that we didn’t spend any money on our brand or any money on our marketing over the first three and a half years and if you try and find out anything about us before 2019 it is very, very difficult, because we just didn’t shout about it. We were very much ‘okay we’re gonna run before we talk, we don’t need to be talking about ourselves before we can do it. And we don’t just want to walk before we talk. We want to run. We want to be the best. So when we do talk, the people actually listen’, and that was kind of the model. So we spent three and a half years trying to walk, then jog, then run, and then we got into the position where we were comfortable that if anybody talked about us, or if we talked about ourselves, we had our ability to back it up. And that’s when we started the vlog and then everything spiralled from there really.

Oliver Bruce:

Obviously there’s more and more people out there that are more and more aware that actually influencers are being paid to actually market products whereby maybe five or six years ago, actually people would be able to post the product on there, they didn’t have to necessarily shout about it being a paid for advert et cetera. Has that changed the way that you guys, as a business, are operating and your propositions, or do you think actually, you know, it’s helped you guys because it’s more accepted by the masses?

Harry Hugo:

Yeah, I think it’s helped. I think, it’s one of those things and you know, the whole brand, and how the marketing mix is changing massively. I think influencers are becoming far more promoted, I think we’ve had a vlog and had a marketing channel, which has allowed our brand to get much more recognised, helps further the credibility of not only the market, but the industry and also ourselves. And yeah, it’s good. It’s good.

Oliver Bruce:

You employ such a diverse range of people. Obviously a lot of those that are on your staffing are actually quite young. They’re fresh to the world of, I suppose, influencer marketing. Some of them are even fresh out of university. Some may not have actually been there at all. A lot of people say that having diversity within a business from a multiple of ages is actually a really positive thing. How’d you go about managing the sort of, I suppose, the element that actually the majority of your staffing are a lot younger than others maybe?

Harry Hugo:

Yeah. Yeah. I think, you know, I’ve always been- I’m obviously young myself, but I’ve always been in businesses that are very young. I mean, we’re working in social media, working in video, online, influencers, you know, it does skew young, and actually to be honest, it skews slightly more female than male. The interesting thing is, yeah, like you said, how to manage those people. Because they’ve got very, very different needs and desires than people of different ages. And I think it’s all about wanting to know how they can progress. I think that’s been a really, really key learning for us about okay, how can we entice these members of the team to understand how they can progress and what they can do to better themselves, what they can do to grow. And I think we’ve also, we’ve kind of been in a catch 22 we’ve been able to promote people very, very fast and push people up the business if they’re really good, but that increases the expectation of other people in the business of when and how fast they can grow through the business. And maybe they think they’re as good as ‘A’, but they’re not. And they expect to go through the business as fast as ‘A’, and they don’t, and therefore they become, you know, less motivated. And that’s kinda been a bit something that we’ve been working on because we’re in that rock and a hard place, we want to promote people really quickly, but that sets a bad expectation across the business because you know, people then expect to be promoted very, very quickly and, you know, it’s just managing that expectation. But yeah, in terms of bringing in different ages, I think, you know, I’m 25 now. So, you know, I’m in the middle and we need to bring in more 18 year olds. We need to bring in more people who are in it every day on, on TikTok, on the new platforms. I try and kee as relevant as I possibly can by watching as much content as I possibly can. I call it my homework. I try and watch as much YouTube as I possibly can. Even people that I don’t like watching I’ve watched because I wanna know how they edit their videos. What’s trending. Why are they talking about that? What are the jokes they’re making off the cuff about other YouTubers, what’s that interaction like, and then I can really think about all sorts of different things when I’m talking to brands, because I know what other people are making. And then also we need to bring in older people in the business because we need 1), we need different functions being achieved in the business, we need finance, we need operations, we need logistics, we need HR. But also we need people that think in a different way strategically for different business groups and different audience groups, because we’re not just selling to millennials and Gen Z, we’re selling to all sorts of different age groups for the brands that we work with. And that’s very, very important that we have the right mix of people coming up with the strategies and executing on those strategies for the audience that we are delivering for.

Oliver Bruce:

That makes sense and recruiting is really difficult. I mean, for a lot of businesses it’s difficult, but now when I say a younger generation, I don’t, you know, you and I we’re both- you know you’re 25, I’m 27. But what comes of that is more tech savvy people. Now, when they’re disgruntled with a business, for whatever reason, people tend to go online and they may say positive, they make say negative things. Now I’m sure you’ve heard of a company called Glassdoor. Now I’m going to play a little game here, Harry, you’ve got 41 reviews on, Goat’s Glassdoor account and what I’ve called it is “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor (Probably)”. And what I want you to do is I want you to say ‘goat’, if it’s a true review or ‘bull’, if it’s not a true review, okay?

Harry Hugo:

I’m pretty hot on this.

Oliver Bruce:

I thought you would be because it’s such an important part of any business. So we will start with, “I wanted to work there, but I’m a vegetarian and the brand didn’t appeal to me”. Goat or bull?

Harry Hugo:

Bull.

Oliver Bruce:

Bang on. Perfect. You get the idea of the game. It’s not that difficult. “Great place to work, if you want to be a number or a cog.”

Harry Hugo:

Oh, that’s us. We’re certainly not a number or cog sort of business. Um, we allow people to do amazing things. We’ve got young people doing awesome, awesome things in the business. Now yes, we are very process-driven, we’re a machine in how we operate, but we have to, we operate at such great scale. We grow so fast, but I certainly don’t believe you’re a number. Everybody knows everybody in the business. Good luck. If you think you’re a cog in a machine in our business, good luck in a corporate.

Oliver Bruce:

Well indeed. I mean, we’ll go onto some more positive ones, but I was interested to understand your stance on that one, but-

Harry Hugo:

Oh, no I like the negative ones. Keep firing the negative ones at me!

Oliver Bruce:

Keep firing the negative ones. “I once held the biggest influencer’s hand of all time, Kylie Jenner, and thought based on that, I had more experience than Harry.” Goat or bull?

Harry Hugo:

Bull.

Oliver Bruce:

Bull. What about this one? “I spelt influencer like Hippocrates influenza, and didn’t get the job.” Goat or bull?

Harry Hugo:

Bull.

Oliver Bruce:

Yeah, very good. “Become your own entrepreneur within the company”.

Harry Hugo:

I think that’s us? Yeah. I’d say goat. I think that’s goat.

Oliver Bruce:

Yeah spot on. “Amazing people (approve the CEO)”.

Harry Hugo:

Yeah. I mean, that might be- that probably is us, but you know, who’s approving of our CEO. I’ve got no idea.

Oliver Bruce:

No, that is true. I suppose the final one is “a fast paced and exciting environment to be part of.”

Harry Hugo:

Yeah. That’s us. And that does sum us up.

Oliver Bruce:

Yeah, indeed. That’s why I ended on that one, but how does it make you feel Harry, when people say, you know, positive things like that: fast paced, it’s an exciting environment. This is a concept of, a baby of, the three of yours. I mean, what does that make you feel like?

Harry Hugo:

Well, I think, you know, it makes me feel great. I think, you know, for as much as the positive ones on Glassdoor are good, I think the negative ones are really good too. And you know, not shying away from the fact that we’ve got some negative reviews on Glassdoor, you know, everybody does. If you don’t, then I think you’ve manufactured your Glassdoor. Um, you know, we’ve got 41 reviews. Uh, we’ve done alright. We’re at what? Like 3.6, 3.8 stars. I’d probably take that on a review website where, you know, reviews on the whole are pretty negative.

Oliver Bruce:

No, indeed, indeed. And with regards, I suppose, to people taking this feedback personally, to a certain extent, and you’ve been incredibly diplomatic and, you know, I, respect you hugely for that. A lot of people would go, “oh, they’re wrong, go away that wasn’t posted X, Y, and Z” and you’re right they would try and manipulate these things. But actually feedback’s really important in business regardless of what sector and what industry you’re in. Because if you haven’t got the feedback, you really don’t know where you stand, I suppose. Do you act upon feedback, you know, and try and spin it in a positive way in the business and go “look, we’ve actually not delivered correctly here. This is what we need to do next time”?

Harry Hugo:

Yeah. I mean, a feedback loop across the business, communication is really, really powerful. It can make you so much better as a business so much faster than probably any other change. Communication is so important. And especially as you get greater and bigger, it becomes even more important because communication becomes more lax across teams, across people who used to talk to each other all the time or sit next to each other now don’t, they sit across the office. You know, I think that that’s probably the greatest thing you can implement. And that obviously comes off the back of feedback as well.

Oliver Bruce:

Goat is growing well now. Goat’s got a good sort of process in place, et cetera. You’ve seen huge uplift over the last couple of years. What does the future hold for you guys? Obviously you’ve come out of the pandemic in a positive position. 6, 12 months time; what does that look like?

Harry Hugo:

I think the whole marketing mix has changed so dramatically in the last four to five months. Because of that, so many brands are understanding exactly what they need to do going forward and what that marketing that they did coming into 2020, how quickly that has aged and what they need to do coming out of 2020. And I think that puts us in a very, very interesting position as an agency with a hold on a marketing channel, which is not only growing, but very, very exciting to a lot of marketers who are coming in with huge TV budgets, billboard budgets, outside of home budgets that they’ve been spending for years on things that now just aren’t working, how they used to. And social is such a valuable exchange of customer information and interaction that can be harnessed for sales, for engagement, for brand recognition, for brand awareness, for brand affinity, that is just so underutilised when it comes to the budgets that are being spent. I think people think that because certain brands tweet about certain things all the time, or they’re very active on social means that they’re actually really good at harnessing social. It doesn’t actually make a difference. You know, if you look at the general spend of TV versus digital, it is laughable. It is at least 70 30. And that is me being very, very kind towards digital. Normally it’s way higher- TV spend’s 80 to 85% of total ad spend. That is nuts in comparison to where the attention is. There is a YouTuber in the US called Mr. Beast, and every single YouTube video gets between 20 and 30 million views. Every single one, there is a very, very small amount of TV shows in the world that will get you the same ratings as that video. That video will cost you $400,000 to sponsor it forever. Forever! And it will be integrated into the content. There’s no other media format that you can get that many liables on that content in an integrated way with the presenter reading it out, all these different things that is impossible in any other media formats to get it for that price. And that is the power. It is so underpriced right now, even though it seems expensive, $400,000, that’s huge for a YouTuber. Yeah, but he’s getting 30 million views. 30 million people care about what he’s saying. They’re not just watching it because it’s on at eight o’clock prime time on the main channel, they’ve clicked on the video. There’s 30 million people that clicked on the video. You know, that’s the power, that’s the power.

Oliver Bruce:

I suppose, that being the power, I mean, but why? What makes good content? Why is he netting 30 million? When actually you’ve got The X Factor on TV, which, you know, when I was younger, everyone used to love, but you know, why is he getting so many people looking at that? Why are so many people engaging with this guy?

Harry Hugo:

It’s a formula, it’s a formula. He creates engaging content that people want to watch. He advertises it very well with great thumbnails, great titles, it’s enticing, it’s mixed, it drives curiosity. And then when you’re on the video, he’s charismatic and he gets people engaged. He’s worked out the perfect formula and, you know, there’s plenty of other people doing exactly the same thing.

Oliver Bruce:

So he’s almost become a brand. And for me, there’s so much opportunity out there. And I suppose people listening to this might be contemplating starting their own business. They may now be contemplating actually becoming a YouTuber, but you know, how do you, Harry, how do you stay focused on the goal, on the vision and what needs to happen and not get distracted by going, “Oh, but if I just did my toe in over here, I could actually make this much more or do this much more with my life. You know, how do you stay straight and narrow I suppose?

Harry Hugo:

I think it’s part and parcel of having founding partners as well. They kind of keep you grounded. I live with my mates. You know, I think just try and keep people around you and keep you grounded. And, you know, we’ve got a successful business. We still have a lot of, you know, moments that, you know, we ideally wouldn’t have, you know, COVID comes in and you think that business is over, you know, all that hard work, five years and, you know, looking at it in the face and going Jesus. Anything could happen in the next couple of months. I think that kind of humbles you, you know, I think, yeah, it’s exciting. You’ve got to stay humble and you know, I’ve got lots to learn, I’m 25 and despite my willingness to retire by 30, you know, I still have a lot to achieve.

Oliver Bruce:

And that leads me really, quite nicely onto the last question, Harry, which is looking back over that decade, over those last 10 years, you know, you’ve had, you know, ups downs, huge success. You must’ve had some really big issues and barriers to overcome though. What’s been the biggest issue over that period?

Harry Hugo:

That’s a really difficult question to answer. I think people is genuinely the hardest thing. Keeping people happy, making people into great human beings, I think that’s always been a really, really core focus for us is rather than just make them great employees, make them great people. Because we have a responsibility of bringing young people through the business and therefore, you know, just making dickheads is of no use to society. And, you know, I think, yeah, I think people is the hardest, it’s difficult to hire people at scale. It’s difficult to fire people, and it’s difficult to make people great employees and at the same time make them great human beings, but that is our goal. And that is always our greatest challenge.

Oliver Bruce:

That’s wise words to end on. Harry, thank you so much from the Goat Agency for joining me this week. To keep up to date with the Goat’s global domination, check out their website, goatagency.com or visit Harry, on LinkedIn to see the daily vlogs, podcasts, and much, much more. Join me next week, where we’ll be discussing more about failures, mistakes, passion, and persistence with other inspiring owner entrepreneurs who are currently in business. Thanks once again for listening, take care. Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this programme, then please show your support by subscribing via Apple podcasts and all other major podcast streaming services. Why not share it with at least three friends and of course, make sure you tune in next week. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the show. Contact me via Twitter @OliverBruce_biz or via LinkedIn at Oliver Bruce online. Thank you. Success Is In The Mind is proud to have partnered with and be supported by the great British Entrepreneur Awards and Community. A programme that recognises, celebrates, supports, encourages and champions entrepreneurs in Great Britain.