• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on Matt Daley

Here at Spotlight, we got to chat with Matt Daley, CMO and Co-Founder of Circulate Digital. He spoke to us about how the business was started and also some of the struggles they have faced along the way.

Background - into you and your business

I’m Matt and I am one of the Co-Founders of Circulate Digital, a specialist digital marketing agency for Premium, Luxury and Lifestyle brands. My brother and I have been running our business for 7 years and now operate across the UK, Europe and International markets.

The big idea

When I was at university my brother, a friend and I started a small digital agency in which we managed to fund part of our final year studies. We’d always wanted to have our own business so this was a fundamental step into getting that journey started. What we didn’t realise was that starting a business required a lot of different skills, some of which we just had no clue about! In this sense, I mean the dreaded finances.

We racked up huge amounts of fines and actually, I’d say this business became part of our first failure. From here, we knew we needed to work on gaining some more experience and that’s exactly what we did for the next 3 years. I spent these years working in small, medium and large agencies to get a good feel for what it was like to work on a range of different projects, big and small.

Danny worked as a graphic designer for Thomson Holidays and became fantastic around app design and web development. Having a creative approach alongside marketing gave us the opportunity to have a really sleek looking brand, which we named Circulate.

I recognised that one of the key skills sets I had was being able to develop strong relationships with all the clients I worked with. I knew that I was destined to have my own business and in November 2014 I quit my job to start that journey. I was later featured in the newspaper with my brother as the digital wizz brothers of Brighton. Back then it was just us, but now we have around 30 clients and close to 1m in annual revenue. Not bad considering we started with a couple of grand each!

Drive and determination

When I first started Circulate and up until quite recently, I spent a lot of time chasing money. I had this crazy experience of gaining some perspective around being quite unfilled with what I was doing in my business and personal life. During this moment, money didn’t seem to matter so much, but instead, we found ways of enjoying what we do through working on developing a better culture in our business and our personal lives.

Culture is single-handedly the most important aspect for me in business because when you achieve your financial goals, you can sometimes be left in a pretty unhappy place. We have some big goals as an agency. Our goal as an agency is not to be the biggest agency in the world from a revenue or headcount perspective, but to have the best working environment for everyone involved. My determination to succeed comes from making that happen and making sure that it's a positive experience for everyone involved. We will become successful and happier along the way in trying to develop this within our overall business plan.

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?

The biggest lesson that I’d say I’ve learnt personally is to always make sure that we have processes in place for everything we do. When I look at why businesses come to us, it’s because we need to be the top experts at what we do. In a sense, we need to be the Formula 1 drivers of digital marketing. I took this lesson from my current Mentor Gareth Healey who scaled his business to 175 staff members whilst he was managing his agency.

Three tips for those starting their career

  1. Become an expert in an area that you feel passionate about. Sometimes you won’t know what this is until you try a couple of different areas. Mine became paid social and I got recognised for this in the early stages of my career.

  2. Be enthusiastic, passionate and always strive to learn more. We never stop learning so don’t take forward an attitude of thinking you know everything because you probably don’t. But by being enthusiastic and passionate you’re going to supercharge your career and learn so much along the way

  3. Understand that failure is going to help you to improve. Take on all failures as learning as you progress to become the best version of yourself. Don’t take these failures personally but always learn from them. Kind of like my first business.

Advice to people who are wanting to start a business?

Firstly let me start by saying… Having a business isn’t for everyone! I don’t want to sit and lecture you as to why you should or shouldn’t start a business, but you have to understand various things before getting started because it is never straightforward linear growth and you’re going to feel like you’re on an extremely wild rollercoaster in the initial years. It never really stops either. The waves just get smaller as you get bigger and you learn how to steer the ship a little better too.

My brother and I had around 2k each in the bank which would last us approximately two months between us and we lived together at the time. If this didn’t work, we’d have to return back to living with our Dad. To this day I am surprised as to how we managed to live on such little savings, but I guess when you’re starting out you’ve got to strip back and you’ve also got to take some risks to put yourself out there.

We never took a route of securing investment which has meant we have grown steadily over the past 7 years mainly on our reputation in the industry. Any risks we took could have had a huge implication on our lives at the early stages of running the business. We worked 14 hour days and we didn’t give up no matter how many doors we had to knock on to offer our services. The doors are now getting bigger and bigger which is super exciting!

This brings me to why you should start a business. If you’re keen and eager to put the graft in and think that you have a good product or service then you’ve just got to go all-in with it. People will try to derail you. I remember an ex-girlfriend of mine asking me why I shouldn’t just go and get a “normal job” in my first year of running the business. It’s fair to say, if I had listened to her I wouldn’t be sitting here right now writing this post. Maybe I’d be writing something a little more specialist around marketing in a big London office for a marketing agency. But not here in Barcelona with a sunny roof terrace. Who knows?

For those that are thinking it’s a big risk, I’d always recommend starting things as a side hustle before committing full time to your business. Before starting Circulate I was doing some freelance work on the side every now and then which I knew could at least pay rent should all things go south and you need to have some kind of plan in place to allow you to jump ship.

The best and worst part of your job

There are so many things I love about what I do and therefore I can’t write them all here. One of the best things I love about running a business is that it has given me so much flexibility around my life but it’s taken a long time to achieve this. This doesn’t mean I am sitting here scratching my head trying to think of things to do. As a top digital agency, we need to understand what is happening in the world of digital marketing and we need to be actioning this across our agency.

I love to keep educated around this and ultimately I am the first person a prospect speaks to when they get acquainted with Circulate. I love the fact we have been able to make the experience personal and high end. I also really enjoy seeing the team succeed. We’ve had some campaigns that I thought to myself… Oh, that’s a tough one, but the team has then gone on and exceeded my expectations and I really love it when that happens.

The worst part is iOS14. If you’re in digital marketing you’ll know why I am writing this.

It’s become very stressful trying to manage the impacts of iOS14 tracking across advertising campaigns (Thanks Apple). Whilst this is the most painful part of the job right now, it’s also a positive part too because we have to learn and adapt to unravel campaign results where users have opted out of tracking on Apple devices. I really thrive in challenging environments. I did the same at University all those years ago where I’d leave things right until the last minute as I am sure most of you have. Luckily as I have aged, I have removed that bad habit!

Another challenge of the job is that not everything always goes as planned. Sometimes this can be frustrating, but as you’ve probably realised if you’ve read this far, I always try to find a positive behind a negative and like I said, it’s probably why we’re still here fighting challenges 7 years on.

To what do you attribute your success?

There is a huge difference between failure and giving up. I’ve never given up on my business despite numerous setbacks and failures along the way. I think there are situations where most people would just give up, but we’ve continued and stayed on the path with the goal of always striving for better. My more recent success comes to finding a better balance between work and my personal life.

I hang out with some incredible entrepreneurs, some of whom have sold their businesses for multiple millions. One thing I now notice about them is that they really don’t care about how much money they have in the bank, but the experience they have gained along the way and how they are feeling right now. In my opinion, success really doesn’t come down to monetary value. For me, it’s about how many people you have inspired along the way.

Be present, do things that push the boundaries and just enjoy life.

The future

The future looks pretty exciting and we have lots of things planned in our business to make it stronger than ever. I want to see our team grow happier, stronger and become more skilled so we can bring on some hugely exciting projects.

We are currently in the stages of launching our Podcast show and YouTube channel which talks about the challenges of running a business, being a good leader and developing amazing company cultures.

We’re a funny bunch, so for me, it’s going to be incredibly amazing to bring more people on board to join and enjoy our journey. Also… hopefully, we win some more awards!

Thank you, Matt, for telling us your story. If you’ve found Matt’s story insightful, be sure to keep up to date with him on Instagram and Linkedin. Also, check out Circulate’s website today.

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