In 2014, Simon Douglass founded digital marketing agency Curated Digital, to be an antidote to the traditional digital marketing agency approach.
With a focus on its clients’ goals rather than individual marketing channels, Curated Digital was named start-up of the year by The Guardian in 2014, recruited its first employee in 2015 and now has a team of thirteen experts.
Douglass himself has over 20 years’ experience in digital marketing, including seven years working for Google where he specialised in PPC for large technology companies such as Dell, HP, Nokia & British Telecom across the world.
1. Tell us about your business?
I founded Curated Digital in 2014, after having been an account manager at Google for seven years followed by five years working digital agency side. I wanted to be able to work directly with clients and vowed to stop working for somebody else. In two and a half years, Curated has grown into a vibrant, forward-thinking agency with an innovative approach to digital marketing. In 2014, The Guardian shortlisted us for Start Up of the Year and me for Leader of the year. We work very collaboratively as a team and believe in full transparency in our communication with our clients. We have a very honest approach to digital marketing and tell clients what works and what doesn’t.
2. What excites you most about the work you do?
Two things - first is the freedom to do things how I want to do things without being told what to do or being faced with any barriers or blocks. Second is the huge opportunity for digital marketing. Many companies are still taking their first steps into it, and it’s a wonderful experience helping them along the way, and especially exciting sharing the excitement when they start to see results from it.
3. How do you keep your employees happy?
By treating them how I would like to be treated - it’s work, but I want them to feel that they’re doing something worthwhile and are learning & developing all the time. I believe in giving people the autonomy, no matter how junior, to learn and grow into their roles - an opportunity they wouldn’t get in bigger agencies. Giving people autonomy and creative control early is the best way to learn, you have to fast fail - making mistakes are part of the learning process and are to be embraced. I just want to treat people well, and hopefully, they’ll produce their best work!
4. Tell us about a challenge you faced in your small business and how you overcame it?
We’ve had a couple of people leave the business because a toxic environment was becoming apparent. It was stifling people, so I had to take action quite quickly. As I do try to believe in people, I gave them opportunities to change but after a time it was apparent that that wasn’t going to happen, so we agreed to part ways, but I tried to help them along with the next stage in their career, even though it didn’t work out at Curated.
5. Apart from your own, which other businesses are exciting you right now?
Generally speaking, there are lots of startups with an agile infrastructure that enables them to challenge businesses where their own internal processes are stopping them from innovating and growing as businesses. Because of this, there has been a bit of a resurgence of traditional, established businesses challenging how they do things digitally. It’s going to be exciting to see how they plan to tackle digital and fight back.
Look at how Uber and Airbnb have challenged established, traditional industries and become successful. I would like to think that other industries, particularly the finance sector, are thinking about how they can build new products that feed into an agile methodology.
6. What’s your best piece of employee management advice?
Learn to trust people and empower them. They will make mistakes, but that’s part of the process.
7. What one business application/piece of software could you not live without?
Google Drive. Ok, I’m ex-Google so this has been drummed into me from an early age, but I love how collaborative it is. When you look at some Microsoft products they just look so dated and feel so clunky to use.
8. What are you driving right now?
We’re driving a way of doing digital marketing that is multi-channel. It’s our belief that these things don’t work in silos. Businesses have goals - we work to those goals, it doesn’t matter if its PPC, SEO, content etc… they all work together to achieve a common goal. We’re really pushing this as our key differentiator.
9. If you could employ any famous person in your business, past or present, who would it be and why?
It’s not the answer that you want to hear but nobody comes to mind. I don’t think I’d be good around famous people or any of my heroes - they’re all musicians or writers, and I think they would struggle to work in an office dealing with air con problems and logging timesheets.
10. What’s your best piece of advice for anyone else starting their own business?
I started my business because I think I’m good at digital marketing and I love doing it too. I also had potential clients from the outset, so even though there were some risks in setting up, they were relatively minor ones because I had a business idea that I knew I could make work from day one. So I guess my advice would be to start something that you know how to do and make sure you have some appetite for the product or service before you start. There’s no point sitting in an empty office on day one waiting for something to happen.