Ask Oscar Ford from Oadby what his passion is and you get a very thoughtful response “I’m skeptical about the passion argument”. It’s a typical answer from an entrepreneur who’s conservative (with a small c), cautious but very considerate. How does someone with this approach grow and scale his digital marketing business? Do the risks outweigh the potential profits?

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Manish Verma 0:52
Oscar Ford is in his mid 20s and from Oadby, and he’s a thinker. He’s the CEO of an Anuncia, a marketing agency that specialises in pay per click. What’s that? It’s essentially where advertisers pay a fee. Each time one of their ads is clicked on.

Oscar 1:16
There’s something very satisfying about mastering something, and then being able to do that for the people to make something or device something that, you know, there may be loads of other versions of it, but someone’s chosen to buy yours for one particular reason. There’s something really satisfying about that.

Manish Verma 1:35
Oscar’s also the co founder of a couple other businesses Merch Business a venture with his brother making t shirts, and a brand new company called virtue, which is another marketing firm specialising in pay per click, but that one isn’t an agency.

Oscar 1:51
So there’s a lot of talking across the board in entrepreneurship around passion, and I’m always quite sceptical about the passion argument.

Manish Verma 2:01
On this pisode of the Leicester Startups Podcast I talk to Oscar Ford about building two businesses that he decided not to scale and building one that he is trying to. And we try to figure out what his passion is. Manish Verma Welcome to the Lester startups podcast.

Oscar 2:29
Grew up in a quite an entrepreneurial family. My parents ran a business together in Leicester for about 12 years. So they did a quite specialist leadership and management training company. And they’ve always been involved in things like property and kind of just investments and it just interesting stuff. So growing up around them is I guess you grow up is that as your default? I suppose. So, yeah, it’s very different. I imagine if you grew up in a family where Everyone’s a doctor or, you know more. It’s kind of traditional roots. So I think for me, that was always the path that I assumed would be the normal path.

Manish Verma 3:10
And they were doing business leadership. So they were almost experts in kind of teaching others about business. Where did their expertise come from?

Oscar 3:20
Yeah, they’re a really interesting kind of pair actually, they very complementary skill sets. So my dad worked in the public sector for a while and the kind of third sector and became very good at kind of a thought leader and I believe, wasn’t really making a very profitable enterprise out of it. And then after being with my mum for some time, she then got involved in the business and is much more operational. So he’s more strategic and I guess visionary, to some extent, there. This is the long term view and that sort of thing. And she’s far more nuts and bolts, project management deliver profitably, that kind of thing. So as a duo they’re quite a force of nature. So, yeah, I think they’re an interesting combo, mainly because I think it really reiterates the fact that everybody has strengths and weaknesses in their approach, especially in a business context. And if you can find other people to get involved to cover your weak spots, and you cover theirs, it makes it very, very effective.

Manish Verma 4:32
So right from the beginning, Oscar was brought up around business, and it was at university, he decided to flex his entrepreneurial muscles for the very first time.

Oscar 4:43
When I was at school, one of my best friends, we went to university we had a conversation the first week and we said, there’s a lot of people who need fancy dress for freshers events and there’s loads of different events. They’ve all got different themes. So initially, we thought why don’t we just rent a van and sell costumes out of the back of a van on campus and it eventually evolved and took on a bit of a life of its own. So we created this brand called Dress Fresh. We worked with this guy. He was a friend of Malin, who was my co founder, who was really talented web developer. And we knew nothing about the internet at this time or how to build an e commerce website what was going on? He helped us build a website and then we basically partnered with colleges at universities. So we give them a commission for sales and then they’d help us sort of promote it to the freshers as they came in you know this will give you face pain accessories, and then you could you know people who want to go crazy they can obviously get their own outfits as well but we we tried to make this really cost effective package that would cover them for their specific colleges events.

Manish Verma 5:49
So give me a give me an idea on a paint the picture of what sort of things people will be able to dress up as.

Oscar 5:55
So if your whole year say you know, had an army theme night, or cowboys and Indians lots of different themes. We’d have items in there that would you could use in different ways. So we might have a bunch of camouflage material and a headband and dog tags and then face paints in loads of different colours. And if for neon night might have, you know, go in the dark bracelets and glow sticks and that sort of thing.

Manish Verma 6:20
Did your fancy dress stuff like make much money or any money?

Oscar 6:24
It kind of broke even and I think whenever you start a business like that, particularly around product, you, myself and Malin, my co founder were quite headstrong. So at the time, we, you know, people would say, okay, just make sure you put in a really strong product margin because you’re gonna have all these costs you haven’t thought of yet. Like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, we were we were and then you don’t realise that it’s gonna happen. You kind of have to go through that experience to figure out why you do that in the first place. So there was a lot more work required. If we ran out of certain things. We’d have to go and buy extra from somewhere and pay more in this time. Stuff like that that came up. So it was successful in the sense as a learning opportunity, but not really as a profitable business. And there was a guy who started a similar business at the same sort of time, who I think I’ve seen on LinkedIn a couple times, I think they’ve scaled quite dramatically and got seed investment, that sort of thing. Wow, we’re in an interesting market. So that was kind of my first I suppose proper business. Got a taste for it through doing that.

Manish Verma 7:26
During summers between uni Oscar did two stints of work experience. It was at a company in Litchfield, in the West Midlands, which did affiliate marketing, building websites and they dabbled in working with startups. And it was here that he began to realise the power of the internet. He saw the opportunities of scaling a product online, and the profits that could be made. Once uni ended, he ended up back there for two more years. And after that, he began freelancing specialising in pay per click and while freelancing would have made him comfortable. He wants to grow, scale and diversify. That’s when his agency Anuncia was born. It’s a business which aims to help organisations increase sales and charities increase its donations and impact through pay per click. It’s a team of three at the moment and have clients in the UK, US, Canada and Israel to name but a few.

Oscar 8:27
I suppose it’s it’s building a repeatable process that I mean, you could do that as a freelancer as well, but you it’s twofold. You build a repeatable process for different processes. So where are you going to find the organisations you want to work with? What do you send to them at different stages to make, you know, give them information to make decision about working with you, what you’re going to do around delivering what you’ve said you can deliver. And I guess the fundamental differences with a freelancer, you can do Up to a level where you run out of time. So there’s only so many hours you can sell in a year. Whereas the idea with an agency model is that you move past that because you no longer rely on your own solo hours. You have other people who can kind of you sell their time as well. That was really the decision behind it.

Manish Verma 9:21
It doesn’t sound particularly sexy, right, repeatable processes. I mean, when we listen to podcasts, we often hear from super charismatic, ultra passionate, incredibly dynamic entrepreneurs. But you don’t always hear from the type of entrepreneur that I think Oscar is. I think he represents the other side of business, the functional, the operational, he’s the guy that makes things work. Well,

Oscar 9:48
There are plenty of people who can build a very successful business that they enjoy in an area they’re not necessarily that kind of wow, I love this so much. And I think you can’t, you know, obviously if the topic makes you miserable, then this you shouldn’t build a business in it. But, you know, I think my interest in business is getting the most out of other people in a team and process efficiency and, you know, building a business that can, I guess, evolve with changing market conditions and how you get an edge over other businesses with how you do things and how people respond to certain offerings. So I ended up in marketing saw the potential saw the ability to kind of build businesses online, and that really excited me.

Manish Verma 10:37
I’m now getting a better picture. So it’s not necessarily I mean, you’ve seen like Rockstar marketers, right? They’re known world renowned. And actually, you can see the absolute passion, like when did this all content marketing, this is what you need to be doing that sort of, but actually, from your perspective, tell me if I’m wrong, but it’s more than almost the science behind it. Like you’re interested in kind of getting a business or a charity, the edge and actually PPC you thought pay per click. That was the process behind it and that’s what interested you.

Oscar 11:10
Yeah. And I think I’ve always had a real balanced interest in data and kind of creative side. So, you know, always been quite balanced across sort of English and maths. And I think things like PPC and digital marketing in general, is it’s a nice balance between the two. It’s very data driven, it’s very analytical, but it’s also quite creative. So how can you, you know, make an ad stand out over others in a congested auction? How can you make a landing page that makes people go, Wow, I’m gonna sign up for this or whatever it is.

Manish Verma 11:43
I’m getting a theme here from yourself. The word efficiency just keeps coming to my mind. You just seem like a very efficient guy. Is that a fair thing to say? You’re really trying to trim the fat here. And actually, you’re trying to make people spend a bit of time extra, do something because at the end of it, they’ll be able to cut out all that waste, hopefully, but and just be left with the good stuff. Is that fair thing to say?

Oscar 12:09
Yeah, it’s interesting. I think that says a lot about my personality and framework as well. You know, going back to what we talked about at the very early stage, I’m more like my mom and my dad. So she would look at things and go, okay, within the remit of what we’re already doing, how do we make everything more efficient and deliver more outputs? That might, you might miss something else that’s going on at a wider level, because you’re looking at this one thing. And so actually, people who are a bit more expansive and strategic, would be less flustered probably missed that operational efficiency, but they go, Oh, wow, look at that massive thing that you’re not looking at, but I can see. And so actually, that comes back to you need a balance between the two and actually expecting one person to have both is not realistic. And that’s one of the challenges of building businesses. You have to do everything, but you’re not good at everything. So it’s trying to find ways of Either by paying people who know how to do these things, or finding partners who kind of can approach it at a similar level. So I think there’s a combination of being aware of your limitations in mindset and finding people, advisors, you know, everybody, friends, anyone who can look at it in different way, and sort of give you that boost to move in your direction a little bit.

Manish Verma 13:24
One thing I’ve been asking people is just about mistakes that they might have made. And you know, all entrepreneurs make mistakes. Is there anything that you’ve, you’ve thought, actually, we should have not done that with your own business? Or is there something you think, oh, I’ve done that and changed the business massively? Is there been any any mistakes that you’ve made that come come to mind that you think actually other people could learn from or can you learn from?

Oscar 13:49
Generally my mistakes come back to my personality type. So I would rarely point to a specific moment or decision because actually, it’s rare that one decision makes a huge impact. But it’s generally a combination of things. So actually, it’s more of mindset, I think often I can be too conservative with a small c in terms o rather than just going for it, I’ll take a slightly sort of less risky, slightly safer approach, because that’s what feels a bit safer when actually, sometimes you have to find your natural instinct and do something which is different.

Manish Verma 14:30
Do you go big on your current business and, and how?

Oscar 14:35
Yeah, so I think in the short to medium term, you know, we want to get the basics right and, and really nail those. So really deliver what we say we can and be kind of best in class that pay per click and what we do and running those kinds of campaigns, build the client base, you know, keep doing that. Keep delivering reliable results and get more people involved to do that. And then I think in the future, the longer term it’s looking at, okay, well, we’ve now built this big internal set of skills. How can we use that for slightly more expensive projects, so stuff that’s maybe our own or trying our own projects, building automation within what we do, and then maybe offering that as a separate thing. So I’ve seen loads of agencies do similar stuff. So, you know, they, they start as an agency, and they go, okay, we’ve built our own optimization product, and we’re going to spin that out as a separate entity. And I think Williams Commerce which is a big agency based in less than I went to a talk by the founder, Robert, and he was saying they had built this agency and then they diverted some of the agency time to building a, I think it was a B to B, they were specialists in Magento. And they realised it wasn’t great for b2b. So they built essentially their own platform to fix some of the issues that they kept running into. Or the I was really interesting case where That was a very ambitious project. I think it’s still doing quite well, but he was running us through some of the challenges in setting that up. But, you know, that’s, it seems logical to me. They’ve built this team cross specialism online. And they can say, okay, we’re going to divert some of the agency resource into slightly more speculative projects, I think, in a very fast moving world. One that appeals to me because it’s kind of it there’s that diversity of things you get to bring new ideas into the business. But it seems sensible to say you’re not too heavily reliant on a few,

Manish Verma 16:34
You’ve had businesses business in York, you’ve operated in Birmingham, you’ve operated in London, but Leicester. What is, if anything, the unique aspect of being based in Leicester, how has it impacted your business if in any way?

Oscar 16:52
I think it’s been really interesting seeing Leicester having grown up here. He’s gone through a really nice Phase of investment and kind of pride in the city and that kind of thing. You know, there’s a lot of good metrics out there around new businesses and businesses operating in Leicester, which is great. I think, Ben at Leicester Startups is doing really good job trying to bring that community together. It’s very hard work and takes a long time. But there’s some great events going on. It’s really interesting people. I like the atmosphere. It’s, it is quite collaborative. My feeling around business investors, there’s definitely a cultural element around just quietly getting on with things. So I think there are a lot of businesses in Leicester who are doing very well in particular field, but they just, they just kind of get on with it. They don’t want to shout about it. And they’re quite hard to uncover. So you know, it’ll take a long time for them to decide it. I’ve quite liked go to this event and meet some more people, but yeah, I think it’s, you know, it’s well connected. It’s relatively cheap cost of living. It’s a nice place to be. So you know, there’s a lot of new talent from the universities. In terms of graduation, there’s actually quite a big catchment as universities because you’ve got a lot of the Midlands unis as well. So that’s good for any growing business

Manish Verma 18:15
And what would help it grow more.

Oscar 18:18
So yeah, this is a really interesting topic because it’s one I came across when working in Birmingham and there was a few projects going on there. So we went out to America on a work trip and went to Las Vegas. And in Vegas, there’s there we’re trying to build kind of. So the guy who started Zappos built this community then was essentially trying to build a startup community in Vegas from scratch because he thought it’s very well connected. There, I’m sure there are other factors into why he picked there but I think a lot of the discussion there was around creating enough collisions. So kind of social collisions that create things to happen. So designing space that people naturally bump into each other, communicate, all that kind of stuff. I think the challenges is how you get that started. Because if you look at Silicon Valley, people move there because it’s a brand unto itself. So you attract a lot of very interesting people who are seeking something and then you get commonality and culture and an attitude and that kind of thing. So if you can get the engine moving, then that sort of collision process can lead to lots of interesting results. So I think it’s just something that you have to be patient and you have to have people who are invested in it and they have to be able to get other people involved so that it’s beyond just them, you know, if they suddenly can’t do it anymore. You need other people who can pick up the mantle and take on.

Manish Verma 19:53
Many thanks to Oscar from an Anuncia, a digital marketing agency specialising in pay per click, and Oscar has just started his latest venture called Virtue. It’s a no setup, no fee, no contract service for retailers wanting to get the most out of Google. And thank you for listening to the Lester startups podcast.