Four years ago, WITH COLLECTIVE launched with no clients, two founders, zero staff and almost no money in the bank. Now they’re an award-winning, full-service digital ad agency and one of Australia’s fastest growing companies. Here’s their remarkable story.
After 15 years with international advertising agencies, Justin and Dominique Hind felt their industry wasn’t moving fast enough into digital. Advertising wasn’t keeping pace with consumer behaviour and their corporate clients wanted something different too. They foresaw a future where digital was the dominant medium. That is now a reality.
A fast start
In 2010, Justin and Dominique founded With Collective, engineering the business around their vision of a digital future. While the agency does all forms of advertising, including TV, outdoor and print, it is ‘digital-centric’ with 95% of all campaigns having a digital execution. Most of their campaigns focus on customer interaction and advocacy, rather than paid advertising, as this gets the best results with today’s ad-savvy consumers.
Justin says “We’re unashamedly different. Our offering fuses technology, creative thinking and behavioural data to get better outcomes for our clients. And the proof is in their pipeline – higher customer acquisition and retention rates.”
Leaving highly paid jobs as digital heads of large agencies, Justin and Dominique thought attracting clients and staff to a tiny start-up would be tough. It wasn’t. As Justin says “A lot of them believed the same thing as we did but didn’t have the bravery, skill or experience to do it themselves. So a whole group of really talented market-leading people came to join our team.” With Collective took off quickly. In 2013 the agency was ranked Australia’s 56th fastest growing company in the BRW’s Top 100 Fast Starters, rising to 46th in 2014.
In the early days, the things that Justin and Dom thought would be easy proved difficult – like finding the right accounting firm and getting the right technical set up for their financial systems. “Simple things like financial reports, invoices and getting people paid were big challenges in those days” according to Justin. “Like most startups, we started doing it ourselves then realised it was more complex and taking a lot of time away from actually producing revenue. The accounting firm we were working with then cost us time and money and could have cost us our reputation too, but we made the decision quick enough to change. In about year two (2013), we engaged Accru”.
Outsourcing to Accru
Justin is originally an economist and his business is data-driven, so he rightly expected his accounting and finance data to tell a true and accurate story, be integrated, efficient and a sound basis for decision-making. From Accru’s perspective, it’s great having a client like With Collective. Justin now says of his finance system “It’s integral to everything we do. Our production system is integrated with our finance system, which talks to Xero and Xero reconciles to the bank on a daily basis. There’s not much mechanical work that’s done any more – that stuff just happens.” Justin is also very appreciative of the fast, accurate advice Accru’s team provides. “With Accru I can get a straight answer very quickly whether it’s about trading, company structure or taxation. That allows Dom and I to make decisions that affect the business quickly. If we had to sit around and wait for a week to work out what we should or shouldn’t do, we probably wouldn’t have been able to accelerate growth.”
No longer the ‘little guys’
With Collective has won a string of awards, starting in 2013 with the Telstra Business Award for ‘Start-up of the Year’, one of Justin’s proudest moments. “We were grilled on every angle of the business – finance to management processes and future vision – by great entrepreneurs and business leaders. It was an honour to win.” With Collective has since won many advertising accolades, going up against the big-name agencies to win or place for multiple Ad news, B&T, Campaign Asia and ADMA awards. The results and returns that With Collective campaigns deliver for their clients can be truly staggering. One award-winning campaign drew over 3 million people to a website in 30 days and sold millions of dollars of product – for a modest $20,000 budget!
Key success factors
With Collective has now grow to a team of 52 in just four short years, and Justin attributes much of their success to their culture, and the talent and energy of their people. “We’re a values based business, we believe people should be acknowledged and respected for their work. We have a very flat structure and we try and make everyone feel they’re part of the business. No egos are allowed, everyone talks to everyone and Dom and I are highly engaged with the team. We all want to do a great job and we’re all here for each other.” Unfettered by policy and mentored by Dominique, the best people have risen to the top very quickly at With Collective. Accru has helped Justin and Dom to set up an equity plan to reward and retain those who have been exceptionally dedicated.
The future is now all about expansion and recognition, but not at the expense of their culture or profitability. Justin says “We plan to maintain our 30% annual compound growth rate and round out our offer to other areas of digital with high growth potential. We’re also looking at new geography, but we don’t want to grow much beyond 60 people as that will change our dynamic.” From Accru’s perspective, it’s great having a client like With Collective, a truly dynamic business that is always looking to drive process improvement. We have a great working relationship and together we are always lifting the bar. Justin adds finally “Our EBITDA is double that of the rest of the industry and our peers can’t believe we have such a handle on our operating margins. They have no idea how we’ve been able to get a finance system and production system that allow us to get such accurate insights and make quick decisions on a daily basis. And we don’t have a finance department – it’s all outsourced!”