About Daren Cox & What Works Digital
Hi, my name's Daren Cox, and I want to tell you the story about why I started What Works Digital, including:
- How I built my first business from $0 to $10m a year
- How I then crashed it back to a fraction of its peak value
- How I plan to never make the same mistakes again with What Works Digital!
Admittedly, this is not your normal 'everything's always been rosy' kind of About page so it's a risk writing this as it may put people off who fall for those types of business fairytales, but it is a true story about how I got to where I am today and more importantly, why I got there.
I hope you find it interesting.
I quit the corporate world - aka working for someone else - back in 2004 and vowed never to return. So far, at least, I've been true to my word.
Ten years in investment banking before that had left me feeling like sandpapering my own eyeballs would be a more attractive (albeit less well paid) alternative and I was desperate to break out and startup my own business.
On the day I left, I remember taking my corporate ID pass and tossing it from London Bridge with all my might into a particularly gray and rain-swollen river Thames.
"On the day I left, I remember taking my corporate ID pass and tossing it from London Bridge with all my might into a particularly gray and rain-swollen river Thames."
OK, it wasn't exactly Rock'n'Roll, but it seemed a fitting end to my corporate career and symbolically that small act of defiance felt like a huge weight being lifted from my shoulders as well as the dawn of a new and exciting chapter in my life.
A few months later, my wife and I sold our family home and moved 250 miles west out of London in order to create a new life in a part of the world where our kids could grow up in the countryside, not far from the wild Atlantic ocean.
It didn't take long for me to spot some opportunities consulting and I snapped them up.
Over time, I built a team around me to deliver the contracts as I got better at sourcing new business and soon had a ten person organization that needed a constant flow of new leads and customers coming in to keep paying the bills.
I had no real process for generating leads back then; I just used to call people up; friends, ex-colleagues (and people linked to them) and offer to take them out for a coffee or a beer, for a 'catch up'.
After about 30 minutes of small talk, I'd finally get around to talking about what I was doing and narrow in to see if the person (or anyone they could recommend) would be interested in my companies 'business intelligence and analytics' services?
Usually, there was!
It was the dawn of 'big data' although the term was not widely used back then, and I didn't know that I was riding on the wave of a technology megatrend.
Banks and finance organizations, my main clients at that time, are, after all just big number crunchers and they need to keep on top of things with an endless supply of reports to business managers and executives.
The company did well, and I opened an office in London, then New York, teamed up with partners in South Africa and India and grew the team to 80 staff and briefly achieved a run-rate of $10 million a year.
"The company did well, and I opened an office in London, then New York, teamed up with partners in South Africa and India and grew the team to 80 staff and briefly achieved a run-rate of $10 million a year."
I steered the company successfully through the 2008 sub-prime crisis and continued to grow it into 2011.
I thought I had made it, but sadly, it was not to last long ...
One summers day in 2011, the movers and shakers in the global markets decided certain countries in the Eurozone (affectionately known as PIIGS) might not be able to pay back their government borrowings and suddenly my regular clients started closing up shop hit by worries the Eurozone markets would blow up.
I scrambled around for new customers in other industry sectors and picked up a few in telecoms, and even a famous soccer club that wanted to analyze player data to justify a multi-million-pound buying spree they were about to embark on.
But it was too little too late.
My clients slashed their budgets and stopped spending for several months (although it seemed like an eternity at the time).
As a result, my company's revenues took a nose dive and after six months of waiting for an upturn, I was forced to lay off 30% of the staff.
"As a result, my company's revenues took a nose dive and after six months of waiting for an upturn, I was forced to lay off 30% of the staff."
It was ugly.
I hated it and can quite safely say it was the worst day of my career.
To top it off, some of my closest business partners decided to leave en masse taking a bunch of clients I had spent years nurturing.
I was at rock bottom.
At this point I had two options:
Close the company down, or
I chose to soldier on and built up a new management team.
But I was exhausted and knew I couldn't go on as the CEO.
As soon as some form of stability returned to the organization, I quit and consulted part-time back to the management team as a mentor and coach.
The school of hard knocks had rattled me, but I learned a lot.
In those seven years, I had built up an organization from nothing to a peak of 80 staff and then back down to around 50, spanning four continents without studying a single book on entrepreneurship or business (I had been too busy at the time!).
I was pleased with what I had achieved, but the mental wounds I accumulated during the process ran deep.
I was angry that my strategy had been so brittle and vowed for the second time in my career that I would never allow that to happen again.
"I was angry that my strategy had been so brittle and vowed for the second time in my career that I would never allow that to happen again."
I started researching marketing, a topic I struggled to get to grips with when I was running my first business and which, looking back now, was probably the main reason it almost failed.
Once focused, I quickly realized the power of digital marketing and knew my next company (whatever it was to be) must be developed around building a lead generation machine.
I created an ideas incubator company, poured my savings into it in order to research and explore digital marketing and set up a real world B2C e-commerce retailer selling outdoor gear as a platform from which to conduct marketing experiments.
I advertised on AdWord's and Facebook and tried my hand at social media engagement, blog writing, and SEO.
Nothing seemed to work well at first.
So I enrolled in courses by the great and the good of digital marketing:
And got some digital marketing qualifications.
Then I got some more.
And more ...
I spent from 2012 and the next 4 years researching and refining my own digital marketing formulas.
"I spent from 2012 and the next 4 years researching and refining my digital marketing formulas."
Over time, I learned what worked and what didn't and developed a powerful vision of how I could help other small and medium-sized businesses.
I decided I was going to approach digital marketing, not from an abstract, 'clicks' and 'conversions' standpoint, but using the everyday language of business:
I knew that to have a successful business, you couldn't do digital marketing in isolation.
"I knew that to have a successful business, you couldn't do digital marketing in isolation."
For instance, you had to run campaigns from social media, SEO, and SEM by being aligned to a specific business goal, be they:
Better profit margins;
A more diversified customer base;
And so on.
In fact, I was sure from my own experiences that these campaigns were just the tip of a vast customer journey 'iceberg'.
A journey with its roots buried deep in the murky depths way before a customer ever set foot on your website and continued long after they left it.
Google neatly summarized the start of the customer journey as ZMOT - the Zero Moment of Truth ... that moment when people pick up their smartphone, tablet or laptop and start searching for a solution to a problem or to satiate a desire.
I wanted to build an evergreen marketing system that took visitors from those campaigns and nurtured them into customers, using an approach based on human relationships and psychology that would stand the test of time.
"I wanted to build an evergreen marketing system that took the visitors from those campaigns and nurtured them into customers"
But there was something missing from the puzzle that enabled me to achieve it.
Due to the great numbers involved, that something had to automatically take the 'traffic', I call them visitors, or better, people, that turn up at a website and nurture them along the buying journey to become leads, prospects, customers, repeat customers and some, raving fans!
I finally found the solution in marketing automation software.
A tool that could take the 'traffic' delivered from the fruits of the SEO, SEM, and various other campaigns, and progress them through the buying funnel into becoming customers.
That moment of realization was like being struck by a lightening bolt!
I'd found the magic ingredient and just like I had stumbled across 'big data' before most people had conceived of it back in the early 2000's, I knew it was going to be my mission to spread the word and educate as many small, medium sized business owners as possible in the benefits of digital marketing the right way.
"I knew it was going to be my mission to spread the word and educate as many small, medium sized business owners as possible in the benefits of digital marketing the right way."
As I write this in 2017, the 'market' for marketing automation is hotting up as business owners and executives come to the realization that dumping a ton of 'traffic' from their latest AdWords, Facebook or SEO campaigns straight onto their website isn't paying the dividends promised.
That approach may make the marketing team happy, with their 'clicks' and 'conversions' metrics, but without a way to nurture those visitors on through the buying funnel, few, if any are going to convert into leads, customers, and P&L.
They know they are missing something, something vast - like there's the Grand Canyon between the 'traffic' turning up to their websites and that 'traffic' becoming a paying customer.
"They know they are missing something, something vast - like there's the Grand Canyon between the 'traffic' turning up to their websites and that 'traffic' becoming a paying customer."
Now, after 5 years of R&D, coaching and select client work, I'm confident I've found a cost-effective solution to this Grand Canyon of digital marketing problems suitable for the smallest to the largest of businesses.
If you want to master digital marketing and grow your business, just click any of the buttons or links on this website now to subscribe and get sent a personal invitation to discuss your digital requirements.
Look forward to hearing from you soon!
CEO & Founder
What Works Digital