4 Lessons from 4 Years of Mäd.

Mäd has just turned 4 years old in September 2020, and we're taking the time to look back and learn from key lessons and events in our time.

4 Lessons from 4 Years of Mäd.

From two iMacs, and a few ideas, to where we are today. There's been incredible growth, challenging hurdles, and a lot to reflect on during our Mäd journey so far.

We've grown from the core idea that a relentless focus on quality and customer experience was a must, to actually executing this with dozens of clients, helping them generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and change the marketplace.

1. Optimizing for Long-Term.

At Mäd, near sightedness only applies to eyesight ability. When it comes to business, we always strive to look far ahead into the long-term.

Whether it's to do with client relations, investment or branding, we always ask ourselves: would we be happy with the same decisions 5 - 10 years down the line?

Only if the answer is yes do we go ahead. The idea is that once you have the habit of making long-term decisions, you start a very slow but meaningful flywheel effect, in which good decisions compound over the years.

For instance, we've always over-invested in our facilities, ensuring we have beautiful and functional offices, the right equipment to get the job done, and so on. While this is a significant up-front cost, it makes things much easier in the long-term as it makes it easier to do high-quality work, attract the right clients, and provide an environment that promotes meaningful work.

This strategy has proven valuable to Mäd.

Approximately 80% of our work is from returning clients, which is a sign of a healthy business.  This wouldn't have been possible if we hadn't prioritized long-term relations with them.

It feels bittersweet to look back. We feel we've come full circle that one of our insights from our early days also touched upon the "long-term" goals and plans. It's been our vision ever since.

Prioritization for Leaders.
Leaders can often find it difficult to know what they should and shouldn’t be focusing on. We provide a guide on how to prioritize.

2. Team vs Family Ethos.

Generally speaking, there are two main overarching philosophies to running a team:

  1. Family Approach.
  2. Team Approach.

At Mäd, we run our organization in the same manner as a sports team, not like a family. This doesn't mean that we're unfriendly or cold, but it's just a more honest approach in regards to performance and business.

This was something we had to learn the hard way. During the infancy days of Mäd, our founder faced some challenges, as all founders do, and had to lay off 50% of the team. This is not something we can do to our family members. If we face some hardship in our family, we can't just say "look! it's not working out, you have to go".

Having to lay off that many people was hard. That was when we realized we needed a better way to redefine our relations in the workplace and we felt that "team" fit best.

If you're not familiar with the concept, it may sound harsh to hear this new proposition in favor for "team" identity, over "family" identity. Unlike family, a term that concocts feelings of warmth and affection; "team" does the complete opposite and concocts feelings of "competitions" "goals" and "challenges".

This is precisely why we prefer the "team" analogy in our workplace. It's not only more realistic and sets the right expectations amongst our members but also saves a lot of hard feelings along the way. But this is not to say that there's no warmth and affection amongst our team members. There have been a lot of good times that involve G&Ts and FIFA sessions at our workplace.

3. Keeping Things Simple.

Aside from "think differently" and "make it happen", "simplicity is key" would be the next best tagline that captures the essence of Mäd.

Simplicity often gets a bad rep. The problem is, people confuse making things "simple" with making things "simpler". Oversimplification can be dangerous and we're not for that at all. The quote from the great Einstein sums it up best:

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

As an agency, we're familiar with all the jargons and technical terms that our team likes to throw out. This may not be the case for a layperson or anyone without a tech background. Our open-minded, all-inclusive and non-discriminatory approach to working means we always keep in mind that our audience can be anyone from a diverse range of background. Therefore, any form of communication we put out must first pass the simplicity test. We won't stop until we've asked ourselves: "is there a clearer way to put this?", without oversimplifying it.

Admittedly, there is a fine line between making it simple and making it simpler. Proudly, we feel we have mastered the former.

This is reflected in our contracts, arguably the most complex area of all. Contracts are notorious for using big words, not to mention all the legal terms. We felt rather brave and took up the challenge to make our contracts accessible.

Making Contracts Accessible.
We’re making the case for plain-language contracts.

Now that we've managed to make our contracts simple, we feel we could make anything simple. The challenge never stops.

4. Free Cash Flow.

Free cash flow refers to money left over after accounting for all the other operational expenses like payroll, rent, and taxes etc.

Just like how we wouldn't want to live paycheck to paycheck in our personal lives, we wouldn't want to operate paycheck to paycheck as a business. This is why tracking and maintaining a high level of free cash flow is now one of our main priorities.

Free cash flow serves as a key indicator of a company's financial health. Good financial health makes it more appealing for investors, which only serves to boost the financial health. It's a virtuous cycle.

At Mäd, we started out as a small startup. New to the game and having a lot to learn, we didn't have the privilege to worry about having free cash flow at the time. Although it had always been one of our future goals, we had other immediate things to worry about like securing and retaining clients.

Fast forward to year 4, we know we can attract and maintain high-quality clients, and ensuring that we always have a significant amount of free cash flow is a step in the next level of maturity. This is reflected in the fact that during the COVID-19 global pandemic, we've actually been hiring additional team members, not laying people off or cutting salaries.

It also ties back nicely to our lesson no. 1 on the importance of optimizing for long-term. Nothing epitomizes long-term more than having free cash flow.

The Importance of Free Cash Flow
Free Cash Flow (FCF) is one of the most important metrics that management should keep track of on a regular and consistent basis.

Moving Forward.

As we look forward to the next few years, the key focus will be sustainable growth. We aim to grow in a controlled manner, taking on the type of work that we enjoy, with clients that are a pleasure to work with, and maintaining and developing our culture as we scale.

We've made heavy investments into building systems that automate and make our work lives easier (hello Bloo!) and we're now starting to optimize our back-office operations, by moving all our billing to Stripe and our banking with Mercury, which will enable us to create real-time financial dashboards, as well as significantly reduce our administration overheads by providing clients with a self-self billing portal to manage their payments with us.

A sample of the upcoming client portal.

The Mäd Flywheel.

Our not-so-secret strategy has always been the Mäd Flywheel, which is made up for six parts:

  1. Great Customer Experience – Quality tangible results from Mäd that help our Clients move up. This is absolutely the most important thing to focus on at Mäd.
  2. Proof – Potential customers can see real proof of point #1. Comes in the form of WOM or case studies to name a few.
  3. Traffic – More and more potential customers inquire about Mäd’s services as our brand is known.
  4. Growth – The ability to generate free cash flow, and create continuous progress. Agility and adaptability to change.
  5. Brand Investment – Investing in making Mäd better (equipment, office, web, social media, culture, etc..). This helps drive new talent by making Mäd desirable.
  6. Talent Development – Investing in our people, and also finding awesome new people! Making Mäd the best place to work and grow.

We will continue to invest into each of these six points to ensure that as we grow we continue to create win-win-win scenarios for Mäd, our clients, and their customers.