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Episode 47 – Interview with Dave Terry

My guest today is Dave Terry. Dave is an entrepreneur who has successfully sold two professional services companies. Currently, Dave is a Partner at Mediacurrent, one of the leading Drupal-based digital agencies in the world. He has a wide acumen of operations related experience including business development, marketing, hiring, managing profit/loss, and goal setting. At Mediacurrent, Dave has played a key role in forging strategic partnerships, creating scalable processes, recruiting top talent, and managing enterprise-level accounts. In March, 2015 Mediacurrent was acquired by Code and Theory.

Interview Transcript

Adam: [00:00:02] Hi, and welcome to the Good People Good Marketing podcast, a podcast about nonprofit digital marketing and how to make it better, so that good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways8, a digital marketing agency that specializes in nonprofit work, and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.

[00:00:25] My guest today is Dave Terry. Dave is an entrepreneur who has successfully sold two professional services companies. Currently, Dave is a partner at Mediacurrent, one of the leading Drupal-based digital agencies in the world. He has a wide acumen of operations-related experience, including business development, marketing, hiring, managing profit and loss, and goal setting. At Mediacurrent, Dave has played a key role in forging strategic partnerships, creating scalable processes, recruiting top talent and managing enterprise-level accounts. Dave, welcome to the show.

Dave: [00:00:59] That was a mouthful. Thanks for that nice introduction, Adam, I appreciate it.

Adam: [00:01:02] Well, it sounds like you’re doing some great stuff and I can’t wait to hear a little bit more about it. Just to preface this conversation for our listeners here, we are taking a slightly different sort of slant on the traditional marketing conversation and we’re going to talk about what your agency is doing to give back and how that’s affected the culture of your agency. So, I’m kind of excited to sort of have a different conversation here. It’s going to be fun.

Dave: [00:01:28] Yeah, definitely.

Adam: [00:01:29] So, tee this up for me a little bit. Do you want to give me a little background on Mediacurrent and then kind of maybe lead into what it is that you’re doing to give back and how that’s affecting your culture and community?

Dave: [00:01:40] Yeah, definitely. We’ve got a really interesting back story with how Mediacurrent was founded. So, in the mid-2000s, one of my good friends that I’ve known since elementary school was a successful sole practitioner. He was freelancing, building websites, and he was out on his [00:02:03] [INDISTINCT] [0.0] and he reached an inflection point in his career where he needed to either scale and start to grow, or stay independent. And at this time I had just sold another professional services company, and I was a sounding board for a lot of the operation and back office issues that he was having, and we had a conversation at lunch one day and he said, “Hey, I’m starting to build websites on this open source content management system called Drupal, and I think it’s kind of the wave of the future and it’s something we should talk more seriously about.”

[00:02:44] And I had a non-compete and was getting in between jobs, so we started to put our heads together around what scaling in open source digital agency practice in Atlanta would look like. So, we looked at Drupal and a number of different CMSs, but obviously we decided to hitch our wagon, on to Drupal, and in 2007 we took the plunge, put together a business plan, started in the back of a small hundred square foot office like a lot of just bootstrapped entrepreneurs do, and we just, we went for it. And of course, six months later we hit the second worst recession I think we’ve had in our lifetime.

Adam: [00:03:35] Yeah, yeah.

Dave: [00:03:36] But, yeah, we were able to plow through it and that was kind of the catalyst for how Mediacurrent started.

Adam: [00:03:43] Wow, that’s fantastic. It sounds familiar, because we started in 2010 for Sideways8, right in the midst of a major economic downturn, so that’s  a great time to start a company. Why not, right?

Dave: [00:03:54] Yeah, yeah, there you go.

Adam: [00:03:56] Well, that’s great. Well, that’s great. Well, tell us  a little bit more about sort of what it is that you do to give back – I know you give back to the open source community, and Drupal being an open source platform, maybe frame out what that means a little bit, and just kind of tell us what your involvement in that is.

Dave: [00:04:11] Yeah, definitely. So, I won’t be … I assume a lot of the listeners in your audience will know what open source software is, but just a quick  explanation to not be too presumptive. Open source, think of it as like crowdsourcing technology. In this case, Drupal was started fifteen years ago by somebody in their dorm room in Belgium, named Dries Buytaert. And Dries, just incredible technologist and visionary. Think of open source, so, instead of fifty engineers from Microsoft or Adobe being locked in a room and writing code and licensing that code and making lots of money, open source is the exact opposite. It was started by Dries and then it’s crowdsourced, where an international community can contribute back to the codes.

[00:05:14] So, they’re adding patches, they’re strengthening the code, they’re adding more modules or plugins, and the code is really seen as being highly secure, very flexible, because so many hundreds of thousands of sets of eyes are looking at the code, as opposed to maybe just a proprietary or closed code company that  has just a certain number of people working on the code, longer release cycles; where Drupal’s really powerful because of the community that’s behind it.

[00:05:55] So in terms of how it impacts our culture, it’s just … it has to be in our DNA. We just fundamentally believe that technology should be shared and free and it’s so much more of a powerful value proposition, and it’s been so interesting, Adam, to see how that has evolved over time. When we first started eight, nine years ago I couldn’t even get a meeting with a Fortune 500 company to consider adopting an open source-based web strategy.

Adam: [00:06:31] That’s right, yeah.

Dave: [00:06:31] And now, yeah  that and now fast forward those same organizations are questioned for why they would pay millions of Dollars in licensing fees.

Adam: [00:06:44] That’s right.

Dave: [00:06:44] You know, and the safe choice, right, was always you’ll never get fired for choosing Microsoft or Adobe or Oracle or one of the big technology brands. But now that’s almost again a scarlet letter where, if you can get the same amount of value and engage an agency like  Mediacurrent or Sideways8 to help with the implementation, the total cost of ownership is just astronomically lower. So, that’s what we took to the market, and then, in order to get our name out, we just really did a lot of grassroots-type marketing.

[00:07:25] We started the Atlanta Drupal User Group, we started the first Drupalcamp Atlanta, and we saw this huge void fora platform to bring these people with like interests around Drupal together. And that was just  awesome to be a part of. It was people who wanted to contribute knowledge back. And scaling an open source project takes just so many different skills that it’s really intriguing to see those different capabilities come together in order to push the project forward.

Adam: [00:08:08] Yeah.

Dave: [00:08:08] So, yeah, it’s been neat, and it’s been really contributing back to the open source communities, it’s been in Mediacurrent’s DNA since … for a long time, since Day One really.

Adam: [00:08:20] That’s great, that’s great. I mean, we’re the same. We’re very big on that. Sideways8 is a WordPress shop and we’re helping lead WordCamp and a ton of our people are speaking at WordCamp or sponsoring with a booth and we’re helping plan the event, and I mean, it’s just really important to give back to the local community and help the open source community grow. I mean, not even just the code, but the community and how they use the platform is really important.

Dave: [00:08:48] Yeah, definitely, definitely.

Adam: [00:08:50] I love that. I love that. So, are there any other projects that you have already, anything else that you’re working on currently that you want to share with us here?

Dave: [00:09:00] Yeah. So, I’ll tell you something that was … we had a real epiphany, probably two or three years ago, and somebody who we both know very well, [00:09:10] [sounds like: Jeff Hillenmeyer], [0.6] actually one of the … had lunch with him one day and he talked about one of the biggest regrets he had as an entrepreneur, and one of the big regrets was not adopting more of an open-book management philosophy from Day One. So, we both believe strongly in open source software but we didn’t necessarily translate those same principles into how we were running our company and our agency.

Adam: [00:09:46] Right.

Dave: [00:09:46] And there is this Great Game of Business book – I’m sure Jeff has plugged it to you.

Adam: [00:09:52] Oh, yeah. We run the Great Game of Business.

Dave: [00:09:52] Absolutely.

Adam: [00:09:56] With both Sideways8 and 48in48. We run it for both companies. It’s great.

Dave: [00:10:00] Yeah, definitely. So, Great Game of Business was really pivotal for us the last few years, … it’s really, as you know, about sharing information, sharing challenges, being transparent with your team around what are the financial targets. In Great Game of Business, it’s called like the critical number, right?

Adam: [00:10:21] Right.

Dave: [00:10:21] So, each month it’s knowing how many  billable hours do we need to hit in order to hit our goals and be able to reinvest back into the company and being really committed to that. And so that has had a really profound effect the last few years. And we’ve also tried to turn many of our department leaders into entrepreneurs as well. And it’s getting their buy-in that it’s okay for them to share their problems with their peers and to come up with.. challenge everyone to help come up with creative solutions.

Adam: [00:11:01] Right.

Dave: [00:11:02] And there’s so many … there’s a lot of misconceptions about Great Game of Business as well. I think that it turns into too much sometimes about, is it all about profit, is it all about, driving people to achieve numbers and when it’s executed correctly, it’s not about that at all. It’s really about, again sharing that information, and we tell our team we’d much rather you not be surprised around a major decision that we have to make.

Adam: [00:11:39] Yes.

Dave: [00:11:39] A decision around  what benefits to invest in or if there’s any kind of restructuring that has to go on, you’re going to be a part of that process versus one day, the old way of thinking was just  if there was a bad quarter or bad numbers, that you walk in and you get an unexpected pink slip. And that’s not how we have ever wanted to operate as a company, and I think the Great Game of Business gave us a lot of great structure to be able to operate in that open book management philosophy kind of way.

Adam: [00:12:17] Yeah. Yeah, I love that. I mean for 48in48, which is the nonprofit that I run, we run the Great Game of Business and, of course  our goal with 48in48 is to do events to build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours, and so we set two numbers that are our kind of critical drivers for the year according to the Great Game of Business, which are number of sites live. So not only do we want to build forty-eight sites, but we want to make sure that a very, very, very high percentage of those sites go live, and then everything flows into that. I mean, in order to get a certain number of sites live you have to have a certain number of applicants, you have a certain number of volunteers, you have to have a venue, you have to have everything else that sort of flows into that event, has to be there in order to get that number of sites live.

[00:13:02] And then the other is fundraising. I mean, we have a fundraising goal because, if we can’t pay our team, if we can’t pay for venues, if we can’t pay for food for the volunteers,  we can’t do these good things that we’re doing. And so, really everything in the organization points towards those two numbers and we continually come back to those numbers. How are we doing? How are we doing on sites live? How are we doing on this? And it makes the entire team very, very aligned in what we’re trying to do, because we all are pointing towards two numbers and we know like, today, right now, what I’m doing, how is this affecting those numbers, right? And we’re constantly thinking about that and it just makes an enormous impact on your organization.

Dave: [00:13:42] Yeah. That’s exactly right. They didn’t want [00:13:44] [INDISTINCT] [0.2] the real exciting byproducts for us out of Great Game of Business was, a few months ago, part of what we wanted to do was, if we obtained our numbers, there should be incentive for the team, and what was really cool, which your audience will really appreciate is, the team decided that the incentive that they wanted if we hit our numbers was to contribute back to our community. So, we set some goals, if we went above target since we scaled it accordingly, we would give money back to whatever charities that the team had decided.

[00:14:29] So, about a month ago, we wrapped up our 2017 financials and we gave $11,500 to nine different charities, and the cool part was we allowed the team to select which of those charities that they wanted to contribute to. So, that was, part of the incentive was really neat that they wanted to, contribute back to the community and we’ve done a lot already with open source software, so we chose different organizations to give back to.

Adam: [00:15:08] That’s fantastic. I love that, and it motivates the team, motivates everybody, and again it just aligns everyone in the same direction,. I’ve talked to people that have run the Great Game of Business and they talk about how,the having a singular focus on a specific goal has aligned them in such a way that they’ll have developers coming up and saying, “Hey, I think we can actually save some money here, if we don’t hire a senior developer next time, we hire a junior developer and then I’ll train them up”, and like …

Dave: [00:15:37] Yeah.

Adam: [00:15:37] And I think as well as I do, for a developer to offer that is pretty astounding.

Dave: [00:15:42] Yeah.

Adam: [00:15:43] Because developers hate … they don’t want junior developers ever … they want as senior as they can get, because it lightens their load but they wanted to take on more because it was better for the organization to help them reach the goals that they had.

Dave: [00:15:53] Right.

Adam: [00:15:53] So, that’s amazing.

Dave: [00:15:54] Yeah, definitely.

Adam: [00:15:56] Well, Dave, this has been a really great conversation. Do you have any kind of final thoughts that you’d like to share with the audience here?

Dave: [00:16:05] No, just I’d say if there’s one thing for … from an entrepreneur … if anyone  is running an agency or entrepreneurial, it’s one of the biggest lessons I learned was just undervaluing the importance of culture from the beginning, and culture to us is three things now. It’s about people and who we hire. I know a lot of companies say that, but it’s really putting the processes behind how you identify  the right people within the company.

[00:16:42] The second part of our culture is around accountability. So, it’s not just who you hire but it could be who you fire and that sort of freaks some people out, because firing has such a negative connotation, but it’s really about … you can imagine, with us having employees in twenty-seven different States, we had to learn as much as we could about how to manage a distributed team and how to hold them accountable, so that’s a big part of our culture.

[00:17:13] And the third, and probably the most important and applicable to this conversation, is how do we professionally grow and develop our team? I think again, a lot of companies give that, lip service, but you really have to … if you invest in your people, it does trickle down and have a real positive impact on all aspects of the company and the business, and that’s something again we probably didn’t do enough of in the early days. And when you take a vested interest in the success of your people and employees and team, it does have,just a magnifying impact effect, and we’ve been fortunate enough to see that firsthand. And we want to hopefully continue down that path and do the right thing.

Adam: [00:18:11] Yeah, yeah, I totally agree. I mean, culture is critical. It allows you to attract great talent, it helps you to keep the great talent that you have, it’s a huge value-add to any team. And I think that’s really what sells somebody coming on board for the job is, does the culture fit? Does it feel good to work there? And if it doesn’t, they’re going to run really fast, so.

Dave: [00:18:34] Yeah, no, definitely. I know, yeah, our mutual friend, [00:18:38] [sounds like: Mr. Hillenmeyer], [0.5] the small world story is – I mentioned my partner and I have known each other since elementary school – we actually went to high school together, and we went to the same high school as Jeff.

Adam: [00:18:51] Oh, nice.

Dave: [00:18:52] So, there’s, yeah, a shout out to Stone Mountain connection there. But, yeah, I know he talks a lot about that, he harps on that as well, and again, couldn’t agree more and I’d be remiss too if I didn’t give you just a huge pat on the back for all that you do for Atlanta. I’m a big fan of 48in48. As you know, we’ve just from … it’s been a timing issue the last year or two, to get more deeply involved but really appreciate all the efforts that you do on that front.

Adam: [00:19:31] Yeah, wow, man. I’m humbled to have the opportunity to do it. It’s really a lot of fun. It’s great to be able to help people and help, small nonprofits sort of grow and I’m always thinking about more things to do.

Dave: [00:19:45] Yeah.

Adam: [00:19:45] So, maybe there’s some other fun stuff we’ve got up our sleeve. Time will tell, time will tell, so.

Dave: [00:19:50] The only thing, we’ll have to convince you to move off of WordPress to Drupal.

Adam: [00:19:55] Yeah, I have a healthy respect for Drupal. I’ll tell you that much.

Dave: [00:20:01] Uhuh? They’re part of the same family, right. We’re cousins. At least it’s open source.

Adam: [00:20:05] That’s right.

Dave: [00:20:05] I can’t give you too hard of a time.

Adam: [00:20:07] That’s right. That’s right. Yeah, yeah, they’re our open source cousins, and we’re friendly. We’re friendly with them.

Dave: [00:20:14] Alright.

Adam: [00:20:15] Well, Dave, this has been great, man. I really appreciate your time. Thanks for being on the show and I’ll have to have you back again sometime.

Dave: [00:20:21] Absolutely. Adam, have a great rest of your day, and we’ll talk to you later.

Adam: [00:20:26] Alright. Thanks, Dave.

Dave: [00:20:28] Take care.

Adam: [00:20:29] Thanks for listening to the Good People Good Marketing podcast. To get more resources about nonprofit digital marketing make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com, where you can find more podcasts, blogs and other fun resources. Also, if you want to find me, Adam, your host, you can find me on Twitter, @AJWalker, or on my blog at adamjwalker.com, where I blog about leadership, productivity, habit building and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks for listening and tune in next time.

 

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