Building an agency management platform for survival - and less admin

Agency Core
Agency Core
Christopher Goodfellow
Sift Media
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When I saw famous entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow last year she lamented the difficulty of building an agency business without investment. To paraphrase, she said you’re always two big client wins from run-away success and two losses away from failure.

Matt Davies faced the dilemma when a large client went bust owing his old business £50,000; how could they survive? In the end, a meticulous look at processes and the profitability of individual projects ensured their survival – and inspired a new business that’s going from strength to strength.  

Davies used the experience to build Agency Core, a cloud-based management platform that would reduce administration and promote these disciplines. We caught up with him to talk about building the business in the latest instalment of our The Investibles series.

1. What is your investment status?

We’ve raised circa £250,000 to date and we’re looking to raise again later this year.

2. Describe your business in one paragraph; what’s its vision and what problem does it solve?

Agency Core offers simple creative agency management software. Our mission is to remove the pain of running an agency, so agencies can enjoy more time for creative freedom.

Administration is often what creatives enjoy least and a lack of organisation can hold their businesses back! We provide agencies with simple tools to manage their sales, CRM, project management, time tracking and invoices; all in one beautiful, cloud-based application.

3. How did you come up with the idea for your business?

Helen and I used to run our own digital agency and have experienced first-hand the challenges that modern agencies face.

Our biggest hurdle came when one of our largest clients went bust! We suddenly found ourselves £50,000 short with a team to feed. The experience could have killed many small businesses. However, we survived by tightening up all of our processes and being very strict about managing and understanding the profitability of each of our projects.

Initially, we bootstrapped our early development (including selling my car – which I still miss!).

This change of process led to the creation of the first version of Agency Core!

4. What’s your addressable market?

Our product is aimed at small to medium-sized agencies (typically with five-25 members of staff). This size of agency represents 50% of the UK market. There are 30,000 creative businesses in the UK. There is an estimated 500,000 agencies worldwide.

5. What’s great about your team and do you have a mentor?

Our team is close-knit and we have a very broad skill set. From sales and marketing to design and development we can do most things in-house, meaning that we can be very nimble and reactive to our clients’ needs as we grow.

6. What key challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Our biggest challenge has been explaining a complex tool to agencies remotely. Our price point does not allow for face-to-face meetings. As such we have doubled down on video (which again we can produce in in-house), which has allowed us to produce very engaging content for training our clients in a very cost effective way.

7. How have you funded your startup and why did you choose this route?

Initially, we bootstrapped our early development (including selling my car – which I still miss!).

In October 2015, we raised our first round of investment (£100,000), we raised again in September 2016 (another £100,000) and we are now looking to raise again in 2017.

8. How do you market your business and how successful has it been so far?

It’s early days, however, we’ve mainly leveraged partners (such as The Drum), online advertising and content.

It took us the best part of a year to get to the point where we had a working beta product. We initially ran a six-month beta test of the product from until September 2015.

Too often we sit in our offices debating what clients need. Go see some of your customers and you will quickly learn what they want.

From September 2016 until now we have signed up over 300 agencies. Currently 20 of which are fully paid up, however, more trials convert every day!

9. What are your plans for the future?

More growth, international expansion and continuous improvement of our product.

Our vision is to become the de facto management tool for all small to medium-sized agencies.

10. If you started again, is there anything you would do differently?

Ship our beta earlier! The best feedback is client feedback! We shipped very early, compared to our peers in the startup world and I still would have gone to market earlier.

As entrepreneurs, whatever we choose to do each day is always our choice, our responsibility, and that is a wonderful thing.

You really cannot get the feedback you need until you ask someone to pay for your product!

11. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs that are starting a business?

Talk to your clients, ship early and remember you made this choice!

Too often we sit in our offices debating what clients need. Go see some of your customers and you will quickly learn what they want. Furthermore, if you start listening, your clients will be much more likely to give you unprompted feedback and that can be invaluable.

Along the same lines, get people using your product as early as possible so you can really understand the strengths and weaknesses of what you’ve created.

Running a startup is never easy, we all know that. However, the hard work, occasional pain and fairly constant stress come with one huge upside: freedom of choice. Everything we do as entrepreneurs is governed by this fact, whatever we choose to do each day is always our choice, our responsibility and that is a wonderful thing.


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