Starting, Scaling and Building a Capability

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Michael Cross
Co-Founder, Media.Monks

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The cat’s out of the bag, and our new brand has finally arrived to connect the dots across content, data&digital media and technology services. As the Founding Director and CEO of Brightblue, a data and analytics consultancy that joined S4 last year, I’m incredibly excited to join Media.Monks.

A cornerstone of the unified brand is that it is both people-focused and founder-led. This means our flexible model is designed to give people across the organization space to own and an opportunity to help chart our course. Ensuring this sense of ownership was important for founders of each team folding into Sir Martin Sorrell’s vision, because it preserves the spirit of entrepreneurialism that has enabled all of our businesses to thrive. And as we start this new chapter together, I felt the urge to jot down some thoughts about my own journey from setting up Brightblue to leading it through its integration with a much larger organization.

I’ve broken this down to the four key milestones I’ve gone through during this exhilarating journey: starting, building, merging, and integrating. These are my thoughts—by no means am I giving any advice here, as I firmly believe people work in very different ways. This is merely a reflection on my experience.

Starting a Business

Starting the business might have actually been the hardest part—it takes a pretty large leap of faith to go from the comfort of having a salary and holidays to being completely responsible and accountable for your income.

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    Monk Thoughts The perception is that it’s all 'work when I like, how I like,' but the reality for me was quite different.
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    I may not have had a direct boss, but I had to be on hand for clients at all times to get the business off the ground. I physically went on holiday, but my mind was always on the fact that any day I have off is a day lost in growth.

    Those early days were testing times, but I found that resilience and hard work got me through it. Resilience is required as you get quite a lot of knocks and bad breaks at the start (I think that happens to test your mettle!), and hard work is needed as the more conversations and leads you have going, the more your chances go up of pulling in bigger, meatier projects. In hindsight, having a co-founder would have helped enormously here in the beginning—however I was very lucky in that my wife knew the industry and was incredibly supportive throughout.

    Building the Business

    As the income started coming in and the team grew larger, the pressure eased. What I didn’t quite appreciate in the early days is how reliant you can be on one client, which is a very precarious position to be in: if they drop you, your business drops, and you need to make hard decisions about the team. Luckily, I had some great advice throughout my Brightblue life from my advisor and chairman Paul Edwards, who was invaluable at pointing out things I hadn’t spotted yet, and also coached me and helped manage and scale the team. I found the process of having an external advisor/non-executive director invaluable in terms of keeping me sane, but also keeping the standards up in the company. 

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      Monk Thoughts This setup kept us on our toes and helped drive the mission, vision and values that were key for us to attract and retain talent.
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      Merging

      After many years of great growth, we got to the point where we had nurtured a fantastic team and had built some amazing market-leading products. In order to really accelerate our growth, we knew we needed a partner to go global. We avoided private equity—cash wasn’t the issue, and access to clients and facilitation of global growth was the ambition. After a lengthy process, helped along by our excellent advisors at SI Partners who smoothed the wrinkles, we matched up with S4Capital. We were blown away by their agility, their sheer focus on the future and their culture of entrepreneurship. It was a nerve-racking decision, but luckily we had informed the team along all parts of the process and it was a collective call that we all backed. And what a great decision it was!

      Integrating

      Once we had done the deed, we quickly moved onto integration. S4 are pros at this—the Post Merger Integration team made everything very smooth, and we very quickly felt a part of the team.

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        Monk Thoughts It’s only been 10 months, but we’ve seen huge global growth from the group which continues to accelerate, as well as the opportunity to develop even more market-leading products.
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        We have merged now with eight more cutting-edge companies since we joined S4. The pace of change and the talent base is phenomenal. With this comes unrivaled, market-leading capabilities across content, data&digital media and technology services. As far as the future goes, we will continue to integrate into one P&L and one name, making it much easier for clients to navigate and manage all of their media and content services with one entry point. What a journey—we look forward to continued growth in our team and capabilities, and I’m certainly very excited to see what we do next!

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