Shaper: Rob Pierre

Show aired on 13th January 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Natalie Cole with her take on Route 66 a lovely way to start the programme. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers, I’m Elliot Moss, thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers I’m sure you know is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them we bring someone who is shaping the world of business doing wonderful things and that person today, my Business Shaper, is called Rob Pierre, lovely name and a lovely agency he runs he is in fact the co-founder and CEO of and it’s called Jellyfish. They are in the digital world and the marketing world and the advertising world. He has also got some other things that he’s been doing. I won’t call him a serial entrepreneur but he’s almost one. In addition to hearing from Rob you’ll also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we’ve got the music and here today you are going to be hearing Marlena Shaw, Young-Holt Trio, Bobby Bland and this from Robert Cray.

That was the Robert Cray Band with Fine Yesterday. Rob Pierre is my Business Shaper today here on Jazz FM and he is the co-founder and CEO of a business called Jellyfish. They are a digital agency, a marketing agency and advertising agency – I love it – in this day and age in 2017 you can be all sorts of things in the world of communications. Rob it’s a real pleasure to have you, thank you for joining.

Rob Pierre
Thanks for having me.

Elliot Moss
Tell me about why you set this business up and when you did it.

Rob Pierre
So the business started, well I will be probably go back to the original story there was a young entrepreneur called Paul Walsh and he had an IT consultancy in Reigate, a boutique IT consultancy and he was a friend of mine and this was about thirteen years ago, thirteen/fourteen years ago when we were all getting married and we were all going on several stag dos and several weddings and I kept bumping into him and talking to him and he had this passion about a business that he was running but he felt that the real opportunity was in digital marketing so it was an IT consultancy building lots of websites for brands mainly in the publishing sector and what he found is that the opportunity was in how to market these websites he was building and pay per click had just started and he felt it was a great opportunity. As I spoke to him and found this passion we decided that on one of these stag dos that I would quit my job, join him and start a marketing agency so we sold off all of the IT consultant clients and focused on digital marketing and that’s when we rebranded as Jellyfish and it went from there.

Elliot Moss
And your background before that, sales director at Sunglass Hut International, you were a sales marketing director at Biker International it is quite a leap to say I’m going to do my own thing and go into the agency world. Where do you reckon that courage to just follow your convictions has come from?

Rob Pierre
I think I drew a little bit on looking at Paul’s passion for having his destiny in his own hands, being able to make a difference and to be autonomous and to drive something forward that he felt was the right direction to go so…

Elliot Moss
But for you though I get that, you would have felt his energy but internally you also to quit your job Rob that’s a pretty big deal.

Rob Pierre
Yeah I felt that I had a lot of autonomy in my previous roles and I was pretty much running the Biker International I worked for an entrepreneur Martin Manbridge down in Southampton and you know I really learnt business. I went to business school with him and the cutting edge of business and I felt that I was eventually running those businesses so I already had the confidence that actually understood the business acumen, the P&L, I managed big teams from a marketing standpoint, I really felt I was ready, I was just looking for the right opportunity and I think Jellyfish was that opportunity.

Elliot Moss
And just before we go to the Young-Holt Trio, in numbers you’re in four countries.

Rob Pierre
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
You’ve got how many people that work in the business?

Rob Pierre
Four hundred and thirty five at last count.

Elliot Moss
Across how many offices?

Rob Pierre
So nine offices globally.

Elliot Moss
Not bad we’ll be coming back to much more about Jellyfish and its growth and its trajectory in a moment and that is with my Business Shaper Rob Pierre, co-founder and CEO of the same named business. Time for some more music I promised them just a moment ago here they are Young-Holt Trio with Wack Wack.

There’s the jolly little number according to Dom, Producer and I agree, Young-Holt Trio with Wack Wack. Rob Pierre is my Business Shaper today, co-founder and CEO of Jellyfish; I like the name Jellyfish. As you just heard I hope but before that a great track. Is a business now, nine offices, four countries and what was it four hundred and thirty…

Rob Pierre
Four hundred and thirty five people.

Elliot Moss
Four hundred and thirty five people. That’s a lot of people, so this business has been going now twelve years?

Rob Pierre
Yes.

Elliot Moss
And you were talking about stag dos and getting married and a little earlier before we came here on air we were talking about kids as well. You did everything at once.

Rob Pierre
I did it all at once.

Elliot Moss
Did it all at once.

Rob Pierre
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Children, marriage, build a business.

Rob Pierre
And moved house.

Elliot Moss
And moved house. Any particular reason why you wanted to do everything at once Rob?

Rob Pierre
I just felt that the timing was right, yeah there was no, it certainly was not planned and in some cases I think you when you’re sort of restructuring anything it’s often best to do it in one go and then you sort of build it from the ground up with the right foundations and I think when you iteratively do things sometimes it would slow down the process so I decided it was such a big leap and I think it’s a bit like when you’re in a buying frenzy once you’ve made, you’ve got your credit card out and you’ve bought one thing you just end up buying more. I think when I made one big decision I just made them all.

Elliot Moss
It strikes me that you’ve got a lot of natural energy, I can see it in your eyes you know you’re up for it and you were probably up for it twelve/thirteen years ago as well. Do you think certain types end up doing what you do? I mean it’s not for everybody is it? Do you have people that you meet that you bring into the business with great expectations and they just, they haven’t got that energy.

Rob Pierre
Well we kind of protected ourselves against them because our recruitment process is slightly different because I actually look for the actual core traits and attributes in people. I think that our industry moves so quickly that if you’ve got the right aptitude, the right attitude, if you’re passionate, if you’re the solution then often you will find the right way to overcome the problems that we have in our business and it moves so quickly that we don’t have veterans in the digital world. Whatever you learnt twelve months ago the platforms that you’re going to be advertising on, the technology that’s available, the data that you can process using the cloud, there’s so many things moving so quickly that actually I do look for the core traits to the point where even in our interviews when I interviewed all who are now our senior management team I gave them the questions before the interview. I gave them twenty minutes with the questions and said relax, be yourself, in the real world when you’re working for us we don’t expect you to quick fire answer and solve problems on the fly. You know we really want you to be considered and to use all of your life experience and your knowledge within the industry to actually make wise decisions. So I get them to relax, give them the questions and I say I’m not going to take your notes off you. I’ll come back in twenty minutes and then I sequentially go through loads of questions and what I find is I get to learn about that person. I get through the nerves and they can actually give me considered answers and I can assess whether they’re the right people for the business and out of our senior management team we have had no attrition. You know we’ve literally on that journey I’m talking about we have this great idea that for every ten years we will give somebody a Rolex because you know in the digital world it’s like dog years you know one year is like seven years in digital so somebody with our business for ten years is like seventy years in our view and so we thought that was a great idea. Now as you can imagine thirteen years in, no one’s left, you know nine years in we’re trying to figure out is this person right for the business you know we’re trying to see whether we can save ourselves a Rolex but it doesn’t seem to be working.

Elliot Moss
A great way of recruiting people I’ve never heard that before, maybe I should also give people the questions in advance of coming on the programme maybe it would change the whole dynamic you never know. Stay with me for much from my Business Shaper that’s Rob Pierre, co-founder and CEO of Jellyfish. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom I hope to augment the words you’ve just been hearing from Rob about recruitment from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

This is Jazz Shapers on Jazz FM. Every Saturday I’m very lucky I meet someone who is shaping the world of business, doing something I wished I’d done or thought of and generally I think you probably think the same if you listen regularly. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to recent guests go into iTunes, put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’ you’ll find a whole host there. Today Rob Pierre you will find is my Business Shaper here on Jazz FM; co-founder and CEO of Jellyfish and talking to me about the world of the digital agency and he set his business up now twelve or so years ago. Is that right? Thirteen years ago. Obviously you mentioned digital moves really fast and all the various weapons and the tools that people have at their disposal, brands have at their disposal to you are changing fundamentally. You also talked about the fact your senior management team has been around now for coming up for the Rolex year, the ten year period.

Rob Pierre
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
How do you manage the fact that you do need some experience to manage clients and to manage a business and to manage a bunch of people with the fact that things do change so fast because I imagine those people are now ten years older and they may have the traits but they’re slightly more removed from what’s happening. How does that juxtaposition get managed for you?

Rob Pierre
So our business is managed in a modular and a matrix formation so we’ve got the agency, so the people dealing with the clients, our client services, our planners, project managers etcetera they sit regionally and then you’ve got the actual services so your paid media, your earnt media, analytics, creative, development and technology they are actually global, they’ve got global heads and so what we’ve got, is we’ve got that consistency globally but what we find is that we’re still, we’re growing at such a rate that we’re always bringing new talent into the business and I still induct every single person that starts at Jellyfish. So it started as a one-to-one then it became five people, now it’s a room of fifteen people whenever I’m in an office and that is a way of demonstrating that it is still flat, you might see on the website our vision is to be the biggest boutique agency in the world, not to lose all those traits and the nice family atmosphere that you get in a boutique agency and we don’t want to lose that at the expense of scale so I do a lot of things to try and stay close. I’ve got that open door policy and the main purpose of that induction is to explain to people that they can come and talk to me at any time and that there’s not that awkward silence as I walk past their desk for the first time because we’ve spent an hour and a half together, we’ve got to know each other and during that induction I say to them I kind of use the analogy of like the Google Data Centre for example. It’s not one big super computer, it’s made up of lots of PCs and that gives it the processing power to index the entire internet and I feel that the more people we bring to the business they’re encouraged to actually add that processing power. You know the new perspectives, new minds, innovation and that they are encouraged to actually when they see things that can be challenged, to challenge. So our line management ten years in maybe they’re constantly being challenged because that’s the culture that we’ve got within the organisation.

Elliot Moss
And that makes perfect sense, is there a sense of how big you want to be Rob or is that the wrong question because four hundred and thirty five people, nine offices, that’s a lot of management, a lot of travel I imagine, a lot of different things moving, lots of moving pieces. Do you want to be double the size, treble the size, what’s the thing?

Rob Pierre
At the moment the company vision and the business plan is to be a thousand people within the next three years. That is the plan and the reason why it’s a pretty arbitrary number but the reason why we came up with it is I am trying to position Jellyfish right there so that we can compete with the big network agencies. But we, a bit like you know you’ll never get fired for hiring IBM you know we want to be a safe choice so we need to have the scale to have the perceived sustainability but we still want to be agile, innovative and to be an independent agency so we want to sit right there between the smaller performance agencies and the big network agencies and I think a thousand people will give us that sustainability and that credibility to the bigger brands.

Elliot Moss
We’ll come back to you in 2010 to hold you to that, one thousand people promise I’m sure you’ll make it. Time for some more music right now before we come back to Rob Pierre my Business Shaper today. It’s Bobby Blue Bland with Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City.

That was Bobby Blue Bland with Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City. Rob Pierre is my Business Shaper, co-founder and CEO of Jellyfish they’re big but they’ve got a nice tight small intimate attitude and view of the world and that’s what we’ve been talking about, how you manage to do that going forward. Your involvement day-to-day tell me you know you said you’re hands on and people do say that how do you ensure that day to day your vision is being realised? And what would people say about you as a leader Rob?

Rob Pierre
Oh that’s an interesting question. Well our values reflect me so whenever anybody joins our values are to be passionate, to be the solution, to be positive and that’s a little bit around how I think people would describe me and that’s my song choice which we’ll reveal later on is all related to that subject. I think that life you know throws you a lot, I think business challenges come at a rate and what you would find with me is I am a very, very positive person, I’m always looking for what the solution is not sit there and just dwell on what the problems or the challenges are. I think that how do I stay at the coal face and actually help well things like the induction. We also have a company update on a monthly basis where all the offices dial in at the same time and I present our numbers, it’s all about transparency, we introduce new people to the business, we talk about new client wins, all the achievements in the different offices, any acquisitions and so we’re very transparent in that way. But we also we use a platform that allows anybody to ask a question and then the whole company can vote up or down those questions and I promise to answer the top three every update and so that gives everybody a forum to actually air their frustrations or ask positive questions you know it goes both ways but it just means that I still feel close to what people are thinking. With the senior management every month, every single one of the senior management send me an email with their successes, challenges and priorities for the next month so again I can spot within there if there’s anything that I feel doesn’t really fit with the global strategy and I find that I don’t actually have to tell them to change their behaviour or do something different all I say is ‘oh I noticed you said this in your update let me tell you something’ and I’ll tell them the bigger story and we’ve got smart adaptable people so they look at it, I tell them what the big picture is and then they go away and they change their behaviour or their strategy or direction quite naturally. So that sort of keeps me close to what’s going on.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of that attitude have you had to deal with stuff because we’ve talked all about the positive stuff here in the last twelve years just whether in this business or before it have those traits that you have focused on have they come from somewhere where you’ve had to just deal with stuff that isn’t very pleasant?

Rob Pierre
Yeah we’ve had to dig deep so there was a time if you look back when we were about eighty people we lost 60% of our gross profit revenue in the space of six months and all, there were mitigating circumstances and all circumstances beyond our control and so we lost three clients and that was 60% of our revenue and we didn’t retrench. So we had a pipeline because we’ve always invested the money back in the business and so as we were successful at that time we were pumping the money back in, we had quite a strong pipeline, the directors personally put some money back into the business to make sure we didn’t have to retrench and we believed, we were positive and we believed in our pipeline and we were all stuck together to make sure that we got that business in as quickly as possible. Yes we had two or three months where things were very tight but we did start landing the business, we recaptured our position that year so we had a flat year-on-year growth or lack of growth but we didn’t have to retrench and we took the business forward so it’s not, we haven’t just sort of ridden a wave I’ve got to admit we are swimming with the tide right now, digital transformation you know people need the skills that we have to offer so things are great but it hasn’t always been that way.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with Rob Pierre plus we’ll be playing a track from Marlena Shaw that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Marlena Shaw with Go Away Little Boy. Rob Pierre is my Business Shaper, all grown up, co-founder and CEO of Jellyfish talking about all sorts of things and the way you run this business and the common sense Rob is what comes across to me which I think is fabulous. I mentioned right at the beginning of the programme that you are almost a serial entrepreneur and obviously you’ll be embarrassed and blush and stuff but you were involved in a business which you sold called Active Office, an IT support company. You’re still involved in Infinity.co, a call intelligence platform, you own a restaurant, the Mid Life Restaurant, Mber.London Limited a pan Asian restaurant according to this here. You just seem to like doing stuff is that right? Is that a fair summary?

Rob Pierre
It is a fair summary and…

Elliot Moss
Does it give you the buzz?

Rob Pierre
It does give me the buzz and its back to problem solving so, except for the Mid Life Crisis bar obviously and restaurant but yeah its problem solving and I think I was speaking to Louisa who works for our PR agency and we were talking about how do you manage spinning so many plates and the way I described it to Louisa was it was a bit, its bit like telling a story it seems like lots of things are happening in silo but we’re taught if you want to remember something turn it into a story and then all the pieces come together and you remember it and I see running a business in the same way. If they’re all intertwined and you’re working to a common goal it’s really like one big story so from the outside it looks like a lot of spinning plates but to me it’s all just components of one story so I feel it’s completely under control because they’re all working together symbiotically to actually achieve the ultimate goal and once again everybody is totally aligned and knows what that goal is then everybody else feels part of it and doesn’t feel that they’re working against each other and jarring and we sort of get the friction out of the machine and we all have an efficient business.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of this goal obviously we talked about a thousand people in three years, we talk about the success and being the boutique global agency and all that what about the money said are you looking for someone to come and buy you and take all this lovely fun away or are you kind of going you know what Elliot it’s not about being bought it’s about just having a real sense of our purpose collectively and you have to be honest here Rob.

Rob Pierre
Okay so I’ll be honest, so it’s not a lifestyle business anymore but how I will be honest is that it’s no longer about me and I’ve had meetings with all of our senior management and everybody involved in the business and all shareholders or option holders or anybody in this business there has to be at some point a liquidity event for those people and it’s safe to say and the elephant in the room is always, I’m going to be okay and I know that and that is not what motivates me right now. So my focus is on everybody within the organisation and it’s not just all about shareholders, it’s to make sure everybody has career progression, that there’s opportunity, that they’re in a safe place where they can provide for their families and that we have a sustainable business that gives people the platform to get the best out of themselves and their career so that’s what motivates me. It is 100% not about the money.

Elliot Moss
I think that’s a good answer, very good and it sounds like it’s true as well. Great stuff, just before I let you go what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Rob Pierre
So my song choice and it’s probably going to be no surprise is Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing by Stevie Wonder and the reason why I chose this song is the sentiment you know life does throw you challenges, it’s very random but you can positively affect the outcome of your life and I think this song says that and Innervisions came in 1973 the album when I was born and in a really important time in my life where I forged some of my closest relationships and friends was when I was doing my A levels and Incognito actually covered Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing and so it just gives me a warm fuzzy feeling this song.

Elliot Moss
Well enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling here it is just for you.

That was Stevie Wonder with Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing; the song choice of my Business Shaper today Rob Pierre. Solutions not problems he talked about. Energy, bring me energy and a process for recruitment that both underpinned those two values as well as the other values in his business. Transparency, the importance of making sure his team are completely clear about what is going on in the business and that wonderfully simple idea of a monthly update – other businesses take note if you don’t already do it. Really really good stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday here on Jazz FM for another addition for Jazz Shapers. Meanwhile stay with us coming up next its Nigel Williams.

Rob Pierre
Chief Executive Officer, Jellyfish

Rob Pierre is the co-founder and CEO of Jellyfish, a fast-growing digital agency whose clients include Nestlé, Experian, Toyota and Samsung.

Since its inception in 2005, Rob has grown the agency to over 400 staff working across seven offices in Europe, the U.S. and South Africa. In the last year alone, Jellyfish came 42nd in The Sunday Times International Track 200, were awarded Performance Agency of the Year at the Drum Search Awards and won SEM Agency of the Year at the Search Engine Land Awards, among other accolades. Last year also marked the launch of the agency’s new headquarters in London’s iconic The Shard.

Featured in the BIMA 100 2017, Rob’s passion for digital is infectious. He actively shares his thinking with his colleagues and the wider industry. As well as being a regular contributor to the trade and business press, Rob is also an experienced awards judge, having served as a juror for the Brand Republic Digital Awards and The Drum Search Awards, amongst others.

Rob has created an environment where people are encouraged to challenge process and innovate. This culture has cultivated a highly motivated team with an open approach where anyone can share their thoughts and ideas freely.

Follow Rob on Twitter @robapierre.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Paul Walsh and I decided on a stag do that I would quit my job, join him and start a marketing agency. I drew on his passion for having his destiny in his own hands, of being able to make a difference and to be autonomous.

When you’re sort restructuring anything it’s often best to do it in one go, then you sort of build it from the ground up with the right foundations. It’s a bit like when you’re in a buying frenzy: once you’ve bought one thing you just end up buying more. When I made one big decision I just made them all.

I look for the core traits and attributes in people. Our industry moves so quickly that if you’ve got the right aptitude, the right attitude, if you’re passionate then often you will find the right way to overcome problems. We don’t have veterans in the digital world.

We had this great idea that for every ten years they spend in our business we will our people a Rolex because in the digital world it’s like dog years – one year is like seven. Now, nine years in we’re trying to see if we can save ourselves a Rolex, but it doesn’t seem to be working.

Our vision is to be the biggest boutique agency in the world, not to lose all the traits and the nice family atmosphere that you get in a boutique agency at the expense of scale. I do a lot of things to try and stay close – I still induct every single person that starts at Jellyfish.

Our values are to be passionate, to be the solution, to be positive and that’s a little bit around how I think people would describe me.

There was a time when we were about eighty people that we lost three clients and 60% of our gross profit revenue in the space of six months -there were mitigating circumstances beyond our control. So things are great, but it hasn’t always been that way.

It seems like lots of things are happening in silo, but we’re taught that to remember something you should turn it into a story and then all the pieces come together and you remember it. I see running a business in the same way.

I’m going to be okay – that is not what motivates me right now. My focus is on everybody within the organisation – to make sure everybody has career progression, that there’s opportunity, that they’re in a safe place where they can provide for their families and that we have a sustainable business that gives people the platform to get the best out of themselves and their career. It 100% is not about the money.

Life is very random and it does throw you challenges, but you can positively affect the outcome.