We sat down with Robert Tadros, the founder and CEO of marketing services operator Impress!ve Digital, to explain his roots and the seeds you should be planting.
Hi Rob. Can you tell us a little about your professional journey prior to founding Impress!ve?
For me, it stems from arriving in Australia from Egypt as a young kid, needing to learn a new language and culture. You always felt like – as an immigrant – you needed to work harder and smarter than everyone else. That underpins everything I’ve done. I spent time in the corporate world, and progressed to managing a $10 million portfolio of clients.
But that also taught me I needed to go and blaze my own trail, and I could see an opportunity for a customer-centric, results-driven marketing services operator. That’s how Impress!ve Digital was born.
Did you need to raise capital to finance the company’s launch and growth, and if so, how did you achieve that?
Starting from that first online health supplements business, I hopped from one e-comm opportunity to another, reinvesting profits into the next, and building a bank for myself. I started Impress!ve as a one-man operation and worked anything up to 18 hours a day to get the wheels under it. I had a sleeping bag in the office so I could grab a few hours and then keep going!
As it grew, I tweaked the formula to focus the business on what we were effective at. Now, five years in, we employ 70 people across three Australian offices and one in Austin, Texas, have a swag of awards, and expect to turnover in the vicinity of $16 million this year.
What separates Impress!ve from its competitors?
There are two parts to this. I started with the idea of a full-service agency, and quickly realised too many others were offering the world and delivering peanuts, because they were stretched too thin. I realised that specialisation was the way to go; being great at one thing we could do really well, that would give the most tangible value to our clients. So, the second part is that we reverse-engineered digital marketing by identifying the result the client wants and devising the plan that gets them there.
It’s an ROI-driven process that delivers the metrics that really resonate with the business owner. An example is where we helped Acer – a global computer products company – double the monthly revenue on their website after just four months working with them. Their traffic was up 84%, and conversion up 23%. That’s a huge win for them.
What has been the company’s biggest hurdle, and how did you overcome it?
I was probably a bit too hungry for growth at any expense in the early stages. There was incredible demand and unbelievable opportunity, but it was happening quickly enough, and we didn’t have the structures or culture in place. I was hiring people and implementing systems, but we weren’t seeing the profit or innovation. One solution was to refine the business model – we were trying to offer a full service and drowning, so I concentrated on performance channels, which we were really good at.
Also, we were running at a million miles an hour, and it was only when COVID-19 hit that I took a step back as we made some tough decisions to ensure we could survive. The slowdown has been incredibly valuable for me personally, and for my young family, but also reinforced a business culture of ‘people first, clients second, profits last’.
How might you describe your leadership style?
A strong work ethic has always been part of my identity and an example I like to set, although the past 12 months have forced me to reassess those 18-hour days and my conviction to work twice as many hours as my competitor! I now prioritise mindfulness, exercise and time with family; I encourage my team to also keep sight of what’s truly important in their lives. In aiming to set an example for my team, I start by trying to be true to myself.
I now honour my own needs and say ‘no’ to anything that conflicts with that. I focus on my values, and I’m OK that some people will like me, and some people won’t. I don’t pretend to be anything I’m not, and I believe strongly in leading with conviction and purpose.
How do you create a winning team culture and dynamic?
I ask myself, how am I advancing an individual’s career, their personal life, their academic life, whatever it may be? How am I getting the best work out of them? Culture comes from the top. If I don’t put myself in that person’s seat, then how can I expect them to do a certain thing or think a certain way? Real leadership embeds true culture in the DNA of everyone by challenging them, training them, and supporting them. As a result, the organisation reflects those same values.
What do you think is the biggest mistake made by start-ups?
Not watching cash flow. Too often, I’m exposed to companies that manage their finances over their numbers. You should be all over your numbers. Know them like the back of your hand. If numbers aren’t your strong suit, find a great accountant. Focus on your strengths and don’t try to do everything.
That rings true both for the business and for the leader. Impress!ve found what we are good at, and now concentrate on being the best in that one thing. Similarly, avoid the temptation as a founder or leader to do it all, because you can’t. Hire people who are as exceptional at their job as you are at yours.
What are three key pieces of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs and founders?
First, get out of your comfort zone. It’s only when you step into the fear zone and be vulnerable that you can grow, as a person and as a business. If you believe in something, put your arse on the line.
Second, do your homework: Build your knowledge base about the space you’re in. Read widely, listen to podcasts, explore YouTube. There’s so much information out there. Also, create your own content, whether it’s blogs, videos, or podcasts. Saturate your potential customers with great content so that when it’s time to do business, it’s you they come to find.
Third, culture flows from the top down. Seed values of teamwork, support, respect, and resilience in the DNA of the company. If not, the first serious crisis will knock you off your feet.
Vital Addition presents this ‘Meet a CEO’ series.
Vital Addition is a fast-growing Australian tax and accounting company providing fresh, honest, and reliable accounting, financial, and tax advice. CEO Lachlan Grant believes in ‘strength in numbers’, empowering SMEs to make business decisions with confidence, and face the challenges associated with growth with informed optimism.