By Veronica Perry, reporter at Grow Wire
⏰ 8-minute read
Through experience, marketing agency Winn Solutions learned that a strong reputation is just as important as a strong business strategy.
According to founder Jarred Winn, growth isn't just an end result; it's a mindset.
Takeaways from Winn Solutions’ journey also include the notion that when you help other businesses grow, yours will grow too.
Starting a blockchain-focused marketing agency with only $10,000, no clients and a new baby at home should be a recipe for a flop. However, Jarred Winn took those ingredients and created a thriving business lush with profits, happy employees and clients.
For about a decade, Winn worked at startups throughout San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where he collaborated with some of the greatest minds in technology as a marketing manager for tech accessory company Speck Products, VP of business development for Deep North AI (self-described as “Google Analytics for the physical world”) and head of sales enablement for Ooma, an internet phone service provider. During this phase of his career, Winn was not only learning from his colleagues but also independently studying emerging technologies, such as blockchain and cryptocurrency.
With no expectations nor formula for success, Winn immersed himself in the culture of financial technology, allocating two hours per day to learn about the industry. But, after losing $8,000 in a margin trading mistake, the nature of his studies quickly evolved from leisurely to strategic.
With no expectations nor formula for success, Winn immersed himself in the culture of financial technology, allocating two hours per day to learn about the industry.
With his hard-won knowledge, Winn started a marketing agency which now serves eight clients and counting. He measures his success by his ability to maintain retainers of at least $10,000 per month with each client, a goal he has exceeded.
Winn built his agency in one of the industry niches he had spent so long researching: blockchain. In short, blockchain technology serves as a record-keeping system whose main application is tracking bitcoin or other cryptocurrency transactions. It permits the distribution of information but not replication. Blockchain records are super-secure because they span multiple databases, and they contain important transaction data such as timestamps, which are updated in real time.
An agency is born
The journey officially began two years ago, as Winn navigated a combination of major life events including welcoming a new baby, purchasing a house and concurrent career transitions for him and his wife. What seemed like the perfect storm was actually the planets aligning: After saving income from his nine-to-five job in hopes of moving on, Winn finally found the motivation to do so.
After saving income from his nine-to-five job in hopes of moving on, Winn finally found the motivation to do so.
“I didn't plan on opening a business, but the fatigue of working in corporate America became too much,” he said.
Winn’s moving on included two ventures: He and his wife started a preschool chain called Mindful Miracle with the goal of equipping children and families with mindfulness techniques to assist their mental and behavioral development. He also opened his marketing agency, Winn Solutions. Winn aimed the agency at “ancillary businesses,” or those that service the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry. Winn Solutions offers marketing services tailored to the blockchain audience, such as writing articles about industry trends and thought leadership initiatives such as organizing speaking arrangements and sponsorships. The agency also does SEO, website development, strategic partnerships, project management and database cleanup and management.
Fatigue of "corporate America" prompted Jarred Winn to found his blockchain-focused marketing agency.
Upon starting, Winn gave himself an ultimatum: He would have a maximum of one year or $10,000 (of his own money) invested into the agency before calling it quits and moving on to another venture.
Winn recognized that he didn’t have the expertise to run a marketing agency alone, so he attended several digital marketing meetups in the Sacramento area and built relationships with local professionals. He hired a digital marketing specialist, a social media manager and several developers who were willing to work through the grind and learn in the process, he said.
Gone fishing, but no bites
After working with his team to build a website from scratch and spending about a third of his $10,000 on marketing, Winn noticed the site was getting traffic but not yielding contacts for his team to court as potential customers. So, he installed a chatbot in an effort to obtain user feedback. The five visitors who used the chatbot had strikingly similar things to say.
“No one knew who we were, if they could trust us or whether or not spending money with us would result in additional revenue,” Winn said.
“No one knew who we were, if they could trust us or whether or not spending money with us would result in additional revenue."
A change of bait
It was at that point, still without his first client, that Winn decided to change his marketing strategy from paid advertising and search engine marketing to partnership-building. He attended events to network with more technology industry leaders, with a goal of scoring an ancillary business in blockchain as his first client.
“Marketing agencies have some of the highest barriers to entry due to intense competition with other extremely qualified agencies,” Winn said. “When first starting out, it's tough to land your first clients without a network or track record ... so I focused on building relationships.”
Pro bono provides a way in
After building out a contact list, Winn utilized out-of-the-box thinking to help Winn Solutions enter the industry. He began offering his services pro bono to small businesses that couldn't afford marketing agencies.
“As a fresh agency without the vast portfolio most of our competitors had, we had to prove ourselves, which meant a lot of work without expectation,” Winn said. “... I told potential clients that for one month, I would help them organize their databases and begin reach-outs.”
“Trust and risk is like a teeter-totter in which one balances the other,” he continued. Winn was hopeful potential clients would bite “if I was to eliminate the risk factor. I wanted them to feel like they had nothing to lose, and in the process, I was able to establish myself as an asset to their cause.”
“I told potential clients that for one month, I would help them organize their databases and begin reach-outs.”
He found there was very little challenge offering services pro bono with this mindset, and once he demonstrated his work ethic and value, the conversation about creating partnerships became natural. He said the “free advice, paid management” model continues to work for Winn Solutions today: He assists potential clients with developing campaigns and answers questions free of charge, and “90% of the time,” those same companies eventually hire him to manage their day-to-day marketing efforts.
Winn also discovered early on that for him, the key is to avoid directly asking for partnership opportunities.
“Dropping breadcrumbs here and there is great, but realistically, it needs to be [the client’s] decision,” he said. “No one likes to feed the begging dog, but the loyal companion can sit by the dinner table.”
Winn said another benefit to offering services pro bono is the relational return on investment: Clients started to recommend his work and connect him with others in need of his services.
Reputation over revenue
In addition to pro bono work, Winn said that social reputation and affiliates were more important than money in the early days of Winn Solutions. He worked to develop a reputation through partner affiliations with businesses like Goren Holm Ventures (GHV) and Crypto Invest Summit (CIS). (Partner affiliations are considered an endorsement or referral agreement and serve as a major boost to brand awareness and credibility.)
Winn thought that if GHV and CIS would endorse Winn Solutions, this would demonstrate value to prospective clients … and it did. Now, 75% of Winn’s clients are a result of his partnerships with GHV and CIS.
“We provide each other assistance when needed and refer clients to one another in exchange for a barter agreement or a percentage referral,” he added.
Winn describes his relationships with these industry leaders as the “rocket fuel” that powered his business. Prior, most of the growth came from organic referrals and one-off contract deals. Most of Winn’s longer-term contracts have originated from event attendance and word of mouth.
Winn describes his relationships with industry leaders as the “rocket fuel” that powered his business.
“It's all about networking without intent,” he said of sourcing clients. “I truly love meeting new people. I don't care what the outcome is going to be; I am just happy that for a moment I am able to learn something new about someone else and have the potential to make a long-term connection.”
According to Winn, networking without intent means that every interaction or engagement is done with zero motive. His biggest piece of advice for networkers is to put expectations to the wayside. Winn suggested that authenticity is vital to long-term relationship growth and genuine connections are the foundation of most businesses.
“It takes originality to stand out amongst a sea of salesman, and everyone has [authenticity] to offer,” he said.
Winn’s winning team
Similarly, Winn relied on authenticity and the drive of his team members to get his agency off the ground.
“I told them I'd work day and night to make this happen and I'd be the last one to take a salary,” he said. In the end, “I utilized every last penny of that $10,000. In fact, our account overdrew from a $12 monthly checking fee two days before we received our first major check from a client.”
“I told them I'd work day and night to make this happen and I'd be the last one to take a salary."
After two years, Winn is taking his first salary next month. None of his team took salaries for at least two months after the agency’s founding. Winn recommends working this way.
“Never hire anyone on a salary early on,” he said. “The only people you should work with are the people who are scrappy and business-minded, who are willing to do the work without the compensation in hopes of future reward.”
Winn said his team is "scrappy and business-minded;" some forwent salaries in the company's early months.
Working with a team has its challenges, he added. Winn mentioned that the toughest part of growing into his management role was learning how to communicate his vision and instill passion in his employees.
Even now, “Not all of my employees will naturally have the passion that I do for this business, and I am learning how to create this passion within my organization,” he said.
He also learned that employee empowerment is essential to growth.
“If you give your employees a sense of ownership and purpose, they'll work to grow your business as if it were their own,” he said.
Winn also emphasized the importance of being understanding of and receptive to cultural styles while working with international employees. When he works with web developers in other countries, for example, he ensures he is respectful, patient, understanding and, most importantly, clear in his expectations and desired scope of work.
“If you give your employees a sense of ownership and purpose, they'll work to grow your business as if it were their own."
Next for Winn Solutions
From Winn’s view, the next six months are pivotal for his business’s growth. He is currently onboarding three new clients, the most the agency has acquired at any single time. Winn said he is preparing by preemptively interviewing talent in the blockchain space.
“While we are always working on our client acquisition, our main focus is to achieve exponential vertical growth with each of our clients,” he said.
Winn is aiming to expand his PR network over the next five years in an effort to become a leading media influencer in the blockchain space. With that, he plans to hire industry leaders who can provide unique perspectives on marketing initiatives.
Considering the lightning-quick rate of change in the blockchain space, this may happen sooner than he expects.