Running a profitable agency is hard.
Using said profits to reinvest into real estate, stocks and tech startups is much harder. Jay Vasantharajah did exactly that. He is a very inspiring entrepreneur who has built an award-winning PPC agency and 7-figure eCommerce business. Something tells me this empire is just starting. I was curious to learn about his story and hear about what built his discipline to focus on cashflow and create an impressive investment portfolio.
How did you get started in digital marketing?
I started building websites for fun, and eventually convinced a small local accountant that I could build him a website. I think I made $500 for it, and quickly realized that I really enjoyed building websites. I went on to build websites for all the student councils in my university.
I then started learning PPC and SEO to help my dad drive business for his airport limo business. By the time I graduated university (I studied finance and accounting btw) I had a pretty good handle of digital marketing and web development.
What is the origin story behind your agency, ClientFlo?
I spotted the opportunity when I came across a large communication company selling a packaged PPC service to SMBs across Canada. The PPC packages being offered were terrible; they consisted of cookie cutter landing pages and copy/pasted campaign setups, and the results were terrible.
Yet this company was selling these PPC packages like hot cakes. I would spend hours reading and analyzing the negative consumer reviews. The demand for these services was there, and I knew based on my knowledge I could do better. And that’s when I decided to start ClientFlo out of my condo. I had no clients or connections, but the confidence that I could offer SMB’s better services.
I incorporated ClientFlo on a Friday, starting cold calling the following Monday and closed my first client within a week. That instantly gave me the confidence to keep going, close more clients and to grow my company. I would spend all day cold-calling potential clients, stay up all night managing the campaigns. Once ClientFlo had around 10 clients, I knew it was time to get help and a start to build a team.
As ClientFlo continued to grow, we moved to our first office.
At the peak of the agency, what was the annual revenue and how many employees?
Low seven-figures per year with about 5 full-time employees (including myself) and a couple contractors.
How did you get initial sales for the agency?
Straight cold-calling clients. It was a grind, but ended up being very effective. I highly recommend all entrepreneurs to try cold-calling as early in their career as possible. It’s the “school of hard knocks” way to learn how to sell. And as any successful entrepreneur would tell you, the selling never stops - so get great at it!
Describe the process of being a general investor from an agency operator?
Investing, for me, started way before my agency, ClientFlo. The cash-flow from my agency accelerated the growth of my investments portfolio.
I started my investing career buying a cash-flowing real estate property, which made it easier for me to quit my job and start ClientFlo. I continued to reinvest cash flows from ClientFlo into more real estate and stocks. As my cash flows and asset values continued to snowball, it enabled me to invest in riskier/higher potential opportunities like my eCommerce business and tech startups. I now manage a diversified portfolio of investments full-time.
What are the major lessons you’ve learned from growing the agency?
Since this was my first business, I quickly learned how to be an entrepreneur. In entrepreneurship, perseverance is key. Things are given to you and taken from you, so don't let either get to your head. Stay focused, enjoy the process, and have as much fun as possible.
An agency-specific lesson that I learned is - choose a niche industry as early as possible. We started off as a generalist PPC agency, but eventually specialized in the medical industry. There are a lot of generalist PPC agencies and therefore more competition. But becoming the expert in a specific industry gives you a competitive edge.
Having deep product knowledge in a specific industry allows you to service your clients better, which leads to more referrals, industry connections, and positions you as the go-to firm. Not to mention that specialist services are billed at a higher rate.
What advice do you have for agency owners that want to use consulting revenues to fund new ventures?
Not only are agencies great cash-flow businesses, they are also great idea generating machines. If you are working with clients/industries that interest you, it won’t be long before you spot an opportunity that you can capitalize on.
Be curious and ask your clients a lot of questions to gain a deeper understanding of their business. Focus on your cash flows to help fund new ventures, and if you spot something - roll the dice. You never know what may become of it, unless you try!