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Two-Way Street: MKG Marketing—The Early Years Part 2

Kerry Guard • May 19, 2022 • 9 minutes to read

Told from the perspective of our co-founder and CEO, Kerry Guard Ps. this is the first part to this chapter. Be sure to read part 1 if you haven’t already.

Remote-expansion

In February, Mike had finally saved up enough money and relocated to San Francisco. We were put in touch with YouEye, a start-up. They measured people’s emotions as they watched videos or navigated a website. They were in Mountain View, about halfway between me and Mike. YouEye needed marketing. We helped them set up an email system, create content, and run small ad campaigns. They also gave us office space. A real space for us to work from. We even hung a whiteboard.

We still had Box and we were partnering with SolutionSet on some of their other clients. Our Eleven contract ended, but between Box, SolutionSet, and YouEye we were busy. We needed help. We were introduced to Christian Bullock. Christian was living with his wife and new baby daughter in Vancouver, Washington. A small town just across the border from Portland. Christian was a new dad and was looking for contract work so he could be home and take care of his daughter but help support his family financially. Christian was exactly who we needed.

Someone who had worked remotely, who needed flexibility as he wanted to stay home and take care of his daughter while his wife worked full time. He worked for small agencies before as well. I’m not a religious person, but there is something about the universe and how when you surround yourself with amazing people, more amazing people come your way. Christian was one of those perfect people in the perfect place at the perfect time. Fait. Faith. Either way, a blessing none-the-less.

Somewhere in the middle of 2012, Mike made a list of a few companies he thought we could help, given our tech portfolio of Box and YouEye.

On his list was VMware. One of the biggest tech companies in the valley. They were established, but still felt new and cutting edge with what they were doing. Mike made 40+ cold calls just to VMware. He was bounced from Palo Alto to India to Palo Alto, to India, to Palo Alto, where he was finally put in touch with Arun Lal. Arun was the Marketing Director for a small SMB product called GO. He had been working with the in-house agency at VMware, but given their small budgets it was hard to be made a priority. So, she gave us 15 minutes with him and his marketing manager, Shilpa.

The VMware offices were official. The real deal. This was not a start-up. Far from it. The building was all glass, cascading the landscape of wood, bridges, and water features. Mike and I dressed to impress. I was literally in a dress. Mike in a button down shirt. We checked in. The receptionist called Shilpa and printed out our names on a name tag. So official.

Shilpa came off the bridge, through the glass door, walked right up and introduced herself. She then ducked into the side conference room where we chatted nervously while we waited for Arun, counting down the minutes as our famous fifteen was dwindling second by second.

Arun finally strolled in, shook our hands, then sat chairs away at the end of the table giving us just 10 minutes to make a case. We quickly talked through our Box case study among our previous experiences of Western Digital and Microsoft… 25 minutes later we were shaking hands and they said they’d be in touch. They let us run over…That was a good sign. A week or so later, Shilpa called letting us know they wanted to work with us, but given the internal politics they weren’t allowed.

So we kept on with YouEye, running Box campaigns, and supporting SolutionSet with Christian’s help. A few months later we got a call from Shilpa. They found a loophole and were ready to bring us in.

We ran what we called Echo Campaigns for VMware, where the banner ads messaging matched the landing page messaging. A complete echo. The campaigns did so well, Shilpa recommended us to a few other SMB products. We were now so busy that Christian was essentially working for us full time.

In January of 2013 we made Christian a full time offer: Salary, additional comp for benefits we couldn’t yet offer, and unlimited time off. We gave him and his wife time to discuss. It was a big move. Christian loved being at home with his daughter and we didn’t want him to feel like he was losing that.

Right before December 24, 2012 he accepted and started officially on January 1st and MKG had its very first full time employee.

By this time we were winding down our work with YouEye and we needed new office space. Mike found an office in San Francisco, up by the trolley turn on Taylor street. It was a great space. Fully furnished with brand new desks and Aeron chairs. As convenient as it was for Mike it was WAY out of the way for me. An hour train ride from San Jose to San Francisco. Then a 30-minute bus ride that went through the very crowded streets of Chinatown. I decided to only commute twice a week. So most of the time I worked from San Jose, Mike from San Francisco, and Christian from Vancouver, WA.

We found our groove over email, Google Chat, and Google Hangouts, which had just launched and allowed us to spend some of our day with our video up to see one another.

We were so busy that we started to burn out. We were working from 8am to 10pm. Always on. We instituted the Sanity Plan where we created clear boundaries for ourselves. The main change was to stop working at 5pm. Which we did… most of the time. It allowed us to get back to living. Especially for Christian, who had a family. We promised Christian when he joined full time that he wouldn’t lose the freedom and flexibility he had as a contractor. We had to get back to our promise, to people-first, with clear boundaries.

One cold January night, I was getting ready for bed. Per usual I picked up my phone to check notifications and sure enough there was an unread email. It was from Shilpa. The entire SMB division we worked with was laid off. This was a good reminder as to why we don’t read emails before bed. Needless to say, none of us slept that night.

We just hired Christian and we just lost our biggest client. What were we going to do? Our first instinct was to not let Christian go. The opposite. How could we hold onto him? We had a month or two of expenses in the bank and Mike and I didn’t take salaries for a month or so to buy us more runway.

We still had our SolutionSet brands, but now that we were down YouEye and VMware we needed to get back on track in order to keep Christian.

On the flip side, Christian leaned in to support new business and marketing. He immediately got to work with the SEO of our website, driving our ranking up to the 1st page for Digital Marketing Agency in San Francisco.

We picked up a few more projects and consulting gigs that allowed us to barely hold onto Christian. Then after a few months, we caught a break.

Within the SMB VMware division that was laid off was a contractor who was scooped up by another division. This division was launching a brand new product and they needed an agency that could move. VMWare had an Agency of Record, but supporting ALL the brands of VMware, meant they couldn’t move fast enough. The contractor recommended us, and already being a preferred vendor we were able to get started right away.

Here, we were introduced to our very first client advocate, Marguerite Yeo. We’ve worked with Marguerite, across 4+ brands since 2013. Marguerite is smart, charismatic, and clear. The woman knows exactly what she needs and how to communicate it. She always gives clear direction so we can develop strategies to always fit her needs and produce results. She was also remote in Seattle, not San Jose, which was great because Mike and I traveled back to Seattle all the time to see friends and family and now we got to pop in and see Marguerite as well. Plus Christian could drive up and join us.

The VMware product was their new Cloud SaaS product, vCloud Air. This was VMware’s first play in SaaS so they wanted to make a splash and generate beta users. To meet Marguerite’s goals we needed help. Jokingly, we asked Christian if we could clone him. He said as a matter of fact… Enter Adam Bullock. As I live and breathe. That guy. Christian’s identical twin brother. While they looked exactly alike they couldn’t be more different. Adam was the yin to Christian’s yang.

The best analogy I have in describing their partnership was when I was in high school, my best friend was the quarterback of the football team and his younger brother was a receiver. During a game, all you heard from the announcer was MULKER TO MULKER…. TOUCHDOWN! All. Game. Long. Christian and Adam would grab beers after work and riff on things that were happening then come in the next day and be like, WE HAVE THIS GREAT IDEA!

One of their great ideas was for vCloud Air. Adam found an existing group called vMug (VMware User Group). It was a VMware community that was actually not hosted by VMware. The Bullock Brother’s wanted to pitch a program to this group to have them join the beta. So we developed an SEO backlinking campaign where we asked the vMug folks to join the beta, write a review, and post to Twitter and the person with the most engagement would win a badge and a Tweet out from the Chief Technology Officer, Simone Brunozzi of VMware. We hit our lead goals along with a two-dollar cost per lead, which was unheard of in B2B tech. Generally, leads came in well over $50 per lead.

From there we continued to be “yes” people. Fearless. Taking on any business that came our way. Need an Analytics Dashboard? Great - Mike made it happen. Need a website built? No problem - I learned to design and build websites. Want your website to rank for search? You got it - Christian took on both PPC and SEO for clients. Need email campaigns? I got Marketo certified. Need a copywriter? Adam put his mad writing skill to work. Yes. Yes. Yes.

At this point it’s 2014. It’s Mike, myself, Christian and Adam. Mike was still in San Francisco. Christian and Adam were in Vancouver, Wa and in July my husband and I decided to move back to Seattle. We found our groove bouncing between tech, consumer, and healthcare brands. We were tight and in a groove across three zip codes and four locations. Remote before it was anything special. Before we knew how special it could be.

Read the final part and see where we are today

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