Methodical – SpotOn Digital Media

Episode graphic for "An Agency Story" podcast with Robyn Spoto - title Methodical - Hosted by Russel Dubree - picture of Robyn smiling in the lower right corner with blonde hair and black blouse.
Robyn emphasizes the importance of understanding who your product or service is for and effectively communicating with them. She believes that finding entrepreneurs with the drive and determination to succeed in a collaborative environment is the key to SpotOn Digital Media's success.  

Company: SpotOn Digital Media

Owners: Robyn Spoto

Year Started: 2015

Employees: 11 – 25

In this podcast episode, host Russel Dubree interviews Robyn Spoto, the founder of SpotOn Digital Media. The conversation dives into various aspects of Robyn’s entrepreneurial journey and the work that SpotOn Digital Media does. Robyn explains that SpotOn Digital Media focuses on helping entrepreneurs by providing marketing strategies tailored to their specific target audience.  

Robyn emphasizes the importance of understanding who your product or service is for and effectively communicating with them. She believes that finding entrepreneurs with the drive and determination to succeed in a collaborative environment is the key to SpotOn Digital Media’s success.  

Throughout the interview, Robyn discusses the balance between productizing services for scalability while maintaining the value of personalized service. She also highlights the significance of data-driven decision-making and the need to be aware of growth opportunities at different stages of business development.  

Notable insights from Robyn include the idea that communication is a vital skill for marketers, with listening, empathy, comprehension, and effective dialogue being key components. She also suggests that entrepreneurs should reassess their values, mission statement, and team members periodically to adapt and adjust to changing market dynamics.  

Enjoy the story.

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Show Transcript

Welcome to An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. From the excitement of starting up the first big sale, passion, doubt, fear, freedom, and the emotional rollercoaster of growth, hear it all on An Agency Story podcast. An Agency Story podcast is hosted by Russel Dubree, successful agency owner with an eight figure exit turned business coach. Enjoy the next agency story.

Russel: 

Welcome to An Agency Story podcast. I’m your host Russel. On this episode, we are joined by Robyn Spoto the founder of SpotOn digital media, a digital marketing agency based in Tampa, Florida. Robyn believes that finding entrepreneurs with the drive and determination to succeed in a collaborative environment is the key to SpotOn Digital Media’s success. No rookie to entrepreneurship when she started her agency, Robyn had previously founded and eventually sold her own app business called Mama Bear. Analytical by nature, she shares the highlights and significance of data-driven decision-making and the need to be aware of growth opportunities at different stages of business development. Enjoy the story. Welcome to the show today, everyone. I have Robin Spoto with SpotOn Digital Media with us here today. Thank you so much for joining us today, Robin.

Robin: 

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to have a good conversation with you.

Russel: 

I am excited as well. Let’s get right to it. Tell us what SpotOn does and who do you do it for?

Robin: 

SpotOn is a digital marketing agency located in Tampa, Florida. We’ve been in business for eight years now and we serve a few different verticals. Technology, healthcare, professional services, as well as some B2C e-commerce type of work. Our services range from making sure we have the right foundation in place with good research, good strategy, good marketing technology tools to use. Then we execute on the recommended plan and strategy that we do for so many of our clients, mostly on a retainer basis. We have projects that come along with that, but currently serving about a couple dozen clients on a retainer basis. We have a team of nearly 30 contractors, which is a little bit unique about our model, I’m excited to share that with you too. We’re always open to new opportunities and new team members as well.

Russel: 

Thank you for sharing that. I can make assumptions, but you know what they say about assuming, how did you come up with the name?

Robin: 

Your assumption’s probably right. It actually started when I was working at a media company and I was thinking about my plan B. I was an employee at the time as the digital media marketing director for a local television station, a newspaper and a website. You were all one conglomerate. Media changed and shifted. Back in that time, we started seeing those indicators pretty early on. When I thought about what would I do next, which actually came after something in between those two things, it was start a marketing company. We ideated that name, SpotOn, before my exit from corporate world.

Russel: 

Definitely want to hear about some of your background before you started the business. Before your career days, what was young Robin aspiring to be when she grew up and how did that look like when you graduated high school and beyond?

Robin: 

It’s funny because something that you and I’ve talked about before is the entrepreneurial journey and saw some of those glimpses back in the day with like, when can I start working? When can I start making money? At the age of 15, this nursery down the street that I didn’t have to drive to I could walk to and I’m begging them for a job, a nursery being like plants and gardens. They wouldn’t give me a job. But finally, once I had a car and willing parents to take me to jobs, I got my first job and I haven’t stopped making money since my first job was at a bowling alley. I stayed in Tampa and Tampa’s my home, been so many other places, but I love Tampa. I got my undergrad at the University of South Florida and got my master’s from the University of Tampa. Those experiences are what led me to those stepping stones of career moves, right? It’s what leads so many young folks down paths of discovery. I was working at the Oracle, which was the student newspaper on campus. That started my love of advertising and it started my love of communication and working with other team members and the editorial side of media and news and consumption of information. When I graduated USF, working at media companies was a natural progression for me. Back in 99, I worked at my first television station, and we wanted to sell online advertising as part of the coupling to broadcast advertising. But what we discovered in my first job out of college was that a lot of companies, local companies, didn’t have websites. We’re thinking, how can we get ads on our own website, the wfts. com website? It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to sell that before selling a website. We started selling websites, which is interesting, but thumbing through, which were yellow pages back then. How can I hold somebody and sell them a website so that ultimately we can sell them advertising was lessons in sales, lessons in marketing, so many different lessons my first job out of college.

Russel: 

Wow. What a fascinating time in terms of transition of media mechanisms and sales and advertising. Sounds like you’re right on the cusp. You hinted at it earlier where it came in the chronology of your story, but at some point you started a business that wasn’t your agency. Talk to us a little bit about how you got to that and what that looked like.

Robin: 

Certainly. Jumping across a couple of media companies locally. When I was at Media General, which was the conglomerate I mentioned with the local NBC affiliate, I engaged in some executive coaching. Through that journey, I met some folks that wanted to start a technology. This was a CEO and a CTO and a CFO of a large pharmacy benefits management company, but they had this idea of location data. We all gathered and ideated and they had already started building a location, building technology, location gathering technology. We created our first MVP, which was a location based quick serve restaurant loyalty program. Some of the things that you can use today let me get my stars over at Chipotle so I can earn a free meal. We built that, but we built it on location. How can we know where our customers are so we can offer them relevant information while they’re either in a store, frequency of times are in a store, what their driving patterns are, what other establishments they’re driving past. That was MVP number one. What ended up ultimately happening was that we pivoted and shifted audiences, but keeping the underlying technology. We learned that quick serve restaurants and trying to work within their POS systems was a barrier to the market. We took that technology, thought about it a little bit differently and who it might serve, and that became parents. Using location sharing services like we had already built, along with adding in some driving speed monitoring and then social media monitoring, we built an app called the Mama Bear app and served a number of parents. In fact, half a million parents in the first two years of launching the mama bear app to market. What an amazing concept, what an amazing journey and business to have when I was raising my own two young children. We ultimately sold that in 2015 to Grom Social, and that was the catapulting experience for me to start SpotOn Digital Media.

Russel: 

I’m sure so many people now, younger people in technology take for granted this idea of location services and different things like that. Obviously not the case back when you started that company. There’s probably not too many also younger folks that are upset about technology, like Mama Bear, Life360. Our kids age are the ones that are going to be like, oh, dang you Robin. Why’d you create that?

Robin: 

It’s such an interesting thing to think about, and our children accepting it. We all share everything now, at least their generation does. They share everything. Location being one of those things was like, okay, you want to know where I’m at? It’s all right. Don’t have anything to hide. But it was quite controversial when we built it and there’s so many different parenting styles and being able to serve different parenting styles and not judging those parenting styles, but still finding a way to serve them. Very interesting process.

Russel: 

I can only imagine. If we only had two hours to talk about all the interesting things for that one. Maybe another day. You said that was the jumping off point or the catapult, which led you to what you’re doing now. What did that transition look like? How did you get started with SpotOn Media?

Robin: 

What I learned through that experience is that we can build things, and productizing things is still something I have passion for, but ultimately what works and what makes companies successful, just as successful as making sure the product and service is great, is knowing who it is that it’s for and knowing how to speak to those people and then finding where to speak to them equals marketing. The value that I saw in that process was an easy decision for me, for that next step of what I felt like my skill base was, but also where I felt like value and helping other companies do that. I wanted to do it a little bit differently. I didn’t want to be a traditional marketing or advertising agency, and what my perception was at the time of that was, lots of clients, team members that grind, team members that work a lot of hours and get burned out and then leave. Good or bad perception, it was my perception at the time. What I wanted to build was a team of people that liked what they did and loved the clients that they worked for and this ability to flex the skills that they had and not necessarily for an employer. The concept of finding entrepreneurs that had this skill and this grind and grit and desire to work their own way in a collaborative environment was the underlying philosophy and concept of SpotOn that we’re still doing today.

Russel: 

Not many keep the same original model, so to speak. That’s usually a birth of growing pains, but it maybe sounds like some of your early business experience helped prepare you for how you wanted to approach that. Running a technology company, a SAAS or app based product can be somewhat different than I would imagine than running an agency. What did you first encounter with all your previous business experience? Oh, this is different. This is not quite as I expected or my experience didn’t prepare me for this.

Robin: 

A service business, you can start without a lot of money. Technology companies, you need some investment to build something, typically, unless you’re skilled enough to build it yourself. I also found that service is heavy and touch, right? It’s not about economies of scale at that point, it’s about time and value and performance. That was a little bit of a shift in thinking for me, but you know, I started in service. I started in sales. It still felt like natural for me personally, but there is an interesting balance between productizing something and trying to find those economies of scale inside of service business. It’s something that we talk about quite often inside SpotOn without neglecting the value of service and the over performance that we like to give our clients. Pretty big difference. But I will say the commonality is the type of person that I am still attracted to having on teams and type of people that I had on my teams at Mama Bear too. These are people that think critically. These are people that think with an end in mind and problem solving at a degree that I would say majority of us stop at going beyond that problem solving thinking and it’s not always easy. Digital marketing is using technology to perform, knowing that we can’t say, I don’t know. No, that’s not an option, but more let me dig into it and see if we can accomplish that with this over here. Problem solving is one of those characteristics that I found is a strong commonality among product team and service team.

Russel: 

Way to leverage your past experience and recognize the similar patterns. Sounds like that’s worked out very well for you and talk about that model. Someone might say when they hear the idea of 30 some contractors, oh my gosh, that has different connotations for maybe a lot of folks in their experience with working with contractors as the mainstay of their business. How do you make that work? We’ll start there.

Robin: 

I would say it’s probably one of the biggest challenges that we have in our model because I operate like a business, like they’re employees, but they have the freedom that they can structure themselves. In fact, that is the value that I hear them tell me, you still care about coaching us and developing us and us giving valuable feedback and receiving valuable feedback so that we can individually grow. Those are things that companies do for employees, but we still get to pick and choose what we want to work on. We can flex our availability based on our lives and you still come back to us to offer us opportunity. That’s what makes us special, but also the challenge is finding the right way to do that. I’m investing in people that are not my employees. I’m investing in people that are contractors to help them grow individually, but it gives us a community and it gives us camaraderie and it gives us the things that I have felt inside companies that I loved inside companies, and I’m taking it to this gig economy workspace.

Russel: 

It is very interesting. I think the way you spoke to that is oftentimes where I think that the divide and sometimes maybe incorrectly in people’s minds are is that, W2 employees are this and contractors are that, but in reality, it sounds like you don’t differentiate the notion in your mind. You have a culture, you have a way of doing things, you invest, if I’m hearing correctly in there, almost the same rate where it comes down to 1099 versus W2 is an IRS structure, not a way to look at your team and what people do. Is that a fair summation in how you’ve approached it?

Robin: 

That is a very fair summation, other than the guidance of a contractor is somebody that you cannot tell when to work, how to work, give them tools that they have to use to work. There’s still that flexibility and freedom under the labor law that we are sure to abide by.

Russel: 

Very true. But perhaps maybe some lessons to even take back to the W2 side there, of allowing more flexibility and autonomy even though you might choose the W2 structure for payment, sometimes I think W2 feels like ownership which we should know, or I probably didn’t know that at the beginning in owning my business, that’s not the case. We still have to treat people like flexible, autonomous human beings. What a great takeaway there. is there a bigger vision you have in mind with this? You using a very large scale term like gig economy, how are you looking at this thing long term? What does growth look like for you?

Robin: 

Great question. We’re going through some growth work and growth journey exercises now eight years in. You notice something at year three or a certain milestone of revenue, and then you notice something at year seven and a milestone of revenue, and then you start to plateau a bit and realize that the number of people and the amount of revenue that you are managing through, in my mind, there’s clear opportunities of timing for growth. We’re at that juncture right now which is exciting, but taking some of that productizing experience that I do have and figuring out a way to apply it without losing integrity of the service side, but more as economies of scale or efficiency tools in the back end of service is where I’m thinking. I have the right background and experience to explore that a little bit. There’s a few options we’re thinking about and a few ways that we can accomplish it. What I don’t want to lose is the original philosophy of the business. It is what keeps our company growing strong, and that is the autonomy of our team but giving them the structure of collaboration and they don’t have to admin and operate a business, and they still get great opportunities to work with them. We’ll get there and I’m excited about what’s next for our growth.

Russel: 

Awesome. You got me excited talking about it. It’s gotta mean something’s good going on there. What keeps you driving? What wakes you when you wake up every day? What keeps you excited about the business and how you approach it?

Robin: 

I don’t like being bored. When you have multiple clients in different industries, you get to take some of the learnings from one place and apply it somewhere else and see if it works and that’s cool. I enjoy that observation of what’s working for clients, but what keeps me so excited about this structure is the team. It’s like seeing them grow and thrive and knowing that there is such proof and use case of happy people doing things they’re great at equals performance and happy clients and growth within client companies. Taking that happiness of the client all the way back to how I vetted somebody to join the team is so exciting. The way that we’ve been organically able to grow our team is 100 percent been a referral network. I have not posted a job posting. I have not sought a role that hasn’t organically come from somebody on our team saying, I think this person is the right person for our team because they fit the culture and they fit the characteristics of a entrepreneur that you want on our team. They are leaving or they’re in a transition or it’s been very opportunistic to build a team of 30 so far.

Russel: 

I thought I was gonna go in on the trail of wrapping up, but now I’ve got more curious questions about this model that you’re talking about. Relative to kind of clients and work you do, is it one or two or a relatively small group of people that are per client? So there’s kind of some of this decentralized autonomy, even on a client to team member ratio, or does it look like any other agency? Again, you’ve chosen this contractor autonomous path. Tell me, please?

Robin: 

Building teams is, in my opinion, a craft and I enjoy making sure that who is the team lead and who is the copywriter and who is the designer and who is the technically minded analytical person on that team work well together. And yes, there are different skills and there are usually a team of two to four, sometimes greater than that, but our teams will be structured like that. We have done quite a bit of personality testing, so Predictive Index, Myers-Briggs, and utilizing those evaluations that they do personally to match up team members correctly. Even though they all have their own skills but they’re working on a team. I know, after working so many years on different types of teams, there’s a process in getting to the point of performing well together. You’ve heard of norming, storming, forming, and then performing. I see it every time I put a new team together, and there are times when current team members will be like, I like working with that team lead. Can I work with them again? There are questions to me when opportunities come up, who else is on the team, and then they get a little selective about who’s going to be on the team with them because they like how one team lead maybe or another, how one leader is over another. They’re evaluating each other as much as I’m evaluating them. Aside from personality assessments, I also do what’s called a hearts and stars when somebody comes into my organization and that is how you think you are at particular tactics or skills and how much you desire to do them. Anything from research to website design and everything in between, how good are you at it in your own self assessment and how much do you want to do it? Those two things also help me balance how I build teams together and where I put certain team members.

Russel: 

I become more and more fascinated, I’ll cut myself off at some point, but you sound very much like you’ve approached this, your entrepreneurial journey, like a scientist. I don’t know. Can you see a world where instead of working on digital media and advertising that you would have worked on rockets or something? Has that been a thoughtful kind of approach in the back of your mind of this very analytical scientific approach to your work?

Robin: 

Certainly data is always in the forefront for me and so much so sometimes my trusted team members are like, okay, can you not have to have this equals this? Can we have some gray? Can we have something else that’s not so weighted? But I think it’s that formulaic weighted approach that will get us to productizing service a little bit differently than what you might see on the market today. With the balance of my team to tamper that this equals that or this, if then equals that thing is their human approach, very empathetic person. I get that too, and that’s probably where some of that struggle comes, but yes, you’ve nailed it. I’m very analytical.

Russel: 

Yes. It comes across, but in such a human way, so I can imagine where that’s been very helpful for you and your journey. The last big question I have for you, are entrepreneurs born or are they made?

Robin: 

I believe that they can be made. I’ve consulted and coached a number of entrepreneurs, Tampa Bay Wave is a local organization that is an incubator and accelerator for tech founders. I’ve seen it happen. One thing that I see people do over and over again, I’ve watched my kids do it from a young age until now, is observe when there is opportunity or a problem to be solved. Every entrepreneur starts there. How can I solve this thing that isn’t serving me today? If they stay focused on that and solve the problem for the number of people out there that might need the same problem solved, you’re an entrepreneur.

Russel: 

Absolutely love the conversation. You had me captivated the whole way. I appreciate you taking the time to share all your insights and your journey thus far, Robin. Thank you so much for being on the show today.

Robin: 

Thank you for hosting such a fun podcast and sharing so many stories about agencies. It’s pretty cool.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. Are you interested in being a guest on the show? Send an email to podcast@performancefaction.com. An Agency Story is brought to you by Performance Faction. Performance Faction offers services to help agency owners grow their business to 5 million dollars and more in revenue. To learn more, visit performancefaction.com.

Robin: 

My mama bear days, we decided that, how fun would it be to dress a team member up in a bear suit, put a Mama Bear shirt on him and go to the entrance of an arena during a Justin Bieber concert and hand out Mama Bear flyers. This is the best idea ever, we’re gonna get so many parents excited about this. Meanwhile, their 12, 13 year old child standing right next to them to go into this concert they’re so excited about, and here’s this bear walking around handing out cards for me to monitor your location. They’re like, what? So we got some mixed emotions. The bear was popular with some and not very popular with others.

Russel: 

Wow. I can see that. I imagine the question in everyone’s mind is do you still have the bear suit?

Robin: 

No, We rented it.

Russel: 

That was my other question is, where does one find a bear suit?

Robin: 

Costume stores. We’re in Tampa, so we have what’s called Gasparilla and it is quite a parade and festival, so there are a few different shops that have all kinds of interesting costumes.

Russel: 

All the I’m missing out in Tampa.