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In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, I speak to Nick Bell, Founder of Superist, on the threat of AI on addressing productivity gaps, looking after his A-players and living to 150.
Nick is the Founder of Superist, a digital agency group with 18 agencies and over 2,000 employees worldwide.
The agency hand-selects businesses in the $1-5 million annual recurring revenue range, advises and mentors the founders while a team of scaling specialists look to improve existing systems and processes. The group has remarkably acquired one digital services agency per month, since its inception.
Nick left university after six weeks, and after persevering through two failed business ventures, he used the last $350 to his name to launch an SEO digital marketing agency from his bedroom, a business he’d go on to sell for $39 million nine years later.
Nick was also one of two Australian Celebrity Apprentice advisors to Lord Alan Sugar and is also a former AFR young rich-lister.
In this episode we talk about:
- The post-COVID productivity challenge and the threat and benefits of AI
- Looking after the A-players in his teams
- What he looks for in the Founder when purchasing a business, and
- How his health and wellness regime is going to help him live to 150!
Connecting with Nick Bell
You can connect with Nick via LinkedIn.
Books and resources
- Out of the Crisis – by William Edwards Deming
- Dr. David Sinclair
- Losing My Virginity – by Sir Richard Branson
“There's always time. It's what you make a priority in life.”
On productivity inside an agency
- First and foremost is you've got to have a very strong sales and marketing arm because without the revenue, there is no business. So in the early days when I started my first agency, I was basically fixing the plane as it was flying. I was bringing business in the door and then initially I was going, “Okay, I've got the work in, I'm going to execute, but how do I do it efficiently and effectively?”
- I was very manual back in the early days. Then, as the plane kept flying and flying, I improved the efficiencies in the business, but I always had a very strong sales and marketing process. If you've got a leaky funnel, no matter how much business you bring in, you're just going to lose it anyway.
- Basically, deliver on what you promise on, and you won't lose a client at the backend because you can never ever scale if you lose all your clients.
- I think there's a global productivity issue, as we speak. Productivity globally has definitely declined. And I think it's post-COVID, maybe it's working from home, maybe not, but my theory is not everyone is disciplined. Some people can work amazingly well at home, but then other people have distractions. They're either got kids, they've got Netflix, they're day trading. And what we've found is some productivity at home, it's just gone, dropped. So the way I see it, if I'm still paying you a salary of just say it's a hundred thousand dollars and at work you're on, but at home you're not on, I'm effectively losing half my money when you're working from home. Which is hurting my bottom line and hurting the client because you're not delivering the outcome. So I think there's an issue for most employers: how do you maximise productivity post COVID?
On the threat of AI on jobs
- It's a very interesting situation where other countries that had minimal lockdowns, many of the staff are working in the office four or five days a week and there is no work from home. But in Melbourne, we have to, because to compete with talent, we have to offer work from home.
- But you need to make sure you get the same level of output out of these people, because if you don't, I have to increase my prices to my clients and I don't want to do that because I'm not going to be competitive.
- The issue is in Victoria where people want to work from home almost full-time, and so, you've also got to look, can I outsource your role to overseas and save a third? So, if your role can be outsourced, there's another challenge.
- Then, with AI coming into play, if you're mediocre at your role, you're in trouble. Because if I'm mediocre, I'm in trouble, because AI, whether you think it's going to benefit society or not, it is going to take jobs, 100%. Without a doubt. So if you are mediocre at your role and you can potentially be either replaced by AI or someone internationally because you want to work from home, you're in trouble. So, AI is going to force people to be much better at their craft than they were previously.
On looking after staff
- One thing I promised myself recently is to look after my A players better. So I'm going to double down and if someone really wants a career and wants to build a substantial life for themselves, I'm going to do everything possible to make that happen. I'm going to map out their careers together.
- An A player is someone I'm going to go into battle with and I know they've got my back, I can trust them to deliver an outcome and they're going to kick some ass. So how can I help them succeed in life, because if they win, I'm going to win as well.
- You've just got to hire the right culture fit for you. Someone who is aligned with your values, someone who you can get along with, and someone you know is going to put the work in. And I'm not saying work from seven till eight every day. I mean from nine to 5:30 and your one-hour lunch and your two breaks, just give me 100%. That's all I'm asking. Nothing more. You don't need any overtime in my businesses.
- You're going to find a lot of companies that are going to try to keep the price at X amount and just increase their profit margins, but eventually that's going to bite them in the ass.
On finding great founders
- When I'm buying these agencies, we only buy 50 to 70%. And you've got to make sure you buy an agency with the right founder or founders. It always comes down to the people running the business, because if they're not suitable, the whole business will collapse.
- If the founder believes they don't know everything and they take advice on board, they're the best type of founders because you can mentor them and coach them and they're going to action what you say. And I always say to these guys, “I'm not the smartest guy, but I've been in an agency for so many years, I've made a lot of mistakes. You need to learn from the mistakes that I've made and I've made a lot.”
On his business operating rhythm
- What I recommend one day every quarter is to grab your management team and go through each department individually. Go offsite somewhere for a day and start with a department and go, “Okay, let's talk about the challenges of your team.” And then once they have spoken, the other managers can offer their thoughts and advice. We do this once a quarter.
- I like to do this process with the managers, so that they're all on board. Otherwise, it's me just rolling in giving directions and they're not on board.
On his health and wellness regime
- The most important factor for longevity in life is exercise. Exercise is still number one. One thing that's actually changed my life recently though, is daily ice baths. So, I've had a lot of inflammation in my body. I've had some bad knees from football. And for years and years I just could not shake the inflammation. I started doing an ice bath, and over two and a half months, my blood pressure went down, the inflammation in my body went down, my knee pain disappeared. I lost body fat.
- I eat fairly clean as well and I don't eat sugar. But don't get me wrong, I still like a beer and a drink, but everything's in moderation.
- I do a lot of interval training, a lot of sprinting; I might go to the park next door and sprint for 20 seconds, rest for 20 seconds, sprint 20 seconds, and so on. I'm trying to live to 150 years old. You should see my supplement regime. It's intense!
- Your blood work says everything. So it could say the amount of inflammation in your body and inflammation leads to disease and cancer. And it basically measures cholesterol and other bits and pieces. So you need to make sure that your bloods are always done quarterly.
- There's always time. It's what you make a priority in life.
- With COVID, many people have home gyms so there's always time. Just don't watch Netflix or don't spend an hour on a phone call with your mate talking shit.
- I'll either be at work, with my kids, or doing something that I enjoy doing.
- Love him or hate him, but Elon Musk gets shit done. He's an absolute beast. So when people go, “I don't have time,” look at Elon Musk.
- I always say the naysayers are always going to be naysayers in life, and people like Elon thrive on that.
On his number one interview question
- “Tell me about what you do in your personal time? Tell me about your family, tell me about your personal life?”
- If they’re a sales person, and let’s say they’ve got three kids, I know that he needs to earn, which means he needs to close deals, otherwise he can't pay for the family.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- Take advantage of the current economy and put the work in and you'll get the results. There is so much opportunity out there right now that I would tell my younger self to learn AI, get into digital, and be an absolute savage. And in five, 10 years time you'll be on fire.
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