eCommerce Podcast

Our podcast is raw, honest and damn right insightful, as we chat to some of the best minds in eCommerce

Hosted by Richard Hill

Ep 78:
Stephen Kenwright:
Building a Robust Technical SEO Strategy for Maximum Growth

World domination. That’s what Stephen’s striving to achieve with his creative SEO agency, Rise at Seven – and so far they’re well on their way. 

With a team of over 100 tech experts, creatives and all-around digital marketers, Rise at Seven have been working with some of the UK’s biggest brands such as Missguided, Monzo and Odeon to achieve monumental results with campaigns that are out of the ordinary. 

Join us on this episode as Stephen chats to us about the incredible growth Rise at Seven have achieved in only 2 years, as well as delving into technical SEO and what you should be implementing to get the growth you’re looking for. 

eCom@One Presents

Stephen Kenwright

Stephen is the Chief Commercial Officer and Co-Founder of a creative SEO agency, Rise at Seven. Previous to this, Stephen has worked in several marketing roles, both in agencies and in-house. It wasn’t until two years ago that he decided to take the leap from his 9-5 to start an agency that’s now gone on to disrupt the industry.

In this episode, Stephen talks to us about how Rise at Seven came about and the strategy that helped them skyrocket their business in such a short period of time. He talks about the challenges they’ve had to deal with following such quick growth, as well as how they’ve coped with the online abuse that’s come with working with such big brands. 

We also dive into technical SEO, where Stephen explains the mistakes he often sees eCommerce stores make and how getting your technical SEO right can really get you ahead of the competition. Listen in as he shares his favourite tools and some actionable advice that you can start implementing yourself to make huge improvements to your SEO.

Topics Covered:

01:58 – Making the jump from a full-time job to starting Rise at Seven

05:03 – Why you need to put more focus on technical SEO

06:40 – What to look out for when carrying out an SEO audit

17:43 – Two mistakes eCom stores are making, but need to fix

21:49 – SEO challenges on Shopify and Magento

24:18 – Best tools for crawling

25:59 – The future of technical SEO

28:36 – How Rise at Seven achieved their monumental growth

33:31 – How Rise at Seven have pushed through their challenges

38:41 – The key to employee retention

44:10 – The future for Rise at Seven

45:15 – Book recommendation

 

Richard Hill:
Hi, there. I'm Richard Hill, the host of eCom@One. Welcome to our 78th episode. In this episode, I'll speak with Stephen Kenwright, chief commercial officer and co-founder at Rise at Seven. If you're in the agency business then I'm pretty certain you will have heard of Stephen. He launched his agency, Rise at Seven, just over two years ago, and now boasts a headcount of over 100 creative, tech, and all around digital marketers working with some of the biggest brands around.

Richard Hill:
Two of my favorite topics in this one, SEO and growth. Agency and eCom growth to be specific. In this episode we talk making the leap from full time employment to running and scaling to over 100 people fast, and I mean really fast. Retaining talent and positioning. Mistakes retailers and store owners make when it comes to the technical SEO and how it impacts their sales.

Richard Hill:
If you enjoy this episode, then please make sure you subscribe so you're always the first to know when a new episode is released. Now, let's head over to this fantastic episode. This episode is brought to you by eComOne, eCommerce marketing agency. EComOne works purely with eCommerce stores, scaling their Google shopping, SEO, Google search and Facebook ads through a proven performance driven approach. Go to Ecom1.com/resources for a host of amazing resources to grow your paid and organic channels. How are you doing, Stephen?

Stephen Kenwright:
Really good, Richard. How about yourself?

Richard Hill:
I am very good, very good. We were just saying, back in the office this week just on a bit of a semi-permanent basis, which is always good. It seems like it's been a long time coming. But yeah, I'm really good, thank you. Yeah, really pleased to get you on the podcast. Had a few questions from the team as well. Obviously, I know you've got a lot of stuff going on there at Rise at Seven. I'm really excited to sort of step through a few things. A lot of listeners are looking for growth, and that's something that I know you're very familiar with.

Richard Hill:
In your own business in a big way in the last couple of years, but also obviously in clients' projects and clients that you've worked with over the years. So I think, let's get straight into it. So I know you're sort of two years ish, two years and a bit into the Rise at Seven journey. But I think it would be good to tell our listeners, that where you made the jump from full time employment to setting up the agency. Tell me about that.

Stephen Kenwright:
It was never planned. It wasn't an intentional thing to start an agency. I'd always historically been dead against it, actually. I never thought it would be my scene. But I made the decision to leave my own agency quite awhile before that. I wanted to go in-house. I'd been married for a little while, and we were thinking of starting a family.

Stephen Kenwright:
Having done a lot of conferences and general client meetings and so on, and eventually just living in a hotel for three days a week. I decided I wanted to go in-house because at least I would be in one place all the time. So I joined Pendragon PLC back in the beginning of 2019 to head up all of their digital stuff [inaudible 00:03:02] better term. And lots of change going on generally in that sector.

Stephen Kenwright:
Brexit definitely hit that one faster than it's hit most of us now. As well as just generally, the automotive sector being in a bunch of turmoil. So it just didn't really work out. After having tried to hire Carrie, my co-founder, a bunch of time at Pendragon and saying no, that she was on the other foot eventually and she asked me to set something up with her. And yeah, the rest is history.

Richard Hill:
I didn't realize that. So you were trying to get her to come and work with you at Pendragon, and then she pulled you away to set up your own thing. Oh, wow.

Stephen Kenwright:
Yeah, one of the curious things about, I think, what a lot of clients are experiencing right now. So there is an enormous boom in digital PR, which is one the things that's really accelerating our growth. At Pendragon, the marketing team was enormous. There was like 98 people in marketing. There was 34 in digital.

Stephen Kenwright:
I was fortunate in that my position being basically overseer of SEO and PPC, but also PR, social, content, development, plenty of ready access to designers as well. So all of the ingredients to do a great digital PR campaign but absolutely no way of dragging everyone away from their day to day to actually do it. Because I'm not a practitioner.

Stephen Kenwright:
So unless you have someone who is absolutely confident in how to pull a digital PR campaign together, even if you have the people they've got to be all willing to try something new and potentially fail at it. When a business is the size of Pendragon with like 30 different marks that they're working with everyday, like Ford, and Vauxhall, et cetera, all the way through to 270 dealerships. It's a busy environment. No one wants to make that jump. So my thought process was, if I bring Carrie on board she could be the spearhead of actually making it happen. But obviously, not to be.

Richard Hill:
So obviously two years down the line, or two years and a bit, I think we'll come back to the journey piece. But I know a lot of, we talk a lot about SEO and PPC on the podcast. But I think technical SEO is something that quite often gets overlooked personally. I think it would be good for us to talk about that for a bit. So why the stores need to focus on that technical element, would you say?

Stephen Kenwright:
Well, eCommerce sites generally are probably the sites that need to focus on technical SEO the most, because there is such a degree of complexity that isn't present in most of the sectors. So we do lots of financial services, for example. It's relatively straightforward to do SEO, technical SEO, in financial services.

Stephen Kenwright:
You've got to worry about the whole your money or your life stuff, and making sure that information's accurate. But it's a content problem not a technical problem. Whereas eCommerce websites have got however many SKUs you've got, times however many variants of those SKUs. Times by how many landing pages you want. Maybe you've got stores.

Stephen Kenwright:
So there is an infinite number of possibilities of pages just to exist. And finding that balance between having all of the pages that you should have, and not having more pages than you need, is a uniquely eCommerce challenge. And that whole concept around crawl equity and making sure that things are easy for Google to access is so much more prevalent in eCommerce than literally any other sector that I can think of.

Richard Hill:
Yeah. I think, yeah, there's obviously a lot more to it, isn't there? As we know, so many, yeah, maybe 100,000 SKUs as opposed to 30 service pages or whatever it may be. Or, so maybe step us through. I know our listeners will be like, right, well sort of things should we be doing? What sort of things should we be looking at? So maybe step us through a project.

Richard Hill:
If you can name names, name them. If not, that's okay. Where you've gone through that technical audit piece, maybe, and then implemented X, Y, Z. The sort of things you look for, maybe the sort of tool set that you use in-house or you use personally to see where the problems may be. Then the sort of fixes that you've implemented, and then potentially the results if you can share them on a particular project.

Stephen Kenwright:
Sure. Okay. Well, I'll go back to Pendragon first. I can talk about Car Store, which was ... It was, we called it an MVP when we launched it. So it was, one of the kind of unique challenges in eCommerce, when you've got a CMS to consider for example, is you've got some that are built for eCommerce that have crack content pages. And you've got some that are built for content with crap eCommerce pages. Not very many that do both. So Car Store is an example of a website that has built for content.

Stephen Kenwright:
It was a site core CMS. And we custom built an eCommerce engine made out of JavaScript for the cars. And this is ... Launched in probably the end of 2018, so just before my time at Pendragon. And the concept of Car Store is it's a used car supermarket. So similar to Evans Halshaw, but instead of being Evans Halshaw Ford, Evans Halshaw Vauxhall, whatever, it's just all used cars. You have the same kind of, similar kind of store experience, but going down that route of, we're not pushy. We're here to help. We'll take you on a test drive.

Stephen Kenwright:
If you say I don't fancy that, we'll go, all right, no worries. Leave you to get on with your day rather than what some of the old car dealerships of old had the reputation for doing. The kind of launch program for Car Store, there were a couple of custom built dealership premises, but a lot of them were just underperforming Evans Halshaw premises that had kind of been transformed into Car Store premises.

Stephen Kenwright:
But what was a little bit different about Car Store was that it was the first time in the UK that you could buy a used car. Use your credit card on a website, and get it delivered somewhere. The mechanism behind the scenes to make that happen, with just, the API's connecting into the delivery company that takes the car from A to B, that links up with the dealer principle's calendar to tell that person that the customer is coming to collect this car that's arriving at this time. And it needs to be cleaned, and then this customer is arriving at this time.

Stephen Kenwright:
All of that's automated and the really cool thing about it was the link between when a person arrived on the website and bought a car through to the service stuff that comes a couple of years later. We could trace a service back to a keyword that someone had searched years earlier. So all of that, incredibly cool. However, still in JavaScript, 5,000 cars disappeared overnight when we moved them to the Car Store shop dot subdomain. Because they just couldn't be rendered.

Stephen Kenwright:
It was due to the kind of JavaScript framework that was used to build the Car Store site, basically. So when I first started at Pendragon, it was kind of a bit of weird sort of, not lack of understanding, but a kind of acceptance that it's a brand new website, and it's going to take awhile to rank. And therefore, it's okay that we aren't getting a lot of traffic to these pages because it's only three months old.

Richard Hill:
Yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
However, that's fine. You shouldn't expect to get traffic to a brand new website within three months. Any kind of meaningful traffic, anyway. But you should get indexed. You should get those pages crawled. You should get them listed in Google. Especially if they were pages that were indexed on the Evans Halshaw.com website.

Stephen Kenwright:
And that have just been transferred over. So the kind of process went through a technical audit, which was, I used DeepCrawl at the time. Still fond of DeepCrawl. Other crawlers are available though. But DeepCrawl with the JavaScript rendering engine on it particularly, and Search Console. Search Console is the most valuable and possibly underrated technical SEO tool on the market.

Richard Hill:
It is.

Stephen Kenwright:
That really gives you the view of what's actually happening with a website. But the way that we kind of actioned that audit was to break it down into work streams. So these kind of categorized, maybe there are 30 actions but maybe that's actually three groups of 10 actions. So instead of fighting for this one thing to be done and see what happens next, it was, well there is one problem here around indexing. So we need to do these six things to be able to get everything crawled and indexed.

Stephen Kenwright:
So that's going to be a sprint. We're going to do all of things together. That has to be ticked off the list in one go, otherwise we'll never know if it worked or not. Because there are still so many unknown around actually getting the thing crawled and indexed. So we'd split it out that way. Inevitably we've got things around site speed, which are becoming much more prevalent now. But they were generally, we called them medium priority. In SEO, we don't like to have low priority things because we know they'll never get done.

Stephen Kenwright:
But the high priority thing is get the thing indexed, and the medium priority is make it fast and make it more accessible. So, the result of that, and it was kind of a real different way of working in Pendragon, because historically the digital team had kind of had a recommendation ad hoc, something they'd spotted. They'd fire it over in an email to the web product team who would either find a place for it in a sprint or forget about it forever.

Stephen Kenwright:
It wasn't a lack of want from the web developers at all. It's not that web developers don't want to do it. The way that they're working is with an Agile concept called epics, which basically means here is the defined scope of our work for the next six months. And nothing's going in there unless it fits very much in the scheme.

Richard Hill:
Even though your website's not indexed. Yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
Yeah. It's not, because they've got these kind of different development teams that are working on very, very specific things. So the only way we got it done is to say, well Car Store, the website, is now in epic. To be able to do that, we need to define that scope of work. We need to say, this epic will end in four months' time.

Stephen Kenwright:
We're going to do these things. In four months it will be finished. We'll have success criteria which are, the cars are indexed for one thing. But loads of other kind of technical benchmarks that we want to meet, like the site speed decreases from seven seconds to three seconds, and these kind of things.

Stephen Kenwright:
Working with the developers to basically say, we know what needs to be done. This is a finite list of things that need to be done. Of course, there will be more things, but they might not be the top priority for you straight after this. So we'll revisit when we need to. But, we know when these will be done, you're going to have your developers free again to do all the things in October.

Stephen Kenwright:
So they can start planning. They can start thinking about how they're going to action some of the things that they want to action that are, all the deprioritized projects, basically. It's technical SEO is a kind of mixture of product management and brand management, now. It's SEO's are people who connect people with other people, mostly.

Richard Hill:
Yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
Or, connect disciplines with other disciplines.

Richard Hill:
Yeah. It can be so challenging, can't it? You come into a project and you're clearly you're seeing big technical problems, but obviously that education piece with that, or building that relationship with their technical team, if they've got three or four months' worth of work already laid out, getting that point across and obviously demonstrating that value of commercial change that's going to happen, likely to happen, is so important, isn't it?

Stephen Kenwright:
[crosstalk 00:14:44].

Richard Hill:
As you just get, oh, the SEO team want this, and we'll put that on the list, sort of thing. Whereas if you can demonstrate or you can deliver 5,000 SKUs aren't getting indexed, and then next week they are, obviously, that's a huge, huge, huge win.

Stephen Kenwright:
Yeah. One of the very strange but very positive things about eCommerce, like you can't do this with a legal website, for example. Because the lawyer's a lawyer. They're going to be doing something or not doing something, and that's very ephemeral. But with an eCommerce website, you can go over to a dealership.

Stephen Kenwright:
You can take a photograph of a car, and you can say to your boss, no one in the world knows that this car exists. It's going to sit there on the forecourt, depreciating in value, every single day it's costing you money that you don't get this car indexed in Google. All of a sudden, it's an epic and it's prioritized.

Richard Hill:
Yeah. It's getting that point across, isn't it, yeah?

Stephen Kenwright:
Yeah.

Richard Hill:
I think that yeah, that's where, I guess a good bit of advice to technical SEOs listening on there, or the site owners, the teams that are listening to ... just sending a spreadsheet saying we need this doing. But obviously give it some context. Give it some reality of cost. You've got this 20 ... Obviously cars are expensive. You've got clients that sell hot tubs. Well, 35 grand, I think, is a swim spa nowadays, for a top of the range? Well, if it's not indexed, you aren't selling many, are you?

Stephen Kenwright:
100%.

Richard Hill:
So what was the outcome of that project then? I really like the idea of the sprints around the crawl sites. I think that's great, and chunking those, maybe four, or five, six, 10 tasks within each one. I think that's a great bit of advice. But what happened? It's like, what was the outcome?

Stephen Kenwright:
Well we got all of the cars indexed in two weeks, because we implemented Prerender.io to be able to render that JavaScript server side instead of client side. That was basically all that was required. But it was very much a collaborative effort between us and the developers to say, this is what needs to happen. You are the experts that can tell us how to make it happen. One of the difficult bits to navigate when you're a technical SEO is trying to know enough of what you're talking about to decide if it's going to work or not.

Stephen Kenwright:
But not knowing so much that you think you know more than developers. And you can go into a conversation with those really experienced devs and say, we need asynchronous JavaScript. And they go, what does that mean? You go, I don't know. I read it in Google developer handbook stuff. So it's tricky but that one was really straightforward. It's like a very-

Richard Hill:
So are you an actual ... Are you a dev?

Stephen Kenwright:
Not at all. No, I can't do development at all.

Richard Hill:
Same. Absolutely the same.

Stephen Kenwright:
Yeah.

Richard Hill:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It's a whole 'nother world isn't it?

Stephen Kenwright:
It is. But that's the point. You should know why something needs to happen, but even experienced devs Google things and go on Stack Overflow. So it's not a mark of shame to not be able to code and still call yourself a technical SEO.

Richard Hill:
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Right, so, worked on a lot of sites. That's Pendragon two and a half, three, well where are we? Three, four years ago, maybe? Three or four years ago when you started that piece. Obviously dozens if not hundreds of projects have gone by, and you're working on at the moment.

Richard Hill:
What's the sort of common mistakes you see retailers, eCommerce stores making almost time and time? No doubt, you get a new client or you're about to win a new client, and you pull up your tool set and it's like, oh, yeah, this, this, [inaudible 00:18:11]. We won't say, don't do site speed though. Because we always talk about site speed.

Stephen Kenwright:
You know what? Site speed is never the most important thing. It's always the easiest thing because you've got a timeframe. You say, you fix your site speed by this date or you've got a problem. There's no deadline for fixing other things. But there are a few things that always come up. I would say the first thing is faceted navigation.

Stephen Kenwright:
No one ever does faceted nav right, especially when ... A lot of the clients that we work with have a couple of different ways to navigate things in their catalog. So they might have a faceted nav that maybe is in Magento. They might have a product management system like Fredhopper or something like that. They might have all sorts of internal linking stuff going on as well. You've got all these different bits of tech that generate their own URLs for stuff.

Stephen Kenwright:
You're throwing in session IDs and dynamic URLs and all sorts of stuff within the faceted navigation itself, and it's just, I think probably the thing that we do more than anything else is block stuff that's caused by faceted nav. That's the main sort of ... That's the common thing that's wrong, and one of the symptoms and reasons that it's such a big deal is developers recently have had this fascination and had this real kind of love for load more buttons instead of pagination. Pagination in an eCommerce setting, it's difficult to deal with. But it's better.

Stephen Kenwright:
The load more button can be an absolute nightmare, depending on how it's implemented. If you combine that more load more that's hiding a bunch of SKUs, and a faceted nav that's also generating its own URL SKUs, you're going to get all of the pages that you don't want to be indexed, indexed. And all the pages you do want to be indexed, not indexed. So that's really common as well, I think, at the moment.

Richard Hill:
Yeah. So for the guys listening, so obviously I think right at the beginning we talked about, how many pages have you got indexed. If you know you've got 10,000 SKUs, and then you run the site through just a simple command and you see this 50,000 pages index, clearly there's 40 odd thousand potentially [inaudible 00:20:19]. And then the things you've ran through there, are usually the corporates, is what you're saying, yeah?

Stephen Kenwright:
Yeah, pretty much. They're two of the more common ones, definitely. I think this other really common stuff's going to be, everyone ... As I mentioned earlier, most eCommerce platforms are not good at content. They're good at eCommerce, but not good at content.

Stephen Kenwright:
So somewhere down the line everyone's decided to have a blog dot subdomain on WordPress. One of the more common, I wouldn't call it a fix, but one of the more common opportunities we capitalize on is moving that into, whether it's even Magento's blog. If it's in a subfolder, tends to perform better than [crosstalk 00:21:03].

Richard Hill:
[crosstalk 00:21:03] subdomain. Yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
That's really common. And just the kind of analysis early days of, well, it looks like a referrer in Google Analytics, right? Because it's a subdomain. And you compare that as a referrer, versus social channels or PR or all these other referrers. You generally tend to see that it refers at a higher rate with a better average order value and at a higher conversion rate than any of your other channels.

Stephen Kenwright:
Because the people who are interested in your stuff, and then they click through and go through. So if you could capture more of that traffic, more people who are interested in your stuff, and also get better data on the other end of it because you know what they clicked on before that, it's a fairly easy win. Even though it can be a bit of a complicated, or time-consuming change to make.

Richard Hill:
Yeah, no, nice one. So I think quite a lot of our listeners, Magento, Shopify, seems to be quite a common theme. Have you got any specifics technically on those platforms?

Stephen Kenwright:
Shopify, I would say the number one thing to bear in mind with Shopify is if you've ever heard someone say Shopify is not set up well for SEO, then maybe forget that. Because it's fine. It's a thing that gets repeated, like WordPress isn't secure. If you question it, "Why isn't WordPress secure? Why isn't Shopify good for SEO?"

Richard Hill:
Ah, well, um-

Stephen Kenwright:
[crosstalk 00:22:21] offer them an answer.

Richard Hill:
Yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
So the platforms all have their limitations and they aren't their own ... They aren't always unavoidable. They're not always things that can't be overcome once a website has gone live. I'd say Magento tends to have more URLs in it. That's the thing that happens. It's got its own way of uploading a dirty URL and changing it to a clean one, and then trying to navigate how that's crawled, is a big thing.

Stephen Kenwright:
So I would say that crawl equity, crawl budget, is more of the common challenge with a Magento website than most. We do a lot of Salesforce at the minute, a lot of what was Demandware as well. That's got its own challenges, particularly someone somewhere in the SEO space said 410s are better than 404s because they get website, they get pages to leave the index faster.

Stephen Kenwright:
Which I'm sure is technically true, but Demandware or Salesforce has got this weird little quirk where you can't really change your 404 page into anything custom. But you can do that with a 410. So everyone just defaults to a 410 on a Demandware platform, because they can at least make a nice UX around the 404 page. Not 404 page, so 410 page.

Stephen Kenwright:
But if you are the kind of retailer that gets things out of stock and back into stock, when you're doing 410s on that, then they aren't coming back. So it's worth a little bit of custom development to try and fix a 404, or do something with 301s rather than just assuming that 410's good for SEO. Because actually, real double-edged sword.

Richard Hill:
You don't hear at all about 410s, to be fair. Not a lot of people, I think, use them, do they? No.

Stephen Kenwright:
No, no. But it was a big thing for a little while. Someone somewhere reported on some SEO website. Said, 410s go out of the index faster, and SEO [inaudible 00:24:16] being out of the index faster is a good thing. So we should do that.

Richard Hill:
And everyone's, yeah, jumping on it. Okay. So, I think that's some great, real actual takeaway. S what tool would you recommend now, or tools, for crawling now? You talked about DeepCrawl back in the day, also. I know we've used that ourselves, probably about three or four years ago as well. We don't use it so much ourselves either now. Have you got any sort of favorites now for crawling and getting the best out of that crawl?

Stephen Kenwright:
We're big fans of Sitebulb particularly. And Screaming Frog too. We made a choice early on at Rise that instead of getting a super expensive cloud crawler, because one of the bigger challenges for cloud crawlers, it's not how many URLs you crawl in. It's how many sites you can crawl. So when you're an agency it can be tough to attribute equal love to all of your clients, when you've only got 10 clients that you can crawl.

Richard Hill:
Yeah. Expensive.

Stephen Kenwright:
Now, we decided that it would pay for itself in about four months if we decided to get a PC that has 48 cores, and 96 GB of RAM that sits in the corner and everyone remotes into [inaudible 00:25:28] crawl going.

Richard Hill:
Yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
So we can eat through websites very quickly. And it opens up, when you're not worried about credits, and you're not worried about the number of sites you can crawl, it opens up all the possibilities of crawling competitors. Then you've got this comparison of, well, my website's got this problem, but so has everyone else. So I've got the context.

Richard Hill:
Yeah, yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
And you don't do that if you're paying 700 quid a month for Botify.

Richard Hill:
Yeah, no. That's actually a very good point, yeah. Like it. So, the future. Technical SEO. I think obviously, I think we could actually talk about technical SEO for a couple of hours. I think we're just scratching the surface, to be fair. But I think [inaudible 00:26:06] just seems to be the thing at the moment.

Richard Hill:
And [inaudible 00:26:10] has been for obviously quite a while now. And there are all these, lots of headlines. But what would you say if we sat here, maybe 18 months from now, Stephen. What should we be looking out for? Where are things going maybe, on the technical side of SEO?

Stephen Kenwright:
Headless is the next thing. So we're seeing a lot more ... We tend to work with larger retailers who are thinking about this stuff. But my old agency tended to work with Fortune 500s who would have their big legacy clunky thing on the main website. But when they wanted to do a micro site somewhere, when they wanted to launch a new thing, a new brand or something like that, they learned a little while ago that you could do something with Contentful and throw it up very quickly. And it would perform really well.

Stephen Kenwright:
So you're getting all of these proof of concepts with the larger companies, the consultancies and at my old company Kin + Carta. But the Accentures of the world, they're all doing this kind of thing now. I think you can see some really, really big retailers. Jim Shark is probably a good example that's using Shopify, but not as you know it.

Stephen Kenwright:
So I think that there are going to be more and more of these type of ... Again, coming back to that limitation from a content point of view, of some of those platforms. If you can combine the eCommerce engine behind Shopify with the content engine behind WordPress, in a way that actually gets the best out of both of those. And it's performing, then people probably will do that a lot more, so I think everyone needs to get comfortable with headless CMS.

Stephen Kenwright:
What that probably means is, JavaScript and some of the old favorites are still around, like React and View. But we've seen a lot of Gatsby now. And these kind of new JavaScript frameworks that they're moving on very quickly. And it's a constant learning curve, but I think learning JavaScript frameworks, not to build them but what are the nuances and what are the usual challenges you get, when it's a React website, for example. It's definitely worthwhile.

Richard Hill:
Yeah. No, I think that's great. I think, I have to admit, a few of the people we are partners on the development side, headless seems to be the topic of the day. It's not something I'm that personally familiar with. But I think, yeah, I know, like big commerce, for example, I think. [inaudible 00:28:31] in the UK.

Richard Hill:
They're a big driver. Yeah. Right, so I think we'll park the technical for a moment. I think what I'm really intrigued about, and I know our listeners as well ... Obviously our listeners are all about growth. Your company, two years and a couple of weeks, is it? Or two years and a couple of months old.

Stephen Kenwright:
That's right.

Richard Hill:
I think you're 100 strong, or 100 plus people. How would you sum up how you've managed to create an agency, from a standing start in two and a bit years, with 100 people? How would you say you've done that?

Stephen Kenwright:
I would say the things that we did right would firstly be, an extremely clear proposition. This is who we're for. This is how we do the things that we do. And a willingness very early on to say no to things that didn't feel like it matched that criteria. That was certainly, from a new business, from a client sales point of view, in the very early days, that kind of ... We would qualify out of something if it wasn't right.

Stephen Kenwright:
Now we qualify into something if it is right, and the default is no. Because we have a very clear idea of what we do, and how much we charge for it. And we don't negotiate that. So that's certainly been a big thing from a sales point of view. It's meant the we have stayed strong on the kind of commercial side of things.

Stephen Kenwright:
When you get sales right, everything else falls into place. That's kind of point number one, I would say. Point number two is, when we're kind of deciding which types of clients that we would go after, we said even when there were two of us, massive brands. We want to compete with these kinds of agencies that we've always competed with from our old companies. We should be going for brands like Misguided and Matalan.

Stephen Kenwright:
And that's one of the main contributing factors, that we won both of those in the first couple of months. Because we felt like we should be doing work for those type of companies. What often happens, I think, for startup agencies is they take what they can get. And they don't necessarily aim as high as they potentially could. And then it's very hard to get out of your lane, once you're in your lane, I think.

Richard Hill:
Yeah, totally. You see it, and they start out, whether it's 1,000 pounds a month, and they maybe stay there for 10 years or whatever it may be. So very clear proposition of who you will and will not work with, in a very ... You're sort of pricing yourself in an environment where it's not ... It's priced right, shall we say?

Stephen Kenwright:
Yeah.

Richard Hill:
It's priced at a price point that attracts a certain, or it's a certain type of client that you're going to attract with that price point. But obviously, it's a very specific offer. But in the same respect, it's a juicy price point. It's a premium price point. As opposed to maybe scratching around at the other end of things. I think this is so ... We think about eCommerce still as the guys that are purely pushing boxes out on price. They're not investing in their brand. They're not invested in their content marketing.

Stephen Kenwright:
Yeah.

Richard Hill:
There's a market there, but it's a tough ... I think it's a tough game, isn't it?

Stephen Kenwright:
One of the interesting kind of parallels, I think, with the eCommerce world, would be a lot of people who were setting up their own eCom stores are kind of going for a market that's untapped. It's not got a lot of competition in it, but we think it will grow. That's good. I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all. What we literally did was, we chose a market that was huge, and aimed squarely at 10% of it. And said all of these 90% of people are not for us.

Stephen Kenwright:
You see, the kind of brands like Patagonia who do that from a very kind of brand purpose point of view, but if you are the type of brand that's aiming, if you're the type of company that's aiming at a very large market and purposely alienating most of it because you know that there is a 10% of that market, a 5% of that market, that agrees with you and wants to pay the price that you want to charge, because they get to do X, Y, and Z that you can enable for them, that 5%, 10%, could be hundreds of millions, billions of pounds if it's a big enough market. And not a lot of companies really do that.

Richard Hill:
Yeah, I think, respect, Stephen. I think to be able to sort of in effect turn business away because it's not a fit is quite a ... It can be quite challenging, when you're starting out, isn't it? Obviously, I've built an agency, very different from yours. But I'm 12 years in now and I know we have taken business back in the day because you've got bills to pay, you know? Right back in the day sort of thing. We're the same. We turned business away. Obviously, we're very different agencies but I think obviously we do get agencies listening to this. And I think that's a great bit of ... I really think it's a great bit of advice.

Richard Hill:
You sort of maybe have to take some stuff to pay the bills, but you want to be at that point where you're taking work that you can deliver, working with brands that you enjoy. Obviously, charging a premium or a good rate for it. You're not discounting your work. You're getting paid the market rate or above the market rate, ideally. Yeah, that's really, really insightful, personally, that, yeah. So two years. Now, it can't have all been plain sailing, I would imagine.

Richard Hill:
I would imagine, as I run an agency, some days are tough. I think some days, there's a lot ... You've got, you say about 100 plus people. What's your sort of, some of those days when you think, "Jesus Christ. What am I doing? How have I gone from working for Pendragon to having 100 people to think about?" What are some of the things that have kept you going, or some of the things that you do to keep you moving, keep you positive, keep you pushing through?

Stephen Kenwright:
I think a lot of the kind of negative parts of running a business like ours, are self-made. So one of the things that's important to Rise is being culturally relevant. We work with brands that are talked about all day, everyday, and we help them to get talked about all day, everyday.

Richard Hill:
Yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
We need to accept that when we work with brands that are talked about all day, everyday, not everyone says nice things. So when we are an agency built for the likes of Boohoo Group, we are fast fashion. We are fast everything else. A lot of the time people say mean things about our clients, and that often trickles into mean things about us, and mean things about our staff.

Stephen Kenwright:
So we've got to kind of take the rough with the smooth and remind ourselves that if we are willing to work with brands like this, or not even willing to but we are designed to, it's our purpose to work with brands like this, then we have to accept that we can do a certain degree of good in the world with those brands. We can help to improve them.

Stephen Kenwright:
We can use the leverage that they give us, or they can use the revenue that they generate with us to do good elsewhere. We do that from a social point of view with a lot of the other things that we do as well. You've just got to accept that not everyone's going to like you, and that's the tricky bit. So the bad days are often around that. It's the kind of public backlash that we sometimes get. And that's okay. But inside, you do feel it, definitely.

Richard Hill:
You're human after all, aren't you? If somebody says something about you and your brand or your people, you're going to be like, what the? You don't want it to affect you, and it can sort of wash it over a bit. But still, you can-

Stephen Kenwright:
Yeah, definitely. I think the kind of, the things when you are asking what keeps us going. Like Rise at Seven's purpose literally, our purpose, our mission statement, whatever, is to give people confidence. So what kind of keeps me going, definitely, is seeing people who come in at graduate level who get promoted, get promoted again. Who are shouting about the work that they're doing. Who are shouting about the work that their colleagues are doing as well. I think one of the most positives things about Rise's culture is no one takes the credit.

Stephen Kenwright:
Everyone gives credit to everyone else. That is not what I've experienced in previous companies at all. Everyone's shouting, I did this, and in fact, you get some of that, sure. But they give credit where credit's due as well. So that kind of building of confidence, and that collective we're taking on the world kind of mentality. It's infectious. It definitely keeps you going when times are a little bit trickier.

Richard Hill:
Yeah, that's great. That's great. So biggest challenge, if we were to say, what is the biggest challenge you've had? Obviously, that is hyper, hyper growth. I mean, I don't know what the ... I haven't got the definition at hand, but 100 people, multi million pound turnover, in an agency, is crazy. It's not like you're selling cars. It's very specific industry that I know a lot about, and I know a lot of our listeners will. But what would you say has been the biggest challenge growing, yeah, from zero to 100 and whatever it is. It must be insane.

Stephen Kenwright:
It's recruitment, definitely. Recruitment is the hardest thing. So we have different recruitment challenges at different phases of growth with Rise, definitely. So, in the last 18 months, and certainly for the first six months of the pandemic, onboarding people remotely has been a learning curve. But we've got very good at it, and we have a new starter every single week at least, if not more than one week. So we just got used to that. It's how we do things, and it's fine.

Stephen Kenwright:
It does generate pressure for the teams that are training a lot. Like they're running through the introduction to whatever tool it is, probably once every couple of weeks or three weeks. So they know those things like the back of their hand, definitely. But the challenge has now changed to, where we've hired 100 people when no one else was hiring people. We are now defending 100 people who everyone wants to hire. [crosstalk 00:38:19].

Richard Hill:
Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
Right? And trying to hire more people. We've got 32 vacancies at the moment the we want to fill, and so has everyone else. So-

Richard Hill:
Yeah, it's crazy buoyant, isn't it? Just the whole industry. Every other LinkedIn post, some agency owner, hiring again. Hiring, hiring, hiring. Same here. Yeah, all sorts of hiring going on. So obviously, getting 100 people, or recruiting and retaining, or defending as you put it, which I really like that. So how are you defending? Why are people staying with Rise at Seven? Why do they want to stay? What are you doing?

Richard Hill:
I think the specifics of what you're doing to make them stay, but what would you say to our listeners that are, I think there's obviously a lot of hypergrowth and a lot of eCommerce has done extremely well in this last 12, 18 months. Talent is getting harder to win, if you like. So to retain them, what are you doing? What would you recommend to our listeners to retain teams?

Stephen Kenwright:
So I'm going to put a warning on this before I say it, but know who you are, and tell everyone who you're not, is a big thing for us. The reason I give that a warning is we do lose staff. Because there are people who have come into Rise and I think probably had a good time and worked hard and done some really great things, but now the world is their oyster.

Stephen Kenwright:
They have all the things that they want to do. So we are very clear. We're an office first business. That doesn't mean five days a week in the office. It means that somewhere, at some point, we would like you to give face time to whoever you work with. It's not mandated by the board. I don't know when anyone is in. I genuinely don't know when anyone is in. But-

Richard Hill:
Yeah, you're not changing them out, sort of thing, officially.

Stephen Kenwright:
It's more a case of, if you believe that you enjoy the social aspects of work, and you are the type of person that's social. Because lots of people aren't. There will certainly be people listening to this podcast who are grateful that they don't have to do the social bit anymore.

Richard Hill:
Yeah, yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
And probably those people wouldn't work at Rise at Seven or wouldn't want to work at Rise. So that kind of thing, where you're really clear. These are the things that we're about. And going back to values and particularly purpose, about giving people confidence. We have a concerted effort, constantly, to build people up. To make sure that they feel great, that they feel like they walk around [inaudible 00:40:41] SEO at Rise at Seven and think that they are the best agency on the planet.

Stephen Kenwright:
That's huge for us. A lot of our benefits come into that, so things like we've got a coaching program where you can get unlimited coaching around parenting or work or relationships, or whatever it might be. Because we want you to feel confident in yourself, who you are as a human being.

Stephen Kenwright:
So kind of tying everything into who you are is very important. I know that sounds all very brand purpose-y, but it's really just a, how are we going to prioritize when there are certainly agencies around here who will pay way over the odds for people right now, and stretch themselves really thin to be able to do it.

Richard Hill:
Yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
How do we make it so that everyone feels like at the very least, they're paid what's fair. They get a good wage. And the reason that they leave is not money. Everyone at Rise at Seven, everyone at every agency in the country right now, could leave for more money if they wanted to.

Richard Hill:
Yeah, I agree.

Stephen Kenwright:
Because there's so much money around for those people. But if that's the one motivating factor for them, they're probably not going to be a good fit at most agencies in the country.

Richard Hill:
No that right agency. Well, yeah, I don't want them.

Stephen Kenwright:
No. So it's, how do you make it so that our job as agency owners is, how do you take the money conversation off the table so everyone feels that they're compensated fairly. And it's all of the other things that they make their decision based on. The culture, the training, the progression opportunities. The perks. Whatever it might be. But the things that they feel are important to them, and they've got that feeling, that trust that you pay them well.

Richard Hill:
I'd imagine you've had to move pretty quick with that, because obviously it's that growth. Obviously, we keep referring back to this 100, but obviously in, in, in, out, out, in, out, in, out, probably. And then it's, hang on a minute. Obviously you've got to get the fundamentals, of those building blocks, that culture piece so right. That if you're moving as quick as you have been, would you say that maybe you've made quite a few mistakes with that, in the early year, maybe or so?

Stephen Kenwright:
Definitely still make mistakes, yeah. There's loads, and there's all these things that are bubbling away in the back of my mind as being problems and trying to determine firstly, are they a problem for everyone? Because something that someone hates might be something that someone really likes. So things like internal comms. Like we shut down our WhatsApp group.

Stephen Kenwright:
We made it so that Slack is ... Not inaccessible, but there's no notifications from Slack between 5:30 and 9:00 AM. We've chosen a project management software that you can't get on your phone to try and give people that work life balance. But the problem becomes, are we going far enough, or are we going too far? Are we limiting people [crosstalk 00:43:30].

Richard Hill:
[crosstalk 00:43:30] balance. Yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
Or, you know. I'm always of the opinion that if it was just up to me, I would get rid of Slack completely. I think it's awful. But, I know that when we did the last survey around how people feel about our IT generally, and Slack was a conversation, lots of people say, I am overwhelmed by the amount of communication. But 85% of people said, I believe Slack is 100% necessary. So it's like, well, it becomes not a question of how do you solve that problem, but how do you mitigate the problem?

Richard Hill:
Yeah. Maybe reduce where you can, sort of thing.

Stephen Kenwright:
Yeah, for sure.

Richard Hill:
Yeah, great. Well, Stephen, it has been an absolute pleasure. I have a feeling this could go on to be the longest podcast episode of all time. I will be very respectful of your time. So what would you say is the future for Rise at Seven?

Stephen Kenwright:
World domination.

Richard Hill:
Have you got a white [inaudible 00:44:25]?

Stephen Kenwright:
Yeah, well, what we've done in the UK so far, we want to replicate that in the US. We're very much a UK and US agency. We do work in Europe, but we don't plan on getting a real foothold in Europe, I don't think. It's just too complicated at the moment.

Stephen Kenwright:
But we'd certainly like to replicate our growth in the UK in the US. And more of it. Like there are big, big brands out there that don't work with us, just yet. We want those, and want to continue to grow for the time being at least as well.

Richard Hill:
Yeah. So you're just getting started, literally, aren't you?

Stephen Kenwright:
Oh, definitely, yeah.

Richard Hill:
So, two years, I'm going to get you back on. We'll have a check-in, yeah?

Stephen Kenwright:
Love to. Yeah. I'd love to.

Richard Hill:
You'll probably dialing in from your villa in the Bahamas, or whatever.

Stephen Kenwright:
Oh, I wish. Yeah.

Richard Hill:
I always like to end every episode on a book recommendation. What book would you recommend to our listeners?

Stephen Kenwright:
So I think going back to the conversation around some of the things that have been tough, I would say the best book on leadership that I have ever read is The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz.

Richard Hill:
Yeah.

Stephen Kenwright:
I think he really popularized the concept of peacetime CEO versus wartime CEO. But that whole book is, it's a story. It's not a business book that's like a manual or difficult to read. The audiobook, in fact, on Audible is fantastic. Like the narration really kind of brings it to life as well. So I would say if you are a company owner of any prescription, or have ever previously been or would like to be, that is probably the best book that I've ever read around leadership and kind of what it takes to do that.

Richard Hill:
That is the third time that has been recommended to me, so, and I, yeah, have to admit that I've not [crosstalk 00:46:07].

Stephen Kenwright:
[crosstalk 00:46:07].

Richard Hill:
So, I'm going to have to get that one sorted. But thanks so much for being on the show. To the listeners that want to reach out to you, find out more about you, more about Rise, what's the best way to do that?

Stephen Kenwright:
Probably Twitter. I'm very active on Twitter, so you can grab me. DMS are open. Happy to chat.

Richard Hill:
Yeah. Lovely. Well, thanks again, Stephen. I look forward to seeing you in two years.

Stephen Kenwright:
Exactly. Likewise, Richard.

Richard Hill:
Cheers, bye-bye. Thank you for listening to the eComOne eCommerce podcast. If you enjoyed today's show, please hit subscribe and don't forget to sign up to our eCommerce newsletter, and leave a review on iTunes. This podcast has been brought to you by our team here at eComOne, the eCommerce marketing agency.

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