Episode 107 – From Rookie to President in 7 Years: Why Digital Agencies Need To Develop The Founder’s #2 Right Now – Member Case by Amy Pyles

Acquirers buy the management teams first and the boutique firm second. The due diligence process is heavily weighted to assess the quality of the management team to make a sound investment. On this episode, Amy Pyles, President at Saxum, examines her experience as the person replicating the founder. She will share what has worked and what didn’t work and how they continued to collaborate. 


Greg Alexander [00:00:14] Welcome to the Pro Serve podcast with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders, boutique professional services firms. For those that are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community dedicated entirely to helping you grow, scale and maybe someday exit your boutique. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and I will be your host today on in this episode. I’m going to talk to you about how to build a firm that is not dependent on you for its success. But we’ve got an interesting twist. We’re going to do this from the perspective of the president, the person that you as the founder have entrusted your firm with to run the operation. And we have a fantastic role model today. Her name is Amy Pyles. Amy. It’s good to see you. Thanks for being here. 

Amy Pyles [00:01:09] Thanks so much for having me. I’m glad to be here. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:12] Would you mind introducing yourself and your firm and what it is that you guys do? 

Amy Pyles [00:01:17] Absolutely. So, like I said, I’m Amy Pyles. I am the president of SAC. We are a marketing and PR agency based out of Oklahoma City. But we work with clients all over the U.S., helping them balance purpose and profit and just communicate their story well. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:36] Okay, fantastic. For those that are regular listeners, the word sex will sound familiar. One of our members, Renzi Stone, was a featured guest, a role model for us on this show several months ago. And he shared his story of how he built a firm that isn’t dependent on him. He built the firm that has an executive leadership team where it’s about the firm, not an individual. In addition, if you’re reading my new book, The Founder Bottleneck, How to Scale Yourself, you’ll see in Section three where we provide ten role model examples. Renzi story is documented in greater depth there as well, so I would draw it to those two resources. But Amy, we’re going to talk today about, you know, from the perspective of the president, you know, the number two, for lack of a better term. And it’s an interesting perspective and it’s an interesting challenge working with an entrepreneur and I am one and I know how hard that can be. So I’d love to hear from you kind of when this happened, why it happened, and kind of like what was your first, I don’t know, 90 days. Like. 

Amy Pyles [00:02:49] Yeah, good questions. So I’ve been with the firm for about seven years now, so it’s been a progression. It wasn’t an overnight discussion, it wasn’t an overnight. You were this and now you have these responsibilities. So that’d be the first thing I’d say. So the first 90 days weren’t all that different because we had been working together towards different responsibilities and giving me exposure to different elements of the business. And we do have a really great leadership team in place, so it wasn’t like the baton was only passed to me to go figure that out. It had been a journey of setting up a really great structure so that Renzi could take on different things, but also to make sure I was ready to step into this role and have the right level of just experience and mentorship over the past seven years to prepare me for this. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:45] Yeah, you know, I advocate for this approach, which I call or I don’t call. It’s known as Grow Your Own. And I want to make sure that I mention this to those that are listening. The success rate and the numbers on this are pretty clear. The success rate is much higher when you’re passing the baton internally to someone who is a great culture fit, someone who has earned it versus making it external hire. Because small boutique services firms, the very unique things, the culture is very strong. There are people, businesses, fit matters a lot. And I’ve seen several times where an external hire that was highly competent come in to a firm and it doesn’t go so well. And usually that’s because that’s external hire feels the need to come in and change things. Well, sometimes things don’t need to be changed, sometimes they just need to be tweaked or they need to be done more efficiently or what have you. But you know, the firm is successful in handing the baton over to an internal person. Is is really good. So, Emma, you talked about how you had been getting ready for this. So the first 90 days wasn’t really a major departure. I’d love to hear more about how you got ready for this. 

Amy Pyles [00:05:09] Yeah, absolutely. So when I started with the firm, this wasn’t necessarily the progression that I joined for or that we thought I would take. I joined in the delivery side, so I was leading our digital services. So I immediately got good exposure to the clients, to the work that we’re doing and understood not just a methodology but the client side and how we delivered. Now my brain is naturally wired for operations and for business, so I gradually morphed into various different hats and different roles within the agency and moved into our chief operating officer role. And so that gave me a good expansion outside of just one service line and into the business on the executive team and understanding the financial aspects of the business, getting more exposure to the sales side and the client service side. So all of that and all the different hats I got to wear over these seven years really set me up for a well-rounded view of. The business. So it wasn’t coming in, just siloed into the area that I was passionate about or that I had expertize in before that really expanded that view. So I was thinking holistically about the business, not just about how do I make digital more successful here or any other facet of it. I was really looking at it holistically and I think that was some of the best preparation I got was just that exposure and the different hats I wore. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:36] Sometimes our members, the founders. They have a hard time letting go. This is their baby. It’s their life’s work. You know, they have almost all of their net worth tied up in the firm. You know, their family is dependent upon the income the firm generates, etc., etc.. It’s really hard to let go. And this is one of the obstacles. You know, they they have to find and trust in Amy. How did you earn the trust of Renzo? 

Amy Pyles [00:07:06] Oh, gracious. Probably a question better geared towards him, but I can say it from my perspective was lots of conversations. Also, I think entrepreneurs want to be able to pass the baton to somebody who will disagree with them, to somebody that will dove in on an idea or challenge an idea. And I think one of the things that I was able to do is push back at the right ways when it needed to be to show that we could form ideas better together rather than being an order taker or just doing exactly what he had set out. And I think we discovered that we could do things better when we collaborated. And I think that that started to instill trust that I could make decisions, that I could jump in to a big vision idea, but I could also figure out how to tactically make it happen so that we weren’t living in two different worlds all the time, where I wasn’t just doing exactly what he said, but showed that I could make those decisions and lead a project through to completion without him having to hold my hand or be right there with me. Mm hmm. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:13] Very good. Another question I want to ask you is that, I mean, the benefit to the founder of delegating strategic items to somebody like yourself is they now free up their time and they can amplify themselves and really go pursue the vision. These entrepreneurs, these visionaries, they have a vision and they want to go after it. But very often that vision never materializes because there’s just not enough hours in the day to go after it. But if they have a great partner like yourself and you can run the firm, they’re now working on tomorrow’s business. While you’re working on today’s business, then that sounds great. On paper, where it breaks down oftentimes is the founder has one foot in the old way, one foot in the new way, and he or she keeps sticking his or her nose where it doesn’t belong. And what’s required there is the partner you in this case has got to manage up. It’s got to get the founder out of the day to day because they make it up when they jump back in. So how do you manage up and what advice would you give others to do so? 

Amy Pyles [00:09:24] Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think it has been a journey. It’s not an overnight shift that takes a lot of conversation and it takes having the right places to pull the founder in so that they can have a voice where they should and where they want to. So I think that there’s some strategic managing up of this would be a good opportunity to bring Renzi in or to have him lend his expertize, but quickly know how to transition it out of lending an idea to managing that all the way through. And so I think that that’s the the art of it is knowing those right touch points for input, for collaboration and for vision, but making sure it’s clear that the team is going to take it from there and actually go execute it or let it fall to the wayside, if it should, for the client or whatever that is. So I think that there’s just those strategic elements that you need to be able to pull them in on so that you’re feeding what’s important to them. And they don’t feel completely disconnected, but you’re not letting it linger for too long. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:32] Yeah, you know, Saks.com is what we refer to internally as a power member, and that’s defined as a firm that joins as a team as opposed to an individual. And they do so for the things we’re talking about today. So I’ve had a lots of conversations with your peers, you know, the the partner to the founder. And one of the frustrations I hear from them and I want to kind of put you on the spot here is the visionary founder is an idea machine. I mean, they have ten ideas a day and they think every idea is the next great breakthrough idea. And they keep firing off these ideas, you know, to their execution partner. And the execution partner starts to say, oh, my gosh, like, first off, how do we prioritize these? Some of these are crazy. We shouldn’t be spending time on this. Oh, by the way, there’s a finite amount of money of people of hours in the day. Like, how am I going to get all this done? So how do you deal with the crazy entrepreneur who has too many ideas for his own good? 

Amy Pyles [00:11:35] We don’t always get it right. I’ll say that first and foremost, we’re not definitely the perfect model student for that. But you know. One of the things that we’ve been trying to work on is a standard language of prioritization so that we can have a matrix where we can say, we’re going to strategically invest here. We’re going to drive daily over here. And then we’re going to delay some these other things that may be great ideas, etc.. So let’s put it in a delay category. And when we’re done with something that we strategically invested in and it’s now daily operations, we can look at what comes in next, or we can stop doing something here because a better opportunity has come. So we’re working on that right now is how do we get that common language that focuses us as an executive team but also gives a place for new ideas to come in and be evaluated against this finite set of man hours and resources and things that we could do. There’s a lot of could but should is always our question. And how do we weigh that in a way that is efficient and business oriented? And we take in a little bit of emotion out of it so that we can weigh those and make better decisions. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:46] I like that. That’s a structured thinking towards prioritization, a matrix, if you will. That’s a really good idea. Okay. My last question and then we’ll wrap it up is let’s talk about money budget. So staying on this theme of this visionary founder with a ton of ideas and then he comes to you and says, go execute all these things. Or some of these things, take money. And then there’s a conflict because the founder is pulling the money out of the business and paying himself and then to go do some of these ideas he has, you know, he’s going to make less because it’s going to require investment. And usually these founders don’t want to go to a bank or don’t want to go to an investor. They’ve got a funded through operating cash flow. So how do you reconcile, you know, all the things that your founder wants to do with the hard truth of what the PNL says? 

Amy Pyles [00:13:35] Yeah. We are very aligned on what some of our core KPIs for the business are and those metrics. So that helps from the get go of what’s our profit margin, what’s our people ratio that we’re willing to have, what is investment in business development? So we have a lot of predefined and agreed upon metrics that we set that gives us a good rubric to make decisions against. And if an idea comes from anywhere, whether it’s from us up to him or him coming in with an idea, the investment conversation comes with We can’t do it within our metrics. Are we willing to sacrifice one of these? Are we willing to take less profit for a period of time in order to fund that? Or do we want to bring that in in a different way? Ours is typically been we’re willing to sacrifice profit to invest in a way, and we take those out of our kind of KPIs and metrics that we’re measuring the success of the business on. So we can we come to alignment and agreement around how much we’re willing to invest and what’s the sacrifice to profit. And if we can exceed that, then, you know, great for all of us, but we at least have some alignment right there at the metric level. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:42] Yeah, fantastic. Okay. Okay. Listen, as I’m going to pointed to a couple of resources. So first, if you’re a founder and you don’t have an army, you need to get one. And the best way to do that, in my humble opinion, is to read my new book, The Founder Bottleneck How to Scale Yourself. And it’s going to talk about how to identify a high potential employee and how to determine what to delegate, how to delegate it and when to delegate it. So that would be step one. Step two would be if you want to take it to the next level and you want to build a firm that doesn’t depend on you, you should enroll your Amy or Amy’s into collective 54 and and specifically have them master the boutique framework. And I’m proud to say that we’ve invested heavily and we now have a detailed how to online training. Chapter by chapter with new exciting tools, you can go do that. So I would point you towards that when that comes out, which should be in the first quarter of 2023. So get yourself an Amy and invest in Amy’s development so that she can help you build a firm that doesn’t depend on you. So, Amy, I could talk to you about this forever, and I’m sure we’ll have a chance to continue our dialog. I’m really looking forward to the Friday session where we’ll have the member Q&A. I’m sure you’re going to get a lot of questions there, but really appreciate you. I love having you in the group. It’s I’ve had a chance to get to know, you know, you here recently and you’re a shining star. And it’s just great to have you in the in the collective. 

Amy Pyles [00:16:15] Well, thanks so much. I enjoy it as well. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:17] Okay, fantastic. All right. So if you are a founder or a leader of a boutique processor firm and you would like to belong to a community of peers and meet great people like Amy, consider joining Collective 54 and you can apply at Collective 54 dot com if you aren’t ready just yet to join but you want to educate yourself on topics like this and others. I’m going to suggest you subscribe to Collective 54 Insights, and there you’ll find benchmarking data, you’ll find podcasts like this one, you’ll find a great blog. We even have a best selling book called How to Start Scale and Sell a professional services firm. So you can find all all of that there at Collective 54 dot com. But until then, thanks for listening and I look forward to our next episode.