Gee Ranasinha is the CEO of small business marketing agency KEXINO. Gee is a thought leader, influencer, visionary, and successful entrepreneur. Gee provides the leadership and energy that has inspired the creation of KEXINO. Gee Ranasinha joins other leading CEOs and Founders taking part in our Leader Roundtable Interview Series. The DotCom Magazine editorial team has recently awarded KEXINO with our Impact Company of 2019 award. We are delighted to have Gee join us for our Leader Roundtable Interview.
Gee, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day for this interview about your company, leadership, and entrepreneurship.
1. Gee, please tell us about KEXINO.
We’re a small business marketing, branding, and media production agency. Over the past 12 years we’ve helped hundreds of start-ups and small-to-medium sized businesses produce better, more relevant marketing strategies and tactics. We help businesses in all industries with things such as branding, strategy, logo design, website development, print design, SEO, copywriting, public relations, social media, advertising, lead generation, language adaptation, and video production. The team consists of 19 associates across 9 countries, serving a worldwide client base. 80% of our clients are in the US, the rest are spread across Europe, South Korea, Japan, and Australia.
2. How did you come up with the idea for KEXINO?
For seven years I was Worldwide Director of Marketing for a software company, serving big clients such as Time Inc. IKEA, Nestlé, Airbus, and Marvel. Whenever I invited marketing agencies in to pitch for our business, I was amazed at how none of them would take any fiduciary responsibility for the marketing plans they proposed. All of the agencies I saw were more interested in the tactical elements – web design, advertising, events, and so on. No-one was asking me about the business result on which the marketing plan needed to deliver. That seemed crazy to me.
It dawned on me that there were a ton of start-ups and small businesses out there needing help with marketing from a business perspective – designing and managing a marketing plan generating qualified leads to ultimately produce a tangible commercial difference to their business.
I couldn’t find a marketing agency that took that kind of approach – so back in 2007 we started our own.
3. What is the key to your company’s success?
Probably our “no-BS” approach to everything we do for the client. We don’t hide behind complex jargon, acronyms, or doublespeak. Collectively our team has over 80 years’ real-world experience in entrepreneurship, business development, marketing, sales, and customer service. We use that knowledge to consult, recommend, and implement proven processes, systems, and tactics that move the needle in terms of revenue generation. We don't waste our time – and our client's money – with unproven, flavor-of-the-month notions that just add to the noise rather than contributing to the signal. It's not marketing if it doesn't generate sales.
Startups and small businesses rarely have the luxury of “trying something out” on the off-chance it’ll work. We take their marketing budget and design a plan that’s both sustainable for the business and delivers tangible results. Working within a pre-defined marketing budget takes the pressure off for everyone concerned. Our clients know in advance how much everything's going to cost so there are no surprises when they receive their monthly invoice.
4. Many of our readers are just starting to build a company. What advice can you give entrepreneurs just starting out with a new venture?
Everything starts with your business plan. Making a success of the business becomes that much harder if you don’t have a detailed outline of how and where sales will be coming from, the costs of acquiring a customer, audience segmentation, customer lifetime value, sales forecasts, etc. From a finance perspective, don’t try to fit your marketing plan around your business plan: that’s doing things the wrong way round and is the surest route to running out of cash and killing the business stone dead before it's even had a chance. Revenue doesn't kill a business, cashflow does.
Once you’ve defined your revenue forecast you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much the business can afford to invest in marketing. That’s the number to give to your marketing agency to design a marketing plan.
2) Don’t split marketing tasks across multiple providers. So many times when we see prospective clients we discover their website was designed by one provider, their social media efforts by another, their SEO by yet another, and so on. Unless you have a skilled and experienced marketing person on your payroll, dividing marketing tasks across multiple providers will inevitably lead to a fragmented brand communication and value proposition. This creates confusion and obfuscation in your markets and in the minds of your audiences, making everything that much more difficult.
You need an experienced conductor who can direct the orchestra. If you don’t have that person in your organization (and most businesses don't) then find an agency who has expertise right across the board to deliver a focused and targeted presentation of the business to your intended audience groups.
3) Don’t underestimate how much of a percentage of business revenue to apportion to Marketing, especially in the first 1-2 years. If you’re entering a market from scratch with no prior visibility or reputation and are primarily relying on lead generation to drive sales, Marketing is effectively your entire sales acquisition channel; it’s your storefront. It’s crucial that you have someone who knows what they’re doing to spend money where it generates the most effective result. Otherwise you’re just waving a wet finger in the air and ‘hoping’ you’re on the right track.
4) Don't self-diagnose. Unless you're in marketing, you don't know what you don't know. You wouldn't ask a doctor to prescribe heart medication because you have a pain in your chest, when the real cause of your discomfort is more likely to be due to gas than angina. It's the same with marketing. It's not up to you to define the mix of marketing tactics that you think will deliver on the revenue plan: that's what your marketing services provider should be doing. And if they're not doing that, you need to change your marketing services provider ASAP.
5. For other entrepreneurs seeking to build a business as successful as yours, what advice can you give them when times get a little challenging?
You’re not on your own. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely occupation if you don’t have a business partner as a sounding board. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when your best intentions and efforts don’t deliver. It’s important to find like-minded individuals you can trust and share thoughts, fears, and experiences. They don’t necessarily have to be business owners (though if they are, that’s obviously even better).
There seems to be some kind of unwritten rule that, as an entrepreneur, it’s ‘you against the world’ and you're compelled to succeed solely through the results of your own endeavors. That’s simply not true. I don’t know any successful business owner who can say hand on heart they did it without support from a mentor, advisor, coach, or consultant.
6. How do you make sure your customers will become raving fans of your company?
Assuming you already have an awesome product or service that’s the best it can be, the rest is down to delivering the very best customer experience possible. You probably know the famous quote from Maya Angelou “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Customer Experience isn’t just about customer service – it goes much deeper than that, and begins before you even know who your customer is.
The single biggest piece of advice I can give is simply to do what you say you’re going to do, when you said you’d do it. I’m constantly amazed at how many businesses fail at this most basic of tests. What does it mean in practice? It’s like if you say you’re going to phone the client tomorrow at 10.00am, you move Heaven and Earth to make sure you call them tomorrow at 10.00am. Not 10.05am, not 10.30am, and certainly not at 3.00pm prefacing the call with some lame excuse. Such actions are disrespectful of the other party's time and infer a lack of consideration – or even empathy.
If, however, a customer expects a quote on Friday and you deliver it on Thursday, you’ve instantly gone up in their estimation. Whenever possible, under promise and over deliver. If you focus on delivering the best possible experience of working with your business, customers will love you for it – and shout about it to whoever's listening.
7. In today’s fast changing business environment, how do you stay abreast of things?
Network at any and every opportunity. That may be attending local events (meetup.com is a good place to start), reaching out to people on social media (though NOT with a view to selling them anything), and reading anything and
everything you can get your hands on. I have around 400 blogs in my RSS reader and numerous Twitter lists and LinkedIn follows that I go through most days to keep up with what people are thinking about areas of our industry.
I also learn a lot from my teaching work. For the past 5 years I've been lecturing at a university, teaching digital marketing to final-year MBA students. Perhaps we'll discuss programmatic advertising, or Facebook's user privacy issues, or maybe the impact of voice search on SEO best practices. I find their thoughts and comments on the marketing topics of the day invaluable.
8. What is your “Why”? Why do you get up in the morning, and how do you keep yourself at peak performance to lead KEXINO?
Every one of us at KEXINO is focused on the common goal of doing whatever we can to help start-ups and small businesses succeed. For us that's the beginning, middle, and end of it.
Sometimes I’ll receive a mail from a someone looking for help, but they simply don’t have the budget to work with us. 99% of agencies would simply walk away at that point, but we don’t. I see such requests as a fellow small business owner reaching out for help, and I feel I have a responsibility to help a fellow human being if at all possible. So I take the time to look at what they’re doing, what I think they need to do, and write up a summary of what their next 90 days should look like if I were in their shoes.
I’ll outline to them what they should do, give links to sites that can provide help, provide tips and tricks, and more. But I don’t do this with some ulterior motive that, on the off chance, they’ll come back to us some time in the future. I do it because I am in a position to help them – even if they can’t afford to use an agency like ours at this time. One time I did this for a lady from Canada She was so grateful with the advice I gave her, she sent us a bottle of Champagne by way of thanks!
The entire KEXINO team think the same way. We’re not averse to taking on pro-bono projects if we’re suitably excited by the business and know we can help. That should tell you all you need to know about our ‘why’ đź™‚
9. Can you recommend a book that has had an influence in your career? How did it influence you?
I’m a voracious reader (I go through more than 50 books a year). Without a doubt the single most influential book I’ve ever read is “Love Is The Killer App” by Tim Sanders. It may have been published 15 years ago, but Tim’s words are just as relevant – maybe even more relevant – when I look at business today. I would summarize the book's message as there being three critical drivers of business success: sharing your knowledge, network, and compassion with others without looking for – or expecting – anything in return.
When I read the book I realized what Tim was describing was a way of interacting with people I had unconsciously been doing for pretty much all of my business life. It dawned on me that I had never even considered my actions were something unusual, even on occasions when evidence to the contrary was staring me in the face!
Tim’s book opened my eyes to how I was approaching people in business, how I wasn’t alone in thinking and acting this way, and that more of us should be doing the same thing.
10. What makes a great leader?
A leader is simply the one member of the team who’s there to look out for everyone else. My job is simply to do whatever it takes to allow everyone at KEXINO to do what they need to do. My only advice is to hire for attitude, not aptitude. Skills like web design or coding can be learned. Customer empathy, in contrast, is something you either have or don't. We don’t have room for prima donnas in our company – regardless of how talented the particular individual may be.
I’m very lucky to have a team around me that I trust with my life – both professionally and physically – and who share the values and aspirations that I have in life, and in business.
Gee Ranasinha, thank you so much for participating in the DotCom Magazine Leader Roundtable Interview Series. We very much appreciate the time you spent helping our readers learn more about what it takes to build a great company and become a great leader. We wish you, your family, and of course KEXINO, nothing but the best.