Why It Matters To Invest In Your Employees with Noah Curran at Monkedia

Invest in your employees if you want to create a strong team. Investing in their skills to do their work is a big part of creating a culture that drives the business forward. You might be tempted to reduce these investments in favor of a healthy bottom line. My guest today is Noah Curran, Founder, and CEO of Monkedia. This company is #67 on the 2018 Inc 5000 list. Noah shares why he invests so much in onboarding his employees. The time and money he spends will blow you away. Noah gives you more great reasons why you mush invest in your employees.

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Noah Curran: The Transcript

Target Audience: One of the world’s leading digital advertising and marketing experts, Noah Curran has been an industry-anomaly as his sole focus has been on the business of putting others needs above his own.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Noah Curran: [00:00]
We don’t give you a job title that says here’s your leadership and now do it. Everybody here pretty much earns it. So you know, everybody here is encouraged that there are two main ways to really get ahead. You can either be incredible at what you do and show that your skill on a continued basis is proving to be, you know, above or beyond or you work yourself out of a job, train somebody else, you do your job to display that leadership and then you’ll get that next leadership title.

Gene Hammett: [00:30]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs. The fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I help leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: [00:47]
Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank. Really excited about sharing this with you and before you run, I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is going to genehammett.com/Worksheet so you can get the 12 principles and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align to each individual episodes. When you subscribe to Growth Think Tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet, depending on when you’re hearing this, but you can tune in to the date that means the most to you.

Gene Hammett: [01:29]
You care for your employees, right? You care for what’s going on inside them. And do you also invest heavily in the development of those employees? I’ve known for many years that companies that really take a stance to invest heavily into the people have more loyalty from those people. They get more return for that investment and they create a place that people just don’t want to leave from. I’ve had these theories for a long time and I talked to a lot of high-growth leaders and I get to do that through this podcast who might interview and do speaking around the world. And I really am fascinated by companies that really invest heavily into their people. So I wanted to find someone that had their finger on the pulse of this. And I found Noah Curran. Noah is the founder of Monkmedia. Monkmedia is one of the fastest growing marketing agencies out there. More specifically, they do a lot in the area of digital media and combining that with artificial intelligence. It’s very complex. We talk about it in the interview, but one of my favorite things about this is we talk about the importance of putting other people’s needs in front of your own and as a leader it makes sense. But do you actually do it? Well, Noah does, and I’m going to share with you the full details in today’s interview. He has, just gives you some background on the company. They are about 50 employees. They were number 67 on the 2018 Inc list growing an astronomical pace. Doing about 12 million in revenue in 2000 continue in that growth. And really the next step with the company is to broaden their reach into their current audience. So they’re going to continue this growth all because they’re investing 6 to 12 months for each employee before they actually put them into the field with customers because they want to make sure that they get high ROI out of each employee that comes on board and that they’re ready for those client engagements and the clients are getting what they deserve. It really is counterintuitive to what most people do in business. And even the way I’ve run my own businesses at times. So today’s a great interview with Noah. Without further ado, here is Noah.

Gene Hammett: [03:35]
Hi Noah, how are you?

Noah Curran: [03:35]
Doing well, how are you?

Gene Hammett: [03:38]
Excited to have you here at Growth Think Tank. When I introduced you earlier, I talked a lot about you, but I’d love for you to talk a little bit about the company. So tell us about Monkmedia.

Noah Curran: [03:50]
Yeah. So we were born out of kind of a hybrid of high-end programming, artificial intelligence, machine learning needs, the marketing side of digital, and all of those come to collaboration around scaling and growing businesses. So we’ve been in business for about five years, helping companies grow and scale and the most efficient ways possible through advanced media buying and marketing and advertising. So it’s been a pretty crazy ride and phenomenal growth and then alongside some really incredible people,

Gene Hammett: [04:22]
Advance media buying sounds pretty sophisticated. And then you throw in the AI to it. How long did it take you to come up with this, this kind of technology that you’ve been running with?

Noah Curran: [04:34]
Well, I’d say it’s ever-evolving, right? So that’s even kind of in the definition of what machine learning is, but the industry moves so fast, it’s kinda like computers back in the day when one was as big as your house and then two years later you can carry it around in a backpack. A lot of digital media is the same way. And so you know, I often equate it to a lot of people can learn how to fly a plane. They can fly. We’re here in Dallas, you can learn to fly a plane maybe to Austin and there’s 50 buttons that the teacher, what they do. But if you really want to leverage media buying to the greatest extent, it’s Kinda like trying to fly a, B 50 to over the Middle East. It’s, there’s a thousand buttons and if you push one of them wrong, you can very easily object. And so while the initial early onset of developing a lot of that technology was something that built over about a year what that was then was infantile compared to what we have today.

Gene Hammett: [05:32]
One of the things we were talking about is you have a fairly small team for the size of revenue that your company has a little over 50 members. That about right?

Noah Curran: [05:41]

Gene Hammett: [05:42]
When you think about the keys to success for your fast growth you heavily invest into the people. Which is Kinda counterintuitive to what a lot of companies do. They want them to be as productive is right away. Tell me a little bit more about where that comes from.

Noah Curran: [06:02]
Yeah, so really early on I said our mission to be very kind of unique in that we believe that sex success comes from putting other people’s needs above our own. And as the CEO, that was twofold. First, that was for our clients and the people that we work with and saying, you know, we’re going to go way above and beyond what else any other kind of media group would do to try and serve. So, you know, we see ourselves a lot of the time like entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs where we really treat every dollar. Like it was our own business and we were putting the money into the media buying. And I think that’s a big part of it. But you know, even first and foremost in my business because is the people that we have and how I invest into them matters more than anything else.

Noah Curran: [06:45]
Because ultimately they’re the ones that are investing in our clients. And ultimately, you know, I’m here to help them accomplish what their goals are longterm. If I’m going to do right by my team and be the kind of leader that I want to be that can leave the legacy that I want to leave. And so you know, we started that very early on and it’s, it’s not a simple thing that we do. It’s when you’re talking about data science meets the psychology of creative its not simple. And so, you know, we will take most of like let’s say our data people for instance, and they’ll go through six to 12 months before they’re ever really put in the field to operate on their own. And that’s a pretty heavy investment, especially in the world of digital and media technology. That’s a lot of it is social base, social media-based and those are younger people group. But what I’ll say is like the scale of a company is completely dependent upon many times, not only the processes and training you have in place but in the quality of the kind of leaders that you have that are able to then replicate. So to me it’s all about trying to replicate myself. And if I didn’t invest in those people, I wouldn’t have the leadership structure that we have today that allows them to build their own teams and do the same. So it’s a longer process. Like I think I heard a story back in the day that like you know, a guy was doing an example where he would, he had two groups in a big stadium and on one side he brought a volunteer up and he would run out of the stadium.

Noah Curran: [08:16]
He said you get to run out on the stadium, grab somebody, bring them up to the stage, you get to run out to the stadium, grabbed somebody, bring them up to the stage on the other side. He had a guy and he said, you get to go down, grab somebody to bring them up to the stage and then explain to them that they have the same rules so they can go down, grabbed somebody, bring them up to the stage. And at first to do that, cause he didn’t tell the whole audience out this to do that. You watch this other guy on the other side of the stage and he just looks like he’s beaten this far out of the other side because he’s got, you know, 20 more people because he’s just running on the other side. This guy’s sitting there and explaining the rules and it goes far slower, but you get 10 minutes in and this guy’s got 10 acts because everybody’s going out and then bringing somebody back in. And so if I’m able to replicate myself amongst my leaders and invest in them, we’ll, it takes a lot more upfront. It’s a lot more costly. It’s kind of counterintuitive because I’m spending a lot of time, effort, energy, money on people. In the end, is going to make us far more explosive because we’ve got the right foundation to build against.

Gene Hammett: [09:21]
I love that analogy there because it really does kind of give you an idea of a different structure. And when you think about this, we were talking last week about, you know, you think about business very differently than in this you said were counter-intuitive when you have talked about investing into people. Have your peers or anybody in your network thought you were a little bit crazy for this, this level of investment?

Noah Curran: [09:47]
Yeah, quite often. You know, especially when they see like how much it stretches like myself, right? Like you’re the CEO of a company and you’re still working long days, long nights and not always just getting to enjoy the fruits of, of what is a very successful business. And that’s because you have to utilize that excess time, especially in the beginning. Because I’ve still, I’ve still got serve clients, I’ve still got sort of staff. I still gotta you know, innovate. And so if you are going to invest all of that, you either have to let some big things drop or it takes way more of yourself to have to give. And so they said, is it really worth it? It’s not going to last. Those people aren’t going to stick around. They’re not going to leave. They’re not gonna. You know, invest in other people in the same way. And you know, we’ve had both sides. Like it’s not easy, is not an easy thing. I’ve had really tough battles. Two people that I’ve loved that have left. But at the same token, like I was a leader can go to sleep every night and say, I gave those people all that I had and they know that like those, those people down deep will then stand in the fire. They’ll work the long hours. We’re an advertising group, so black Friday’s, Thanksgiving’s you can, you can’t imagine these people are here for 20 hour days on Thanksgiving and Friday and they’re having fun. They’re enjoying it because they’re invested in it can become a very different kind of atmosphere too.

Gene Hammett: [11:13]
Well it does you know, beg to differ, you know, like leadership, it’s hard to make some of these decisions and you’ve made them, you know, going against kind of the bottom line. Like traditionally we want to hire people that have a certain level of experience and that are able to baby get payback as soon as possible, but you’re taking six to 12 months. Has that, you know, lack of cash flow early on as I’ve been a stressor in the business? Or are you able to weather that?

Noah Curran: [11:45]
No, that’s the one big blessing I think we’ve had I bootstrapped this from the very beginning, so never took any debt, never took any kind of money outside of that. I worked another job for six months when I started this. And I didn’t leave until I could almost have a year’s worth of salary. And then I didn’t end up ever hiring my first hire until I had a year’s worth of their salary put away so I could take care of their family. And then I got very lucky that that one of my right-hand men took a, like 80% off of his salary to jump on and be part of this cause he thought we could build something different. And so at the very outset, like we built in the principles of being extremely conservative and kind of how we handle our cashflow and how we manage things. And so, yeah, I mean we probably could have grown even faster, but if we had just done that cashflow and bone it out, but then we wouldn’t have the kind of quality that we’ve been able to build our name on working with incredible groups like, you know, Disney and just massive organizations across the entire spectrum because we were so focused on the kind of plotting and the methodical race instead of just, you know, blowing it up and just scaling out to the nth degree.

Gene Hammett: [13:01]
Marketing is one of those industries where I had a lot of insight. I have a lot clients in this area, but you have put something together that’s even more cutting edge than just traditional marketing, bringing in the data science, artificial intelligence. So when you think about, you know, the kids coming out of school, they’re not getting the skills, so you’re having to invest in them this much so that they’re caught up to where you are as a company. Is that about right?

Noah Curran: [13:28]
Yes and I mean, yes and no. So like one of the advantages that they have is like for me to go and like basically detox somebody who has been in marketing of all the bad habits that they’ve learned and trying to retrain them on this actually sometimes is harder. Because they have an old mindset to what is really been some bad habits that have been built inside the marketing world. And so, you know, those things kind of even themselves out. I will say that most of the people that we, that ended up really thriving here don’t come from a marketing background or even a marketing education. Because there are just so many, you know, checkboxes or means to do things. Whereas, you know, some of the smartest folks that ended up doing it are based around either high-end data side. So they’re looking at Quan, they’re looking at, you know like one of our guys studied like he was he would work on brains and do like pretty crazy experimentation in school to the other side words, psychology. And it’s understanding how humans think and how humans operate outside of even the marketing and space and like, you know, some of them, some of my leaders come from insurance to recruiting to, you know, industries that have like logistics. I’m not even in the marketing space, but they think in that way where, you know, if you can put yourself in somebody else’s shoes for a minute and understand how you want to be communicated with for that target customer and who that customer makes up, that really can make all the difference.

Commentary: [15:10]
Noah just talked about the bad habits that happen. So often we bring in someone who has some, you know, industry experience and how it’s hard to break those habits. Now, I’ve seen this happen many times before, so you have to ask yourself this one big question in your company, and it can change over time. In the beginning, you may bring in people that have some industry experience but may not always be the right solution down the road. So the big question that you have to ask yourself is, do you buy leaders or do you build them? Do you go out there and find people who have sort of the experience you want and retrain them in your ways of doing things? Or do you build them from the inside? Now, I’ve seen this happen and be successful in both ways. I tend to believe that companies are very successful when they have the ability to build leaders from within. When you have the ability to take someone who is great at what they do and give them the skills to not only be great at what they do but also lead others through the process and lead the charge of different aspects of the company that really can be a successful business. Now, it’s not easy, but it really is something you have to decide for yourself. Do you buy builders or do you build them back to the interview with Noah?

Gene Hammett: [16:25]
Well, when you think about building leaders inside the company like that’s, that’s part of the technical skills of actually doing the work. But is there a similar approach when people would move into a leadership position for the company?

Noah Curran: [16:37]
Yeah, I mean all of our leaders, so we do kind of take a backward approach. And I’ve never known it any other way, but everybody tells me it’s different is that you, we don’t give you a job title that says here’s your leadership and now do it. Everybody here pretty much earns it. So, you know, we you know, everybody here is encouraged. There are two main ways to really get ahead. You can either be incredible at what you do and show that your skill on a continued basis is proving to be, you know, above the or beyond or you work yourself out of a job, train somebody else, you do your job to display that leadership and then you’ll get that next leadership title. And so most everybody or most all of our leaders grew up here in the sense of like, they just work their tails off and showed that they were hard workers or them at like, one of our other leaders, you know, came from another organization that was a client of ours. And so he was almost basically part of the family, but he knew all the steps that he had to go through as he watched us do it. So you know, it’s, it’s very much the same way. I’ll keep investing in them. I’ll keep giving them the tools if they want them. And if they take them and want to run with them, they very easily can work themselves into the leadership positions. Anybody here, it doesn’t matter. Age, qualifications, resume you know, whatever it might be. Anybody can earn it. Versus just the given it.

Gene Hammett: [18:00]
What inside the culture makes all this possible for you to continue to grow so fast. What comes to mind first?

Noah Curran: [18:10]
I really do think it is that, that level of respect. So you know, everybody here is built around well. So whenever I go to hire somebody, you know, I look at four things, I look at intelligence, energy integrity and culture. And so, you know, culture is just one that like you have to kind of check off the box. Are they gonna fit in? Are they going to be able to work with the other folks that are here? You have to have, you know, basic amount of intelligence to do this. You have to really want it. So I’m kind of going reverse order. You have to really want it and you want to work after it. And then most of all, you have to have a high level of integrity. And so you know, everybody this a culture of respect and so they, you know, they know that if they do hard work, they’ll be rewarded for it at the same time. They get to kind of craft and create their own destiny out of it and they know their coworkers are all the same way. So it’s not like other people are trying to, you know, get around or take somebody else’s job or sneak in and do it. It’s a very much a society of like, Hey, if we work hard, we’ll be rewarded and we’ll keep moving up. And that is shown by how we treat our clients, how we treat our coworkers, et cetera.

Gene Hammett: [19:23]
What do you do inside the hiring process that allows you to find that intelligent energy, you know, high integrity and the right culture fit?

Noah Curran: [19:33]
I was lucky that one of my, one of my early core leaders that I found came from a strong background in recruiting and was going to try something else and actually move into the marketing element. And so she applied. And when she did, I said, you know what, I see all this experience here on recruiting. Would you actually mind helping me with that because we need to hire, we need to find really good people. So you know, first and foremost is I found a really good leader that can help me with that. And then secondly you know, the process that we then put into place, you know, everybody goes through an initial screen and then go through MultiSteps of interviews, but it really isn’t the kind of questions that we ask.

Noah Curran: [20:15]
I think, I’m not gonna give away the secret sauce, but there are questions that are kind of outside of the ballpark and they’re not there. Those like funny agency questions are funny, like Google-type of questions where you get thrown for a loop, but they’re actually deep, honest intake questions about that you have. It’s pretty obvious if you’re not being authentic in your answer or if it’s something that’s been staged and we even measure like we’ll ask the same questions multiple times throughout the process. And when the answers change, you know, that they’re not actually sincere about what they’re saying. So we try and measure those things and we’ve found a level of the kind of questions that are going to tell us a lot about who that person is as an individual more so than your skill sets in any way, which is the intangibles that make the big difference.

Commentary: [21:02]
Noah just talked about the questions inside of the interview process and how important they are to get to the heart of who that person is. He said about asking deep questions and I really want you to think about your process and the questions that you’re asking within your team. How deep are you going? Are you staying at this skill level? Can you do this work? Have you done it before? What’s your background? Tell us about some of your successes. That’s really high level. When you want to really understand how someone thinks, how they operate, you want to make sure you’re getting into the deep aspects of how they see the world. And that goes beyond the skills that go into the culture fit that goes into really what you’re looking to create and create around the team together. Those questions are only going to be done when you intentionally think about what aligns to the values of your company. I work with a lot of companies too to help them understand this process because they want to hire the best employees and want to make sure that they’re not hiring people who are not a good fit for the culture. So you want to have questions that are really aligned to understanding how that person is aligned with your values before they actually come into the door. Because it’s much easier to find someone that has great values and teach them the right skills than it is to teach them the values, like integrity and honesty and you know, value creation or ownership, whatever your values may be. You want to make sure you have the right questions and the interview process. This is something I help companies all the time. So if you have any questions, make sure you reach out to me. Now back to the interview with Noah.

Gene Hammett: [22:36]
As we begin to wrap this up, like I want to give you another chance to talk about, you know, being counterintuitive inside your leadership and how that’s added to growth. So we talked about one area was, you know, this really intense investment into someone 6 to 12 months before they are really out there with clients. Is there anything else that you’ve done that’s kind of counter-intuitive, right? Like that?

Noah Curran: [23:01]
Yeah. And this one actually when you said that it actually gave me another idea, so this one might come from left field for you. But you know, I mentioned that our mission here is a success means putting other people’s needs above your own. And so, you know, one of my goals is to be the most successful CEO that I can and leave that lasting legacy. And so if you balance the idea of how much investment that I put into people, so when I think about their tenure here I have had to let go of the number of folks. And if you think about putting other people’s needs above our own, it’s very easy to think about, okay, well, you know, and I try to have a deep investment into every individual. Obviously I can’t, it’s a large organization, but I really want to.

Noah Curran: [23:43]
And so you get to know their families, their kids or what they care about or who they love or, or where they’re at in life. And so letting go of them doesn’t feel like putting their needs above their own. But it wasn’t really until you really had to stop and think about what is best for them and what is best for their longterm success. And if it becomes pretty obvious that, you know what, we could use their help for a while a year from now, it’s not going to work out. It means having to make a tough choice. And from a company perspective, having to lose quite a bit of an investment because you train somebody for six months and you know, you went through all the recruiting efforts and that leader is great about understanding like what did that actually cost the organization to bring that hire on?

Noah Curran: [24:24]
And so if you’re 60, 70, $80,000 into a person and but it’s still isn’t, you know, it’s not going to work out. You know, giving them the opportunity to find a real career path for themselves is doing right by them. And really, honestly, it does better by and the rest of the team here because they know that you know, they’re not having to make up for somebody else’s lack of, or they’re on equal footing or, you know, they’re not having to be here late nights trying to fix something else, somebody broken. So it’s really a balance between really overly investing, but then also try to do right by the people longterm and help them set up there are careers for the most amount of success, even if that means making a hard choice that they don’t like at that point in time.

Gene Hammett: [25:07]
I’m curious with this you know, you don’t hear many leaders talk about putting others first. I know it’s like this servant leadership kind of thing, but when you, when you describe how you’re investing in people and you know, maybe even letting them go because it’s not the right fit. Where did you learn all this from within your professional career?

Noah Curran: [25:29]
It actually wasn’t from a professional career. It was from my grandfather. So he was an entrepreneur at the age of 16. Started a company out of his garage cause he wanted to get married and his parents wouldn’t let him. And so he started multiple, he started multiple businesses and sold multiple businesses. I don’t find I’m going that kind of route, but he was a serial entrepreneur. But the thing about him was, you know, when I was a kid, I was like 10 years old, all my cousins and stuff, they’d be playing out of the pool or at the lake. And I would just be sitting there listening to his stories about business. And you know, when I ended up giving a eulogy at his funeral a couple of years ago. And it was a venue that committee sees 300 folks. And I think we maybe had, I don’t know, it could be over-exaggerating, but 678 people come through that day. And they would just tell me story after story of you know, he was a great leader. It wasn’t because he was you know, the best at this or the best at this, but that it was really about, he always put the people first at his organization. And I had seen that growing up too, but that was remarkable to me. And that was the cornerstone of what I felt like his success came from. So you know, that was a nugget I could take from him and have his legacy live on. And what happens inside of this organization.

Gene Hammett: [26:57]
I’ve always thought that caring is such an important part of leadership and I’ve had people debate me on that, but I think it’s really a cool story that you share that you’ve gotten from your grandfather.

Noah Curran: [27:07]
Yeah, for sure.

Gene Hammett: [27:09]
Well, I really appreciate you being here on the podcast to talk about your journey of leadership. Noah, any parting words?

Noah Curran: [27:18]
No, I really appreciate you too. I’m glad to be here and I was privileged to get to spend some time with you and you know, look forward to continuing to listen to all the good stuff that you’ve put out.

Gene Hammett: [27:28]
All right, fantastic, as well. Talk to you soon.

Noah Curran: [27:32]
Talk to you soon.

Gene Hammett: [27:33]
What a fantastic interview. I love the story at the end where he talks about where it came from, watching his grandfather watching. You know, how people responded to him and all the stories he had at his grandfather’s funeral. Now a lot of people, you know, think about the legacy they’re going to live. And it really just honored to have someone like Noah share his insights about leadership and investing in people for today’s show. It really is exciting. Do you ever share these kinds of messages and stories with you to be able to help you become better leaders, help you through the defining moments of your leadership? So without further ado, really love the fact that you are here and sharing these messages out there. So thank you so much. And if you could think of anyone specific person that wants to be a better leader and activate growth within their team, then make sure you refer them to GrowthThinkTank.com as always, leads with courage and I’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


GTT Featuring Noah Curran



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