Exceptional entrepreneur: Mark Hurley
Founder and CEO of digitally-led creative and innovation agency, Little Giant, Mark Hurley built the agency into one of New Zealand's leaders in just six short years. Little Giant has supported large international and national brands such as Marketo, Visa, Air New Zealand, Spark, Fonterra and Les Mills. Mark remains CEO of Little Giant following its acquisition in August 2017. He actively mentors and invests in early-stage start-ups and high growth companies.
Hi Mark, we know this wasn’t your first exiting experience. Tell us more about that.
At 17 years old, I set up an apparel and soft furnishings company and ran it for 10 years. We sold it in three pieces in 2013. Although not a successful exit, as we only ‘just’ cleared our debts, it was an incredible journey full of lessons which have helped me become a better entrepreneur.
How has Little Giant grown since being founded in 2011?
When we started Little Giant it was just two of us in a big empty office, and I had another business that was my main priority at the time. So it was a very small side venture. In terms of service offering, we were purely a development company. We actually worked as a digital development partner for many well-known traditional creative agencies in our first couple of years.
Little Giant is now nearly a 50 person agency blending creativity and technology to transform and grow our clients’ businesses. We do this by combining strong strategic and creative thinking with expert data analysis and a deep understanding of current and emerging technologies.
How important is it to keep evolving?
The ability for us to foresee changes within our industry and constantly evolve our offering has been crucial to our success. You see, the concept of marketing as a whole is dramatically changing.
Today, people adore and endorse brands with customer experiences that best meet their needs and preferences. Customer experiences are more powerful than ever as a form of authentic marketing because people are more connected than ever, so good and bad experiences are shared faster and further.
In terms of a growth journey, how did you maintain the culture at Little Giant?
I believe it starts and ends with recruitment. The people you bring through the front door are the ones who create the culture. Sure you can provide an environment and opportunities for them to form strong relationships, but ultimately I believe culture is a function of smart recruitment. We did a great job with understanding our ‘type’ of person and how to identify attributes that contribute positivity to our culture.
What are your thoughts on the Deloitte Fast 50 experience?
I loved it! Personally and professionally. I met one of my groomsmen at the Deloitte Fast 50. It gives you the opportunity to meet like-minded entrepreneurs, grow your personal and professional network, and learn from the experiences of others.
How did the decision to sell arise?
From an out-of-the-blue email from the New Zealand-based CEO of the group (Dentsu Aegis Network). At the time, we had never even contemplated selling, so the first reaction was 'hell no'. It was an 18 month courtship that started very slowly - the first 12 months were really just spent getting to know each other.
How did you build trust over those 18 months?
It took a long time for us to feel comfortable about joining a larger network.
My primary focus was on three things at this stage:
a) ensure our values aligned, and that our people and culture would not be affected day-to-day
b) ensure it would be possible for me to maintain enough management control in order to execute on our existing vision
c) grow trust with the local leadership team and ensure we would enjoy the experiences of working alongside each other.
What else, other than the aligned values, attracted you to the network?
I was really impressed by the vision they had for their Isobar brand in particular. It aligned with our vision for Little Giant incredibly well and we felt there was significant value we would see immediately by joining that network.
What did you learn from the sale of purchase process?
- Make sure you have good advisors, including someone you can use as a strategic partner. The M&A process is a long game of chess, it’s important you have someone alongside you who has significant transaction experience and can help you map out possible outcomes and reactions.
- Always be due diligence ready. Even if you aren’t looking to sell, with cloud storage solutions there is no excuse for not having your company information organised and easily accessible. At due diligence you want to be focused on strategy, not trying to find missing documentation.
- Don’t get emotional. Write out a clear set of objectives you want to achieve from the transaction. Use that as an anchor, it’s a very long process, you will get tired and contemplate giving up things you hold important. This written document helps remind you of what you want from the process and helps you remove emotion from key decisions.
What was the reaction of your people to the acquisition news?
This was the hardest part of the process for me. First, keeping it from my team and second, telling them we were no longer independent. Our people love our brand, they are so passionate about the company we have built, even though I knew I was making the right decision for the company, I was worried I had let them down. I was very honest, I talked them through my thought process from start to end, I promised I would work my ass off to ensure this was a positive thing for their career… and I feel like I have done just that.
So how’s it all going now?
Honestly it’s great. No regrets. Yes there are challenges integrating companies within the first 12 months, but nothing that wasn’t expected. Dentsu Aegis Network has been terrific giving us space to be us, while also trying to add value where they can. We should be finished with the integration by the end of 2018, setting us up for an incredible next few years.
What is the future of services from an agency perspective?
Consulting/Creative/IT under should sit under one brand, under ‘one roof’. An integrative approach – brand, marketing and technology. The market is more interested in a holistic approach.
05 July, 2018 by Simon Chapman,
Simon Chapman is a partner in Corporate Finance with extensive experience supporting Deloitte Private clients through capital raisings and business sales. He enjoys providing his clients with expert advice on business valuations and value-maximising strategies.