Search Interviews:

Jeremy Weisz  17:41 

So what kind of things do you have to do for that company?

JP Holecka  17:46 

Ultimately, we had to interview captains from navies from different countries, from Africa, all the way through Asia to see what are the challenges that they have? What are the problems that they have in order to not only navigate those waters, but where do they get their information from? And why is it you know, what would help them do it and because they’re at sea, what are the types of signals that can help the fact that app has to work on very little signal, satellite signal, so it to be taken to considerations, all the data how quickly because it needs to be reliable. So those would be the biggest challenges. And then, you know, also localization, how many languages it’s going to be.

And then browser and phone compatibility, working on a global scale like that needs to make sure that it works on any device. And so my team was really, really excited. That came back from these interviews where, you know, captains and various fleets around the world and how important their job is like within a small community within an African Nation. And you know, the passion that these seafarers had, and how they wanted to be able to navigate more safely because of the importance of their job for their communities, or for their countries, it was definitely not your run-of-the-mill project.

Jeremy Weisz  19:05 

So you have to configure this app to basically meet all the specs while meeting the needs of the pain points of this particular customer. How did a client like that even find you? Like, I mean, we’re talking going back to niche, it’s like, yeah, I can see, okay, we niche and Direct to consumer products. I don’t know a pathway to niche to a pirate tracker.

JP Holecka  19:34 

Really just, I think our reputation for being able to do user-centered software. And this one was a reference that came to us from someone who knew the work that we could do. And even though this wasn’t a specialty, the types of technology and the interaction design that was required was something that would be well handled by our team. And because I think also, the amount of research that our team does in the UX aspect of these designs.

Jeremy Weisz  19:59 

Yep. What about the evolution of the team itself? When it started to now, because it seems like you need a lot of technical people to just like what you said, people wouldn’t even think, okay, there’s all these phones, there’s low internet, there’s all these factors involved, what did the team look like, in the beginning? And then how did it evolve?

JP Holecka  20:24 

Great question the team was, because we were so marketing general is focused at the onset, we had a lot more creatives and thinking about campaigns and, and things that would hook people in from a narrative perspective or a brand perspective. And the technology that we needed to do was not nearly as complicated. It was fairly straightforward web tech that we were doing. But as we progressed, yeah, we need engineers that have got comp Sci-backgrounds, we’re now working as well, with some things I can’t talk about, but in AI, so bringing in those that can understand the engineering from that perspective. So, our team has definitely — we’re 50/50.

50% design and 50% technology, but the project’s scope is much, much deeper. And I would also say that in the last 10 to 15 years, the amount of software that has been now or engineered on the cloud, using Google Cloud, and zero and whatnot. And those were things that we just didn’t even have to take into consideration. So we have to make sure that our team is up to speed on writing to cloud, cloud apps and whatnot. So you’re definitely deeper bench projects are no longer two months, they’re usually six to months, two to 12 months to over that. And then so also those that have a longer mindset with a bigger picture on how it’s going to get a lot more to take into consideration on the bigger picture a lot more areas, you can make mistakes when you’re on a long project like that as well.

Jeremy Weisz  22:03 

Do you feel like JP, the evolution of your company and in the type of projects you do, and the type of companies you work with, has helped build a moat for you, because it seems like what you’re doing is pretty complex stuff.

JP Holecka  22:19 

We are on the I belong to various agency groups. And I would say that in the last year, it’s pretty grim out there. For a lot of agencies, there’s been a lot of bankruptcies and a lot that have done downturn, the CFO that we have, as a fractional CFO said, his take is if you’re holding the line coming out of 2023, in Canada and US, you’re doing good. So we’ve been able to grow three years in a row at a nice pace, nothing too outrageous. So that quality is not compromised. So I do believe that we have created a bit of a moat by focusing in on doing the digital products and services, because there’s nothing those aren’t going away for clients, there’s more tech being required, and it needs to be easier and easier to use.

Ultimately, our goal is to help clients make products and services that are easy to use as anything that you need from Apple to Amazon, even though they may not know that those of their competitors, ultimately, in online now you are competing in the minds of many, it has to be as simple as Apple and Amazon and Uber and whatnot. So, yeah, I think that just looking at our growth, and the leads that are coming in, in our pipeline for the year, we’re doing well.

Jeremy Weisz  23:48 

In those agency groups when you’re talking to people, what do you attribute the failures to?

JP Holecka  23:53 

A lot of it is still coming out of the pandemic, where there was an over index to online and e-commerce and direct consumer brands, and a lot of money being spent on digital marketing, SEO, digital marketing, ad spend search engine. And I think a lot of agencies saw that opportunity and really invested heavily overinvested, even if they didn’t have a division or they expanded on that make sense. And I think a lot have been tuned to niche on an area that out of their control has ultimately had to do a readjustment post-pandemic so I wouldn’t blame it on the agencies. We were all pretty looking for opportunities during the pandemic because everything was upside down.

So it’s a little bit of circumstance that’s under their control. Maybe they could have slowed things down a little bit. I also went Elon Musk went on when I was on the Jason’s podcast years ago, we just almost gone out of business ourselves for over indexing. Get on a bunch of friends, we learned to be more conservative in our overhead spend, and to put the money in different areas.

So I think there’s still agencies that want to have a classic big agencies base, you spend a lot of money in overhead, our overhead is so thin right now. So I think that there is a little bit of a hangover for that, a lot of leases to that were went past the current pandemic, and they’re still holding on to these big expensive leases. I think that probably been a lot of agencies and upon.

Jeremy Weisz  25:29 

What else JP, did you correct for throughout the years, you mentioned overhead, what else?

JP Holecka  25:37 

Overhead and really just in continuing to invest in process, and I know that sounds boring. But we spent a lot of money working with outside consultants through the last eight years on ensuring that our process is the right process, meaning that it’s not overly, like not heavy and thick, that it’s the right balance of process to keep the swim lanes clear, so that each individual team member or team knows where the paths are that they need. But that gives them the latitude to move within.

And then as I like to, say, removing the chaos tax, there’s a lot of agencies that don’t spend as much time on investing in the process and locking it down. And, and what happens then is the your customers and your clients have to pay a Kaos tax because it’s not a well-functioning organization. And so the team is having to do double duty not only to do their work, but also managing within a chaotic environment, which is a tax that I see that other agencies seem to be stuck with.

I came from a different industries and borrowed and stole from them and realize that process the right process, that people can get behind and that it’s governed. So that doesn’t fragment means that we can all do what we are paid to do, which is our specialties and not managing chaos, that 20% chaos that we have to the side of her desk. So that’s something that I’ve seen a lot of agencies recently start to become aware of and bring in things like EOS or scaling up or other business operating systems as well.

Jeremy Weisz  27:20 

To mention that, I did have Gino Wickman on the podcast, you can check that out who started EOS and wrote Traction. That was a good one. And Mark Winters who co-wrote Rocketfuel with Gino Wickman. That’s another good one also Adi Klevit I had on JP talking about this, she basically helps companies create SOPs and process that was interesting, because we talked about we just geeked out on how to save hundreds of hours a month using productivity tools, because obviously, it’s about process and saving time with yourself or your team. So that was a really good episode. What advice you got around process that you’ve had to implement?

JP Holecka  27:59 

Well, I worked prior to this. And prior to working in enterprise, I was actually in the film business. And a lot of people may make the film business to a creative space a little haphazard. When you see a static and look chaotic. I will say this having worked within this industry for 12 years, it’s near military position in the sense that there’s a hierarchy and a chain of command and everything that has a hook has a label, everybody knows where everything needs to go. Because it’s expensive. And if you’ve got 60 people because something’s not working, not working, that’s his money going out. So I took from that you can have a creative business or in a creative industry that is run tip top.

So that was my insight was coming from another organization. And when I started working in agencies, I was like, why is it so chaotic? Like, we can fix this? And so I stole from that, and then stole a lot of things steal, borrow, inspired by startups, because those were our clients. And I was like this agile thing is, it’s making sense to me, why should we be working for months at a time before we present something and let’s do it more agile? So I just thought, we don’t always have to just do the same old let’s look to be inspired by other verticals and other industries because they are trying things and break them all. And I’m saying that more often, for sure.

Jeremy Weisz  29:25 

You mentioned EOS in scaling up. Are there any other resources that you recommend people check out?

JP Holecka  29:31 

Yeah, we work very closely with a company called AgencyAgile, all one word. And they’re out of the US and they we brought them in? Because they have an agency. They have a process of agile that works within agencies. A lot of agencies struggle to bring agile in because it’s not a dedicated team. They have to do various projects. Their method is very, very sound in how to use an Agile process in a multi-project environment and out, I will say was really got us on the path on the Agile side of the house for sure.

Jeremy Weisz  30:10 

If you’re watching the video and you’re looking over JP’s shoulder, you see some really cool art. And this kind of relates to I’d love for you to talk about how AI is impacting agencies. And maybe you could talk a little about what you created.

JP Holecka  30:25 

Yeah, I started because I come from the creative side, the design side, these were early Midjourney, admin journey, Dolly, which are two of the two general AI things, I started right away, testing it out. And so I liked them so much that I got a good 12 or so framed here. And it was in that journey that I started to play around with ChatGPT. And looked really early on saw that the opportunity for even more efficiencies within the organization of agencies could be met with the right use of generative AI. In fact, I have a talk that I do for agencies right now, which I go through every department and how generative AI can be what I call a force multiplier.

And ultimately, that’s what AI is, is a force multiplier, I look at as you still need the creative spark of the human ingenuity and the idea, because AI is just sitting there, they can’t do anything unless it gets an input, right. So you get the creative spark, which agencies are known for the inefficiencies with Delta agency quite often known for, you can use AI now and general AI as that force multiplier to be able to explore more things or to like double down or to do variants, and have the other end of it, you still need your humans in the creativity and to make sure that what has been generated is right, and how to add on to that do a yes and to the agenda of AI.

But with downward pressure on agencies, budgets, there’s been a push for agencies to go to something called value pricing, it’s always a challenge to do value pricing, if you don’t have a well-organized company, because you’re going to basically fear you’re pitching fixed fee. I believe that AI and generative AI when implemented properly within our organization, or agencies, it’s going to give more agencies the ability to take that risk of saying we’re gonna go fixed fee for this. And we’re going to find our margins in it and get out of the talk about hourly rates.

And so I think that AI is going to be able to do that. There’s a topic for a separate topic. But there’s lots of rabbit holes and things to watch out for legal-wise and whatnot. But when done correctly, and if you’ve got governance program in place, that I think that we’re seeing all kinds of gains. Example, our technology team has figured through the use of AI, through Microsoft’s Copilot, we’ve added the output of two people to an eight-person team without hiring two new people. So the question that I hear a lot is, will there be layoffs, I don’t know that they’ll be layoffs. But I think that the hires will slow as people are able to do more with less. That’s how I’m seeing it.

Jeremy Weisz  33:20 

I think I was listening to you and one of these talks on YouTube. And you can correct me if I’m wrong, I think you fed your meeting notes into AI to just generate some takeaways and things that you can help the client with. And some of the versions had nothing to do with what was in the meeting.

JP Holecka  33:40 

They resonate, they had generative AI, if you dig deeper on how generative AI works, it can hallucinate and it can be really competent in its hallucinations. And so you have to be that’s why I say it, you need the human Spark, you need the force multiplier, but you also need to have the quality control on the other end to make sure that what was generated was right. But in another video that I shared, I took 100 client testimonials from us over the last 15 years, put them in and we wanted to validate what is our value proposition is.

We took all of those and had ChatGPT analyze it, and to our delight, the things in which our customers were seeing lined up to the tee of what we were, we thought our value proposition was. I then had it write a radio spot and then hired someone on Fiverr for fun to do that radio spot. But nonetheless, I think AI is a good way to use for analyzing natural language such as customer client testimonials, customer feedback, and whatnot. And then anybody can use it. Honestly. That’s the other thing that about generative AI. It’s AI has come out of the shadows, in the sense that we’ve all heard about it for years. Horror movie sci-fi movies is going to be the end of all things.

There’s a lot of biases there, you know that we’re all taking on from Hollywood. But nonetheless, when ChatGPT, and majority in these types of platforms came out, they were the first to basically say, you can start playing with AI, you don’t need a comp sci degree, you don’t have to be a real prompt engineer. And you can actually see what happens when you use it. I’m equivalent in it to the same as 2000, or sorry, in 1999, when Ameritrade and those the likes of those let people do their own brokers. This is like retail AI is the first time on mass people could just start playing with it. And so that’s one of the reasons why I think it went so big is that the barriers to entry for it were removed immediately, or totally removed? Yeah.

Jeremy Weisz  35:49 

Yeah, I love how you use it with feeding the customer testimonials in from the value proposition to fitting your notes in there and getting takeaways that you can share with the client and your team. Talk about the team, and you talk a lot about agency culture, what are some things that you’re thinking that you think about? Or that you see a lot of people make mistakes on when it comes to culture?

JP Holecka  36:13 

Culture as a checkbox, I guess is what I see quite often, which is, and I’ve had conversations as well, how do I get culture spun up real quick, I’m in a hurry, it’s like, it’s not something that happens in a hurry. And it’s something that has to start at the top. And it has to be invested in and be consistent. And when I mean, invested in, like, it’s hard to even describe it in so many ways, but you have to be consistent with it, you have to be clear on what the culture is. And as I again, in my year-end video for the team, because we’re from anywhere. This year, we had some tough challenge or tough choices to make both with the client that we had, and internally with team members. And those choices that we made were based on our culture and our beliefs and our values.

And as I said, and it was quick, we had a very well-known client that was, quite frankly, quite harsh with our team really harsh on a repeated basis. And finally, one of my partners said, who never said anything to this nature, they have to be fired for breaking our values. And I said, let’s talk because you never talked like this. And he listed all the reasons why. And I said, well, we need to do it quickly, we need to tell the client the exact reason why we did and we need to tell the team why we did. And the very next day we did and we informed the team why. So they saw that not only from an internal perspective, that we do the work, but also that we protect the team from the same value sets. So you have to walk the walk, when you put it out there, if you don’t walk the walk, they’re just on a wall, or they’re on the back of a business card. And they don’t mean anything.

So you have to really walk the walk, I think is the biggest mistake that I’ve seen made where sometimes those decisions are hard, because there’s dollars attached to it, right. But those dollars are the short dollars, the long if you sit continue, the dollars won’t follow. And you’ll actually take bigger losses from some other collateral damage that not following the values will do. And I know that when we did that, we have been more confident team that like that company back says I can make we can make decisions, we can tell the team or we can tell management when things aren’t working, and they will listen and do things. So it’s that’s what I think is probably the biggest piece is to invest in it, be consistent with it, and then walk the walk.

Jeremy Weisz  38:41 

Yeah, and the team’s gonna be happier in general.

JP Holecka  38:44 

And you know the retraining and recruiting, you know, the numbers that are for attrition, you need the right amount of attrition, but ultimately, when you’ve got a lower attrition rate, and all that, you know, institutional is that continues to grow. Those are also intangibles, that if you’re not living by values, you’re paying a lot in those taxes.

Jeremy Weisz  39:06 

Have you ever found that a client has changed their tune after you confronted them with something like that, like they didn’t realize, like we were being like that?

JP Holecka  39:19 

We have had very few client issues like we just did. So we haven’t had to have that, I think, our overall working process because we don’t have a lot of barriers. There’s a lot of bonding that happens between our team and our clients there becomes we become like one as opposed to announcing them. So things happen more organically. And I think we have had organizations even Lululemon take on some of our process into their own internal innovation team that they saw that we did. So I think that’s really cool. When you have a client say we’re adopting some of the processes that you’ve shared with us that we’ve been working together because we find them effective.

Jeremy Weisz  39:59 

Yeah, I was just curious because especially with the organizations you work with, I know other people listening. They may work with a team of people. And maybe it’s not the whole team, maybe it’s like one or two people that are abrasive. How do you bring that up to the company?

JP Holecka  40:15 

Yes, we have had those conversations. And we do bring out the, you know, working with us as we’ve got a value set, and we have had to bring those conversations up, I think twice. And they’ve listened, because we’ve come in gently to you know, and again, not with the big stick, but to say, Hey, I’ve got a book for those that are thinking about this internally, the damage, this book.

Jeremy Weisz  40:49 

Yes looking at it, it’s The No Asshole Rule who wrote it.

JP Holecka  40:54 

Robert Sutton and reading this will most likely reaffirm everything you were thinking. But it essentially says that one person who may be brilliant, who is toxic, is not worth keeping in the book, we’ll just give you all of the reasons why. From an ROI perspective, it really does help take the ambiguity out of why someone may need to go. So that’s how I’ve dealt with it internally. I keep the book around. So they say it’s not me making this up. Someone wrote a book about it.

Jeremy Weisz  41:18 

100% And actually, it’s funny because I had Robert Sutton on the podcast a while ago, but he’s written so many books. I didn’t realize that was his book. He’s a professor at Stanford. And so he’s got a bunch of books out there. So yeah, I didn’t realize The No Asshole Rule is his but he’s got Good Bad Boss. He’s got Hard Facts, Dangerous Half Truths, a bunch of books. So yeah, thanks for sharing that.

JP Holecka  41:48 

Yeah, my pleasure.

Jeremy Weisz  41:49 

Love it. I wanted to talk JP, about, throughout the years, mentors, who have influenced you, you mentioned several resources, one mentor stick out that helped you on the journey.

JP Holecka  42:07 

I talked about this a lot. There’s been a lot of great women mentors in my life, starting with my late mom. And even my first job out of college, and I was working as I got a job as a senator working in the Parks Board. And it was a real, it was blue-collar. And I was an art school kid. And it was, it was definitely a shocker for me. And I had this one head gardener, she was amazing. She was in the 80s. So she was setting precedents beyond belief. She took me under her wing and taught me a lot of how to survive in an adversarial environment, right? Even though gardening we didn’t What do you know about gardening, but she taught me a lot about like, the politics and how you survive. And then just when I got into the film business to a lot of the mentors along the way, were strong women in positions that just taught me a lot.

And then I think I’ve recently again, I’ve just brought on another coach who just exited one of the largest, most successful agencies in Canada, that I’m just starting to work with. And of course, this last couple of years, the person who’s been a mentor for me, it was one that helped put this Trove group together. He’s consultants, but at something place called advertising M&A. And Ross is listening. You’ve been a huge mentor for the last couple of years, and we’ve got me thinking about how to think bigger, I think that you can never stop looking and listening and learning from mentors, whether they’re a paid coach, or whether they’re mentors that you tap even more in casually, always tap those that have been around longer, because if they can help you start to walk into the traffic, like they may have done, and then you should be able to tap them.

Jeremy Weisz  44:03 

Love it. One thing that struck me JP when I was doing research, and I think someone you or your team submitted something which stuck out to me. And this was written when you scheduled the interview, and someone wrote, harnessing the unique neuro-divergent perspective. Talk about what that means.

JP Holecka  44:31 

Cool. Yes. As part of my advocacy part of I think also what makes a healthy culture is making a safe place where neuro divergence can be spoken to, and people can make adjustments within the workplace. I was diagnosed ADHD up until about seven years ago. I was diagnosed with dyslexia up until my 20s. And wow, I survived through school with that I didn’t do very well In school at all, I was in special classes. And it was really quite tough until I found art. And then that’s where I think. I mean, so I think what’s happened with my transparency on neuro divergence in the workplace, I talked about a lot on LinkedIn I, in behind the scenes, I get a lot of people now DMing me saying I’ve just been diagnosed with ADHD because my child has, and I recognized it in myself. And they say, you’ve been talking about a lot on LinkedIn.

I realized that this is a big deal. So I think that then neuro-diverse we all have different perspectives, whatever the neuro-diversity is, and I think we should be encouraged to be able to, like, exploit those aspects that are positive of the neuro-diversity within an environment, and be able to talk about it and say, I’m on the negative side, if I lose attention in this meeting, it’s my ADHD. So just poke me and say, hey, is that your ADHD, like being able to just actually refer to it and say, that’s part of who I am. And I found that the team here, now surface all kinds of things without fear of reprisal, and knowing that we’ll accommodate them, because ultimately, if you can amplify what they’re great at, through those narrow, diverse perspectives, and you’re going to do, you’re going to have a more diverse and ultimately, I think, a stronger organization.

Jeremy Weisz  46:26 

So if someone is in the work environment, what do you recommend they do? I mean, it sounds like you just make people aware of it, so at least they can call you out on it or notice it. What else do you do?

JP Holecka  46:39 

Now, you’d be amazed when you raise your hand and say, look, ADHD, I may have trouble with being more emotionally, most people with ADHD know that the emotional regulation is a challenge. So I’ve had to really work hard at not responding emotionally, sometimes with things I don’t like. Another thing, people with ADHD, they receive negative feedback at a TEDx magnitudes, they’ll feel very, can be paralyzed by it. But if you team knows that, A, maybe the words can be changed slightly, or if they are able to say, look, I’m responding this way. Because I cannot. So give me a second, I’m going to, and I’ll come back, and I’ll be fine. And then once you frame it as such, it’s not. I mean, it is the person, but there’s a reason for it, it just becomes more of like, well, we’ll just work around it.

I mean, if someone is comes has to work in a wheelchair, you make changes so that they can do the great job the way they do. So I think from a neuro-diversity perspective, that’s an important thing to take. And then you can really tap into, we’ve got pretty unique perspectives, we see things that others can’t, we can’t do things that others can. But when you combine those team members, you got a really strong team. That’s no different than sports, right? You don’t want all sports team members to be great at one thing, you need to have them all slightly different to be able to make that one united team that is great at all the things right.

Jeremy Weisz  48:09 

Yeah, I see that it also helps. So people don’t take things personally, if you react to something, it puts it in perspective for them, and maybe not them. It’s just how you perceived it or reacted to it.

JP Holecka  48:22 

And then you can move on quite quickly know that as part of the business and part of the how they work and, and not to get all emotionally caught up in it because worked hard. Let’s face it. It’s called work for a reason.

Jeremy Weisz  48:33 

What have you done as far as dyslexia go? I know, like, there’s a lot of famous entrepreneurs and founders, including Richard Branson, who talks openly about that, and, you know, talks about his secret superpower, how have you kind of harnessed dyslexia in the workplace?

JP Holecka  48:54 

Well, in 2008, I realized that dyslexia was a thing. And I thought, I noticed that when I was more nervous writing in front of people, like old-timey checks for writing checks, I couldn’t write, and the more nervous he got. So I thought, well, I’m going to start writing in the public space, I’m going to write a blog, and I’m going to call it a dyslexic blog point of view. And anybody coming through those doors knows that there’s dyslexia. So if there’s typos. Hey, you’re here, I warned you. And as I got more competent in writing, I recognize that my dyslexia went down, and I found tools within Mac OS, I would highlight the content and then say speak it back to me, because then I could hear my mistakes. So I found little workarounds.

I just realized due to talking about it, I would say to a client within a third email, if you start to see typos, it’s not that I’m an idiot, I have dyslexia. And that means that we’re on a good term basis and I’m moving quickly and I’m not having to triple-check everything. So again, just really being transparent and you’ll be off you’d be amazed. that someone will come up to you and say, man, I really appreciate that. In fact, I’ll leave you with this I was emceeing a two-hour event, which was a nightmare for me. At the time, several years ago, because my script, I didn’t know until I got on stage, and it started whether I was gonna be able to read my script or not. And I had practice, practice, practice. And when I got up there, I said to the audience, I’m an introverted dyslexic, there’s 400 of you. And that’s a script. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to read for the next two hours.

So here we go. I didn’t make any mistakes until one person’s name was very complicated, and I screwed it up and he came up and I said, I’m so sorry. And he says, I’m dyslexic. I would never do what you are doing right now. So no worries. So because I had disarmed it, he gave us able to, again self-identify, so I think that’s a big piece of that is just getting it out there.

Jeremy Weisz  50:51 

I love it. JP I just want to be the first one to thank you. Thank you for sharing your journey, your story your lessons, everyone can check out or they can check out to learn more. And JP I just wanted to be the first one to thank you.

JP Holecka  51:07 

Hey, thank you my pleasure.