At the age of 27, Sabri Suby had already run a number of businesses — some to eventual sales, and some into the ground.
Despite these mixed results, about five years ago he decided it was time to have another crack. Armed with a $50 VOIP account and an old laptop, the serial entrepreneur hit the phones, and King Kong was born.
“I was probably making around 150 cold calls a day, just calling any business that wasn’t on page one of Google to try and get them on board, offering them SEO work,” Suby tells SmartCompany.
Four days later, the marketing agency landed its first client. Four years later, King Kong placed ninth in 2018’s Smart50 awards, with a revenue of $7.5 million and a three-year growth rate of 314%.
Though the agency is thrumming along today, it took now 32-year-old Suby some time to move his business on from operating out of a spare bedroom with his laptop.
“I was just working from home, selling by day and doing SEO optimisation by night. I was working 18-hour days in the beginning,” he says.
“It was well and truly The Sabri Show,” he laughs.
However as business began to pick up, Suby found he was losing clients due to a fairly fundamental flaw in how his business was running: he didn’t have an office.
“They would say to me: ‘Everything looks fine, but can we come down and meet you face to face at your office?’ And even when I told them that wasn’t really how we worked, a lot of clients — especially country ones — didn’t understand it,” he says.
It wasn’t until the founder lost a sizeable deal due to his lack of office space did he decide it was about time to “pony up” and do something bigger.
Neck on the line
Today King Kong has over 50 staff, and alongside the Smart50 has nabbed a number of awards, including appearing twice on the AFR’s Fast Starters lists. While Suby puts a lot of this down to “hard yards and sweat equity”, much of King Kong’s success can be attributed to its unique sales and KPI strategy.
Suby says the main thing he was tasked with in previous businesses he owned or worked in was the ability to get new customers, a problem he says has plagued small businesses for years.
He found other agencies would operate off “intangible” metrics, and quote outrageous prices without any real guarantee, and decided he’d run things a little differently.
“We have performance guarantees, where if we don’t hit our clients KPIs, we don’t get paid and we have to work for free until we hit them,” he says.
“I did this because a lot of people in the market had usually been with one or two dodgy agencies and they were sceptical and dubious about promises. We were being met with friction over and over again.”
“So instead of fighting that resistance, I swam with it, and decided to stick my neck out for clients.”
As for King Kong’s significant three-year growth, much of it has been done thanks to the agency practising what it preaches, along with a bit of good old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing.
“When you can actually achieve some outrageous results for people, they tend to go and tell their business buddies about us,” he says.
Selfish marketing SMEs biggest issue
When it comes to small businesses tackling their marketing, Suby says the number one issue he sees are SMEs doing “selfish marketing”, where they only consider how great they are, and how great their product is.
“Back in the old days, you’d lay your wares out in the town square and yell out their prices and expect people to buy. That was the traditional way of running a business, and most people are still conducting their businesses this way,” he says.
Instead, he says businesses should be using the “Godfather strategy”, which involves crafting a product or deal so irresistible, that it would be virtually impossible for a customer to refuse it.
“Make it so enticing you can put it on any advertising channel,” he says.
Despite his serial entrepreneur past, Suby thinks King Kong will be a legacy play for him and doesn’t see himself selling up and moving on any time soon.
However, he admits he’s fallen prey to “shiny object syndrome” in the past.
“When you love starting businesses, everyone else’s business looks sexier than yours, and they always seem to not have the problems your business does,” he says.
“In reality, there are just fundamental challenges all businesses struggle with.”