Starting a Marketing Firm

Interview with Gene McCubbin, Founder of Pop Labs

Gene McCubbin started a marketing firm that specializes in the latest search engine marketing techniques. We talked with Gene about his experience in starting and running his Houston search engine marketing and social media agency.

Mr. McCubbin is the founder of a fast-growing marketing firm specializing in new technologies.

He was kind enough to take part in one of our entrepreneur interviews and told us a little more about what he's doing at Pop Labs.

Gene, let's start with the basics. Where is your business located?

We are based in Houston, TX although we have a national client footprint.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

Pop Labs is an interactive marketing agency, meaning we specialize in search engine marketing services and technologies: pay-per-click ad management, SEO, custom results oriented web design social media, and online P/R, branding and reputation management.

When did you start the business?

The concept was originally incubated within another company I founded called Webxites. We did our first revenues in 2004 and I sold off the other entities assets in 2006. We were #400 on the 2008 Inc, magazine list of fastest 500 private companies in the US, and #32 amongst marketing and advertising services.

What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?

Prior to this I had co-founded three other companies, all within the web services space. All were acquired by larger entities.

Where did you get the startup money?

Pop Labs was actually formed through an L.B.O., which I lead with a substantial amount of my own cash, some angel equity, and a $1 million mezzanine debt round.

Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?

Nationally, there are several agencies with similar services...although their service, pricing, and sales models are dramatically different. None of the national agencies, such as Bruce Clay, or, focus on the needs of the small to midsized business owner. In fact, many large agencies send us leads. Instead, our competition comes from local cottage providers. Although they don't have the breadth of service, intellectual capacity, or resources to serve the client oftentimes that same client simply lacks any ability to differentiate between us due to a lack of knowledge (i.e. they can't tell an apple from an orange).

How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?

Not really; as this isn't my first entrepreneurial experience (started first company when I was 23). What I have learned in these situations is make a detailed plan...and expect that one thing is sure...your detailed plan will not happen as you expect.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Yes, I wish I had raised less money...retained more equity.

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

We look at what everyone else is doing...and take the opposite path. Our sales methods are unique, our service and production methods are unique, and as a result, our clients get a unique deliverable at an unbeatable price.

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

Don't. Lol... actually...I would focus them on a couple things: a) as Jim Collins said, become a clock builder, not a time teller. b) if you are in the service business, you are by definition, in the people business. Polish up your people and management skills. c) Recognize that those same people you love and trained and nurtured will someday leave your nest, no matter how comfy, which is a positive thing.

That is some great advice, Gene. I'm sure entrepreneurs across all business types will find your story inspirational.

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