Meet Scott Holmen, the founder and CEO of Agency 73, a digital transformation company specializing in Salesforce and custom software solutions. He is also an investor in tech startups and created a recruiting company, Talent 73, to help find and connect talent in San Diego.
In this episode of The SuccessLab Podcast, Scott shares his approach to prioritizing people before technology and how the desire to defragment San Diego’s tech ecosystem inspired a unique event to bring everyone together. He also discusses his company’s culture and how he has found success by strategically hiring then getting out of the way.
Read on for a selection of questions, and listen to the entire interview by clicking the player above.
What motivated you to start your own company?
The desire to be better and provide value to my clients. Previous to starting Agency 73, my roles in tech companies were representing offshore software development teams as a business development guy. It works, but you’re always up against time, language and culture differences. Software is a complicated, intimate process, and to throw those variables into a process that requires a lot of detail, a lot of communication, a lot of collaboration, it’s really difficult. I started Agency 73 to overcome time, language and culture differences by building up our team of senior level people here in San Diego so that as we’re speaking with clients, the time, language and culture differences are no longer issues.
Were there any skills you had to train yourself on as the company grew?
In my heart, I’m a sales guy. I really love helping people solve problems. In starting the agency I had to, and still have to, wear the CEO hat. I can do those CEO skills, but it’s more of a forced thing. I’ve had to learn about getting processes dialed in, managing people, hiring people and forecasting. What’s really natural for me is selling and working with people with the actual structure that’s required. We’ll be looking to hire a CEO as we increasingly mature and grow the practice so that I can go out and be the founder or sales guy, which I love.
Have you ever struggled with staying out your employees’ way or getting too involved with every little thing?
No. It’s kind of a joke around the office, but it’s actually not a joke. It’s, “Scott can barely manage himself, so he for sure can’t manage the team.” We’ve been very lucky. The team that we have is brilliant. We hire adults that take care of their stuff, and we don’t care when they’re working or where they’re working, as long as they’re hitting deadlines and staying within budget. I don’t have to, nor would I have time to micromanage or manage my team very well.
We’re about 12 people in San Diego right now. We augment with some nearshore and offshore partners. But I’ve been fortunate with the team that we have because I don’t have to manage them, and we’re small enough that it’s really easy to see when people are getting their work done or not. But that hasn’t happened. We’ve been really lucky. We’ve got just the best team. They’re a lot of fun. They’re really smart, they manage themselves way better than I could ever manage them. Fortunately, I haven’t been pulled into the delivery side of the business too much, and I really hope to maintain that going forward, because it’s not my favorite place to be.
Are there one or two impactful connections that have really shaped your journey along the way?
There’s way more than one or two. As an agency, we’ve been fortunate in that we don’t have to do any marketing. I’ve focused for 20 years on building relationships in San Diego, even before I was in tech. People reciprocate. I’ve had a goal for years of introducing two people every day, and it comes back around.
I was an outdoor education instructor at a camp in the mountains, and this guy told me, “People over program.” At the time I was focused on what I was going to teach the kids. He said, “Forget about that. It’s about the people.” That was in an environment where it was simple to switch to focusing on people, but I’ve maintained that in business. I genuinely care about people and enjoy helping them solve problems, even if there’s nothing in it for me and knowing that it might come back around and it might not.
How do you make genuine impactful connections to grow yourself in the company?
Until recently, it’s all been one on one. I would meet anybody and help them where I could and occasionally ask for help. I have struggled with pride in asking for help, but people have reciprocated. As we started Agency 73, the first year we had our agency, I focused on what I call defragmenting the tech ecosystem in San Diego. We have investors. We have enterprise companies. We have UCSD, who graduates more computer science kids than Stanford and Berkeley combined every year, so we’ve got the talent. We’ve got the money. Everything is here, but those stakeholders aren’t talking to each other. Once we started Agency 73, I set out to meet those stakeholders.
We ended up creating Spotlight 73. It’s a pitch event, but we don’t call it that because those kind of have negative connotations of investors poking holes in your idea and trying to prove that they’re the smartest guys in the room. Spotlight 73 is a way of putting the spotlight on a local startup. As I went out and met investors, I said, “What’s going on? How come you’re not writing checks?” And they said, “Because we’re not seeing anything new.” At Agency 73, we see new startups all the time because they want us to do development work for them, so we’ve leveraged Agency 73 to bring those stakeholders together. It’s worked. And by worked I mean started to raise a lot of capital from it that they wouldn’t have otherwise raised, at least not as quickly as they have. We’re getting brand awareness, we’re getting deal flow. Most importantly, new relationships are being built.
What’s one of the best things that you’ve done to grow Agency 73?
I think the best thing I’ve done is get lucky with my team. There’s my partner and CTO – he’s one of those guys who’s very technically experienced, skilled and smart. He’s also a great writer, which is very important when we’re writing requirements. He’s fun and social and people love him.
As far as anything intentional I’ve done, I’ve authentically focused on people. Technology is second, which is weird to say as the CEO of a technology company. But the best thing I’ve done is listen to people and care not just about their business goals, but care about them and their family and everything.
How do you keep yourself organized and energized?
The organization part comes pretty easily because I have to. If I’m not organized, I’ll fail. The systems that we have internally are good in helping us stay organized. We’ve got our own internal stack and our process is tight because we’re kind of technical nerds. I have a great family that keeps me energized. They support me and love me. Then I surf a lot and try to workout every day. I try to eat well, but it doesn’t always go well. Our proximity to the beach, again, is a big one. We can just run down and jump in the water and that clears my mind and gets the blood flowing.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to a fellow entrepreneur who’s looking to make impactful connections?
For me, that comes back to the people over program. A lot of entrepreneurs get focused on, “Hey, I have this idea for an app and it’s like Uber but it’s for this industry.” They’re so excited about the app that if you listen or engage in that conversation, you’ll notice how long it takes for a lot of them to start talking about people. The advice I often give is to forget about your “Uber for whatever” app. Think about who it’s going to serve. How it’s going to serve them. How’s it going to make their life better? Who are you going to surround yourself with that can make you better? Who are you going to invest your time in if you are successful? My advice is to focus on people. Invest in people, and trust that it will come back.
Are you a coffee drinker? Yes.
What’s one business tool you’re geeking out over right now? Salesforce. I’m stoked about it.
What is your favorite piece of technology? Honestly, it’s the calendar on my iPhone.
What’s one book you’d pass along to a fellow entrepreneur? The Soul of Money.
Who’s one person you’d like to make a connection with, either past or present? Nobody. I’m content just seeing how it plays out. I think if I picked somebody, it would screw up the organic flow of how things go.
What’s your favorite ice breaker when you’re introducing yourself to someone new? If it’s about me, I will talk about my background a bit. I’ve been in Kuwait, I’ve owned a dog treat company, and there’s some weirdness there that always generates conversation. If it’s about them, I don’t have an icebreaker. I don’t overly think about it or overly structure it.
How many hours of sleep do you get each night, on average? Six or seven.
How can people connect with you or Agency 73? Visit our website at agency73.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m hoping this conversation leads to more cool people in my world, and I’m open to any conversation.