Today’s interview is with Kevin Labick, CEO and Founder of Empathy Lab, an interactive agency based outside Philadelphia that focuses on eCommerce and broadband solutions for fortune 500 and fast-growth organizations.
Tell us about yourself, how did you get started as an entrepreneur? And, what made you get started as an entrepreneur?
I started my first company at the age of 25. I was a project manager for an up and coming web design firm in silicon valley and was leading a big website build for a major media company. One day the client called me up and said “We hate your firm and we’re going to cancel our contract. If you start your own company, you’ll have our business.“ I quit the next day. It wasn’t until years later that I came to realize how much my life’s trajectory was changed by that phone call.
Tell us about your company. What does it do and what problem does it solve for your target market?
My current company, Empathy Lab, is a digital strategy and execution firm. We help Fortune 500 and fast growth companies leverage the digital channel – using the web, mobile, kiosk, and TV — to drive business success. We primarily focus on eCommerce and broadband solutions.
What was your startup capital?
I used my severance package from a previous employer.
How did you finance your business?
We secured a line of credit early on but never used it. It took six months to pay back the seed money I originally put in. Since then, the company has been funded solely by the profits we’ve generated.
Your company has revenues of over $ 10 million, how long did it take for you to reach these numbers?
We broke the $10m mark at our four year anniversary.
What systems and procedures do you need to put in place for you to achieve robust growth?
We sell our time and deliver projects so time tracking and project management systems have been critical to our operations. Over the years we eventually graduated from small tools to a mature solution that ties into our accounting system. This gave us the visibility into our financials we needed to confidently continue our fast growth rate.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
We started the company knowing that sales was the engine of our growth. We built a focused direct sales organization and created a corporate culture that celebrates and value selling as a day-to-day activity. Most importantly, we realized there was no reason to go it alone and for years have been cultivating channel sales partners who regularly connect us to large-scale opportunities around the world.
How often do you prepare or update a business plan?
For our first three years, we never made time for this. By year four we saw it as critical but were unsure how best to use a business plan to drive our behavior. This year , our fifth year, we have our version of a business plan in place, parts of which we update on a monthly basis.
What do you include in your business plan?
Financial forecast, account plans, sales plan and strategic road map to achieve our five year vision.
What are your future plans?
Our future plans include continued growth and expansion, further differentiation in the marketplace, and a move towards value pricing.
Do you have an exit strategy to walk away from the business someday?
The market for service companies in the digital space has gone up and down pretty dramatically over the years. We feel this makes it hard to plan an exit strategy. Our self-imposed mandate is to continually position the company for maximum valuation so we can have the option at our disposal should we believe the timing is right.
What advice would you give somebody who wants to start a business that grows into a large mulit-million dollar enterprise?
First, small thinking leads to small actions so it’s important to have big goals from the outset. If you want to build a business that becomes significant over time, you need to visualize this from the beginning so you will consciously and unconsciously take the steps that lead you to this destination.
Second, pick something you are truly passionate about because you are about to dedicate the vast majority of your time, your energy and perhaps your financial future. It needs to be part of your DNA.
About Kevin Labick
Kevin Labick is founder and CEO of Empathy Lab (www.empathylab.com), an interactive agency based outside Philadelphia that focuses on eCommerce and broadband solutions for fortune 500 and fast-growth organizations. Their clients include Verizon, Dow Jones, Clarins, David’s Bridal, Rogers Communications, Comcast, Sony, Payless Shoes and NBC Universal.