Ryan runs 'The Stylish Man' as well as his own specialist agency in New Jersey and in this episode we talk about how he got started, what drove him to specialise as he did and how the competitive advantages of niching continue to power the business.
About Ryan Sprance
Ryan Sprance is the Founder & Chief Strategist of Kaihatsu Media, a digital media agency focused on developing brand awareness and sales growth through social media, optimising digital marketing spend, and developing Influencer Marketing programs.
He is also the Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Awestruck, a digital media agency focused on the travel, tourism, hospitality and entertainment verticals.
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Automatic Show Transcript
Hi there and welcome back to amplify the digital marketing entrepreneur podcast. I'm Bob Gentle and every week I'm joined by creators, consultants and practitioners share what makes their business work. Whether you run your own business, or you're just thinking of stepping out on your own for the first time, you're in the right place. If you're new to the podcast, and welcome along, just take a second right now to subscribe to the show and your podcast player. That way you don't miss new weekly episodes, and you can dig it as an older ones when you finish this one. Again, if you're new to the show, you want to join our Facebook group. Just head up to find me.fm forward slash insiders, and you'll be taken right there. My guest this week is Ryan sprats. Ryan runs a specialist digital agency in New Jersey, and in this episode, we talked about how he got started, what drove him to specialize as he did and how the competitive advantages of finishing continue to power his business
So welcome and let's meet Ryan.
Ryan, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining me.
Jim, want to maybe start by just telling us a little bit about who you are, where you are and the kind of work you do? Sure. My name is Ryan sprints. I am the founder and chief strategist of a company called katsu media. katsu is developed in Japanese and really fit perfectly for what it is that we were doing for our audience. I am also the co founder and managing partner of a new agency called awestruck.
And when you were introduced to me by
Lauren, a mutual acquaintance she introduced to as Ryan from the stylish man. So where does that fit in? Sure. So, so let me back up and tell you the story a little bit in the history. So I'm a guy who, who grew up in corporate America actually started in retail
I built my way up from, you know, a retail stock person to executive leadership roles where I've managed, you know, hundreds of stores. It was at my time at Apple, I actually worked for Apple, I managed the the world's largest Apple Store in Grand Central Terminal, which was a massive operation had, you know, 350 employees and over 250 million dollars in sales. Yeah, that's huge. I started to really fall in love with the digital media space and specifically through an app called Flipboard. If you don't know Flipboard Flipboard is an was the very first app that was designed specifically for the iPad. It wasn't you know, one where they took it and just enlarged it to fit the real estate of the iPad but it was designed specifically for it and what it originally started out as as you place you would put all of your news feeds and your social feeds, and then you can go to one particular location every day and
Flip pages as if it was a magazine and actually had this proprietary technology where as you flipped, it looked like the page was flipping and
they over time what happened is the social platforms started to pull the API because of course, they want you to go to their website and their app. So Flipboard got it, you know, really clever and created the ability for everyone to create a magazine. So pick any topic that you like, you can curate content into a magazine. And I originally thought I would do this for my career, I figured I'd start a sort of retail operations magazine, and I'd be able to tout it at you know, interviews and, and talk about it, you know, on my resume. But as a side project, I also really loved you know, magazines like GQ Men's Health and I took a lot of those links that I had saved a lot of bookmarks and I had put them into a magazine just to kind of keep them together and over time
What I realized was right around Father's Day is, you know, I woke up one day and I had 1900 more readers than I had the night before. And I was like, Wow, so somebody's actually reading this, I had no idea how they were finding it. It turned out that they had featured my magazine, the stylish man on the style section, one of six magazines to be featured. And it was sitting in between Harper's Bazaar and Esquire, and there I was stylish man, it was, and it sat there for, you know, nine months and over time, you know, built up a readership of you know, over 90,000 A friend of mine had come to me and said, you know, what you do is really visual, you should, you know, get on Instagram. So, I think it was probably April of 2015 that I said, Great, let's, let's jump on Instagram and kind of test this thing out. But I'm really a student of,
you know, pretty much anything and everything digital. So I really want to understand how the platform work that I spent, you know, 15 hours
A day, no exaggeration, you know, posting content at different times interacting with people really trying to figure out exactly how to manipulate the algorithms to gain, you know, traction. And that started to grow a little bit I had, I ended up putting the same effort and sort of learning behavior into Pinterest and did the same thing there. That the same thing with Facebook and now I have this, all of these social platforms, and I was driving traffic to all of these websites, but I wasn't driving any traffic to myself and creating any real value. So I said, you know, let's launch our own website and start to create original content. That's how we launched the stylish man. And you know, I had fallen into that influencer space where, you know, brands were paying me to, you know, promote content. You know, I've been hired by Ralph Lauren and Armani.
But, you know, I was at a pivotal point where
You could go the influencer route, right? And that's a really great career for some, or you can go sort of a different path. And I had lots of brands coming to me at the time, you know, saying, Well, how do you build a following? How do you build a social following? How do you get in front of more people? And I would give the advice to the first few and then finally I said, will you hire me and I'll do it for you. And I actually, our first real client was a sneaker company that came to us and wanted us to run an influencer program. I say us at the time, it was literally just me and wanted me to run an influencer program for them. I had known a bunch of influencers because we had worked together, you know, building our Instagram accounts together and really trying to figure out how that worked. And we ran what was a really successful program for them. And you know, that turned into you know, another client and come to us and and, you know, we had one very small client at the time for
You know, $1,000 a month. And then when I really started to think of now I'm going to everybody's digging to this influencer side, I'm going to zag to the agency side and figure out how I can support these brands and their goals and executing and, and that's how we went from, you know, Ryan, the stylish man to, you know, Ryan, who now has an agency. I think that's a really smart move, because one of the problems that I see with influencers is that every transit, they come and they go
whereas the agency route allows you to establish relationships with whoever is influential for the clients that you need to serve.
And really, stay current that way. Well, for me, it was, you know, to be honest, I, you know, I, I didn't have the model face to me. I don't see myself as that person who is going to build a long term career, you know, being in Bali, taking photos of things for a few days.
I also had a lot of skills. Now at this point I was, you know, in my early 40s. So I had run businesses before and I've been in operations and finance and, you know, sales and all of the real functions that are required to build a successful business. And my mindset was more about that. As much as I liked the creative side of the influencer piece, I felt that I could also be creative on the agency side. So that's when I really decided Let me pull all this experience I have together which is really important. Use that experience than to be able to try to support these brands from a more you know, business, you know, perspective.
So now 2019. There's katsu media, and I know there are other things going on, which I'm going to ask about shortly. But what does katsu media's ecosystem look like in 2019 from a client
perspective and from how you actually service those clients. Yeah. So from a client perspective, I think one of the things that's important to point out is that we initially started as, you know, a social media agency that is going to help you kind of grow your organic following and create, you know, interesting content.
But that's morphed pretty significantly over the last 18 months. And it's it for a lot of reasons. I think, you know, need in the marketplace is one, but then also how the platform shift. So, you know, we've we've added a number of services and a number of people on our team to support those services. So we've gone from this social media agency, to, you know, a digital media agency that does anything and everything to help brands build and manage a digital footprint. So that that's everything from website
Design and development, reputation management, not only social media organic, but also the social media, advertising and paid structure and strategy and AdWords and everything like that. So I think part of it is, you know, making sure that we were understood what brands really needed, and then added the resources to fill that space was an important part of kind of getting to where we are, you know, if we look at our clients today, you know, we have started to focus pretty heavily on the Travel and Tourism client. And that's where our that's where all stroke comes in. And we can talk about that later. But, you know, I think if you look at the 2020 k hats of media becomes more of a sort of white label agency to help our larger partners in their spaces.
We have more and more companies come to us that have you know, 15
clients in their vertical and they don't do what we do, they do another aspect of marketing, and they need our support. So then we will join them and forces and then go and support that client across everything digital.
I think from what you're describing the demands on you must vary in the extreme from time to time. I think one of the problems that a lot of agencies have, particularly when they're started by a founder as yours was, that one day you have a couple of clients the next day you have 1015. And then very quickly, you're back down to a handful again, how do you manage resource in that environment? Do you have lots of permanent staff or is it freelancers or bland? How do you manage that? Yeah, so that's, that's the most important piece I think, to scaling for. You know, I hate the word consultant. I'm not really sure why I do but i just i never sort of felt my myself being a consultant and I think what happens is in
early stages when you're by yourself or you have one person working with you, and you go and you work with a client and you sell into a prospect, now you're the we hired a consultant. But I always wanted it to be a much bigger play than that. I always knew that it was more about, you know, agency and support across many areas, versus what I could just bring to the table. So I think the most important thing is to invest in resources. And I really struggled with this in the beginning, whereas even when I hired someone on a part time basis to support me, I didn't give them any work. And the reason was, I always felt like well, I knew I know how to do this better than anybody else. I think when you can finally shed yourself of that feeling. And that mindset is really when you're open yourself up to grow. So, you know, now we have a full time Chief Operating Officer in general counsel, I've got a full time director of operation
Who's also an on camera talent and can do video on camera video work. We have a head of technical development, who is based out of India. And they do. They run our team out of India and they do anything for our website and app development. So we really started to add more and more staff. We also have a fan engagement team, for people that are full time that are based out of the Philippines. But they are full time employees for Chi hats and media, they, you know, work with us every single day. And it's a matter of sort of projecting your growth, I think, and being able to add those resources before you need them. Because if you wait until you need the resource to add it, a lot of times it's too late. I've always said you know, by the time people admit that they need help. It's it's too late, but by the time an entrepreneur admits that they need help, they've almost at risk of losing their entire business because they
You've lost all these clients and they've lost all this sleep, I think you really have to start to project that out and and take that risk on yourself. And maybe you'll bring on a person, a little bit premature to getting the client. But you know what, think of how much more time that will free up for the founder of the agency to then go out and bring in new business.
So one of the challenges that I see a lot of small agencies have, when you're a self starting agency, a bootstrap agency, you can either be from one of two different cultures. One is you will walk somebody's dog if they pay you enough. And often it's when they pay you just enough so that you can eat
or you get the pricing just right, and you know exactly who your ideal client is. And everything you do is productive and profitable. And a lot of the time we sit somewhere in between those two extremes.
How have you managed because and the reason I asked this is because
You've managed to achieve employing all those people keeping them consistently gainfully employed, and still making a profit and managed to pay yourself. You're doing something that I would say is quite unusual.
It's hard to get to that point where it works. So how have you managed to get that sweet spot of the pricing? Right, given that you are effectively a bootstrapped agency? The pricing is probably the second hardest thing. The first hardest is that sort of staffing mindset.
I mean, I will tell you that early on, I took on some of the worst possible clients the craziest you know, yeah, you took everything yeah, will run your Pinterest account, you know, was you know, two women who wanted to start a business and you know, I think for me initially and this even goes back to when we were doing some type of sponsored work, you know, and selling sponsored content with the establishment and
I originally had the mindset of, you know, we're going to work with emerging brands, right. And that was that like emerge emerged, there's a lot of these, you know, very small, direct, just super co direct to consumer companies coming up. And there's, you know, all of these other sort of smaller entrepreneurial efforts. And we, if we can support those will be in a good place, because there's so many of them. The problem with that theory that you learn pretty quickly is that emerging brands equals poor, they don't have any funds, they, in some cases, it's between paying you versus paying the mortgage, right? And they're trying to make real leather wallets in their garage and you're saying, Hey, give me $500 a month, and you know that those relationships are not sustainable. I think the big distinction here is when you work with a client and let's say you you have to understand what the value it is that you bring to that client and and I know when so
Certainly work is hard to attribute value to because there's it's hard to connect the dots on the revenue. But when you put yourself in a situation where there's revenue attribution, and let's just talk Facebook ads, simplistically, right? If you're doing Facebook ads, and they're giving, they give you a spend to manage, and you get them a, you know, 20 to one row as well, now you know what your value is in dollars, because you're the agency and with the smarts to be able to create that targeting and managing didn't design the creative well enough to get them $20 for every dollar that they invest. So at that point, when you when you take a step back and look at what it is that you're trying to charge, value becomes very simple, right? So, you know what I used to charge very early on 1500 dollars for but didn't really know the end value and that was their full marketing budget. You know, it's it's tough to
sleep at night knowing that you're taking this person's entire budget, and you're doing only organic work. And you don't know if that's really driving, moving the needle from from a financial perspective for them. Yeah, but when you have a client and you're running their ads, and they made $300,000 in sales, it's okay to say my fee is 5000 6000 $7,000 a month because that is it's you can very confidently connect that return on investment back to what it is that you're doing for them.
And because we have client, we have listeners, brother, all over the world, and I think about 50% of them are in the US. But what I would ask you is how important do you feel location is to your ability to attract the kind of clients you do for the listener, you're in New York City. So I actually live in Jersey and we're 100% remote. I am I have a home office in New Jersey.
How important has that location been for your clients? Not at all. I mean, at this point, I have no clients in New York City.
Most of my clients are in Pennsylvania. And then some of the bigger ones are, you know, corporate offices for resort companies that are based out of you know, Texas and you know, some other places. So, I would say that there's,
it has very little impact. It's not like I'm walking the streets of Manhattan, shaking hands with people and making deals at networking events, although I probably should be, but I'm not doing that today. So my business has mostly come from, you know, either my own LinkedIn posts and someone seeing that post and then starting a conversation or referral business once we start working with someone them referring us on to someone else. So I would tell you that from a location perspective, probably very little outside of the fact that
you know, I think if you're if you're in another
Country, it might be hard to convince somebody to 100% turn the reins over to you. Because all of these clients, although they're not, you know, based where I am, every one of them at some point I've met in person and had to go and make a presentation to before we actually got the business. And I think what's actually inspiring there, the US has one market. But yet the same things going on in Germany, the same things going on in the UK.
Knowing that you don't have to be based in the central commercial hubs to achieve great things will be music to a lot of people's ears. I think for me, I'm in the remote north of Scotland. And I think psychologically, that can be a barrier sometimes, but when you're communicating as it isn't actually a real barrier. That's really really good to hear. I think also the the important pieces. For me, I've spent a lot of time investing in building my own personal brand and
And again, maybe that starts with the runway that I've had with the stylish man. But it makes it much easier for me to walk into a conversation. And I could tell you how a lot of these meetings go where, you know, they're kind of on the fence between my agency and another agency. And one of the things I like to pull out of my head is, you know, who you're talking to, oh, this is great. Let's take a look at what they have. Wow. So they there's a social media agency, and they have 812 followers. That's great. So they can't even build their own following yet. They're going to build your following. So explain that to me, you know, you know, I'll just say, you know, look, feel free to Google me. I have more press than most today than most companies. That's been, you know, $10,000 a month on our PR agency.
Yeah. And a Facebook page 125,000 followers, and an Instagram account with 166 I checked. Yes, I was. That is so yeah, I mean, that's that's putting your money.
Moses, I think that was important but not, again, not to turn people off there because I think you can do it with without that that is one piece that helps. But I think that the factor of have that mindset knowing that you need the right staff to be able to help you do that work is significantly important. Yeah. So when I did my rummaging around the Ryan's Prince world,
there's a couple of things that jumped out at me. One is Associate Producer with Amazon for the social movement. What is that? So the sort of strong movement is is a very exciting amazon prime project. The there's been one season that's been shot so far. That is in post production now and I am a part of season two, which is actually going to film in the summer of 2020. It is a really exciting project where
If you think of sort of the reality TV model, right, the reality TV model is somewhat flawed in the sense of you're bringing teams together. And those teams are competing for certain things. And when that team wins, that team wins something. And that's interesting to some degree. The thing I really love about the social movement is
it is the process of bringing very smart people together and putting them on teams with a goal of trying to solve real world issues in a real social issues out in the world. And these teams come together and they're given four days to come up with a business plan and try to raise funds to support this effort, whether it's anti bullying or you know, what other type of issues that that's out there. So essentially, everyone wins, right? Because there's so many ideas that come out of the end of this, that some of these still get funded in the project still move forward.
So I actually signed on with them to be an associate producer. We're currently in the process of casting. So we're going through and really trying to find the right people that fit the model that can be on some of these teams. But then once we get into sort of the pre production and post production, I'll be there to help them through anything they need with not only on the marketing side, but also help the teams during the filming.
And how did this come about? So let's talk about social right, I saw someone post this posted on Instagram, and it was someone who actually has a real large LinkedIn fan base is currently considered like a LinkedIn influencer. And she said, Hey, I want to thank you know, you know Chris Lavoie, who from from Laval films, because I'm going to go and film this show and social movement and I immediately track it
him down and sent him an Instagram dm and said I want to learn about this project and I want to be part of it and we had a couple conversations and you know really hit it off and thought that it was it was the right fit for me to be part of it. So you know, talk about using your own services essentially as I use social media to gain a connection and reach up yeah, that's that's amazing. And I guess your Instagram falling won't have hurt probably doesn't hurt now. It doesn't hurt and
LinkedIn influencer video, Lady does she have green hair? She doesn't I know who you're talking about. Oh, no, but this one is on the show ladies. miquela Alexis, you may have seen her before she's Yeah, I think so. Yeah. She's She's very authentic and raw about you know, kind of the the trials and tribulations of her day to day life and I think resonates with a lot of people because they experiencing those things in their life. Yeah. Well when I saw that on your link to
profile. I had to ask what was going on there? Because it's such an intriguing thing. Yeah, it really is. And I'm excited to get further into the the production with these guys. Now, you mentioned a new agency called awestruck. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Yeah, most definitely. So, you know, through the process of starting this agency, you know, to be frank, one of the biggest clients that we have today came from a lead by a person that I've known for 20 years. He was, we had worked together, he was on the TV side of the company. I was on the operation side. You know, he had gone off and worked in television for a lot of years in the south on the south side, essentially, and then transition from the TV side of those agencies to the digital side. And he several years ago, built a digital media agency that did pretty much everything that my agency
Doesn't do they do
search display prospect boundaries, you know, a lot of data related activity, and I didn't do anything and I'm on the sort of branding, you know, creation social engagement side. And we started to work together and go into different client meetings together. And we we have about four or five clients community where they do the search and we do the social. And in every case where we work with this agency to one two group is what they're called. We've seen far better return on ad spend because they drive significantly more quality traffic to the client's website. And, you know, over time, we were doing this in more of the resort space, more entertainment companies. And you know, we felt it makes a lot of sense
For us to come together and have a merger of talent, right? So when we say we call it that specifically that it's a, it's a, it's a merger of talent between our two companies, chi hot to media and 212 group will still exist as separate companies. However, the employees that work for me and the employees that work for 212 group, will community work together on awestruck accounts. So we feel to combined, we are able to offer someone in the travel, tourism, hospitality and entertainment space, a significantly better comprehensive product than anybody else in the world. And the clients that you would be positioning for in that Australia brand. Or the US or international. They could be both. We have one international client. But But yeah, it's probably I mean if there is a large resort management company that's based out of Russia
We'd be happy to work with them. Yeah, I was just curious. And it makes a lot of sense. Putting together a brand, specifically for a particular vertical market. You know, speak to them that much more clearly. What we think we The thing about it is that we have past experiences. And we know that there's a formula that we approach from a resort like we'll take, we'll take a large resort waterpark, for example, we have several of those. If we are inserted into a resort water park combination at the start of its building phase, we know from everything from how to build the website, how to talk to those people and build an audience during the construction phase and tell that story. Straight through display, search conquest thing, pretty much everything and everything that they need. We know how to do that. We've got a playbook that we've delivered.
left. And that coupled with the sort of proprietary data harvesting technology that we use, you know, we've got a significantly better chance to be successful for that brand than we feel anyone does. Yeah, that's very compelling.
So, one of the things that's come up again and again, in everything that you've spoken about, maybe not directly, but it's shown through for me, you spoke about having more PR, than the PR agencies that you've invested, whether consciously or unconsciously, and building a very strong personal brand. How important do you feel that personal brand has been in your journey? You know, I would say at times more than others, listen, I, you could make the argument that the relationship that we have with that I have with two and two today
comes from the fact that a guy I knew 20 years ago
saw my LinkedIn post where I did a small video with Gary Vee. Right? So you could say, well that there is no such thing as a small feature. So So you could say that well, that opened up that door. And then I've have even as as most recent as last week, I had someone I work with five or six years ago hadn't really talked too much. saw one of my LinkedIn posts and, you know, came back and said, Hey, I wonder if you can help our company. Here's the situation we're in. And so I think, to some degree, you know, the relationships that I have, and I have built over time, have helped, but I wouldn't necessarily say that
my Instagram audience has helped me build the agency outside of the fact that gives me some credibility when I'm talking to a brand that say, here are the things that should be done because I've done them and I know how to do them.
But I think that that's a small piece of it. Verse. Like the the
The greater, you know, good. Yeah, I think that's true because honestly Ryan sprints doesn't shine through the Instagram account at all. No, it's very much the products and at the heart of that, sure, I would agree. So what are you going to do with stylish man?
So we actually have a really interesting plan. So if you if you can think of brands that we think do it well, like, like unilateral or insider like right here, I don't know if you have a favorite in the US. We have insider and it's, yeah, Business Insider travel insider food insider tech Insider. We are doing something similar with stylish. So we've got, you know, stylish men clearly. We've got stylish wellness, stylish travel. There's other assets that you don't even know that we have. We've got a Facebook travel page that's got 350,000 fans, it's worth
The most engaged travel pages on Facebook. And so we're going to use all of those assets and rebrand under the name stylish, our new URL will be be stylish co that will happen at some point early 2020. And just look to create more content, more original content in each of these different sort of lifestyle areas. So what we, what you see today will completely transition to a much broader audience. You know, today, it's obviously clearly just just men and probably men, you know, late 20s, to late 40s, whereas the new group will really go after pretty much, you know, anyone. We think that there's so much content out there, that we could really develop a very nice voice for stylish.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So very focused silos to attract to particular audiences. Sure. And we have the assets to support
That's that's a great thing, huh? No, that's really neat. Ryan, I love everything you've done. It's it's an amazing story. I'd love to dig a little deeper into lots of different parts of this at some point in the future. But for now, I guess if people want to connect with you, how would you like them to do that? Yeah. So I would love for people to connect with me on Instagram. I read and respond to every direct message that I get.
At Ryan underscore sprints, and I'm sure you're probably linked the spelling in the show notes. I will. But But yeah, absolutely. I love helping people. And I love when when people come to me and say, Hey, I'm in this situation, what should I do? And I've developed lots of great relationships that way. So for your listeners out there, please feel free to reach out. I'd love to connect. I'm quite sure they will. And I will as well. Excellent. I always have questions. Ryan, thank you so much for your time. Thank you.
Two things more than anything else impressed me about Ryan. Number one, he's a perpetual student. He's always learning new things. And number two, that learning fuels his evolution and shapes his business. In an industry where change is the only constant Ryan continues to forge ahead at the leading edge, no matter what he's doing. Before I go, just a quick reminder to subscribe. If you haven't already, then join our Facebook group and you can find a link in the show notes or just head over to amplify me.fm forward slash insiders. And you'll be right there. If you enjoyed the show, and I would love for you to review it on iTunes. mean a lot to me and it's a very best way to help me reach more subscribers. My name is Bob Gentle. Thanks again to Ryan for giving us his time this week. And to you for listening. See you next week.