Cameron Madill | From Candy Reseller to Employee-Owned Entrepreneur

Cameron Madill is the Founder and Advisor of PixelSpoke, a web design and marketing agency specializing in credit unions. Cameron’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to focus exclusively on creating specialized solutions for progressive businesses, which proved pivotal for PixelSpoke’s success. In recent years, he made a bold decision to transition PixelSpoke into an employee-owned cooperative, emphasizing social responsibility as a certified B Corp. Today, Cameron is actively involved in guiding and coaching entrepreneurs, particularly entrepreneurial couples, using the Gottman method. He also co-hosts The Remarkable Credit Union podcast, exploring the trends and challenges in the credit union space.

In this episode of the Smart Business of the Smart Business Revolution podcast, John Corcoran hosts Cameron Madill, the Founder and Advisor of PixelSpoke. Madill discusses his entrepreneurial journey and the nuances of transitioning PixelSpoke into an employee-owned cooperative during the challenging landscape of the global pandemic. He also shares his current focus on coaching entrepreneurial couples, blending anecdotal wisdom with the Gottman method.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [00:30] Cameron Madill’s unconventional leap from physics to web design entrepreneurship
  • [02:08] How a childhood candy resale venture spurred entrepreneurial passion
  • [03:28] The dynamics and challenge of starting a business with family
  • [05:10] What skillsets are required to build a business from scratch?
  • [07:12] Lessons learned from early hiring decisions and growing a business
  • [11:45] The tough decision to focus on websites over custom software development
  • [16:51] Finding a purpose-driven business community with B Corporations
  • [19:49] The multi-year journey and impact of becoming a B Corp
  • [22:38] Navigating the sale of a business to employees during a pandemic
  • [26:07] The importance of establishing values and clear ownership routes for employee-owned businesses
  • [33:38] Supporting entrepreneurial couples through evidence-based methods

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

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Episode Transcript

John Corcoran 0:00

Today we are talking about selling your business to your employees. Why would you consider doing it? Is it a good thing? My guest today is Cameron Madill. And I’ll tell you more about him in a second. So stay tuned.

Intro 0:13

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution podcast where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders and thought leaders and ask them how they built key relationships to get where they are today. Now, let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran 0:30

Alright, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of this show. And you know, every week I get to talk to smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of all kinds of different companies. On the show, we’ve had Netflix, we had Kinkos, we had YPO EO, Activision, and Blizzard lending tree OpenTable, check out the archives, lots of great episodes there. And of course, this episode brought to you by Rise25, where we help B2B businesses get clients referrals and strategic partnerships done via podcast, and content marketing, and you can go to to learn all about what we do. 

Alright, today’s guest is Cameron Madill. He’s the founder of pixel spoke, it’s an employee-owned web design and marketing agency. They specialize in credit unions. We’re gonna talk about how they eventually decided to focus on that market hit for about 20 years, from the founding of the business to running the business CEO, and then selling the business back to his employees. And we’re going to talk to him about how he did that, why he did that and some of the pros and cons of going through that now he’s got a new business, he’s really focused on helping other businesses to grow. And he also started a business helping others using the Gottman method, so helping other entrepreneurial couples. 

And we’ll talk about the work that he’s doing now, Cameron, so great to have you here today. And I love to hear stories about what people were like as a kid, and especially any entrepreneurial stories that they had. And you had a candy resale operation in third grade when I was third, third grade. I was I think playing soccer and that was about it. But you were actually going down the block, getting this candy and reselling it to your classmates. Tell me how you came about that

Cameron Madill 2:08

idea. Hey, John, thanks for having me. Yeah, the candy story. So it was actually some Yeah, I can’t remember I even remember this because I buried it in the deep recesses of my memory. And it might have been an Entrepreneurs’ Organization event. And I realized, oh, yeah, I kind of have been an entrepreneur my whole life. So yeah, the story goes, I like candy. Nothing unusual about that. At some point, I saved up a little more money, I bought a little bit more candy. And I was hanging out at my elementary school, which was, what about two blocks from this, this convenience store? And someone saw my, you know, bag M&M’s, or whatever it was? 

And they said, you know, Dude, where’d you get that? And, you know, and I don’t know what I said. And they said, I’ll give you $1 for it, you know, I paid 50 cents for it. And at that moment, you know, an idea was born. So for probably about a month, I would buy, I don’t know, five $10 or the candy and I could mark it up 100% Just by bringing it into school and my thriving business brought me a lot of joy made me a lot of friends until I got busted by one of my close friends mom, she was driving home and she offered me a ride. And I was taking the quote-unquote, wrong route. And she ratted me out to my parents. And that was the end of my first venture. But I learned a lot.

John Corcoran 3:24

So your parents shut you down? It wasn’t a principal or anything like that? No,

Cameron Madill 3:28

no, yeah. Never, never got to them just they shut me down. That’s

John Corcoran 3:33

interesting, because you end up starting this business with your father. So you go to Stanford, you study physics, an incredibly competitive program there, a little bit of computer science I understand as well. And naturally, you know, just a total linear trajectory from physics to starting a web design agency. Does it make sense? Right. 1000 2003 So you’re in the Bay Area. I mean, it’s the thing that people do, right. So what what inspired that,

Cameron Madill 4:01

um, you know, I like to think of it as a really uninspiring story I had looked at all over the place. I also had a degree in history, I’d stopped out for two years to play music. I lived in Cuba for a while, and I was kind of eating at the buffet of life. And I got to my senior year, and it was like, Oh, crap, you know, everyone had plans and clarity, and I didn’t, and I after kind of looking at all these options, getting a PhD, you know, maybe going into finance, maybe go into a Bay Area Tech company, working for a nonprofit, like it was anything you could think of, I finally just thought about I said, you know, I’d rather like just do something for myself, and learn from my own mistakes rather than I’ve never liked having a boss. 

And so it was kind of just this intuitive. I think I would rather just not work for anyone and work for myself. And then it was kind of like, well, what can I do? I had no skills, I had no money. And like you said it was kind of like I was in the Bay Area. There was a lot of tech around and I thought you know this website thing I bet I can teach myself how to do that. So that was I still joke with some of my Floyd’s like our you know, our story of origin was I didn’t want to have a boss. And that’s why we exist today. And

John Corcoran 5:05

so you dabbled in a little bit of computer science. So you knew you had an aptitude for it?

Cameron Madill 5:10

Yeah, I mean, I knew obviously, you know, I knew I was smart. I knew I could teach myself stuff. And I already had a laptop. And so I just figured how hard can it be? And the answer is, it was a lot harder than I thought. But you know, I was, I was at least technically proficient in that area.

John Corcoran 5:25

And why did you start it with your father? And was he technically proficient? Or what did he bring to the table?

Cameron Madill 5:34

Long story short. And also, I’m gonna record so I sound like an intense 30 year smoker. So my dad was working actually, for IBM at the time, he was a senior vice president or whatever. So we had a long, pretty successful tech career. But he, I think I can say this. Now, he hated IBM, they had bought the company he was working at, which was kind of his dream job. Instead of being able to walk to work, he was now driving out to the suburbs. And so he was just burnt out. And he was kind of, and my parents were very frugal people. 

So they were really you know, they were at a point where they were financially ready to retire anyway. And I think I was just kind of like, hey, wouldn’t that be fun? You know, he’s got all this experience in business and tech, and we’ll team up and I didn’t even know any of the words I didn’t know about marketing or HR sales. None of those words meant anything to me. But I just knew, like, hey, if you’ve been a senior executive at IBM, surely, you know, you can help to do this. And he was, uh, you know, I think he was pretty burnt out at first. But he was excited about the opportunity to work together. And it was really an absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

We weren’t, we weren’t really like a super high-functioning team, because I was so inexperienced, and we didn’t really get clarity on what we each wanted. But I think we had a lot of fun together. And I will say, you know, starting a business, especially, you know, what you’re doing, having someone in there in the trenches with you, who you really know, and love and trust. You know, I mean, my dad just always had my back and always had his and that alone, I think just gave us a lot of security, and just the ability to stick through the hard times.

John Corcoran 7:12

Yeah. And I would think that that would also help with one of the hardest parts of growing a business, which is hiring, knowing when to hire, who to hire. Did you find that having your father there who, you know, had many more years of experience in you was helpful in that area?

Cameron Madill 7:32

No, no, I didn’t. My dad is, you know, for the first truck ride we worked on together. I tell people I work with my dad, you know, and they can’t be like, oh, yeah, you work at your daddy’s company. I was like, no, no, we started it together. Maybe like, yeah, right. But you know, you’re just kind of riding on your dad’s coattails. And my dad, you know, is a very talented, brilliant guy. 

But he had done it all. Like he had done all the big fancy jobs, right? He had had all that stuff. He had two assistants like he had flown all over the world. And he just wanted to code like that was the thing he never really got to do in his career, because he got promoted out of those roles so fast, because he was a really good coder. And he had people skills. Right. So that’s your perfect technical manager, Peter

John Corcoran 8:10

Principle gets promoted to level your incompetence. Right. Yeah.

Cameron Madill 8:13

I mean, hopefully you didn’t get to his incompetence level. But he got promoted. Yeah. So the itch you wanted to scratch and I didn’t have enough savvy to really know this was he just wanted to coat, he wanted to just build interesting things. And he would always offer his opinion when he was asked, and there was always a lot of wisdom there. But he really was never engaged on the business side of things. He just wanted to be a coder. So man, we made a lot of really bad decisions and all left it. There were a lot of, you know, there’s a lot of those things where it’s like, eventually, I looked back, and I was like, yeah, that’s why experienced people do things differently. But that’s what you do. And you have no idea what you’re doing.

John Corcoran 8:52

Yeah, well, now you help guide younger businesses, you’ve helped guide younger businesses. And so what would you say if you were to go back and give your younger self advice? What should a younger you have done starting a business with your father, assuming you’re still going to start the business with a father? What advice would you give to that person to get clear about what the roles are? And you know, how are you going to organize the company? Yeah, and

Cameron Madill 9:19

I think, obviously, there’s things you’ll hear from other people, but, you know, related to my passion for couples work, you know, couples therapy, on some of those, it’s all about figuring out what are your values and what are your core needs. And I think if I could have figured that out, my dad would have said, my core need is I want to do interesting programming work. He didn’t have any need to sell things or build strategies or, or be a mentor, like none of that is his core need was to sit at his computer and do interesting hard coding projects. And I think I could have gotten more clear on my coordinates. And I always think of that as the starting point. Because if you can align those in any context in any relationship. That’s the basis for a win-win relationship. 

The other advice I’d give myself, which, on many levels, is a good quality. But as I mentioned, I come from a very frugal family. And I tend to be pretty frugal myself. And I wish I would have been more comfortable just spending money to get clients to learn faster. We had, there were so many mistakes I had to make to learn. But I had periods where in the early years, I was just sitting around doing nothing, because I couldn’t figure out how to market and sell. I was too, you know, insecure, uncomfortable, unskilled, you name it. And I wish I would have just dumped like, $500 a month into AdWords, which I think would have been so stressful if we were barely making any money. But I just think we could have shortened the learning cycle. 

And I think that’s what it’s all about, in the early days. I mean, my biggest belief out of my really, my whole 20-year journey is, as a business, like, our number one job is to find a business model, you can have a great business model and be bad at everything else, you can be a drug dealer, you know, whatever, and you’re gonna make a lot of money. And if you have everything done, right, and your business, but a terrible business model, you’re gonna really struggle. And I think that kind of gets, I just think I wasn’t clear on that. So true.