How To Escape Founder-Led Sales for Agency Owners With Corey Quinn

Corey Quinn 10:45

No, no. I mean, it was it was I’ll tell you, I remember back then my ego was huge. And I was convinced I was going to be on the cover of Fortune Magazine’s the next, you know, me and my partner, the next prodigies, you know, the future of the web, we had all these big visions for ourselves, which, which basically tells me now that I wasn’t ready to build the kind of company that was needed. And so yeah, it for certain, to a certain extent, honestly, my ego might was really tied into the success of that. And when it did fail, it was it was really hard on me. Yeah. I had to sort of really go through kind of an ego death, if you will, because I was so excited about what you know what this could mean to me. And of course, it didn’t work out that way. Yeah, yeah.

John Corcoran 11:33

If you look back, although then, you know, talking about the fact that you’re just too early. Yeah, that the technology wasn’t there yet. What are some other things you maybe are there anything else that you wish you had done differently?

Corey Quinn 11:45

So I had one experience that I share from time to time, which is, I had one of my best friends, my childhood, his name is Max. And he was working in Hollywood at the time, he was building his career, working on movie sets. And he would work, he sort of made his way up of that. And I convinced him to come work for my company and effectively lead this other career behind. And he ended up doing that. And through a series of events, he, he was not very happy there. And he was in a tough position where he was not happy with with the company that he was now working with my company. And he couldn’t go back to his former sort of career, you kind of burned that bridge a little bit. And so that ended up ultimately ending our friendship and our relationship, which is one of those things where, you know, businesses and money can are important in life. And I guess the lesson that I learned was that when you bring friends and family into business, especially higher stake businesses, you’re you’re putting that relationship at risk.

John Corcoran 12:52

Now, it’s good lesson. Now, you eventually found your way into your business development, sales and marketing for agencies in kind of this period of time, this purgatory that you were in after the business failed your you said you had an ego death, and you kind of figure out what you’re going to do next. One of the stops along the way was you were working for ultra-high net worth individuals working out of the top floor in the highest building in downtown LA. What did you learn from that experience? That just sounds a little bit nutty? Yeah, well, I

Corey Quinn 13:28

fell in love with the idea and the concept and the really skill and the craft of sales. I learned that as a junior broker. So I left world, for those who are around the world was on fire companies were going out of business, left and right. And so I really wanted to continue to build my career. And so I left the sort of world as they called it, and I went into financial services, and I was a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley. They call it Morgan Stanley Dean Witter back then. And that was eventually recruited to go work over at UBS in downtown LA. And so I was, as you mentioned, I was working at it at an super elite high net worth sort of private wealth group, I was like a junior guy on the totem pole. And I got to see how people with you know, a lot of wealth, manage their money, I got a new sort of a glimpse into that world, and also got a glimpse into what it’s like to run a team at that level. And I remember looking up at the person who owned this group kind of ran this group for UBS in downtown LA. And I remember asking myself really, is this the future that I want to have for myself, I knew that if I kept my sort of my nose to the grindstone, I worked really hard and I, I created a lot of value for this group. There was a good chance that eventually I could maybe even run this group over many years, or after many years, and I realised that while there that is an interesting future, and it’s it’s there’s a lot of benefits to it wasn’t really what was for me, and so I realised I didn’t want to I didn’t want that future. And so that it was at that point that I decided to go back to school and kind of hit reset a little bit for myself. That’s when I went to USC to get my MBA. Yeah,

John Corcoran 15:11

yeah, it’s funny. There’s a lot of similarities between our experiences here because I ended up going to law school, or type of thing had a setback in my career. So I, I went into politics worked in the Clinton White House speechwriter for a governor of California, California, grey Davis, you know, was recalled, and, you know, it was like, Well, I’m gonna get the heck out of this industry, I’m gonna go back and do something as stable as possible, which is like practicing law. I don’t think that’s a stable industry at all anymore. But at the time, I thought it and so it’s kind of interesting, the parallels here, what drew you to working for agencies, in particular, and and also like helping with business roles in sales? What was it? Sure, I imagine you’ve done a lot of sales for Castro, maybe there’s something along the way that drew you to it.

Corey Quinn 15:54

So I did. I did sales at Cass pros. It was effectively my role was to help build the business and to kind of do the sales piece. And I loved it when I was at Morgan Stanley and then Dean Witter, excuse me and UBS what what I was able to get access to was formal training in what they call consultative selling. So they teach you how to as a financial adviser be able to uncover current situation desired situation how to create a plan based on where they want to go and, and so I kind of fell in love with the the art of sales. And as I was leaving business school, I wanted to step back into digital or want to step back into online. And in this case, the the company that ended up hiring me was a digital marketing agency that was run by a Harvard Business School graduate that primarily focused on enterprise sort of deals for selling SEO and PPC services. And my my job there at the time, when I when I joined was, I was a B with a call BD or business development rep. And my job was to go out and close business, go get some business kid. That’s it. Yeah. And so I love the sales aspect of it. And I also love the strategy piece of it. So when you’re going in, you’re selling digital marketing or paid search paid social and SEO to these larger companies. You can’t just talk about the sort of the, the inner workings of the watch, if you will, you have to really help to contextualize what the strategy is how it helps the overall business. And so I love that aspect of it. And I was actually fairly successful, I was able to lead the sales team in in quota attainment, I was the number one seller there for I think, like 18 quarters, I was really productive there. But then eventually, I was getting restless. And I wanted a new challenge. At that time the business was I had taken on some private equity funding, and they were building some software and I kind of transitioned my role into not selling services, but actually selling marketing software. So that was my kind of my first foray into sort of product marketing and marketing into you know, marketing, digital type services. And that, that was really exciting to me. Fortunately, they had that round of layoffs, and I got let go. But what I did from there was I stepped into another agency. This one was a pretty interesting one. It was it was run by the ex CMO of Myspace, Mike Jones, and he was running his basically an incubator in Santa Monica. And what they would do is they would bring in very early stage businesses, give them a bit of funding as given a lot of resources to help to scale up the business. Their claim to fame, big name, but they helped to incubate was company called Dollar Shave Club. And yeah, not so bad, right? 

John Corcoran 18:44

So $9 million, or whatever it was, yeah. 

Corey Quinn 18:47

And there’s there was dozens of others that were in there. And they had started an agency that that I helped to kind of run and grow and do that is that that time that I was recruited by a recruiter in Santa Monica to go check out this company called Scorpion. Before we get

John Corcoran 19:03

to that, I want to take a step backwards and ask you, you and I both graduated the same year. Interesting the parallels so we both go to a UC, which is a public school. And then we go both go to a private graduate school. Which by the way, how crazy is that? You go from like the UCS where it’s like, alright, this 75 of you wait in line. And if the if they close the window, because they’re going to lunch, it’s like Kafka esque. You have to like wait for them to come back. Right, you know, and then you go to a private school, which I don’t know if you have this experience. I’m sure you did. Actually at USC, I went to USF. And it’s like they’re bringing you like pizza at lunchtime. It’s like, Oh, my God, you know, I definitely wouldn’t want to go the other way around.

Corey Quinn 19:45

Definitely different dynamic for sure. Yeah.

John Corcoran 19:47

But definitely you mentioned earlier, the ego death you experienced and yeah, and I experienced that when you have these ups and downs in your career. And one day everyone’s calling in the next day they’re not and then all of a sudden you’re back on it. Classroom, you got to eat some Humble Pie during that, you know, it’s like all of a sudden you’re your noses in a book. Did you experience that?

Corey Quinn 20:09

I don’t think so I always saw it as a means to an end. And I knew that by doing by doing the business school, by the way, I almost went to law school, I took my LSAT, but decided not to go to law school. But I saw it as a way for me in being being kind of just frank here, I thought it would be a great way for me to ensure that I would be able to have a baseline of revenue or income coming into my family as a result of getting this degree, which isn’t always the case. But that was kind of the thinking mind is kind of an insurance policy for myself, that worst case scenario go work for some large company that said, I was really interested in, in helping early stage businesses. This was back when I graduated at a time when commercial real estate was was was buzzing. This was the thing that everyone was going into and I was going into world is sort of right before the resurgence of world. And so it was always something that I was just focused on. And that was kind of just going through kind of like college, honestly, I was just focused on getting the degree and so that I can move on and get to the next step. Yeah,

John Corcoran 21:23

so the search agency, and then later, the agency that was founded by the ex CMO of MySpace space, yeah, reflect back on those experiences, and particularly as it relates to the work that you do, and helping agency owners to get out of founder led sales.

Corey Quinn 21:42

So in both the cases, the search agency and the incubators called Science, and we call it Science Growth Labs, the agency. In both those cases, the founders were the rainmakers, everyone was dependent on the founder of the search agency, who I mentioned was at HBS, Harvard Business School graduate, he had direct lines into the CMO of Lululemon and to REMAX and, and all these great enterprise brands, and this other, this other agency that I worked for, he had direct lines into a tonne of businesses. And so there was, you know, despite us trying to build up additional sales through our own means, what we always defaulted to was, let’s see what the founder brings in. And they were so talented at doing that. It wasn’t until I found a company called Scorpion. As I mentioned, I was recruited to go work over there. And what I found was a business that was growing rapidly, they’re doing about $20 million, that an eight person sales team, they all drove nice cars made a lot of money and didn’t have to work very hard. And the reason why was because they had the phone was ringing off the hook. I mean, not not literally but it was all these inbounds coming into the sales team. And they were able to do a one call closed. They even had a big metallic gong on the sales floor. And every time was a one one call closed and hit the hit the gong and high fives all around type of thing. And it was it was really cool thing. But the distinction that was different about Scorpion that was different than all my other agency experiences were that the people who are hiring Scorpion didn’t know the founder was and didn’t care. It wasn’t a part of their buying buying process.

John Corcoran 23:28

Was it because they sold were they still involved in it, but they just weren’t involved in sales. We’re just we’re not

Corey Quinn 23:34

Yeah, the founder was there he was, yeah, it didn’t matter. He was doing other things. And, and what what that was, is that again, by the time I joined, they had already built a name for themselves, or were building a name for themselves in the law firm industry, they had focused a lot of the business into concentrate on getting new business from personal injury attorneys. And the way that a personal injury attorney would look they’re super, a lot of them are very, super competitive, and they want to dominate their count, you know, their, their, their, their category, or their or their neighbourhood. So they’ll search up their competitors and see what their competitors are doing. And then eventually come across a Scorpion website swarming client website, and the bottom of the Scorpion client website would be a link to the Scorpion’s website should eventually end up in a phone call. And so as a result of this expertise, when it turns out that these attorneys were really what they really wanted is a partner who could help them to grow their practice. That did not include knowing the founder of Scorpion didn’t that was not that was not a buying criteria for them.

John Corcoran 24:42

Yeah. Now, since I practice law, I know that one of the challenges in selling to lawyers is that lawyers for whatever ridiculous reason would rather buy marketing from another lawyer. How did you overcome that challenge?

Corey Quinn 24:55

Yeah, I think it was in the case of Scorpion before I arrived there. Um, yeah, the kind of the startup story behind this agency was they couple guys just got the yellow pages and they started going through the A’s and they got to attorneys, and they were cold calling attorneys seeing if they wanted a website, they got a lot of attorneys, and eventually, we’re good, we’re done. We’re gonna stay here. They stayed busy. Exactly. And as a result of that, there was enough we can call it like social proof or evidence that Scorpion was good enough at providing results to overcome that objection. Yeah. And honestly, there was at back back in these days, I joined in 2015, the agency started in 2001. And so a lot of years of proof, a lot, a lot of years, and there weren’t a lot, right. There weren’t a lot of a well known attorneys who were also providing marketing services today. That’s different. But yeah, so there wasn’t there wasn’t a big competitive threat.

John Corcoran 25:50

Got it? Got it. You gave away a Tesla.

Corey Quinn 25:53

I did give away a Tesla. So what was that?

John Corcoran 25:56

What was that? Like? Tell me? Yeah, so

Corey Quinn 25:58

one of the markets that we eventually targeted was franchise, which are low multi location businesses, obviously. So you, you have these franchise brands that have maybe 100 300 500 franchisees locations. And so what we would do from a business perspective is that we would, we would target the franchisor, and we would get the entire franchise business. So it was a relatively high dollar figure account for us to go in. Well, it turns out that all of these franchise brands would would would accumulate good get together and several, in Las Vegas every year at a conference called IFA. And so we knew that we wanted to make a splash for ourselves, we wanted to make a name for ourselves. In the franchise industry, we had a couple of relationships, but we were unknown, completely unknown. And so I came up with the idea of giving away a Tesla, because we knew that if we could draw enough attention, we get enough opportunities. We close a deal or two, it would by far pay for it. Okay.

John Corcoran 26:56

So you knew exactly what you needed to do in order to make it work? Yeah.

Corey Quinn 27:01

And there were there were hundreds of prospects at this at this at this conference. And we only needed to close one or two. And eventually, we went from zero franchise clients to over 100 franchise clients in about two years. So we blew up that business, did you figure out

John Corcoran 27:15

the ROI on that one Tesla giveaway? It was very good. Very good. Okay. Work wise. I mean, I’ve heard people do those sorts of kind of, you know, big giveaways say that, we regret that we did it. So that’s good to hear.

Corey Quinn 27:30

I think at the time, and it was it was no one was doing anything close to it was kind of a sleepy conference, no one was doing anything big or above and beyond. And so what we did is we literally brought the car to our booth it, parked it there and parked it there. And then we held a a live raffle on the third day, last day of the conference that you had to first off, go to our booth yet scan to be entered to win. And on the third day, we would be basically pick a name out of a hat. And you had to be present on that day. If we called your name, we give you the keys to that car. Wow. So

John Corcoran 28:04

what was that? Like?

Corey Quinn 28:05

It was it was electric. As you can imagine, the entire conference shut down. Everyone was at our booth, like literally 1000s of people standing around waiting for their name to be heard. It was it was it was a big moment. Wow,

John Corcoran 28:18

that’s so cool. That’s really neat. And what are some other just kind of like pivotal turning points. If you look back at that period of time, your career for 20 million 250 million, that’s insane result in seven years. What are some other key things that you could put your finger on that made the big difference in that period?

Corey Quinn 28:40

Yes, it’s a good question. We, we, we worked so hard. I mean, it was the entire company, we grew from literally 100 people to 1000 people. And you can imagine just the the amount of chain turtle change that’s required in order to be able to manage that kind of infrastructure. And so there was just a lot of constant change. And some people really love that and thrive on that and other people. It’s just not the right thing. And so I think one of the things that I learned, which is critical to in business is culture, and a lot people talk about it. But I saw it firsthand where it was really clear whether or not you were going to make it at Scorpion, because you had to want to work hard, you had to want to play hard. And you had to be super comfortable with change, like rapid big change in you know, constant succession. So the people who love that thrived and the people who didn’t you know, they struggle they go on to something else eventually because it wasn’t the right place for them. Yeah, yeah.

John Corcoran 29:47

So what, what led you to decide that it was time for you to step aside from that? That rocketship? Yeah,

Corey Quinn 29:55

so the business was still growing. We were complicating our world a little bit that we were wanting to build software, we eventually brought in a private equity partner minority stake, but a private equity partner to help fund a lot of the growth. And at that point, things started changing rapidly. And I think that was kind of us after a while, that was a signal to me that maybe this is my time to move on to something else, and go explore some of my other interests, mostly being mostly wanting to get back into the entrepreneurial pursuits.

John Corcoran 30:29

Yeah. And so talk a little bit about how you decided to focus on the founder led sales helping digitally Yeah, to get out of that.

Corey Quinn 30:37

So what I what I have found at my time was across my entire career, but also just at Scorpion’s, specifically, just the power of focus, how and how it was instrumental in really creating a lot of the scale that a lot of agencies that I’ve seen struggle with. And since my time there, I’ve interviewed dozens of agency owners who like Scorpion focused on a vertical and has seen a lot of growth, a lot of success, they maybe have sold their business for great valuations. And so I really wanted to find a way to, to study that and to get good at helping other agencies maybe who are more of a generalist who are serving businesses of all shapes and sizes, who are struggling with scaling and getting to the next level, really helping them to leverage, again, my experience as a Scorpion, but also before and after that, to help them to transition their business from a from a generalist to a vertical market specialist. Hmm.

John Corcoran 31:38

And, and that you have, you’ve kind of wrapped yourself around this idea that deep specialisation talks to me a little bit about some of the challenges that you come across with the agencies you’ve worked with that haven’t specialised enough. Sure.

Corey Quinn 31:53

So this, there’s this idea, and I believe in it, it’s like the riches. The riches are in the niches right. And then this idea of niching down is very popular a lot people talk about it, because it’s powerful. It’s a great principle. I think the thing that separates the agencies who do well, from those who don’t, are the ones who are dabbling in niching, down, meaning Well, there’s a lot of attorneys, we’ll put up a page on our website, we’ll put together some copy and a really strong sort of offer with a great guarantee. And we’ll see how it goes. I’ve seen that fail a lot. And what I see work really well differently is to define an industry or vertical that the founder actually has some level of emotional investment in. It could be because there’s a familial relationship, meaningless someone in the family isn’t attorney in this case, or maybe in someone in the agency is an ex attorney. And there’s some there’s some depth to the, the interest in, in targeting vertical, because, you know, the focus is one thing and the strategy and how to grow an agency a targeting attorneys is is all well and good. But you really, that third ingredient, which is which is really the care is what’s needed, in my opinion, to really create long lasting results through this idea of specialisation.

John Corcoran 33:23

I didn’t prompt you beforehand. I usually warn my guests beforehand, but I’m gonna ask it anyways. So I have a final question that I asked and I think you’ll be fine with it. So I’m a big fan of gratitude. I’m a big fan of expressing gratitude. Especially

Corey Quinn 33:37

I knew this was coming, by the way who haven’t listened your episode. So I’m good. You’re good then.

John Corcoran 33:43

So I, you know, I’m a big fan of kind of expressing gratitude, especially to, you know, those peers and contemporaries, maybe mentors that to help you along the way. You mentioned, business partners, you mentioned investors mentioned mentors, who would you want to shout out and think?

Corey Quinn 33:58

First person that comes to mind when thinking about this question is my wife. And the reason why she comes up? It’s funny, actually, before I started at Scorpion, I was at this other agency, this company science, and I was entertaining offers from a number of companies. I remember there was two companies that I was looking at one was Scorpion, and one was this other business. On paper. This other business was the sure thing. Right? It was the right thing for me to do. But there was something about Scorpion I remember we were my wife and I we were in a heated discussion. Over dinner in Santa Monica at a at a Mexican food restaurant, high end Mexican food restaurant. I had a couple of margaritas, she was pregnant at the time. And I remember it just being like a real sticky conversation around like, Hey, I know that this other company sounds great. But there’s something about this company and she was like, Okay, I don’t know if I you know, you know, I am pregnant and I’m going to be we’re going to be having a family. It’d be nice to do something that’s a little more conservative in any event she ultimately support ordered me in this decision. And as a result of this decision, it was obviously worked out really well for me. And throughout the years and especially in this transition out of, let’s say, corporate life, I mean Scorpion was 1000 person company we’re doing $150 million is a rather relatively stable gig. She’s supporting me in this new entrepreneurial pursuit. Every single day. She is there with me. And she supports me and allows me to do things like write a book, and to really go deep on on the work that I’m doing. So yeah, she’s she’s someone, I’m just extremely grateful for believing in me and giving me the space to do the things that I’m being called to do. Sorry,

John Corcoran 35:41

this has been great. The book is called anyone not everyone coming out. I believe this spring spring of 2024. As we record this a couple of months away, the Vertical Go-To-Market Podcast, where else can people go to learn more about you?

Corey Quinn 35:56

If you want to, if you’re an agency and want to learn how to niche down and grow and scale through deep specialization, I invite you to come to my website. It’s And you can sign up for my daily newsletter where you’ll get actionable tips by busy week.

John Corcoran 36:13

Awesome. All right, Cory, thanks so much. Thanks, John.

Outro 36:19

Thanks for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast. We’ll see you again next time, and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.