Jon Morris | Technological Innovations and Early Digital Marketing

Jon Morris is the Founder and CEO of Ramsay Innovations, a tech-enabled finance and strategic planning company that helps marketing agencies drive success. Jon was also the Founder and CEO of Rise Interactive, an award-winning full-service digital marketing agency. With $10,000, he turned it into one of the largest independent digital agencies. Much of Rise Interactive’s success was due to its financial infrastructure which provided insights that led to sound strategic planning.

Jon Morris, the Founder and CEO of Ramsay Innovations, joins John Corcoran in this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast to talk about entrepreneurship and his work in early digital marketing. Jon also talks about starting Rise Interactive, the company’s evolution over the years, and how he has structured his new company.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Jon Morris’ academic struggles and how his entrepreneurial family influenced his work ethic 
  • How Jon entered the digital marketing space
  • Jon talks about starting Rise Interactive and its evolution over the years
  • Understanding what to focus on in business
  • Why Jon stepped down as Rise Interactive’s CEO and started a new company
  • The structure of Ramsay Innovations
  • The peers Jon respects

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

Welcome everyone, John Corcoran here the host of this show and I interview smart CEOs founders, entrepreneurs of all kinds of companies you know some I pass gas like Netflix, Kinkos’, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, a few of those. Redfin, go check them out in the archives. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. My guest today is Jon Morris. First of all, quick shout out to Jeanna Barrett of First Page Strategy, who told me about John and coincidentally, he had previously been on, my business partner’s podcast who would go check that out, as well. But he turned $10,000 into one of the largest independent digital agencies out there. Rise Interactive is the name of it. It’s a full service digital marketing agency also founded Ramsay Innovations, a tech enabled finance and strategy planning company for marketing agencies to help them to have the same success that he experienced with rise interactive, he likes to brag fun fact that he is awesome at boring. So we’ll find out what exactly that means in the context of business. And we’ll talk about some of the new things that he’s up to as well, of course, his business, this this podcast brought to you by Rise25, our company where we help businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships, we’ve done few podcasts and content marketing, and you can learn all about it at Alright, Jon, pleasure to have you here. And I love to ask people about their backgrounds, their childhood and what they were like as a kid and how that shaped who they are today. We were just chatting before this interview. And you said that it took a little while for academia to click for you. You would get good grades on exams with them poor, poor grades in the class, because you just didn’t show up. Tell me a little bit about that. Well, what was it as a kid that that was kind of struggling for you with academia? You know, I,

Jon Morris 2:33

I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is, I could just tell you that. It took me a long time to mature. I always excelled at math and science and could do really well but never apply myself never did the homework assignments. struggled more on the English writing history. Sigh You know, a couple of my quotes that are probably motivated me in different ways. One of them was my seventh grade English teacher said that I’ll never be able to write a complete sentence, but it won’t go to college. I was failing every single class as a freshman by Thanksgiving, but turned around ended up getting you know, good solid 2.0 My GPA that year. But, you know, something happened my sophomore year of college where things all of a sudden just clicked and I knew what I needed to do to get things done. But what I would say is, that time period still motivates me a lot, you know, so when I, when I think about, you know where I was versus where I want to go it, I have a drive that, you know, looks to kind of put that in the past.

John Corcoran 3:31

And you have a great work ethic. So you grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, your grandparents weren’t entrepreneurs, your parents were entrepreneurs. You started working in your father’s warehouse, from a young age. Talk a little bit about how that shaped you.

Jon Morris 3:47

You know, if if I look at my father, he he’s in his 80s and still work six days a week. I so I have someone who is constantly working, you know, and it was a huge role model to me, you know, my breaks. I was sitting there working with him. In between the summer my senior year, my freshman year, I had a job literally making 500 phone calls a day like I was the automated you know, dialer before there was an automated dialer, wow. For a stock brokerage company, and then I was a busboy after that, so I basically worked from 830 in the morning to one in the morning, every day. And so I’ve always had a pretty solid work ethic and love to apply myself. And I think it’s being surrounded by people who were doing the same, you know, and that was, and today, you know, I still balance family and work where, you know, one of my mentors once said that life’s a triangle. You have work, family and self pick two. So I pick family and I pick work and I go all in on those two things.

John Corcoran 4:53

Mm hmm. Well, something clicked for you when you got to college you around your sophomore year. Are you said you kind of figured out college at that point started getting better grades manage to get in graduate after that this is mid 90s. So kind of a heyday of, you know, Internet 1.0, if you will, did you look at that kind of Everything was happening Boom and think I want to be a part of that.

Jon Morris 5:20

No clue. When I graduated college in 1996, the very first time I saw the internet was in January of 96. And no idea what it was, I had no idea what you would use it for why it would matter. And so, you know, I just wanted a job ideally, at a major consulting firm, I applied every consulting firm, got a final interview with every major consulting firm and got rejected by every major consulting firm, which actually was fortuitous, because those events got me into digital marketing. When I graduated college, I started my first agency called net traffic, and built the ugliest websites you could ever see. But a lot of people just kept asking me, Well, how’s my website going to get found? And I didn’t know the answer. No one knew the answer. And so

John Corcoran 6:12

I see Google, like people are using Yahoo. I guess at that point,

Jon Morris 6:16

Yahoo was without a doubt the 800 pound gorilla, but you had excite AltaVista Infoseek, hot bot, you had all these search engines that don’t exist today. And you know, I focused on search engine optimization and being the experts at those different search engines.

John Corcoran 6:32

That must have been just like selling something completely foreign to people. How do you sell SEO in the mid 90s? When no one knows what SEO is?

Jon Morris 6:41

You know, what I would say is there was huge demand in the sense of more and more money was shifting that way. And when people people wouldn’t sell SEO, you would explain that people are using these things called search engines. And that’s how you get found, and we’ll help you get found within those search engines. But you know, what’s different, like when I compare like my next agency rise, interactive, to net traffic, that traffic I was convincing people that they needed to do digital marketing, enterprise rent a car, hire desk, we were the very first digital agency they ever hired period. Wow. And so you know, we we were at that time period, getting people introduced and convincing them that they should try the web, where it rise, it was the opposite. We didn’t want to sell to someone who had convinced that they needed to do digital marketing. We wanted to work with people who are already doing digital marketing, they just wanted to do it better.

John Corcoran 7:39

Yeah. And by the time you started, rise is the the Internet has evolved a bit. And companies have evolved a bit. This is 2004. When you when you started it, you’ve I think you’ve started graduate school, you’re getting your MBA University of Chicago by that point. Did you start that while you’re still in your program?

Jon Morris 8:01

Yeah, so University Cago has an annual business plan competition called the New Venture Challenge. I entered the competition took second place 110 $1,000. And that was actually the seed money I used to create rise.

John Corcoran 8:15

And what was your thought behind? How it was gonna be different? Or what was the approach to it?

Jon Morris 8:22

Well, so the original idea, and what I pitched in the competition, was to actually put on seminars and training programs to teach digital marketing, to people who wanted to learn how to do it themselves. And as I was putting on these two day seminars, people kept on coming up to me and just said, couldn’t you just do this for us, as opposed to us learning how to do it ourselves? And I came to the conclusion that it was a better business model. So I pivoted, you know, in that regard,

John Corcoran 8:50

yeah. What are a few of the pivot points, so to speak, over the 16 or so 1817 years now that you’ve been involved? Because it’s, as you said, it’s grown tremendously. What do you think some of the reasons were, that has been able to grow?

Jon Morris 9:09

You know, if you think about the ability to measure your marketing dollars, there’s so much more data available in digital marketing than there is in traditional marketing. Additionally, if you just think about where the eyeballs are going, and you know, where people would typically spend their money, you know, or their time in terms of consuming media, there’s just more than as moved towards the web. And so one of the things I just believe is a crucial component to business is to go where the wind is blowing. And I’m going to give you an example in a second. But you know, so the main reason why and I think a big part of our success was that we had wind at our back, and I’ll give you an example. I used to do a ton of triathlons, and I was doing my first half Ironman, and It was in Southern Illinois, it was a cold, freezing day in September with really strong winds 20 to 30 mile per hour winds. We went out on one road 28 miles, and then turned around and went back the other way. The first 28 miles, I was biking directly into the wind. And I normally at that moment in time would average about 20 to 21 miles per hour when I was biking, I was going between six and eight miles per hour for all 28 miles. Sounds brutal, it was horrible. But when I turned around, I was going 30 to 35 mph. Wow. And the only reason why I didn’t go faster is to be honest, I just got scared going faster. But having that wind at my back made all the difference in the world, it is the exact same thing in business. You know, if you pick an industry that is shrinking or dying, you’re gonna have a really hard time, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, you’re not gonna be able to fight the wind. Versus by going into digital marketing, I had wind at my back and that I think helped the business quite a bit.

John Corcoran 11:13

Now, one of the things I like to ask about just to be kind of counterpoint to that is one of the tensions for any business is what to pursue, and what not to pursue, you have limited resources. Sometimes you want to stay in your lane, focus on what you focus on. You know, if a client comes to you and says, Well, can you do XYZ? If you say yes to every single one, pretty soon you’re, you’re, you’re everything to everyone and nothing that no one? So how do you control that tension? How do you decide what to listen to? When do you follow that wind and when do you not.