Michelle Mundy | [Top Agency Series] Standardizing Business Processes for the Creative Services Industry

John Corcoran 13:35

Yeah, yeah, it’s funny, because if I think back on my wedding, we loved our photographer, we thought she did a fabulous job. And I don’t know where this fell through the cracks. But we realized afterwards, we had no photos, nor did we experience the reception immediately after the ceremony. So the ceremony, and then they pulled us away, we went and did photos with them. And both the photographer and the photographer’s assistant came with us did all those photos. Meanwhile, the receptions happening at probably the most beautiful part of the entire ceremony, this beautiful spot next to a pond. And then afterwards, we’re looking through photos, we realize we had no photos of it. So we didn’t know what that was like at all.

Michelle Mundy 14:13

Yeah, so that’s why you want a lot of assistants, you know, that’s what I was one of two assistants for this photographer. And sometimes I would do what they call the cocktail cocktail hour or appetizers. And so they would go I would go do that, while another assistant would go do the formal pictures with the with the main photographer. So

John Corcoran 14:32

yeah, so from there now a couple of years later, you are at a large multinational corporation Intel Corporation. And you’re working on creative processes there. You manage creative and technical projects within there. What was that environment like? Sounds like 180 degrees from a small wedding photography business.

Michelle Mundy 14:56

Oh, yeah. Yeah, it’s interesting when I look at my background It’s all you know, it will like it all sort of unfolded in a way that it was going to make sense that this, you know, the business I’m doing now is exactly where I was supposed to end up based off my experience. But yeah, I started as a business analyst at Intel writing business process very. So you talk about sexy work. Oh, yeah, basically just writing business processes. And we’re talking like operational business processes. And so I would literally sit there and make PowerPoint presentations and documents and these knowledge bases that basically we would outsource to help scale Intel employees, and automate some of their workflows. So that’s what I started doing. And then eventually, I don’t even think I knew what project management was at the time. But eventually, I learned about project management. And my friend Hills shout out to Jason Huntley, who I worked with there, he actually was the first person ever told, told me about project management that it could be a career. So he, yeah, he taught me he basically was how I ended up becoming like a full time employee too. So I started as what they call the green badge, which was the shunned upon people who didn’t get free lunch. And, and he was, he was actually a big advocate for me to become a full time employee. And I became a project manager at that point. And a lot of the work at that time was about again, like really focusing on outsourcing some of the business processes. And then but how that morphed into project management is, eventually we started focusing on creating like, collateral for sales and marketing folks at Intel. And so I started this initiative where we were designing really elaborate decks for the sales team. And we were starting to create internal websites and stuff like that for Intel organizations and things like that. One thing about Intel, if you know anything, like they are very process driven. And I mean, it’s, it’s no joke, they’re when they take project management very seriously, and program management. So, you know, budgets, you got to be real buttoned up, if you’re going to ask for, you know, $100,000 for a budget, you know, you gotta have a whole like, basically business plan in order to even be able to create any sort of initiatives within the organization, which I think is amazing. And it was an amazing experience to actually learn how to do that, and how to effectively sell it through to some of you know, I mean, I was working with a VP of Operations at one point, like high up executives of this company that I had to basically talk them into doing my idea. And so I think that it was a great boot camp for me from an entrepreneurial perspective of learning. You know, how to what that process really looked like, like at a very young age.

John Corcoran 17:51

Yeah, it reminds me of the the story about the three little bears, right, and they go into and like there’s the porridge. Goldilocks, thank you. The there’s the porridge. It’s too hot, too cold. And just right. Your career reminds me of that, because you have the small little independent photography business. Yeah. Then you have the big corporate, and then your next stop was the mid size. Yeah, turning into a much larger organization, kind of an agency where you started out as production lead and work your way up to executive directors to talk a little bit about that experience. Because what was really interesting from that experience, is that you you really helped them expand in a lot of different verticals and different offerings.

Michelle Mundy 18:38

Yeah, I love that metaphor. By the way, John, that’s great. It does feel like that there’s like there, my career is in three chunks like that. So it’s a good way of putting it. Yeah, I yeah, I started at Left Field Labs, I decide if I did one more intel blue presentation deck, I thought I was gonna lose my mind. So I did move over to the agency side just to get more experience with other brands, essentially. And when I started with Left Field, they were essentially like a web shop working on marketing websites for Google. So I was the I was, I think I was the 30th employee or somewhere close to that. And at the time, again, they were just doing websites. Within a five year period, when I left, they were at about 180 people, I think, with contractors and stuff. So it was a massive amount of growth in that five year period, which is which is great. But also it was growth within the verticalization of their business and their service offerings. So what started as a website, building company and designing websites, we eventually got into VR experiences. And so a lot of what I worked on, I wasn’t necessarily finding and selling the work that we had an amazing sales team that was doing that. I was figuring out once you sell it through, how are we going to actually execute on this. And so once we got to a few of it was VR really is where it started where we were like, Okay, so there’s sort of this experiential world or you know, AR VR world that we’re starting to dip into, we need to make sure that we’re hiring the right talent for that. So the first thing you need to do is literally what I, what I learned from Intel is put together sort of an organizational chart of what this looks like, because the person who is developing a VR experience is not the same person who’s developing a marketing website. And same thing with project managers, you know, you there are VR specialized producers and project managers who you want to have, if you’re going to try to specialize in something like that. So really, I started by pitching that we need to start verbalizing our business, you know, and as we do that, we started to essentially categorize the employees and put them in specialties. So that when we sold something through, think of it as sort of like a, you know, we sell it through which vertical does it kind of fit in, and then that really helped from a structuring a lot of our operational processes like resource management, tracking, utilization, and things like that. And then also enabled us as each one grew, and we brought in a new thing, we started to, you know, develop vendor partnerships. And we started to really, which I highly recommend agencies do. And I think that I don’t see enough of it to be honest enough, I love seeing it in the Bureau, I love there’s there’s portions in the Bureau where I’m like, Yes, you know, like, partner together, because we can’t specialize in everything ourselves. You know, so I think having agency partners and other vendors that you partner with, you know, I maybe we’re the creative directors for a VR experience, but we we partner with a unity shop, and they help build it, you know, you don’t have to do everything. And so I think that really helped with scaling, as well as really figuring out what do we want to commit to and invest in full time? And what do we want to what do we want to do with regards to finding partners who we can partner with that we know are, you know, execute great work, that can we that can work with us and the ebbs and flows of the business as it comes in? So that helped a lot too.

John Corcoran 22:22

And I know there’s there’s can be a tension for companies for agencies, you know, how far do we go beyond our comfort zone? So at one point, you’re totally comfortable with just developing websites, but then those clients are asking for more and more services, there must have been some tension, there must have been conflicts and debates over Oh, do we? Do we do these things? Do we do an installation with fabrications and things like that? What were those conversations? Like, I

Michelle Mundy 22:51

wish there were more of them? We sort of just you know, I mean, a lot of times, we would just take it, you know, and and we were I don’t want to say lucky, I think that everyone was so excited about the opportunities that people were really committed to it. So we were lucky in that sense that that the team was really, but it wasn’t easy all the time. You know, it was definitely challenging at times to, you know, the first event we ever did, was at I don’t think this is a problem. If I, if I bring this up, I believe it was at the VMworld. So for VMware, and we only have one producer on that project. And we had one creative director. And it was a pretty insane structure that we built. I mean, it had like a suspended LED screen that was like in this like, cool geometric shape that like had this whole, like graphic, you know, and this huge project for this week long event to have, you know, obviously from content creation from a managing the event itself, the fabrication, all this stuff. And I had one producer on it. That was a big learning experience for me. And that showed my lack of experience in that type of work, you know, and so, the next time I think we had like four or five producers on it, because that’s how you properly do it. So some of it was trial and error, unfortunately, yeah, but it ended up being some of our coolest stuff.

John Corcoran 24:22

And of course, that first time going through, there’s no roadmap, you probably haven’t documented your processes. And then maybe the second third time going through is when you start thinking about those things. Is that correct? Or you know, Is it bothering you as you’re going through it like oh god we got to capture this we got to create a roadmap we got to build a roadmap our as you’re doing this but at the same time you don’t want to spend a bunch of time to document a process if it turns out we’re gonna do this one off project decide we don’t like it. We don’t do it again.

Michelle Mundy 24:52

Yeah, that’s a really good point because that that is basically what happened by the time we got to about the second or third event. I I attended the event, it was in Barcelona. And literally the whole point of me being there was just to experience it and make sure that I was able to fully understand what that event management process really looked like. I think we couldn’t tackle everything with every project right out of the gate. So the first one was rural, you know, obviously, it was, it was pretty crazy. And we’re figuring out as we go, by the second time, you know, we started figuring out maybe we focused, I think we focus primarily on like, how do you manage expenses for something like this? And how do you manage the budget, and we kind of just honed in on that. And that was a big project, just to figure out, anyone who’s done event management, especially when there’s installations and fabrication and stuff, this stuff gets very expensive. There are a lot of vendors involved, there are a lot of you know, rules that you have to abide by regularly regulations for the space. And so it gets really complicated. So we would hone in on one thing, every time that okay, we really need to focus on this is how we’re going to tracks expenses and our budget burning. And as we did that, we kind of standardize that. And that applied to the next event and gave us the space now to focus on. Okay, what are the process? Like, what are the phases of this project now, and like, let’s really look at the steps to getting there. And over time you do enough events, you get to a point where you’ve kind of got like a playbook essentially for it.

John Corcoran 26:29

Yeah. Now, eventually, again, going back to that metaphor of too hot, too cold, you decide that you’re going to go off and start your own shop. Now that I know from from knowing, interviewing Melanie, and our client, Adi in some way, that this is one of those things that a lot of companies and a lot of agencies need help with? Oftentimes, they don’t know it or realize it. Yeah. Were you ever? Were you ever nervous about starting a company that was around helping to implement process for companies? Or did you from having experienced it in different types of companies? Did you feel that this is just something that has to be done, and it’s fits my personality perfectly?

Michelle Mundy 27:20

I don’t think anyone goes into starting their own business like that confident, I think anyone who says they are if theirs is probably lying. Lying. Yeah, I mean, I think for me, it was it, I went through waves, I obviously I was an executive director, Left Field, I always wanted my own business, the pandemic hit, I had sort of that moment of reflection, I think a lot of us had, where I was one of my own business, I had my own photography business. At one point, we didn’t really talk about that. But that was after that was actually while I was working at Intel. And, you know, I, I really wanted to take the leap, and I kind of felt like, you know, life’s too short, like, I this is my chance, you know, and so, um, I felt like left, I feel like, Intel gave me the foundation, the confidence with the, like foundation and frameworks that need to be in place in order to run a very effective business. And Left Field gave me the competence, like, Left Field was such a amazing experience, because the partners there really gave me so much freedom to, to really, we had this whole joke where it would be I would go ask my boss, who was the CIO, or something, and then he’d be like, did you already do it? And I’d be like, young, you know, like, I often didn’t really ask for permission. And they let me do that, you know, and I think in doing that, it developed a lot more confidence than I had going into the company, for sure. So when I decided to take the leap and get into this, I felt like my experience really, again, that forge metaphor is really great, because it kind of all fit together in order for it to be sort of this perfect kind of experience to make me at least feel competent going into it. But to say that the final days of working at Left Field and before I started full time on my own business, I mean, I had moments where I was waking up going like what am I doing? Like, oh my God, you’re giving up an executive level position to start from scratch. Like, this is the dumbest move I’ve ever done.

John Corcoran 29:26

And it makes it harder to and the family members are like, sure you want to do that.

Michelle Mundy 29:30

I think that’s I know, I know especially you know, I’m a millennial. I come from Baby Boomers, my father worked at the same place for 35 years retired. He does not understand why I why this is so weird. My dad’s calling me right now. Because ears must be burning. i Yeah, he does not he doesn’t understand this kind of risk, you know, to him. You gotta depend on that retirement. You got to just wait it out. You know? Right. And I just I can’t do that I couldn’t do that.

John Corcoran 30:04

I guess you can’t compare starting a business now to starting your business. I guess it lets you compare it to the photography business that you had earlier, before the pandemic. But you started this business after the pandemic. And the pandemic has affected our lives, our culture, our economy businesses, in so many different ways. If you can reflect on that, how do you think that the experience of going through the pandemic will shape and guide businesses attitudes towards putting systems and processes in place?

Michelle Mundy 30:39

Yeah, no, I mean, I think obviously, I mean, the pandemic will live in all of our heads as like an insane, transformational time for everyone. I think at the tire world, I don’t feel like anything has been the same since since it happened. And I think that one, one of the things that I experience because I was working at Left Field when the pandemic hit was not being as prepared as we could have been about fully understanding how we would have I mean, I think a lot of business, how would we respond to something like this? Like, you know, you sort of like do furlough people, do we put the business on hold? Like, what, what do we do, and I think if, as if you were as buttoned up as possible with I think Left Field, you know, in that way, was really great. If you weren’t, though, and you didn’t have some of these sort of like structures in place, I could see that that have been very difficult. But I also see it for the agency world, the digital agency side, I’m sure that you’ve heard on your side, John, like, they actually boomed. Like, during the pandemic, it was insane. We started doing virtually events, like, I mean, we had, you know, opportunities being thrown at us. And so that’s another thing all the sudden, and I’m still seeing it with some of my clients is that they’re growing, and they’re not sure how to scale. And so I think that the pandemic having been, yes, obviously, a very difficult time was also really transformative for especially the creative services industry. And for some agencies, the growth is almost like not sustainable unless they put these systems in place. And so a lot of that is my focus right now. Even right now, like, there’s still just a ton of agencies that are like, we exploded in the last year, you know, in size and and didn’t put any sort of thought into the systems that we place. And so it’s kind of clean up.

John Corcoran 32:51

Yeah, yeah, I know, we’ve experienced that as well, where we’ve kind of like you kind of have these moments where you look back kind of with clarity, and you’re like, we could be doing this better. You know, I feel like we’re not at the level where we were a while ago, you know, like, we were doing this better at this size, and then we change, we’re bigger and more clients, but then don’t feel like we’re doing it as well, you know. And so sometimes you got to slow down and stop, take a look at those things. I know, we’re running short on time, you’re launching something called Toolkits and also community called Solo Entrepreneur. Talk a bit about what those are. Yeah, yeah,

Michelle Mundy 33:27

  1. So, you know, one of the things I’m trying to figure out is how can I scale the services that I offer in a way that can be more of an out of out of the box, easy to implement solution for my clients. So I am going to be launching Toolkits in October, which will be essentially just what it is like, out of the box templates and things that agencies can, can use to help put systems in place very easily. So they’ll come with obviously a template, and then also training materials and how to the process of actually implementing them. And my goal is really to just scale what I know my experience as much as I possibly can. Because obviously, I can’t necessarily consult with everyone. And so that’s, that’s really what my goal is, is to create some sort of, I’ve got this dream that agencies can become like an Intel in the sense of, let’s standardize this industry a little bit better, because everyone is doing everything differently. And I don’t think it has to be that way. And if we can, if we can really hone in on that and start working, at least from the operation side, in a smarter way, a very system systematized way, then you can focus on just the work and creating amazing work, you know, and it really does, again, give sort of creative space to the people who are executing things. So that’s, that’s for Onpar. And then yeah, so in this adventure that I’ve gone on with entrepreneurship, I am I’m a very I’m a baby business. I mean, I just started, I guess technically I was an entrepreneur now that we’re talking about, like, back in the day when I had my own photography, business, but I felt I always say I felt two things. When I became an entrepreneur. One, I felt suddenly just immense freedom. And it was like, amazing, I was like, Oh, my gosh, this is amazing. I can do whatever I want. And I don’t mean like, I could, you know, sit and watch the Real Housewives all day long. I mean, you know, I can I can make this whatever I want it to be, you know, I can scale it and grow it exactly how I want to from the ground up. But the second thing I felt was loneliness. Honestly, I was used to having peers and I was used to having a leadership team that I could bounce ideas off of, and work with. And I was used to having a team of people I was managing, and, you know, I don’t ever I didn’t really picture and I still don’t really picture Onpar being this huge business. I think that I want it to be sort of like a very, like solo entrepreneur run business. So I decided that I wanted to start my own community and really inspired by the Bureau. You know, Carl Smith, I guess would we call it agency? Whatever?

John Corcoran 36:12

Yeah. Community of unity owners? Yeah. Yeah, really

Michelle Mundy 36:15

similar, but really focused on entrepreneurship at the very beginning stages. So I really have this strong inclination that in the coming years, people are going to I think freelance is going to suddenly become entrepreneurship, and I think it’s going to become sort of the norm. And I don’t think any longer will people think entrepreneur or they’ll think of like only Elon Musk, or only Jeff Bezos there. I think anyone can be an entrepreneur, anyone can be a business owner. And I think especially with the generation coming up, right now they are they’ve grown up with technology, they have all of these information at their fingertips. And I think creating a community where if you want to start your own business, like I know, it’s scary, but we we can be a net to help support you through it. So really, it’s a community of solo entrepreneurs who, whether they be freelancers or new business owners that are just starting out, we’re going to teach you the foundations of of how to start your own business, but also share each other as resources similar to what I was doing with Left Field with the vendor partnerships. That’s why I believe so strongly in that is, I think too many businesses operate alone, instead of finding strategic partners. And you can you can grow that way. And it’s a very low risk model to do. So really, it’s it’s focused on, on community education, as well as peer to peer collaboration. So that’s going to be starting in January of 2023. Right now, I am looking for what I’m calling solo ambassadors. But essentially, folks who can really help start to create, basically a foundation of the content, but also, what it’ll look like from a community based sort of platform, whether or not we use like a Slack environment or online portal, I really want to make sure it’s structured very well. So that it’s that it’s able to grow organically, in a way that makes it as effective for the environment as or the the members as possible. So yeah, so that’s coming soon, too. And then I need to throttle my entrepreneurial ideas for a little bit. Because I’ve gone off the chains with ideas.

John Corcoran 38:38

I noticed like yep, I noticed like, especially when you’ve been, you know, aspiring entrepreneur for a long time, then you get started like I can, I can work on this. I can work I

Michelle Mundy 38:48

literally have was told earlier this weekend, like make it a little bit. You don’t have to do everything.

John Corcoran 38:54

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s great. You know, you know, I’m a big fan of gratitude. And I think Gratitude has really helped me as an entrepreneur. I look back. I think there’s so many people like my business partner, other entrepreneurs I’ve worked with who, who I’d like to tell how much I appreciate them. And so I like to give people a little bit of a platform at the end here to just acknowledge, especially peers and contemporaries, mentors who’ve helped them along the way. I think a lot of times, we tend to reflexively thank our family and we get to reflexively thank our teammates or employees, and that’s fine. But if you think about peers and contemporaries, who would you want to shout out and thank?

Michelle Mundy 39:41

Yeah, I love I love this question. You know, definitely when it comes to Onpar and starting my own business and feeling supported, Melanie from WeConsult, was a huge partner for me in the beginning. So it was Karl Sakas. He was he actually He became kind of my consulting quote unquote, coach. I kind of tricked him into it. But he’s been a great a great partner for me. And it’s referred a lot of folks over. You know, I think at Carl Smith, I don’t really know him personally. But I think his the Bureau has been an amazing resource for me and being able to meet new people. So I really have appreciated that experience. And then the other thing I would bring up is, is the 2Bobs podcast has been like a big thing that was like, I started binging that years ago, and that became a big learning what Blair Enns and David C. Baker, like their types of work really inspired me and to what I could make my business to be. And I had never thought of that until I listened to that podcast and read their books. So that was also a huge inspiration. And then I got a shout out the partners of Lufia labs, obviously Sarah Eric Akash. They were, I mean, I wouldn’t be here today without them as well.

John Corcoran 40:57

Yeah, and those are all great. So, Karl Sakas, David C. Baker, Carl Smith, and I’m working on Blair Enns. Those are all past guests on my podcast, so if anyone wants to learn more about them, go check it out. Melanie as well. All great past episodes. Michelle, this has been great. Where can people go to learn more about you and encore and reach out?

Michelle Mundy 41:18

Yeah, so you can go to onparapp.io for Onpar. And then also, the soloentrepreneur.com is up as well. So if you are interested in that there’s a form you can fill out.

John Corcoran 41:33

Excellent. All right. Thanks so much for joining.

Michelle Mundy 41:35

Thanks, John.

Outro 41:36

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