How iakoe Successfully Launched in Lockdown

19th March 2021

Over the past year, many businesses have faced uncertainty and challenges due to the pandemic. Although multiple national lockdowns and restrictions have caused issues for many existing companies, there has also been a surge in new businesses. 

At JMW Solicitors, we wanted to shine a light on some of the positive stories from business owners that have launched during this difficult time. In this post, we speak to digital marketing agency owner Luke Haslett about his personal experience launching his business iakoe during a global pandemic. 

With the digital marketing industry growing from strength to strength, there is no surprise that the number of start-ups is rapidly increasing. Luke Haslett talks to us about how he had to adapt to the new market conditions caused by the current climate, and why he decided to still launch his performance-based search marketing agency iakoe. 

Was there something in particular that inspired you to launch your business during the pandemic? 

No, my partner and I had been planning on launching the business since December 2019. Although the market conditions we launched in were very different to those that we expected. 

Why now?

Search marketing as an industry is constantly evolving yet the business models of the agencies themselves have lacked innovation and become overly reliant on fixed subscription models. We knew our business model was disruptive and extremely attractive to potential clients as we burden a high degree of risk and 50% of the contract value on each engagement in upside metrics that we only unlock if we hit our KPIs.

What do you feel makes your business unique or special? Why are you passionate about it? 

Traditionally, search marketing agencies have deployed subscription business models and enjoyed handsome monthly fixed retainer contracts. These agencies have justified their billings via recorded time sheets, backlinks, media coverage reports and Google rankings. Yet, these metrics are removed from their client’s core business KPIs and guarantee no financial ROI. Whilst “outputs” are always provided, whether or not they drive financial value is rarely in the minutiae of contractual agreements. We believe this model is unsustainable and we feel it's our responsibility to deliver what is needed at a business level. 

What we are aiming for is a shift in focus. Instead of focusing on the time spent on a project, we focus on the value we create. Most agencies, unfortunately, view pricing as antagonistic: a win-lose relationship with customers in that what one party gains the other loses, or so goes the weakly held assumption. 

Our performance-based model creates complete alignment between buyer and provider goals. It ensures that our clients will only ever pay a quantifiable percentage of the commercial value our work drives.

Have you had to adapt your products or services along with the regular updates and change in rules etc? For example, do certain restrictions mean you have to change the way your business works at all? 

No, we haven’t had to make any adaptations to our services. If anything, we’ve been well positioned to capitalise on brands focusing on growing their digital offerings.

What were the biggest struggles or challenges that you faced? 

I’ve been very fortunate that my family has stayed healthy during the pandemic so I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to say I have struggled. There are a lot of people that have had real struggles in their lives over the past year and my personal circumstances need to be viewed from that prism.

Did you receive any financial support for the launch of your business? Or did you build the company from scratch? 

We launched the company in March 2020 and bootstrapped our way to August when we applied for a £5,500 loan under the bounce back scheme. The loan was essential for us to pay for a number of technologies that were key to landing our first big contract. It was a small sum in the grand scheme of things but the technology was essential for us to shift the needle on the engagement and crucially, it saved us from having to dive deeper into our personal finances.

Do you feel that the response to your newly-launched business would have been the same had we not have been in a national lockdown? 

Personally, I think the timing of our launch was more advantageous for the agency as many businesses at the time were scrutinising their marketing budgets and our competitors wouldn’t burden the same degree of risk in their engagements. Thus, it made us extremely attractive as an agency partner when pitching for contracts as we were prepared to burden a high degree of the risk plus only be paid according to the value we created.

At what moment did you feel you had made the right decision, and the business had succeeded? 

I don’t think there was ever a moment of doubt. Of course, in every business there will always be challenges and the market conditions we launched in were extremely testing. That being said, I’ve launched businesses since I was 18 years old and enjoyed success in each of them. This time however it is different, my business partner, Nathan Thompson is truly an innovator and shares the same vision for the agency as I do. I have always believed we are building something special at iakoe.

Has launching your company inspired you to start any other new projects or businesses? 

Definitely not. Whilst the work we do at iakoe inspires me on a daily basis, I’m a firm believer in focusing all of your energy into one business. Whilst we’ve explored internal R&D projects to develop new technologies, I wouldn’t have the time to invest in any other projects. I’ve made a personal commitment to building a bright future for everyone at iakoe.

What do you think the future of your company might look like in a post-COVID world? 

I think our next big leap post-covid will be to develop our own technology IP.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from becoming a business owner during this period? 

Focus on managing your energy each day. The macro factors at play over the past year have inevitably been very stressful for everyone as we’ve had to make major sacrifices in our personal lives due to the national lockdowns. Thus, it’s important to manage your stress levels, sleep, exercise, recovery and nutrition to bring your best self to work each day.

What advice would you give someone that is thinking about setting up a business now? What  is something you wish you’d have known? 

Inevitably potential customers will be scrutinising how they spend their cash. Thus businesses that are creating more measurable value for their customers (compared to other market incumbents) will thrive at such a time. My advice to entrepreneurs launching businesses during the recession is to focus on quantifying and proving the superior value they create for their customers compared with other market available alternatives.

Read other successful business stories: 

We're Social