We talked to Achmed Awad of The Next Ad, an agency powered by proprietary software, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Achmed Awad: Fortunately, we’ve been spared from any casualties, so let’s hope this stays the same for the future! Other than this, I can see that both myself and my family have learned to cope with the current situation in a better way than I imagined beforehand. Working and living from home and offering each other support and space is actually not that bad.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded The Next Ad.
Achmed Awad: I founded The Next Ad together with my partner Sander Haarman. We already had a company together specialized in building organic social media management software when we came up with the idea to move to the adjacent area of social advertising at The Next Ad. We initially started building software which optimizes your online ad campaigns on Facebook & Instagram, but we soon realized that we had much more to offer to our clients by providing them with advice and operations to run their campaigns as well as possible. So along the way, we transformed from a purebred software house towards an agency powered by proprietary software. This turned out to be a fantastic and successful pivot!
How does The Next Ad innovate?
Achmed Awad: On one hand, we are always looking for what our customers need and how well this matches with what we offer them. For example, we started offering only the Facebook ecosystem products to our customers as it was the most dominant social platform at the time. However, over the years, new players entered the market, such as most recently TikTok. TikTok is especially interesting for our fashion and eCommerce customers, and we could see a fantastic value in adding it to our portfolio of services. This doesn’t mean we lack focus, but it means that if our focus is making social advertising successful for our clients, and an upcoming network like TikTok can offer our customers that exact advantage to increase their success and distinctiveness, then we have to grab this opportunity together.
On the other hand, innovation is nothing if you can’t even maintain your own structural integrity. It’s absolutely key that our team is happy, objective performance reporting for both clients and our team is in place, and all of this information is available to anyone in the company, making it completely transparent when we have to improve or when we can celebrate.
These two processes never stop and can never be relaxed if you’re willing to truly innovate in a durable, long-term manner.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Achmed Awad: At the moment, business is almost back to normal. We can still see that some of our clients have a challenging time ahead of them as the uncertainty is still there. For these clients, we want to be that friend who’s there for you when you need them most. Of course, we don’t have an informal relationship with all our clients, but we believe that if we can help them survive harsh times, our relationship will grow stronger, and in good times they’ll remember who was there to support them when things looked ugly.
When the virus just broke out, we did take a significant hit as some of our clients hit the brake on marketing expenses right away. Some clients left, but most stayed with us and agreed to resume work in better times. And as society is still mostly in lockdown, we can only look forward to an even more bright future ahead of us.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Achmed Awad: When you see that your revenue is taking double-digit hits overnight, you’ll get worried and doubt what is the best thing you can do. The first thing we did is, checking our forecast to see how long we could survive with this decreased revenue maintaining the same team but cutting unnecessary costs immediately. And this is what we did. But while doing this, we also become more aware of the additional/unnecessary luxury we’ve afforded ourselves because the company was doing well. This sharpened our experience as founders to deal with this in a better way, knowing what is extra, talking with the team, and making them aware of this and the absolute need to navigate through tough times together. And that sometimes means that we have to let go of things now only to receive better in the future.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Achmed Awad: Waterproof financial reports are an absolute must-have. I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t know exactly where your business stands and what is influencing your revenue and costs, you’re navigating in the dark. Following this, team performance reports are key to running a successful operation. Define what the key performance metrics are for each team and manage them accordingly. Make all of these reports publicly available within the company, educate your team to be able to read them, and take an open stance on feedback or improvement. These reports evolve. We find ourselves improving reports periodically based on new experiences.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Achmed Awad: Our competitors are mostly agencies of small to medium sizes. We believe that the proof is in eating the pudding by showing our (potential) clients what we’re capable of. If a prospect doesn’t fall right away for one of our many success stories, then we offer them audits to review their current marketing strategy and operations. On top of what I already mentioned about innovating, keeping our team and clients happy, keeping sales up is our key to stay in the game.
Your final thoughts?
Achmed Awad: Founding your own company is a fantastic experience but not easy, to say the least. As Ben Horowitz said, as a founder, you’re constantly being tossed around between euphoria and fear of death. The former keeps you on your feet, while the latter makes you aware of the limits of your business and what you need to do to achieve the opposite. It takes an incredible amount of energy, motivation, and discipline to make a business successful. It doesn’t matter if you can become the next Facebook or not; what matters is that you do what you love and that others acknowledge your skill up to the point they’re willing to pay for it and work with you for the unforeseeable future. Build up that foundation first; then the money will follow (or whatever goal you’re aiming for).
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