Robin Skidmore, CEO, and co-founder of Journey Further tells us how in the world of digital media, technology and data can both enhance and confuse.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Robin Skidmore: All good, thanks for asking, although my daughter just broke her elbow at school!
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Journey Further.
Robin Skidmore: I’ve worked in digital marketing my whole career, founding my first agency at 25. I went on an amazing journey with the company over 10 years, growing one of the largest independent digital agencies in the UK. I sold that business in 2014, took some time out, and reassessed what was important to me. I soon realized that growth is what excites me, so I decided to launch a new breed of agency that delivers unparalleled growth for brands. Journey Further was born in 2017.
Just over 4 years into our story, we have created a company of 100 people, delivering a clarity at speed approach for market-leading brands and ambitious startups. We act as the antidote to the traditional marketing industry that suffers from a lack of transparency, bloat, and over-complexity. Outside of Journey Further, I’m an investor and advisor to some leading UK startups, including last-minute holiday provider, Snaptrip, D2C decorating company Lick Home and everpress.com, a sustainable fashion marketplace. I am also the proud owner of The Fox & Hounds, which was recently recommended in the 2021 Michelin Guide.
How does Journey Further innovate?
Robin Skidmore: We strive to put data and creative thinking at the heart of our clients’ businesses. Our team of experts is guided by insight and supported by technology to enable them to predict the market and make smart decisions to drive growth via digital channels.
In response to the pandemic, we made a number of early predictions last year –
- Ecommerce growth – the addressable market for eCommerce sales will grow more quickly than anticipated (it has). The laggards, slow and hesitant to make a move to online shopping, have now realized its ease and convenience and will continue to spend more time and money online. The high street will suffer.
- Digital transformation – is now being forced on businesses. Change that may have taken years will be accelerated to match the change in consumer buying habits. Larger, traditional businesses will struggle to adapt, lowering the barriers for new disruptors to enter the market and steal market share. Their products and propositions are more closely aligned to the new demands of digitally savvy customers. Start-ups will prosper.
- In-housing & upskilling – transformation requires new skills and capabilities that are either outsourced or don’t already exist. Digital is the focus now, so brands will want to take back control and foster knowledge internally. They need to know how things work, where to drive efficiency and where to invest. The good news is that employees will (finally) be trusted to work remotely, opening up a greater talent pool that will help reduce the barriers to building capable internal teams. Expert practitioners and technology providers will win.
Ecommerce growth and digital transformation are clear positives for digital agencies. The threat to our sustained growth is now our ability to adapt to a new model to serve companies with a new set of challenges. Taking this into consideration, the agencies that will thrive in the future are those that share freely, provide open access to talent and training, and who are transparent on every level with technology and data. In May 2020, we launched a new consultancy to work in this exact way. We also launched a Marketplace offering to support more D2C businesses, helping them sell on platforms like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Robin Skidmore: When the pandemic started a year ago, we were hit fairly hard by the first lockdown, with many clients reducing their spending. We lost 30% of our business overnight, mainly our travel clients. Despite this, 2020 was an incredible year for Journey Further as we continued to win a number of key accounts, including Liberty London and Virgin Money, and we finished the year with a 50% year-on-year growth and client revenue exceeding £4.8 million.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Robin Skidmore: We were fortunate to have had 100% flexible working for all staff since the day we formed, so the shift to full remoting working was an easy shift. What wasn’t so easy was the management of our resources. We had hired ahead of the curve to support a strong pipeline of new business that ultimately didn’t close, and we lost 30% of our turnover practically overnight. Thankfully we were able to utilize the furlough scheme and at one point had almost a third of the team off work. Thankfully due to a number of new business wins, we were able to bring many of the team back to work relatively quickly, and by the end of the summer, we had everyone working for Journey Further full time once more and have remained at those levels.
It reinforced the importance of having a clear set of values and always remaining true to them. Ours include being Open and Together, and there has never been a more critical time for us to demonstrate the importance of both. That ultimately led us to continued success in 2020 and kept the team focussed and motivated whilst we navigated the unknown and continue to do so.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Robin Skidmore: We utilized the government’s Job Retention Scheme in the early part of the pandemic, which was a massive help during what was a very uncertain time.
Your final thoughts?
Robin Skidmore: We have just signed for new larger offices in Manchester and London and plan to develop our Leeds HQ with a fitness and wellness space. Our NYC office opens in Q3 this year as we take on the states. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get back to the office!