Start Close In

In this episode…

Mike McFadden, President of eAccountable, provides the motivation we all need to just get started in this episode of There’s Always a Lyric, hosted by David Hernandez. 

“Start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.”

Episode Transcript

David Hernandez (00:44)

Welcome to another episode of There’s Always A Lyric. I’m your host David Hernandez and today I have the honor and pleasure to introduce Mike McFadden. Mike and I have worked together on some projects and I’ve gotten to know him and I cannot say enough great things about him but first let me give you a little background on him. He is currently the President of E-accountable. Mike McFadden’s is growing an advertising agency designed to help companies grow and grow profitably.  E-accountable was founded in 2000 and has been at the forefront of affiliate marketing. And Mike has been building a team who can help clients well beyond the affiliate. The agency now has a team who can help clients across channels ranging from Amazon, paid search, paid social, email, direct mail, and more. Ultimately, the agency is not interested in selling a service rather e accountable is focused on helping clients grow profitably. I love that. Since joining in the summer of 2020, e-accountable has grown 133%, which is, wow. We’ll talk about that. More importantly, their clients are growing and the team is having great success and having fun along the way. Prior to joining e-accountable, Mike spent nearly 10 years at Ogilvy he was the Executive Vice President of digital transformation and partnerships. There he led a team across multiple offices, designing and building human centered digital experiences.  Before working at Ogilvy, Mike founded a vacation rental platform as well as a vacation homes charity organization, which raised more than $500,000 for nonprofits. With more than 20 years of experience in brand strategy, product innovation, consumer technology and startups. He is ideally suited to help organizations grow their business. Mike has worked across many industries and geographical locations. Welcome Mike McFadden, it is truly a pleasure to have you here today.


Mike McFadden (02:43)

Thank you. Pleasure to be here.


David Hernandez  (02:46)

I wanted to start with where we are right now with the present. If you can tell me a little bit about how it’s going. I mean, you came on board in 2020. A lot has happened. Since then, based on, you know, the summary I just read. And more importantly, there’s been a lot of growth. Can you share a little bit with those that are listening on what took place?


Mike McFadden (03:10)

Yeah, we have experienced a lot of growth. And I get asked, you know, how, how do you grow an agency? And I do think it boils down to two simple things. How good is your team? How good are your clients? And so, just every day, we’re investing and growing and investing in our team. How do we help them get better? How do we find people that are well suited, aligned in our mission? Our mission being driving profitable sales. And that mission is interesting, because you would think at the core, most agencies would be thinking about that. Right? But it’s quite fascinating. It’s I did not think this would be a differentiator, but it sure seems to be because I think, you know, marketers, as a whole, myself included can get caught up on the thing. Is it, I used to joke? Is it the Twitter? Is it the social? Is it Google? I am old enough to legitimately had a client, ask, can I get on the Twitter, and I kind of chuckled. So you get caught up looking at the shiny object and can lose sight of what’s going to drive sales. So the last three years, I go, it’s not one big silver bullet. It’s just every day are we invested in getting ourselves better? And then on the other side of the coin is, are we continuing to invest in getting clients? And clients that we can stay with for decades. And we do talk a lot about, we want clients We will be with for decades, and that helps anchor against a few things. Not churning. Take care of your clients. When you think that you’re going to be a partner for 10 years plus, your decision making can be different. What you invest in to help your clients succeed is different. You’re okay, investing or maybe not making as much upfront. You know, even in the last three years, we’ve gotten through a lot of ups and downs across our portfolio. But when you’re in the mindset of we’re in this together for a long time, you get through it together.


David Hernandez  (05:40)

Right. So it’s, it’s a long tail long term approach. And, you know, you said a few things that I want to touch on that I think are very important. One is, you know, you talk about the right people. And everybody talks about how important people are, but I feel like, it’s, it’s a bit of a cliche, and a lot of companies don’t really put their money where their mouth is in terms of not only hiring great people, but then retaining them.


Mike McFadden (06:09)

Yeah. Well, and I’ll tell you, you know, when I came over, and e-accountable is that healthy affiliate agency. But when you’re just running affiliate to try to convince someone to come over, whose been in a proper large PR firm, or in a running Amazon for 10 years, it was a lot of casting the vision of where we’re going, right? And then kind of crossing your fingers and go, I hope we get this. Yeah. The other piece, it’s so incredibly important to look at the values. And we just spent some time again reevaluating what we call our, our core values. And when you think about an agency, one of the core values is it could be articulated different ways. But are you ready to put in the hard work? Are you committed to client success? It’s something that in every interview, talk through, like, talk to me about perseverance, talk to me about your commitment level? Because I do view this as an agency, when we say yes to a client, we’re saying yes, through the thick and the thin. And so you got to have a team that understands that commitment level. Now, what I’m also not saying though, because this has come back, I did, I went through, I haven’t done the counts to date, but over 200 interviews, I mean, it’s because to find the person that understands that, but then I’m not also saying work yourself to death 22 hours a day, not sleep in… And so through all the interviews through our process of going through, it is fascinating to see how many people have been in environments that are I don’t know if toxics the right word, I call them wounded people. I’m mean like, deep wounds of being taken advantage of, there’s a difference there. We’re not saying come in, and we’re gonna grind you until you can’t do anything. Right. Yeah, but that but when you talk about resilience, it’s interesting to see how people will interpret what you mean there, especially when you’re an agency.


David Hernandez  (08:31)

There’s a lot more to the grow that profitability piece that you talk about in your profile on LinkedIn, that there’s other layers and impacts communities and impacts the employees that work at that company, that you’re basically looking at the the profitability piece, all the way through, there’s a through line to overall success for people. Community. Towns. Neighborhood. Yeah, it runs all the way. 


Mike McFadden (0:02)

It strikes a chord. When you go into an organization, and I do, I get torn up on this. A profitable company makes a bigger impact on our community than anything else.


David Hernandez  (09:15)

Yeah. It can change the course of things for people.


Mike McFadden (09:21)

It’s, it’s, it’s honestly, it’s why I love working with manufacturers. I love going into clients. We, the first thing I did when I got here is I took team members to the clients. Now we’re a digital agency. You don’t really have to travel. You can sit on Zoom forever. Yeah. I remember one of the guys goes so I’m coming out to this plant. I said, Yeah, I go, there’s two things. I want you to learn more about this business, like he got to understand how things are made. Right second thing I want you actually see the impact. So you can sit behind a zoom screen and sit behind, you know, an analytics dashboard and go great, we just drove, you know, seven more million dollars of sales and a million back to the bottom line. And what you don’t see is the growing accounting team, the operations team, you don’t see what’s happening within the whole ecosystem. And so we do a lot of travel. And a lot of it is actually not just to spend time with the clients, it’s genuinely to go, come see the impact. It can be misinterpreted as like, money hungry when we talk about profitable sales? Yeah. And what it really is, a profitable business. You see people’s kids going to school, you see donations to local nonprofits. You see, you see these trickle effects that happen when Commerce has done well.


David Hernandez  (11:01)

What are the origins of that? Was there, in your earlier career, were you impacted a certain way by someone? Or it could have been, you know, someone that was a colleague or a mentor or a coach? Or how did you… What led you to this very grounded, I think, approach and philosophy? 


Mike McFadden (11:26)

I had the, I guess, the fortune to do some studying overseas that had this Skoll Scholar, social entrepreneurship program at Oxford, and I got to work closely with the Skoll Scholars, and these are folks that had a scholarship to go. And they earned that scholarship because of their impact in their communities or globally. I mean, they’re doing incredible work. And I would say to help humanity, that might not be their terms, but that’s how I would say it. And, you know, I show up, and I’m, through the lens of marketing, and how do we sell more stuff. And it can feel like a conflict. You either have, it’s, it can feel like a black and white, either you want to go make money, or you are going to make no money and go help people. And you’re like, why is this black and white? In fact, when you look at a lot of the nonprofits, and the social enterprises, nonprofits are typically funded by private and public money, or social enterprises are typically attempting to be sustainable through some commercial transaction. But as like, I don’t know if this is the I don’t think it’s black and white. Right. In fact, when you look at a lot of the money that’s donated, that’s all coming through successful businesses. So that was one influence of just I can still vividly remember thinking this is, why does this have to feel like a black and white thing? This?


David Hernandez  

It’s this, it’s not this or that? 


Mike McFadden

Yeah. And one’s not better than the other. Right? Right. Right. All good. Like, you know.


David Hernandez  

What you saw and proposed is, is just another side of the third sides of the coin, if you will, yeah.


Mike McFadden (13:23)

I also have a close friend who has spent his whole life well close to his whole life, but we’ll call it at least two decades, he might be on his third decade. Who has tried to continue in, in his sphere of influence pull city leaders, government leaders, faith leaders and business leaders together to solve a common problem, wherever that is, and whatever municipality. And it was another just sitting in a lot of the conversations and hearing from different leaders and their points of view. Just the stories, I mean, in that, that triage, you have three different entities who are just they’re trying to do their best, you know, we can, everyone’s got an opinion on government, but at the end of the day, government’s typically trying to do their best to serve the citizens. Right? This. This group had faith leaders, these faith leaders are trying to do their best to serve their communities. And the business leaders are trying to make money in a lot of these it would show up had this mindset of how do I I’m not just building a business, but they’re intimate use that term. It’s a great term intimate with their employees. Yes, they were there to make money. I wanted to profitable business, but they also there’s deep connection.It’s those relationships. One of the business owners had a strategic hiring process around bringing people in from a nonprofit called Hope House. And this was hiring, whether we want to call at risk or hardship, folks and giving ‘em a shot, when I remember seeing that and going, this is what business really does.


David Hernandez  (15:12)

Right that that was the aha moment. That was the lightbulb for you. Yeah. And it’s really informed and driven, where you’ve gone, basically what you’ve done. So, we’ve talked a lot about where you are now and, and what you’ve arrived at. But there’s also a past that leads you to where you are, and no one’s life is one long descendency. You know, there’s it’s not a hockey stick of a life, right? At some point, we have valleys or troughs, failures. Can you share a time that, that something like that happened to you whether it was you can share a story of failure, or you know, just where you got a different outcome than you were hoping for, or that you just found yourself in a situation where you’re just like, this was not the right pivot for me.


Mike McFadden (16:06)

Depending on how people spin it, I still call this, it is a failure, or we did not hit the goals that we wanted to hit, we launched a luxury vacation home rental company, basically, the VRBO of very high end rentals. This goes back to 2006, seven and eight. And high growth and vacation rentals, no Airbnb at that time, right VRBO was just acquired by HomeAway. There was a gap in the marketplace, the luxury rentals in that there was a big trust factor. So a lot of homes that were worth $2 million, plus, 3 million, 5 million, were sitting vacant. And there wasn’t a good vehicle to use that deeply believe in that. And I think Airbnb has proved. And I still say VRBO, even though the new creative agency says verbo. The, we didn’t make it, we were able to have like a little exit. But we, I like to call it a swinging bunt, but that didn’t meet the expectations of our investors didn’t meet the expectations of the founders. And so that’s stunk. Here’s what I took away from it, though. Every day, even still to this day, right now, even to my phone call this morning. That wound is so real as it relates to we underestimated in in we’re ill equipped to really acquire customers and continue to drive that cash down. And I do have the fortune of talking to a lot of entrepreneurs. And I find that is typically the biggest gap with a lot entrepreneurs, they’ve got a great idea. They’ve got what appears to be product market fit. And they haven’t figured out how much it’s gonna cost to acquire customer. What’s the lifetime value of that customer? How the heck do you keep them in, get them to buy more? And it sounds simple. But I’ll be a son of a gun. That thing’s overlooked so much in it. At the end of the day, it’s actually simple math. But that, you know, the the historically marketers or a lot of people think of marketers and advertising is just people sit and think about campaigns and creative. And right now it’s social ads. And that drives me nuts. Because actually, the the core of creative is ultimately how am I going to? How am I going to acquire new customers? Acquire them cheaper? And then keep them longer?


David Hernandez  (18:59)

You know, you’re right. That really is the mission that creative doesn’t live in its own bubble. It’s there to serve a master and that Master is acquiring your customers, building out that community for that brand. Yep, that’s the job. That’s the underlying piece of it. 


Mike McFadden (19:17)

We make things so confusing. Who’s Who’s your ideal customer? Why are they going to buy? Or why are they going to engage? Or why are they going to subscribe, whatever you’re trying to get them to do. What do you offer that’s appealing and exclusive? If you miss those fundamentals, it’s it’s really hard to move forward.


David Hernandez  (19:45)

Agree, right. There’s no place to go. Yeah. So I guess you know that all of these previous experiences have really led you to have the kind of, it’s business with purpose, you know, to just to try to cut it down to one. Yeah, it’s business with purpose. And it really is quite something that you’ve gone through all of these iterations in your career. And basically, it was it was a, this decision is summational. It’s summational based on your experience, which is, it was great, because a lot of, you know, obviously, a lot of folks now, don’t get there. And, you know, you don’t hear much about this kind of an approach to a mission or a vision for a company.


Mike McFadden (20:36)

Yeah. And I’d be remiss to say there have been a lot of people that I’ve, I’ve met, well, it’s, it’s an opportunity, it’s luck, it’s a blessing, you can say whatever word you want, that I’ve got to work with, you can call them mentors, you can call them angels, you can call them sages. And I had them in different periods of life. My first job, I worked with a partner. I’m just a little marketing analyst, setting up focus groups, taking notes, doing my best job possible and eating m&ms behind a focus group. You know, it’s your first job, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I just know I need to summarize these notes and try to put it in a presentation. And then deep down hope that there’s not too much editing done. You know, you’re what you always do, you’re like, boy, I really messed that one up, it took them another day to finish it. And then if you nailed it, the partner was gone. But I had one who deeply cared about people. And he was so different than anyone else. And that was kind of like one little snippet. I was like, wow, this guy goes in. And he’s meeting with clients. And he’s asking about their kids. And this isn’t just like, client service, Baloney, he deeply cared. Very curious. Oh, resonated, because you saw it. You saw a connection, it was deeper than just a transaction. And then I got to work with a woman at effective UI, who went on, and she was the CEO there. And she had a compassion for our team, that it’s not like she was out saying this, but you saw it and every action, and even when there were ups and downs within the agency, and clients come and go, and there’s difficult conversations, there was this extra level of compassion that you saw, it was just different. And you saw how people wanted to work for her. You saw how clients responded to her. And it was just different.


David Hernandez  (23:04)

I have a completely different question. How does a guy like you find balance? Like, I mean, you’re just on the go 133% growth since 2020. And you gotta throw in, oh, by the way, there was a pandemic.


Mike McFadden (23:17)

So there’s a couple things, I actually love what I’m doing. So it’s, it’s interesting, when the conversation comes up, around balance, work life balance. And I find more often than not, that question comes up because someone hates what they do. Now, now, everyone’s situation is different. So you may, you may be in a job, and you and you, you don’t like it, but this is where you are. And you know you got to be there. And you know, the conversation of balance for that situation is a little different than the conversation to balance when you’re you actually love what you’re doing. I will have phone calls at 7am. I will have phone calls on the weekend. I will work with owners. I go and I do mention to this team, do you think selling ever stops? It doesn’t. So there are times where you’re like, is this outside the boundaries of work life balance? When you’re committed to helping clients grow, it ends up you’re hoping that there’s not a break in sales. So there is an element of that, that I go, I actually love it. Now. If I don’t take a break, I’m in a lot of trouble. So there is still a need for rest. I use the term of like, am I getting filled up? So sometimes it’s taking walks sometimes it’s I don’t know I spent several years doing the headspace app. Yeah, if that was I’ve not been doing as much extra was kind of reflecting on that I at that season in life, that little orange dot on my phone was like it was the perfect getaway. I mean, if I could, it was perfect. So I don’t know I kind of go, that balance, it ebbs and flows a little bit on what that looks like. I really struggle with the balance question, because I go, I know there’s got to be rest so that you have energy, right? There’s an energy level that you got to have. So that I never want to ignore, but the idea of like, Oh, I just shut everything off. There are times I shut things off to be focused or times that I shut things off where I know I need to recharge, but I don’t have like a Tim Ferriss regimen. I don’t actually know if he’s still doing his podcast, but if he did, because there was a season that I listened to everything. I would imagine there’s a regimen and it was like every day at this time, plus these two supplements plus this workout… that never worked for me. I was like, okay, there are some mornings that I need more quiet time. And there are some mornings that it’s like, oh, cool. I have a six o’clock call because it’s eight o’clock on the East Coast time. And we have someone calling in from India. Love it. Let’s go.  So I have one more analogy for the rest. Yeah. Or the balance. I went whitewater rafting I’ve really I’ve been like four times. So I’m not. I’m in Colorado, but I’m not hardcore outdoors. Right. But I was on this whitewater rafting. This this river. And it was an incredible analogy for life. I mean, you you’re in the you’re in nature, it’s all around you. But there’s also a moment these rapids are moving. So yes, I need to look around. But be careful how long you’re looking around. Yeah, there’s a guide. They know what it was called corkscrew. I’m like, I’m glad someone knows what the name of this is. Sounds crazy. And then all of a sudden you make a turn and you’re on the corkscrew. And then you hit a rock. Everyone moves left, everyone moves right. And you kind of can plan but you can’t plan. And why does someone fall off the boat one time and someone else stays on? You? Don’t I? Who knows? And there was an element where it’s like, oh, this is this is my life like this is? Yeah. You know? Oh, Everyone move right. And then as soon as you think that you could just chill. Yeah, watch out. And then the other layer on it was, it’s so enjoyable. You can also be on it and be completely stressed out. I don’t know I kind of I walked away going. There’s a lot of fun. It’s intense. Yeah. This got up into class four. And one she said was class five. But I don’t really know the difference. I just knew it was like, hold on for dear life a few times and a few times where you’re like, Oh, this is I get to relax a little bit. Let me look around. But don’t look around too long. Because you’re about to get yelled at to move left.


David Hernandez  (28:22)

That’s right. It’s it’s an ongoing journey that’s in constant shift and change. Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, that leads me to my favorite question. And the title of the podcast and regarding your own personal take on what’s your favorite lyric, or your favorite song title, or it could be a poem that really captures you and captures your journey. What would it be?


Mike McFadden (28:54)

There is a poem by David White called Start close in. It goes: Start close in. Don’t take the second step. Or the third. Start with the first thing close in the step you don’t want to take. That. In a season of life, you could call it a midlife crisis. You could call it a quarter life crisis and a time of just deep reflection. I can’t even remember exactly who guided me to David White, but I read one of his books that was on restoring the soul of corporate America. Wow. And you know, he’s a he’s a poet. Anyway, this thing resonated with me big time and it resonates me because it’s about you can get so inundated with looking at so big picture and almost get stifled, stopped at your track. And there is some beauty in this of, God don’t even think about the second step or the third step. Right there’s a step right in front of you.


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