ScaleUp Magazine had a wonderful time talking to Theo who is the CEO of GrowthRocks. Here is the detailed conversation that our team had with him.
Tell us about your professional journey so far?
I’ve always been interested in programming, entrepreneurship and building technological products. My career started back in 1996 and since then I have been involved non-stop in several top international teams and products.
Right after University, I worked as a Senior Consultant in a Consulting firm where I was implementing various projects and managing a team of 10 consultants. In just a few years, I moved in CTO positions creating products from scratch and implementing projects. Then, I have been a co-founder and CEO in various international companies leading teams.
Currently, I am the group CEO of GrowthRocks, co-founder of Growth Hacking University, co-founder of Growth Hacking Academy, and co-founder at Viral Loops. Growthrocks is a growth hacking marketing agency, that very soon got traction in the international arena, that helps startups and well-established companies to achieve rapid and sustainable growth. GrowthRocks has subsidiaries in 3 countries, affiliates in another 3 and we became in total 32 persons in only 2 years. I honestly feel great seeing that!
So far in my 15-year experience, I had the opportunity to run numerous successful and profitable software products. One of my major career achievements was running Pinnatta Mobile app but also creating “i-docs” an international product in Customer Communication Management and “segmatiX”, a product on marketing automation which very quickly found traction in important markets in Europe.
Tell us about your company. What challenges you faced while growing your company and what you did to fix them.
In each of my companies, GrowthRocks included, it’s inevitable that we always face challenges.
We started GrowthRocks approximately 2.5 years ago. I co-founded the company with a colleague of mine – I was the CEO and he was the Product Manager at the time. We had a clear vision of creating a marketing agency like no other. For this reason, we decided to move from old-school marketing and traditional technics into the growth hacking arena. This was the future and it was obvious to us.
As always the challenges when started something new were many. Particularly we wanted to build all the missing elements:
– A product that rocks and then move to the next one. We have 4 products now.
– A team that rocks. I can proudly say that we have 32 colleagues currently.
– A multimillion-dollar sales-funnel. We now have an awesome inbound funnel and 6 subsidiaries in major countries.
Your Successes/failures in life.
As far as successes are concerned, what first comes to my mind is the following: I have grown awesome teams consisted of unique and talented individuals. I am very proud of this fact! These teams are exceptional and all of them have growth mindset and culture. So, part of my successes in life is accompanied by beloved individuals with great personal and business value. Colleagues that got amazing C-level positions because they really deserve them.
Also, I have created few very successful products in the market, products that got traction in many countries and created a multi-million sustainable business. Managing to grow an agency from 2 people to 32 in 2.5 years was a major accomplishment and source of satisfaction for me.
Failure is always part of the business game. You need to have this in mind and be prepared to act appropriately. What have I learned the past few years is that running projects remotely is harder than we ever anticipated. What is the main difference between meeting face-to-face and working on the project remotely with a client? You miss the physical interaction and the ability to build the two elements of trust. We underestimated the complexity of building and retaining customer trust which comprises by two intertwined capabilities: a) the intent to act in the customer’s best interest and b) the competence to do so. These come together to form the foundation of the customer experience. The ability to create a customer experience that builds trust begins with customer intelligence. It requires taking information learned about customers—blending feedback and behavioral data applying analytics and presenting insights they had no idea about. And all these without meeting the customer face-to-face.
What choices did you make in your life which made a significant difference in your life?
I can vividly remember a decision in my career that 100% had an impact in my life and how I actually developed to be who I am now.
Right away from the beginning of my career, I was positive that my destiny was to lead technical teams and run phenomenal projects. I was all about technology and management. I was flirting with the role of CTO for years and I knew that this was the career path for me. You may wonder how. It was easy. I read everything available about scrum, agile, rapid development, platforms, and technical stuff. I enjoy this so much!
I had the impression that this path would lead me to the CEO position.
And then everything changed rapidly as I got pushed into sales. One day my CEO came in my office:
“Theo, you need to abandon the CTO dream and move into sales”
“Sales? I said. I’m a technical guy. What does a technical guy has to do with sales forecasts and sales goals?”
“Theo, you should see yourself pitching”
I was not convinced and then he used the ultimatum argument: ”If you want to become the CEO, that’s the path. Sales guys run companies, not technical ones.”
The decision has been made. I abandoned my CTO role and the day after I found myself running sales pitches and looking for new endeavors within the group.
That was a choice that twisted my life totally. I would never regret this choice!
Walk us through your work day?
My work day is full of creativity, productive meetings, planning and valuable time solving problems and challenges. How my work day will be planned depends a lot from the day of the week. I love being organized and know the tasks to be solved in advance. For this reason, all team planning meetings happen on Mondays and retrospective meetings are scheduled on Fridays. In this way, I am always aware of all the critical projects and have a good overview of the team.
In general my everyday routine is as below:
- I wake up around 7. I am a morning person!
- I spend around 2 hours planning the difficult tasks of the day. Preparation is essential before starting your day!
- I arrive at the office around 9 and I start working with the team in multiple projects.
- In average I have 2-3 external meetings with potential or existing customers or partners.
- I keep working on the projects until 9 pm.
- Then, I usually have a two-hour meeting with colleagues to discuss topics or issues they may have. I act as a consultant to them (once consultant always consultant!) solving their problems in the business or personal life. I’m turning them into entrepreneurs or share with them productivity and efficiency tips. If not with colleagues, I do the same for a series of startups I participate to. I’m having very productive hours with founders from various verticals and I also learn a lot from them around their businesses.
- Around 11 I’m back home, sitting in front of my computer to do some operational tasks of mine, like for instance writing posts, posting on my social, uploading stories etc. Around 1 am I’m going to sleep.
- Normally, I’m awake between 3-5 thinking on various difficult issues and keeping notes of my ideas towards those.
It is obvious that my work day is just full of people and projects! Love it!
How do you keep yourself productive and motivated?
I picked something I love, so that makes everything easier. Focusing on results and pure Growth Rate of our efforts is a metric to keep up my productivity and have incentives to invest more time and hard work.
I would not ever be able to do this, of course, without an amazing team that has my back. My teammates – my squad as I say it – constantly inspire me to stay excited and open to new challenges. Having support from my team is what enables me to take more risks as I do know that everything will eventually work as planned.
So, proven growth rate and an awesome team are the two elements that keep me motivated.
What do you do to keep yourself on growth path?
I keep having the scalability issue as my first priority. I have this in my mind before making any action and I have also conveyed this mindset to all of my team. My vision is to keep on growing the team on an international level as well as scaling our companies.
I want to scale at large and to do that I need to scale vertically and horizontally. Thus, by getting new customers, building new partners, opening new countries but also creating new products. This can be very demanding but also positively challenging!
The most important is that I keep doing all the above only having in mind that those activities are interconnected and a new one will benefit from a previous one.
What tools/apps do you use for managing work and life?
I could never stop talking about new tools that I discovered, fun gadgets that I tried out or apps that I use. I’m a gadget maniac!
I use tools to increase my productivity and keep my focused. Among them I would emphasize the following awesome tools:
- Slack to communicate with teams, customers and colleagues around the globe. Managing teams in three timezones is a very demanding task and I could not do it without Slack.
- Lastpass with all the passwords and credentials of a tons of sites I have to visit every day.
- Jira as a main tool for task management.
- My Spotify and Netflix for my no-brainer, relaxing times.
- My mobile apps (Photofox, YouStar, Werbie) to support my content creation.
Your favorite books?
I have always been a bookworm. I enjoy expanding my horizons as well as getting ideas and tops from people that have a story to share. I read everything around marketing and I have many favorite books.
One of those that I could distinguish is “the Hard thing about hard things”. Written by one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, this book is full of practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems. It’s definitely a book to add in your “to read” list if you are into startups, entrepreneurship and business management.
How do you hire your team? What traits you look for while hiring?
As a leader of a Growth Hacking Agency, I’m continuously working on finding the secret sauce for recruiting rockstar Growth Hackers or growth hackers wanna-be.
After working and interviewing a lot of candidates, I concluded that the mindset is the most important. That’s why I created the below questionnaire where I summarised all the skills required (soft and hard) but I added the secret sauce of the importance I’m giving to each element.
In total, I judge those four elements which of course will never exist equally:
- Growth Services Domain Expertise. Assuming he/she comes from a Media buying agency or a social media agency.
- Technical Background and stuff. A ex. coder or an IT guy would get 5 stars on those questions
- Industry domain expertise. And I mean direct or indirect working experience.
- The Soft skills a growth hacker should have.
I am deeply interested in educating the new generation of digital marketers and create top growth hackers. For this reason, I have also invested a lot of time and resources into Growth Hacking Academy. The program and its syllabus are carefully curated and, having trained in the Academy, someone can easily step up its digital marketing game as well as dominate the international Growth Hacking scene. Growth Hacking Academy is available in Greece, United Kingdom and soon to be in more countries.
What advice would you give to people looking for success and growth in personal and professional life?
My sole advice is: Live your life with Passion. Passion will always motivate you to take the next step, never stop learning and keep getting better in what you do -including soft and hard skills. Passion will lead you in developing initiatives, continuously self-develop yourself, taking risks and as for more. If you stop trying and just staying in your comfort zone, I can guarantee you that you will not be able to grow to your full potential and become what you are destined for. For me, that is all you need to become a successful entrepreneur and father and husband.
So Passion is my one-word tip for a successful personal and professional life. Don’t live your life in an underwhelming manner.