Product Journey

Step off the agency hamster wheel

Friday 15 May 2020 / 1.30pm to 5pm / The British Library

Should you be building a product as well as – or instead of – servicing clients? Hear from people who have made the switch at Agency Hackers’ Product Journey event at the British Library

Developing a product is like sex in high school: everybody’s talking about it but hardly anyone’s doing it.

Right now, a lot of agency leaders are tired of the endless treadmill of agency life. They want a way off the hamster wheel of…

  • Find a client
  • Service the client
  • Move on to the next client

They want to get paid for an idea, not the time it takes to make that idea. Imagine waking up on January 1st being able to see all your revenue for the year.

It sounds simple – but most agency owners do NOT succeed in building a product. They find that it’s hard to focus on building when you’re serving clients. And they find that developing a product takes a very different skill set to serving clients.

At Product Journey you’ll meet agencies that are succeeding with productisation – and you’ll come away knowing how to approach your own product journey.

What’s the difference?

Here’s some of the people you will hear from. Line-up subject to change.

“Our product began making more revenue than our agency”

20% time might work for Google, but not agencies

When Nikki Gatenby ran Propellernet, she launched a product that went on to generate more revenue than the agency. She will share her experiences at Product Journey.

In 2014 when Nikki Gatenby ran Propellernet, she hoped that her team could build a profitable SaaS product in their spare time.


Two years later, Nikki realised that while 20% time is great for Google it doesn’t work particularly well for agencies.

So she doubled down…

…and ring-fenced a dedicated team from within the agency to work full time on the project. Eventually, it worked. They made CoverageBook – a tool that PRs use to track coverage – which soon began to make more money than Propellernet.

At Product Journey Nikki will talk about:

  • How to build the right thing. (Propellernet wasted a long time building something that was overcomplicated and that customers didn’t really use.)
  • Managing a tech start-up within an agency. Nikki will explain the intricacies of incubating a product within a services business.
  • Landing a winning idea. How to source great ideas for a product from your agency’s staff and clients.

“We got tired of turning away £5k jobs”

How to launch a product when you’re an agency

3Sixty founder Jon Waring will talk about developing Wanderly – the Squarespace for the travel industry. We’ll ask him about funding your idea and validating it.

Jon Waring runs 3Sixty, an agency that specialises in travel.

Like most agencies, people keep approaching them with tiny budgets.

“People call us and say: ‘We’d like to work with you, but we only have £5,000 or £10,00.’ But it’s a non-starter for an agency of our size”.

But one day – after 6 to 8 months of rejecting people on a regular basis – Jon wondered if there wasn’t a way to help these people.

“We were turning away great people who didn’t have much cash, but DID have great great ideas.”

“Our mission is to get more people to travel. So we thought: why not build a Squarespace-type product for the travel industry?”

So they did! They developed Wanderly – a platform for boutique travel operators to roll their own websites.

Now they have a growing number of happy users, and the business is on track to be profitable. They’re also eating their own dogfood: using it as part of their own development process – to help them serve their own agency clients in a more efficient way.

We’ll be asking Jon about:

  • Using your customers to help you develop and validate your product
  • Raising funding and working with partners
  • How to focus on developing a product when you have paying clients

“We built a product for a client – then we bought them”

If you build a product for the client, you might end up owning it

Daniel Roe’s agency Concision built a product for a customer – and ended up buying the client.

Daniel Roe’s agency Concision built a product for a client – and liked it so much that they bought the client.

Daniel’s agency built an employee benefit product for a business that wanted to sell it to blue chip clients. But a few months into the project it became clear that HE was more excited about it than THEY were.

So Daniel wrangled a deal to buy his customer.

“It’s been an interesting journey” says Daniel. “Normally I would not do this, but I was convinced this idea was a good one.”

We’ll be asking Daniel about how you switch from running an agency to developing a product.

“You can’t do both”

Alex crossfaded his business from services to software

You’ll hear from Alex Packham, who transitioned his social media agency into SaaS tool ContentCal

When he was 24, Alex Packham set up a social media agency – and soon had a £1m revenue agency doing work for Odeon and Sky.

But secretly, he wanted to run a tech business

So he thought: “I’ll do both at the same time”.

“I quickly realised that building a successful product business is VERY different in terms of skillset, culture and the whole way you run the business” says Alex. “You need a lot of money up front to build a scalable product.”

Now Alex had two parallel lives – running an agency and running a software business. In the end, something had to give – and Alex shut down most of his agency to focus on ContentCal.

“In my opinion you can’t do both” says Alex. “Teams and processes that work for service businesses don’t make sense for software businesses. And once your revenue shifts from service to software, clients become a distraction.”

At Product Journey Alex will share his story. He’ll share his advice on:

  • Raising money to build a product
  • Making tough decisions
  • Switching from services to software

“It’s insane, but also completely logical.”

How to build a software product – and keep your agency too…

Chris Liversidge hatched an enterprise software product out of his agency QueryClick. He will talk about how the two compliment each other.

Chris Liversidge runs digital marketing and SEO agency Queryclick.

One day, a big retail client asked if they could demonstrate how their work affected their in-store footfall.

“We started pulling at the thread… and all sorts of insane things happened.”

The team built Corvidae – a software product that tracks customer journeys across different advertising platforms.

“I did not think it would take 8 years” says Chris. “I did not think it would take millions of pounds. I thought we’d approach it like a typical agency project.”

At Product Journey, Chris will talk about:

1. Introducing software blood into an agency business. “You have a whole team of people who suddenly realise “I’m not the star of the show anymore”. That’s painful and difficult” says Chris.

2. Having your cake and eating it. Chris still has a non-software business. He says the two actually support one another. “You have this triangular sales strategy between the agency and the software business”.

3. Bootstrapping vs investing. Chris will explain how and when to take on outside investment. “We bootstrapped it for six years, and then took on investment to bring it to market”

Where is it happening?

This event takes place at the British Library just by Kings Cross in London. We’re taking over its conference suite – it has a lovely theatre and five breakout rooms. You can hear from the speakers and then go and discuss what you’ve just heard with other agency leaders.

What’s the difference?