Getting to know you: David Shiell

What do you currently do?

I’m the Global CEO and co-founder of House of Kaizen, a leading independent performance marketing agency with a singular focus – continuous business improvement. Our unique process of end-to-end conversion planning delivers integrated, profitable digital programs from engagement to action.

As Global CEO my role covers strategy, operations, new business, corporate finance, and building client partnerships. While these are fairly standard for a CEO, in order to fulfil House of Kaizen’s business objectives I also like to think of myself as a futurist and nominated therapist…there’s never a dull day!

What was the inspiration behind your business?

It was borne out of frustrations I had with the general approach the agency I was working for had with client engagements. In 2003, House of Kaizen’s original business plan was to bring about a more considered approach to online advertising. eCommerce is a two way conversation but as an agency we were treating digital as a purely broadcast medium. That meant taking a more consultative approach.

Brands recognised the potential power of digital but very few had the skillsets to provide answers or the foresight to truly leverage data and relate it to the business needs, and not just the communications needs, of brands. We were borne out of that need, which I believe played a big part in sculpting the future of the digital-centric, performance focused marketing world we find ourselves in today. Our approach was consultancy first, advertising second. Thirteen years on and that focus is still front and centre.

Who do you admire?

Any form of master craftsmanship. I’m more of a generalist – although I would consider my craft ‘commercial acumen’ – but I have huge respect for those with the ability and temperament to focus and specialise due to their love of the job, or rather craft!

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently?

Where do I begin?

Firstly, finance – get it right from the beginning. Don’t be tight on paying for top quality accounting and finance functions from day one. The numbers are everything.

Secondly, funding – we bootstrapped everything for years. If I’d had a better grasp of the funding ecosystem, I think we would have gone down that route to aid in scaling the business faster. Instead we have grown quite slowly due to organic self-funding. Educate yourself on what funding is available, how to access it and when it’s appropriate.

You can’t run a company without a strong internal structure, and for this you must learn to delegate. It’s tempting to try to do everything yourself to maintain ‘control’, but ironically by doing so you are losing control as the business will hit a bottleneck (you) very quickly, creating its own series of knock on effects. Find good Lieutenants with intuition that can be trusted to execute on your general objective and hopefully expand beyond your original vision.

And last but by no means least, business planning – have one! Our original plan consisted of “wouldn’t it be nice to one day have 20 people working for us who all enjoyed their jobs, did amazing work for clients and were capable of having a mortgage?” Seriously, we had a utopian view of our place in the world. It was fun but it’s no way to grow a business. You need a solid roadmap and plan of action. To attempt anything without is akin to driving whilst blindfolded. You may eventually get to your destination but you will have a lot more accidents along the way and the chances of disaster are far higher than simply taking the blindfold off.

What defines your way of doing business?

Personally it’s to be open, pragmatic, friendly, create long-term partnerships and friendships, and to live by my mantra to ‘never sit still’!

As a business, House of Kaizen looks to create value in all that we do by ‘making things better’. In fact, Kaizen means continuous business improvement. Brands come to us seeking better marketing performance and they become part of a community dedicated to improvement wherever it can be made. Employees come to us seeking an opportunity to make a difference and they become part of a meritocracy designed to measure, improve and repeat. So the ability to measure quantitative and qualitative success is paramount.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Don’t lie to yourself! Ask yourself ‘why do I want to do this’? Make sure you really know yourself, your ambitions and your limits!

Building a business is phenomenally hard and takes an enormous amount of tenacity, self-belief, energy and sacrifice. Not everyone is cut out for entrepreneurship and that’s OK.