The Search Agency
The Search Agency provides an integrated suite of pre-click and post-click online marketing services including search engine optimization, search engine marketing, conversion path optimization, comparison shopping management, social media, and display media.
Jeff Stibel and David Hughes first met at United Online back in the early days of the internet. Hughes served as Senior Vice-President, Corporate Development at the time, responsible for developing and running all user-acquisition programs, new products and services to be offered to NetZero/Juno customers, amongst other things. When Stibel co-founded The Search Agency with his partners from Simpli.com, he found that David Hughes was a natural fit to helm the ship as CEO. Since launching the search-engine marketing firm over 15 years ago, The Search Agency has grown to become one of the largest independent and integrated digital marketing firms – as well as a valued partner to companies in the Stibel team’s portfolio.
CEO, The Search Agency
Q: What type of work does the team typically do for The Search Agency?
A: The team is very supportive, and we have regular communications about various opportunities. One of the things that their team does a really good job of is that they provide hands-on support for their portfolio companies. They do a terrific job of thinking about the company and thinking about opportunities for growth. That could be new business development, which they definitely help drive; that also could be looking through what kind of strategic opportunities make sense. For instance, we’ve done about three or four acquisitions over the years, and each time Jeff and his team were able to provide strategic thinking, good insight, and help us with deal structures.
Q: Having known Jeff Stibel in many capacities, what do you enjoy about working with him?
A: I’ve always thought of Jeff as exceptionally bright, very quick, and a great thinker. When I met him all those years ago, he had already built a terrific network that has just continued to grow stronger. He’s just somebody where any time we spent together was well worth the time. In the earliest days of The Search Agency, Jeff in particular provided a tremendous amount of value, and that value has continued with his team over the years.
I’ve also had a number of discussions over the years with Jeff about deal structures for new opportunities. I think he really is a creative thinker when it comes to deal structure and it’s something that I really admire, his ability to kind of think through ways to structure things that become “win-win.” That’s something that I think is tremendous.
Q: What unique value has the team brought to The Search Agency?
A: The team continuously thinks about us in the marketplace and they have brought multiple opportunities for us to work with potential customers over the years – that’s significant value, very often. Board members or PE firms typically bring you very little of that kind of value; but the Stibel team has brought a lot of it. We’ve always felt that this team has provided tremendous outside value with their investment from day one. They’ve been a consistent provider of both strategy and opportunities for the company.
Q: What have you appreciated most in partnering with the Stibel team?
When times are good, you don’t need much support; it’s when times aren’t so good that you really need help. The team has been there and has been very supportive as we’ve gone through some challenges and have always been thoughtful about how we should manage everything from cash flow to our gross margins. They’ve really helped us hone in on what it takes to be successful.
Q: What part of their approach speaks to you most as an operator?
A: They are really a very data-driven company and they are very metric-oriented. One of the things they are very good at figuring out is, “what are the key levers to a business?” and “how can you affect and improve those levers that are important to you?” When you are operating a company, you can get bogged down with a lot of detail; but they push to really focus on and not lose sight of key levers such as new business, growth of existing business, and so on. Those really are core metrics and having them think through how we can improve other particular pre-core metrics has been terrific and a huge value-add.
Q: How does working with this team differ from working with other companies outside of your organization?
A: There’s a sort of impersonal relationship if you’re working with a consulting firm or a company not necessarily fully vested in your success; whereas this team has always had the approach of “we’re only successful if you’re successful, so how do we help you become more successful?” In doing so, they can generate better returns and all the rest of it. It very much comes from a partnership perspective as opposed to a sort of vendor relationship perspective.
Q: How would you describe your relationship with the team?
A: We have been the most involved with Jeff Stibel, Judy Hackett, Peter Delgrosso, and Bill Borzage, who have helped us over the years as very supportive partners. For example, one of the things that Judy Hackett has done is help us think about how we can deliver our work to a typical client more effectively and how we can communicate more effectively in general. We’ve taken some of those lessons to heart and it’s helped us improve the message we deliver. The team is full of people who we respect and who we would certainly look to for advice and insight because we feel comfortable that they would be able to provide us a good perspective.
Q: What do you think the strengths of this team are?
A: They definitely are very strong in the B2B sector, which is 40% of the economy, so it’s a good place to be okay. One of the things they are really good at is looking at a business and figuring out how to make it better. They have a whole team to support how to make that business better, who can actively go into businesses and make them stronger because they themselves are strong operators. In all likelihood, the kind of deals they do will just continue to grow and they’ll become larger and larger. I expect them to continue to grow at a really rapid rate. I’d be surprised if we don’t work together in some capacity over the coming years outside of what we’re already doing today.
Q: If another entrepreneur called and was considering working with this team, what would you say to them?
A: I would highly recommend them. Basically, I’d say, “Look, you’re not going to find somebody who is going to give more time or more energy to both helping your business grow and giving you good, strategic advice.”
They’ve been tremendous partners over the years. It starts with Jeff and the fact that he’s built a terrific team. They’re bright, they’re hardworking, and they provide value. I think they have built something that is really interesting.