Daniel Segalo is the founder of Four28 Marketing, an industry-leading digital marketing agency in Kansas City, Missouri. He and his team leverage search engine optimization, web design, and online paid advertising to increase revenues for small to medium-sized businesses. He founded his first company at 21 and has consulted for, mentored, or has been on the founding team of six different startups.
Standing out as an entrepreneur is becoming increasingly difficult, particularly in marketing. If you want to become a successful leader and build your digital marketing agency from the ground up, what steps should you take?
In this interview, we speak to Daniel Segalo, the founder of Four28 Marketing, to learn about his tips and strategies for building a successful agency.
Diving headfirst into entrepreneurship at 21, Daniel takes a deep dive into his journey of becoming a CEO at a young age. He also shares his insights on how he expanded his own digital marketing agency and turned his clients into brand ambassadors.
Learn about the techniques that have worked wonders for his business and how you can apply them to your own agency.
Listen to the full interview below:
This podcast transcript has been edited for clarity and readability.
Vianca: Your undergrad and MBA were in finance, but you never really worked in that industry professionally. Instead, you chose to take a riskier path and open your first company at the age of 21. What made you so certain that you wanted to pursue the entrepreneurial path?
Daniel Segalo: I knew at a young age that I wanted to own my own business someday. I think it was my junior year in college that I had an idea for a business that I wanted to start. It was to build a marketplace for college students to buy and sell textbooks from each other. That became a kind of obsession for me. To pursue that idea, I enrolled in grad school so that I could give myself a longer runway because I had student loans at the time.
The thing that made me want to pursue it is that, for one, I really wanted to be a business owner someday and I had this burning passion inside of me to pursue this idea. I didn't have any kids. I didn't have a house. It felt like the least risky time to start a business.
Can you tell us more about the journey from finance to opening Four28 Marketing and how your background in finance contributed to your unique perspective on running an agency?
All my mentors said, “If you want to be in business, make sure you do one of two things: either finance or do accounting.” I hated accounting, so, I turned to finance. While I was in my finance program, I really learned to love it. Before I had come up with that idea for my first business, I intended on moving to New York and doing the whole investment banking thing. The odds of me being successful as an entrepreneur weren’t super great so I wanted a backup plan. Thankfully though, marketing took off for me.
There are times when I find little things throughout any given day that go back to my financial education, whether it's forecasting growth or some type of money management. I actually end up using it probably more often than I think I do. Just knowing a couple of these things really helps you make decisions on a day-to-day basis.
What did the beginning of Four28 Marketing look like? Did you begin outsourcing other team members from the start?
It started as a necessity for my first startup, and I found myself in that position pretty quickly. I had to teach myself to code to build a website for my startup. So, I had raised a bunch of money from investors. I'd spent all of it to build out this sophisticated marketplace website. The day it launched, I realized it was just the wrong product market fit.
At the time, I had enrolled on a business incubator, and they helped me revise my strategy and so I had pivoted the entire business to something completely different. It became a kind of Uber for college textbooks. But to get there, I had to create a website.
That's ultimately how I ended up getting into SEO and digital advertising, to get those websites that I was building to be found by people that were searching for them.
Pretty quickly, I realized that I have a much brighter future building a marketing agency than I do pursuing this startup that I had yet to make actual money. I made all the money to pay my investors back, but I wasn't making money for myself. I thought: “Alright, let’s do a marketing agency instead.”
Four28 Marketing started as a remote-based agency until recently when you switched back to on-site. What led to this change, and what works better for an established business like Four28?
The biggest thing that has led us back to getting into the office was that we had grown to a point where communication had become a big bottleneck for us. There were so many moving parts on all these different clients and projects. One of my guys could have a two-second question for a teammate and that two-second question would take ten minutes to respond to. That's not a big deal until you think about the number of times that happens in a day. Now that we're in the office, it's sped us up on many projects.
COVID created this false sense of security for employers. As an employer, I think we all thought that we can do this whole remote work situation and no longer need an office. But being at home for a lot of people is an environmental thing. Very few people have the discipline to be able to work productively inside of a home atmosphere. There are so many potential distractions.
But as you start to grow and become a much bigger agency, working remotely can become a situation where you give an excuse to employees to be lazy and distracted. And worse, I think it can breed a lot of dishonesty.
What was the biggest challenge for you in scaling your business, and how did you overcome that?
I think that the biggest challenge that we face to this day is probably more in fulfilment. When you're small, like when I was a freelancer ad did all the work myself, I knew what quality I was producing. I was able to give all my attention to just those few clients. But as you grow, you obviously can't do it all yourself. Especially in digital marketing, finding skilled people that can fulfil in the same way that you need is hard to find.
What that comes down to is an HR thing of finding and hiring the right people. As you grow, the mark of a good agency is still being able to produce at a high level.
Do you have any processes in place for finding the right people? What do you look for?
What I like to do when I'm hiring is come up with the job responsibilities and expectations. The last thing I came up with is a “How to Win” list. When you come up with a very specified list of things you're looking for, those qualities become very clear. I'm always looking for people that are genuinely fun to be around. I know that sounds like a wild thing. But I am looking for a fun, respectful, honest, and genuine, kindhearted person. As you're building a team, you've got to have the right people on the bus.
Growing a business and ensuring client satisfaction are all crucial aspects of running an agency. How do you effectively juggle those responsibilities?
I would say two things: delegation and trust. You cannot do everything yourself. Perhaps one of the best lessons I've learned and am still learning is how to let go and trust the people that you've hired to complete the work that you've hired them to do.
Additionally, I think that you've got to stay organized. If you're not naturally an organized person, you have got to find someone that can keep you organized. I'm a huge proponent of the Strength Finders Test. It teaches you what you're best at and what's your worst at. People often say, “Oh, I want to get better at the things I'm not good at.” Just let it go. You're not wired that way. Lean into what you're best at and become an expert in those things, then hire and delegate the things that you're not good at.
Watch our full interview with Daniel Segalo on YouTube.