Gavin Symes, Founder, The Foundry Group
The Foundr community is full of passionate people from all walks of life, in the trenches daily doing what it takes to make their startup dreams a reality. In this week’s podcast, we want to highlight one of these entrepreneurs we’re especially proud of—Gavin Symes of The Foundry Group.
In part one of this two-part podcast series, we talked with Foundr student Gavin Symes, who advanced his business growth and management skills to create a profitable consulting business.
Symes took all the right action steps—from validating his service to developing a lead-gen machine—and built his consulting business from scratch. Three-and-a-half months into the course, he closed 10 clients and generated over $50,000 of monthly revenue. He plans on scaling to $1 million this year and then to $10 million in three years.
In this inspiring interview, you will hear about Symes’ own journey to success, the biggest problems most businesses face when scaling, and how to set up processes to overcome common business growth challenges.
We are extremely proud of Gavin’s achievements and we are happy to share his amazing story with you!
- The top problems most entrepreneurs face as they scale their businesses
- The one thing that can derail your business if you let it (it has nothing to do with sales or customers)
- The very first thing to do if you want to start a freelance or consulting business
- How to create business playbooks to fast-track your growth
Full Transcript of Podcast with Gavin Symes
Nathan: First of all Gavin, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. The first question that I ask everyone that comes on is how’d you get your job?
Gavin: That’s a really good question. So 16 years ago, my dad and my brother decided to get into business together. And just helping people get out of debt. And it’s really a family story that’s something that’s pretty cool, and really passionate. Something that I’m really passionate about. And that’s because my dad had a manufacturing company in the 90’s that went broke. And I suffered all of that financial hardship where the lights got cut off, and all of that sort of stuff. So after going through all of that, we decided that we just wanted to help people in a similar situation get out of that. And so we started that 16 years ago, and that’s been really successful for us. Now after doing that for so long, that’s where I’ve decided to start the Foundry Group to help business owners with all of the knowledge and experience that I’ve had for the last 16 years. To improve their business, and make more profit.
Nathan: Yeah, wow that’s incredible. And one thing that we met in person, at the start of this week was it?
Nathan: Geez time flies
Gavin: Couple of days ago.
Nathan: Yeah, it was you flew down to Melbourne, tells me he had a good chat around all things that we’re building, and things that you’re up to, and yeah. It really just kind of hit home for myself and everyone on the team, just the success you’ve had, and how we’ve been able to create this amazing course with Sabri. And one thing you shared, which I think is common to a lot of people, even people we’re literally seeing right now that might even be further on in their business, where you’ve hit product market fit, you’re generating sales, you’ve got some traction, is around feeling like a fraud. I know I’ve-
Nathan: Certainly gone through this as well myself. And still do, even to this day sometimes. So let’s just talk about that, so
Gavin: Yeah, cool.
Nathan: Because Sabri, it really takes you through a process on how to work out what skills you have, and then use those skills as a service, which is one of the fastest ways to start building a business online. Because it doesn’t really require much capital, if not any to start providing value to people. So that’s the tricky part though, is when you’ve worked out what you want to provide a service on, or be a consultant on, what not, is actually going out there and putting yourself out there. So talk me through that, like your first foray into that, and how you experienced that.
Gavin: Yeah, sure. So as a business owner, as a founder, I think you are the harshest critic. And I don’t know about you Nathan, but especially from my point of view, nothing is every perfect, nothing is ever right. You think all the time, how can you be better? How can the business be better? How can my courses be better? How can everything be better? And so you forget how much knowledge you gain over that period of time, so that was a really difficult thing for me. Is to say well, am I really good enough to be a coach and a consultant and to teach other people how to run their business?
And you definitely get that doubt in your head that’s like man, there’s other people out there that know more than me. And once you help your first client, and the look on their face. Like I remember walking into this business, and the owner’s sitting there, and his shoulders are slumped over, he just wants to quit, he just wants to give up. And at the end of that hour, to see that spark come back into his face, and his eyes light up, to say this is possible, I can do this, I can get out of this hole. That to me just proved that I’m doing the right thing, and that I can actually add value for people.
Nathan: Yeah, amazing. And yeah, I agree. Like I think one thing that I’ve found really powerful is to look at yourself, and how far you’ve come between now and a certain point. But then also to think about the people that you have served, and the value that you’ve provided them. And that’s where the real goal is. Like when you came into our office, and shared your story with us. I said to the guys after you left, like that’s where the real goal is.
Nathan: No matter how much money you make, to be able to facilitate someone’s growth in some way, shape, or form with your product or service, that’s winning.
Gavin: Yeah. And that’s what the course has really enabled for me. Is just to give me the skills on the actual business side of consulting. In terms of this is the first time that I’ve worked in the B2B market. Everything else really has been B2C. Sure there’s consumers that have businesses as well that you end up helping them with. But going to market with the B2B side, that’s certainly what the course has helped me to do.
Nathan: Yeah, amazing. So talk to me like Gavin, what are next plans for you? Like you probably have to look at starting to hire somebody soon?
Nathan: So talk to me about-
Gavin: So the first hire, I’m looking for my first hire at the moment. Simply because the growth already has just been astronomical. So I’m looking to hire someone immediately, and then in the near future, probably just out of Christmas, I’ll need to hire somebody else. In terms of what my goals are, this year I want to do a million dollars in revenue, and I want to be doing $10 million within the next three years. And I think that the course has taught me enough to do that, and I think in my own expertise and skills, that I’ll easily be able to achieve that.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, that’s amazing. And talk to me through, around the vision for everything that you’re doing at Foundry HQ. Because are you just servicing Australian based clients right now? Or international? You want to expand international? I’m just curious around that side of things.
Gavin: Yeah, so that’s a really good question. I think there’s really two sides of what we do. The first side is education, and a lot of that comes for free. Just by doing things like this, sharing my story. And every business that I go into, and every business owner that I speak to, I’m not thinking about how I can turn them into a client, or how I can make them money, I’m just thinking how can I give them value so that I can help them in their business? And if that ends up being that they want to sign up with me, then that’s fine. But that’s the first thing that I go in with, is education. So that could be worldwide.
And then the second thing is actually like one on one coaching. So as you know, in any business, there’s things that come up all the time. There’s issues and problems. And you just need someone to call to bounce some ideas off, or just to help you through that, and hold your hand. And that’s the second side of it. Now I don’t really see that that’s probably going to be international. I’d love it to be, but I just don’t see realistically right now in the next three years I’d be able to do that. But certainly in the next five to 10 years, I’d love to be international, and a well known brand everywhere.
Nathan: Yeah. And I’m curious as well, like what are the common problems that you’re actually seeing that like business owners, entrepreneurs face? When you’re kind of going in there, and they’re asking for your help, what is the commonalities?
Gavin: Yeah, that’s a good question. So most of the problems that I see … they really fall into a couple of different categories. But the main one is where the business has grown too quickly. And they’ve just got significant growing pains, because the rest of the business hasn’t kept up. So they might choose a marketing agency that just is really good at delivering them leads, but they’ve never had this volume before. They sign them all up, and then they just can’t fulfil that requirement. So I’ll go in and help them train up their staff. I’ll go in and help them set up systems and procedures in their CRM in the back end to really be able to deal with that volume.
So there’s that. And then obviously there’s just normal cash flow issues that come about as a result of various different things. Whether it’s the founder not being comfortable to hand over and delegate some tasks to the rest of their team. Or really just cash flow issues, because they’re spending money on the wrong things that aren’t going to drive up revenue.
Nathan: And what are some of those wrong things? Can you give us an example?
Gavin: Yeah, so let’s just say so a customer that I was working with, they were spending millions of dollars a year on Google. And that was driving really good ROI for them. And then what they decided to do, they decided to go above the line and spend another million dollars a year on blog posts, and billboard advertising, and all of that. And TV advertising. And the problem with that obviously is that it’s not targeted to your customers. So you’re just going out there, and just shooting a gun wildly without aiming anywhere, and just hoping that you hit someone. And so the ROI significantly dropped the advertising cost per sale significantly increased. And so basically we just sat down and said what’s the marketing plan? Let’s get back to basics on what works.
Nathan: That’s interesting. Because one thing I’ve found, and even with founders, is as you grow, you try to do more. But then what happens is you find out that you can’t do it all. And then you actually go full circle, and you go back to doing less, and stripping it back, but doing more of just one thing.
Nathan: Not more of multiple things.
Nathan: That seems to be a recurring theme, right? Is that something you’ve noticed?
Gavin: Oh, for sure. And that lack of focus, like I call it entrepreneurial ADD. And what happens is, is that we get excited as founders and entrepreneurs, by the next big thing. Or by the next exciting and shiny thing. But we forget what our business actually is, and to stay true to that a lot of the time. So that’s going back to before, you’re talking about one of the main issues that I see in businesses, is not actually just focusing on one thing. And then what happens is you have all of these half finished projects around the place, and you spent all this time and effort on it, and you haven’t finished it, so it hasn’t actually resulted in any revenue.
Nathan: Yeah, for us, we’re lucky that … You know what? I reckon we’re guilty of starting some things, and not finishing. Or starting some things and canning them, or starting some things and not doing them properly. But for the most part, most of the things we do we finish them, and we try to do it at a really high level. But yeah, look, I agree. And that is yeah, that is a common problem. I think your cash flow is another one, like how do you help people with cash flow problems? Do you just get them to further manage their spending, and go back to basics and strip back a little?
Gavin: Yeah, sometimes. So it might just be for instance, like you were saying before, the business owner decides that they want to spend less time in the business, so they put people on but don’t train them properly. And so sometimes the business owners gotta go back and do some of that work for a little while, a little period of time, until their cash flow improves. But really it’s just about coming down and having a budget. And it’s not interesting to say that, and it’s certainly not sexy. But it’s just saying okay, well if I spend this in advertising, how many customers will I get off the back of that, and what are my costs to service those customers? And then if I double that advertising, will I get a greater or the same return on investment? And then it’s just diligently sticking to those numbers every month to say well, I know that if I put $1,000 into the machine a month, I’m going to get $10,000 back. So if I put five in then I should get $50,000 back.
Nathan: But is it that easy?
Gavin: Well, if you’ve got the right plan and the right coach, then maybe.
Nathan: There you go.
Gavin: Business is always hard. And I remember there’s lots of times when I’ve been depressed because the whole measure of my self worth and success has been how well my business is going. And how much money’s in the bank. And there’s so many ups and downs, it’s like a rollercoaster. So certainly no, it’s not that easy. And depression is highest in entrepreneurs and in founders, because of all of those challenges that they face. The biggest problem that I see, or that I have, is that anyone who doesn’t own a business looks from the outside and thinks gee, that’s easy, but it’s actually not at all.
Nathan: Yeah, I agree. And the reason I ask that question is like one thing I’ve noticed from speaking to people, and also in the marketplace, because I speak to people in our community every single day, is a lot of people think that if you just throw some money at Facebook ads, you’re going to get a return. Or like Facebook ads, or even just kind of like it’s something about … it’s friction in the marketplace around Facebook ads, or this assumption that if you can spend money on Facebook, it’s the holy grail, and all this stuff. And it is super powerful, like no doubt about it. It is a strong acquisition channel for founders, don’t get me wrong. But yeah, I’ve found from my experience it is actually very, very difficult to get all that stuff dialled in.
Gavin: Yeah. I definitely agree with that.
Gavin: I definitely agree. And you’ve got a lot of guys running around saying just let’s build funnel, and test it, and just throw $100 or $1,000 at Facebook, and if it doesn’t convert, then something’s wrong. But there’s so many things that can go wrong with it. The copy of your ad, the targeting, the copy of your learning page. All of that sort of stuff can go wrong. Or just even your offer, your offer could just be poor, and that’s the reason why it’s not converting. But as you’re saying, converting that super cold traffic into customers is really, really difficult.
Nathan: Yeah. I agree. So that’s why when ever anyone asks me about Facebook ads, you know what I actually say? I actually say like yeah, it is super powerful, but to do it properly it takes a lot of work. And it’s not just Facebook ads as your vehicle, it’s also your sales funnel as your vehicle, and it’s your offer, and your product, and your product’s got to be exceptional, or your service has to be exceptional. And you’ve really gotta get those things dialled in, and that takes a very, very long time.
Gavin: I agree.
Nathan: To work out. So one thing I always say is like, and I think of this, and I tell like the found team as well, like we cannot just rely on one acquisition channel. Whether it’s Instagram organically, whether it’s SEO, and traffic from In Bound, whether it’s just email. Whether it’s Facebook ads, or it’s YouTube ads. Like whatever it is, you can’t rely on just one channel. So I guess kind of does that … So to ask kind of a second question, is does that mean I’m like the clients that you work with tend to be people that have a reasonable sized business? They’re not a mom and pop, or like kind of an early stage startup founder? Haven’t hit product market fit yet?
Gavin: So early stage, and that’s the whole difficulty with early stage stuff, is that you don’t have a proven business model. There’s nothing to build on. So mainly the clients that I work with, their revenue is 250,000, $500,000, as minimum really. And mom and pop stuff is fine, as long as their offer is proven, or their product is proven, and they’re actually there getting customers. So I prefer to work with private businesses rather than big corporates, because I just feel like I’m affecting the life of their personal life, rather than making shareholders more profit.
Nathan: Yes, that makes sense. And I guess so if anyone’s listening to this, and thinking like I want to start a business, I don’t know where to start. And a vehicle you might be thinking of is perhaps you’re a freelancer right now, or you could do some freelancing. Or you want to start a consulting based business, or an agency. Like how would you say you got your first clients, and what would you say people should be doing?
Gavin: Yeah, so I think the first thing that everyone forgets, or the first thing that everyone jumps to is let’s build a website, let’s build a funnel, and let’s drive traffic to it. And the fact is, is that all of those things as we were talking about before, are just so unproven. So the first thing that I would do, and this is what I have done in my own business, is just go back through your list of contacts. You know people in the world, that’s a fact. They know other people in the world. Whether they matter or not, or can get you in front of somebody who can make a decision, then that’s the first thing that you need to do. Is call those people up. So what I did when I first started is I made two lists. A yes list and a no list, saying who are the people who can either be my clients, or can refer me work? And I started calling the no’s first.
And that’s because that fear of rejection as we were talking about earlier, and that fear of mindset and failure. That was easier to call the nose, because I wasn’t expecting any to come from that. That would be the first thing. Don’t mess around with your funnel or anything like that. Just focus on getting clients, because that’s all that matters in business.
Nathan: Yeah, so like Mark Cuban says, “Sales queue is all.”
Gavin: Yes, completely agree with that.
Nathan: Yeah, I’m a big believer in that too. I think we’ve been lucky enough so far that at Foundr we haven’t gone through extreme rough times. There’s been some growing pains, don’t get me wrong.
Gavin: Of course.
Nathan: But yeah, that’s one thing I’m a big believer in. Like sales queue is all. And you could make it work, you just gotta get out there on the road, and get going.
Gavin: And do it.
Gavin: And in the consulting empire course, Sabri says, he says, “The people who are successful do the things that no one else are prepared to do.” So if you’re not prepared to call up your mates and ask for a referral, or your previous contacts from the job that you have now, or wherever else, then really that’s the question about should you be in business or not if you’re not willing to do that? And it’s scary the first time, your voice will be shaking. I remember the first guy that I called up straight cold off the bat using some of the scripts in the course. And I was really packing it. But I ended up getting the discovery meeting with him, and I went through the whole process using the consulting empire course, and I signed the guy up.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s incredible.
Gavin: Now that sense of achievement once you get that first sign up is great. Now the guy didn’t pay me, because I didn’t have a contract or anything. I didn’t follow the rest of the process. But getting out there and actually just doing it, and getting your first sign up. Even if you don’t get them, at least it’s practice.
Nathan: Yeah. I agree. And I think it’s just such a quick and easy way to get started as a cash flow based business. And one thing I’ve learned as well is a lot of start founders, they don’t want to raise capital, or there’s a growing trend of founders that are indie boot strappers. They want to build this product, or whatever, and they’re boot strapping. But cash flow is tight. Like development or whatever it is you’re building, like early days, it is always going to be tight. If you are not raising capital, it’s going to be tight. So what people do is they start a service based business agency, consulting based business on the side, to cash flow their other business. So it’s because these are such amazing businesses to start and grow, and you can hit the ground running really, really fast. So this is like a really powerful thing. This is something you get actually in one of my mentors Mitch did, was he built … Or I’m not sure.
But either way, he first introduced this concept to me, where you use … that’s right. He introduced me to the concept, and that’s what MailChimp did on the side. Which is really, really fascinating. So MailChimp had their own agency on the side, while they funded and cash flowed MailChimp to build it and grow it, and keep it going. So where I’m going with this is for anyone that is thinking we work through kind of, if you feel like a fraud, how to go out and get your first client. What happens when you get your next? What happens when you get this client on? Because if you’ve got a lot of clients, it could be overwhelming, right?
Yeah. Yeah. And he is, and what I did was I just structured my day. Because especially like you’re talking about, the easiest and quickest way to start and the lowest risk is to do it as a side hustle.
Gavin: On top of what you’re doing. Now there’s a point in which your full-time job gets in the way of your business. And that’s where you need to make a decision. Do you want the safety of a nine to five income? Or do you really want to give this a crack? And that’s what I decided to do, was to invest full-time into this new business. But in terms of answering your question, after you get your first client, and your second one, and your third one, it’s just about structuring up your time and your day to do that. So I do client meetings on certain days of the week, I do sales calls on certain days of the week. And then I document the process down, so that I can hand those tasks over to somebody else, and do parts of the process, as well as what I can.
Nathan: Yeah, got you. And it sounds like you’re pretty good at systems.
Gavin: Yeah, well my father was an industrial engineer. So he taught me that all work is a process. So you’ve really got to have that down pat, and that’s the only way that you can scale, right? Because you can’t do everything.
Nathan: Yeah, and I think it can be difficult. Like even we’re having this problem now, like to be honest with you, where it’s all good things happening at Foundr at the moment. But I don’t mean to sound negative-
Gavin: Yeah, of course.
Nathan: problems that we have. I’m trying to be kind of transparent in this interview.
Gavin: Yeah. Of course.
Nathan: But that is one thing that we have going on, is we’ve got a proven model, and we’re trying to scale that, and we need to get better at our systems. How do you best approach that for anybody that is in a process right now? Where they’ve got product market fit, they’ve proven their model, and they want to scale that up with people and products-
Nathan: And traffic, and customers, to service. Like how do you approach that?
Gavin: Where do you start-
Nathan: Yeah, where do you start?
Gavin: Yeah, sure. So there’s six steps to do that. First one is you have to do the work yourself.
Gavin: Right? So you have to understand what’s going on, all of the intricacies of it. The second one is you do the work, while the person that you’re teaching watches you do work. Then the third step is the person who you’re teaching it to does the work, while you watch. So you’re training them on the side, side by side, after obviously you’ve documented all of your processes down. But they’re doing it, and you’re there to catch them if something happens.
Gavin: So then the next step after that is the person who you’ve trained does it by themselves. So you only get them to that stage when they’re ready. And then the stage after that is the person who you’ve trained trains somebody else. So that’s how you scale.
Gavin: So that’s what you’ve got to do.
Nathan: Yeah, got you. And that sounds like it takes a bit of time, man.
Gavin: It does, but it’s definitely worth it in the end. Because if you think about it, like depending on the task, and all of that stuff, that whole process might take one or two days. But how I’ve found that you can fast track that, is to create these things called playbooks. So I have playbooks in my own business, in all my businesses actually. To say if this happens, so if sales are down, then here’s 10 things that we need to look at in this order, and that we need to do to increase sales.
Nathan: I love it. What are the playbooks?
Gavin: So you can do cash flow, you can do customer complaint playbooks. You can do like one at the moment that I’ve got that’s actually really, really effective, is how to increase online review scores. And basically, what we do with that, is we use this software that is an SMS software. Message out our customers, and we say how likely are you to recommend this to family or friends out of 10? And everyone gives us a nine or a 10, we automatically text them back a link to product review, to Google reviews, or to wherever other review site you want. And you just walk them through that process, click here, click here. Please share your feedback so that other people can know about it.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, that’s amazing. I love that one.
Gavin: So that’s another playbook that I’ve got at the moment. But you just keep doing these over the years and years. And I don’t know if you remember the Waterboy, the movie.
Nathan: No, the name, I remember the movie, but I can’t remember what happened.
Gavin: Yeah, so basically one coach steals a playbook of another, and then after all of that, he knows every single move. And that’s basically you’ve got to protect those, because that’s the IP, that’s how your business is run.
Nathan: Yeah, gotcha. Oh wow, this is awesome man. Well look Gavin, we have to work towards wrapping up, and I’m super mindful of your time. But this has been an awesome conversation. I’ve learned a tonne myself. And I’ve learned a tonne about you. So a couple of last questions. You talked about your goals, you want to get a million by the end of this year, and then to 10 in three years. What’s next for you? What’s most exciting? Like what do you plan to do to get to that million by the end of this year? And then also, where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?
Gavin: Yeah, great. So I suppose next steps for me is just to continue scaling. So recruitment’s going to be really big at the moment. Developing those playbooks, which I’ve already been doing and using that six step process to teach other people on how to do the job, and make sure that they can get to 80% of as well as what I can do it. So that’s really next. On top of that is some education stuff that I’m rolling out. Just really to help people just through free online videos. Basically, the information that I’ve shared with you now, and a whole lot more over that 16 years. After that, it’s just more, and more, and more of doing the same thing. So that’s how I’m going to scale. In terms of what information about me, you can go to our website. Foundry Group.com, W-A-U. Or hit up the Foundry Group on Facebook, and more than happy to answer any questions. I do a weekly Q&A every Wednesday night at 7:00 PM Australian Eastern Standard Time. So founders can get on there, ask their questions they have, and that’s my way of giving back.
Nathan: Amazing. Well look, thank you so much for your time Gavin. It’s been incredible to meet you in person, and congratulations on all of your success mate. That’s really inspiring, we’re all cheering for you back at Foundr. I think I mentioned to you in the Facebook group, I said we have a wins channel, and we posted about your wins that you’ve been having, and yeah, it’s really inspiring. I look forward to seeing and watching your journey mate.
Gavin: Oh thank you so much. I just want to say to you, to David, to Sabri and the rest of the Foundr team, this course, and meeting you guys, has literally changed my life. I’m a completely different person now off the back of it. And I just can’t wait to continue to smash it out. And what you were saying before about me being an inspiration to other people, that’s just what life is about to me, and I love it.
Nathan: Amazing man. Well look, congratulations again, and thanks again for your time Gavin, we’ll chat soon.
Gavin: Okay thanks Nathan.