With Entrepeneurial Insights, we are keen to share insights from leading entrepreneurs like Ismael El-Qudsi from Madrid who runs the highly successful Internet Republica.
Ismael talks about why his co-workers from his last employer made him start his business; and why you should start your own business too. Then, we talked about the business model of Internet Republica and how organizing conferences helped Ismael become the epicenter for social media consultancy in Spain. Lastly, Ismael gives some great advice to first time entrepreneurs. Enjoy!
Interviewer: Today we’re in Madrid with Ismael. Ismael, who are you and what do you do?
Ismael: Hi. My name is Ismael El Qudsi, I am the CEO and founder of a marketing consultancy company called Internet Republica and we specialize in online marketing.
Interviewer: What did you do before you started this company?
Ismael: I was working for very big companies, like Microsoft in Spain, or Avas Group, which is the biggest media agency here in Spain. So I’ve been working for the big boss for 15 years before.
Interviewer: What made you change your mind from being an employee to becoming an entrepreneur?
Ismael: I wanted to go into the action, I was really tired of working in Excel files, PPTs, projections, things like that, and nothing happened. The good think in a very big company is that you always have a big car, big salary, but there was something inside of my heart that was telling me you have to create your own path, and that’s what I wanted to do. It was especially hard because it was during the crisis, but if you have something burning inside you that is saying you should do things in another way than you are doing now you have to follow your heart. This is official version, and the unofficial version is that a friend of mind told me, “Take a look at the corporates working in Spain, there are not many people over 40 years working in those companies.” And I said I am closer to 40 than to 30 so I have to run my own business because nobody will take care of me tomorrow. So that also helped.
Interviewer: How did you start your company. As you mentioned it is quite hard to find the first customers, what was the way that your followed.
Ismael: People think that the most important thing when you start a company is the idea or being very big like Facebook or things like that, but in the consultancy business the most important thing is having a good network, knowing many people, knowing many potential clients. I’ve been working for 16 years in online marketing and I knew almost everyone that I should know before I started my company. If I was in the 20s I would probably fail within three months after launch, because in my case it was very important to have a very good network of people and that I have them before I start my company. So I am very grateful because many people have helped me to start my company, they introduced me to clients, they gave me work. But that’s because I did the same when I was in the corporate business, so it’s like if you’re giving work and being nice to people they will also help you.
Interviewer: The transition phase was very funny for you when you go your first client, can you tell us a bit more of that?
Ismael: Yeah. I decided to go on my own and I talked to my boss and I said I’m leaving. I used to run the social media operations in the Avas Group, so I said I am leaving, I am going to start my own business, thank you for everything, for all your support, blah, blah, blah. Because it is very important when leaving a company to leave more friends than enemies inside. Some people think that when you leave a company you have to blame your old coworkers or your boss, and that’s not true. In my case I decided to have a good relationship because they had treated me very well. So I said I am leaving, and my boss told me, Okay, let’s make a deal. Why don’t you go with your team, start your company with your team and we could hire your services. So I started my company with the help of my old boss or my old company. And also my first client was Madrid 2020, the Madrid initiative for going to the Olympics, because I helped a guy in the past with some marketing plans and things and they recommended me to carry this initiative. So this was my first client. I think I probably posted on Facebook that I’m leaving and starting my company, and they contacted me and told me we are in a bid, do you want to bid for this client, it is a very good opportunity for you. And I said, of course, I have all time. I could work until 4:00 at night if I wanted. When you are running your company and working for yourself you don’t mind the time. You are more willing to work. So that was my first client, and also with the help of my previous boss.
Interviewer: Regarding your business model, what type of services or products are you offering currently?
Ismael: We are specializing in SEO, positioning websites into Google without paying Google, so that’s very nice, it’s like being a hacker. It saves a lot of money for the companies, because when you are paying one, two or three Euros for each click, you have to spend a lot of money. So a telecom company like Vodafone, or telephony companies like that, they are spending like five million Euros per year in Spain, which is a small market, it’s not like Germany or the UK, so they are spending millions of dollars on Google. If you can save them one or two million they are more than happy and you too. So we are offering SEO services and also social media services from content creation to community management in Facebook, Twitter, and other networks.
Interviewer: Ismael, you said that having customer relationships and network is very important, what customer acquisition strategy are you using for acquiring and managing these relationships.
Ismael: We are trying to help journalists as much as we can. If a journalist asks for an interview or asks for some brief statement, we try to help as much as we can and we make a study. They ask me, for instance, what do you think about Facebook buying Whatsapp? I don’t say, I think it’s great. No. I make a study, I give some number, and I say in my opinion I think that this is for this and that. So they are very happy with that answer, they’re always linking to us, and they recommend us, and they will call us again next week because you are helping them to do their work, because they’re no specialized in your field of knowledge. So I feel like it’s my case. So it’s very important to translate this knowledge into knowledge that my mother could understand. That’s why we’re trying to help journalists, we’re making a lot of PR, we’re doing studies for them. We created a study about how are the banks working in social media in Spain, for instance, and we created a hundred page study that has been downloaded more than seven thousand times for instance. So we’re always trying to work with PR. We are also organizing an event in Madrid which has like twenty thousand viewers through streaming all over the world. Me in particular and many other people of my company in general are always teaching in universities, courses, and almost in every place they call us for speaking. So we’re trying to be very active. We are not spending a lot of money in advertisement, in big meals with clients, etc. We are trying to create contacts.
Interviewer: Let’s briefly talk about corporate strategy. As a consultancy what type of drivers do you identify in order to grow this business and create a competitive advantage?
Ismael: In my opinion in the SEO field the SEOs are like hackers, so what we can’t do is having one SEO sitting alone in a room, so that is why we are seven SEOs working together, working very closely, sharing all the information, because what drives them, what makes them happy is to acquire more knowledge. So if you put that SEO with a journalist and with a finance guy or something, it will never work. So it is better to create an atmosphere of knowledge sharing. And we are always trying to go to events like in Brighton or New York or wherever we can, depending on money of course. But we prefer investing money in training than in advertisement. Because we are selling knowledge, and that’s the only way, being very transparent and exchanging a lot of information by email or by blog.
Interviewer: In terms of market development for this consultancy related to social medial and SEO, over the last five to ten years how do you perceive the development, especially in the Spanish speaking countries, and what do you estimate will the demand for such consultancy increase over time, what is your view on that?
Ismael: I think that everything related to visibility it will work, because now everything is related to having more visibility in search engines or in social network has to work to grow, especially in the mobile field, because not many people have their websites adapted to the mobile, it’s not responsive. But at the end of this year in the US there will be more people searching through their mobile than through their PCs. So it’s a very big change, and no one is taking care of that, and I think that we still have a lot of room for improvement. Also because advertisement in Google is becoming very expensive and not many people will spend a million Euros on that. So I think the future in Spain, and even more in the Latin American countries, is very promising, I hope.
Interviewer: Do you think the corporates will do this in-house or will they hire external experts like you?
Ismael: Both. Nowadays there are both types of companies. But the problem is that if you’re in a very big company, and you just have on SEO, it’s nothing, because you have to make a lot of things, so they always look for external advice. Because at the end we have like seven guys working day by day in many sectors with many clients, so they have more knowledge than a person who is working alone in one project. So we are not afraid of people internalizing those functions, I am not afraid of that, because I think that you always will need external help in every field or in every business.
Interviewer: Ismael, we always like to share some lessons learnt from entrepreneurs like you with our audience. You have a lot of experience with this match-making, building relationships, etc., what advice can you give people who are interested in entrepreneurship in building relationships that they can monetize later on?
Ismael: It’s very important in the long run. Many people think that in two months or three events you have a network, and that is not a network. For me a contact is not someone who you have in Facebook, that’s not a contact. A contact for me is a strong one who will phone you back in less than two hours, that’s a friend, it’s not a Facebook friend, but it’s a friend, it’s a contact. So it is very important to cultivate that along the years, and not just the month before you start your company. For instance, in the consultation business that’s really important, it’s not like in other startups that you have a bright idea and you start your company and maybe you succeed. For the consultancy, it is very important to do that. In my case I used to attend a lot of events, I used to try to help a lot of people, and my objective in every event I assist is at least knowing five new people in every event. It’s like giving business cards, when will you start, giving the business cards and trying to listen more than speak to the other guys, what are you doing, why? I think that that’s the only secret of being a good networker, more listening than speaking.
Interviewer: I understand. So then you know these five people, how do you maintain or strengthen that relationship afterwards?
Ismael: In my case it was because I used to be an active blogger and now in Twitter. I used to answer almost every call, every person that tweeted me or commented on my blog on my Facebook. And I also spent a lot of time reading other blogs or commenting on other blogs, it’s like give and take, you have to read a lot, comment on other places, and try to create virtual relationships, but virtual relationships also can help, because you can know people who are not from your country or your city, whatever, and when you go to Columbia, like last year I was in Columbia twice, I knew many people that I hadn’ t met before, but they helped me, they let me their offices to work, they helped, that’s important, that’s nice.
Interviewer: Ismael, thank you very much for the interview.