Cammi Pham is the founder and partner along with Jessica Redmond at ThinkRenegade, a Toronto-based e-commerce and digital marketing agency. I met her at this year’s techsytalk LIVE when she sat on a panel about influencer marketing with TheAmplify’s Justin Rezvani and Lindsay Fultz, formerly with Chideo, now also at TheAmplify. When we spoke, I was struck by her enthusiasm for making smart and genuine connections with people backed by intense research and technical capability. Here’s our conversation:
Cammi – So we started out as an e-commerce marketing agency, and then as we grew, our clients kept asking us to get more into the business side, because we work on all the campaigns… we get to deal a lot more with the inventory, the shipping.. You need to pick the perfect shipping partner, because in the unboxing experience, when someone opens your package, that’s the first impression, and you need to get it right. Because people will take pictures, people will share online. So through time, we moved on from marketing and we [got] more into business and marketing, so now we can work for our clients, and we focus on e-commerce. That’s the only thing we do.
Deborah – Who are some of your clients?
Cammi – My clients are a lot of social e-commerce. So most of my clients donate anywhere from 5-50% of their profits to charity. Actually, it’s a niche we want. It feels good. It feels like you’re working for a non-profit.
Deborah – Is social enterprise the term in Canada like it is in the States?
Cammi – Yes. It’s great because every day when you work with people, you feel like you’re spreading the love. Because everything you do, someone will benefit from it.
Deborah – Right… How big is your company?
Cammi – It’s actually very small. We have four people.
Deborah – That’s small.
Cammi – It’s tiny!
Deborah – How long have you guys been around?
Cammi – We’ve been around for a little over a year.
Deborah – Aaah, so you’re new, like TheAmplify!
Cammi – It’s funny because I have never actually run an agency before, I’ve never worked in an agency before, I’ve always been on the client side. Suddenly I’m figuring everything out. How do I run a business? I have no idea! And I think one of the biggest things for us was, we picked the wrong partner from the start, and eventually, you know, it’s not the right fit. He’s an amazing person, however, it wasn’t the right fit.
Deborah – So you had to change…
Cammi – So we have to change. OK, we need to make sure that we hire really slow. We want to make sure that the person who’s coming in is the right fit, because it takes time to train people, it takes time to get the thing right, and that was our biggest mistake…
Deborah – Jill Drury talked about the mistake of keeping people on too long, even when you know they’re not a good fit. And she said that in the end, it doesn’t serve you and it doesn’t serve them, because it makes them less employable the next place they’re gonna go.
Cammi – And you’re wasting their time, because they could be somewhere else that they’re happy, and they’re going to add value to another company, which is better for the portfolio. We usually say hire slow, fire fast, if it’s a wrong fit… Actually I believe that even if it doesn’t work out for you, you should always try to go out and help that person to get the next job.
Deborah – Smart.
Cammi – You know why, because they will go out and will be your best ambassador; they will tell everyone. Because if it’s not the right fit for you doesn’t mean the person is not good. Just in the wrong company. Every company is different. It’s the same thing with my former business partner. He’s good, he’s running other businesses, doing really well there. It wasn’t the right fit. It’s very important.
Deborah – It sounds like you have a very coherent philosophy that guides your whole business – that speaks to me, that kind of generosity of spirit, but it’s sort of a pay it forward kind of mentality that breeds goodwill.
Cammi – It’s kind of how we started, because we work from the client side… and I realized that most of the agencies we work with right now, they don’t really care about the client. The way we structure our business right now… we want that people who work for us will have a life. They don’t work too late, and we want to make sure that our clients get something out of it too. At the end of the day, we want everyone to be happy. They actually have to enjoy what they do, because if they don’t, the content is gonna suck. It’s not gonna work.
One of our clients is Luv. The ones that donate 50%. Basically they are an online gift shop. They have a lot of jewelry, they have home decor, accessories, one of a kind gifts. We worked with them very closely from the start, and everything they do is for a good cause. 50% of their profit goes to charity. The first campaign they picked five different charities [for] children – UNICEF, War Child, Feed the Children, Save the Children, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. And the next collection they’re going to support something different. And the other 50%, they are going to hire young people with disabilities who couldn’t get jobs. Also they give those jobs to entry level. So we actually work very close with them, actually training the employees to learn, to gain new skills. Even [though] we are an agency, it feels more like we are in-house, because we really try to grow the business with them.
Deborah – What kind of tools do you use for marketing?
Cammi – For marketing, I know a little coding, so we do a lot of reverse marketing. So for example, we run an ad campaign, I will collect data and analyze it and I compare all the past campaigns… So we learn, save you a lot of money… and time later on, so you don’t want to get it wrong…
Deborah – So the products you guys are marketing, are they clothing, furnishings?
Cammi – We do a lot of jewelry. It’s word of mouth a lot, with jewelry brands. From costume jewelry to fine jewelry come to us, because so far we’re doing well, and we know the market really well.
Deborah – Are you working internationally?
Cammi – Yeah, we work internationally… usually we try to stay in the US and Canada, because there’s a language barrier… Of course everything in international is e-commerce. Like we have clients contacting us, can you run an ad campaign for us in Berlin. I say I can’t run your company, I can’t run that campaign for you, it’s not the best for you. I tell my clients, you know we shouldn’t accept [just] any person who comes to us, because if you take the wrong client, you won’t have time for the right client.
Deborah – That’s right. I think that’s the lesson for every business person from the smallest entrepreneur to the largest business. I mean, I grapple with the same thing in my business. You know if someone comes, it’s like alright I need the work I’m taking it. You know, I’ve stuck myself with wrong clients and then I suffer through it.
Cammi – I hate doing that.
Deborah – I hate it. It just turns out to be a disaster.
Cammi – Another thing I think is that people usually undersell themselves, too.
Deborah – Especially women, I think. I find this a lot in the freelance writing community, anyway, because I have a big circle of freelance women writers, and there’s a huge amount of discussion about that. It’s kind of hard. Once you get past a certain threshold I think it’s equal, it’s just jumping over that threshold is hard for a lot of women. We have to kind of do a thing to our brains.
Cammi – I think we deal a lot with that oh, this takes this much amount of time for me to do this, so I can’t charge that much, which should be, if I do X, Y, Z, I’m going to increase revenue by this number, so how much should I charge for that? And a lot of time when you sit down with clients, it’s not about… so how much do you want to increase your revenue? When you talk in that way, they don’t feel you are expensive, because that’s what they want. OK, I have to pay X amount of money, if I’m going to get ten times more money.
Deborah – Exactly, it’s worth it. It’s totally worth it… Um, do you have a specific philosophy with regard to technology, since this is a tech conference? Is there a way that you sort of approach technology in how you incorporate it into your business?
Cammi – I feel that it’s a lot like the old fashioned way. Everything is exactly the same the way it is, it’s just that we have new tools. We have a lot of cool toys, and I think a lot of times people forget, oh yeah, we have this device, and it’s going to replace X, Y, Z. It may make your life easier, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have to do XYZ anymore… For social media, a lot of times people think that they don’t have to make relationships anymore, or that they don’t have to network. No, it just makes it easier for you to connect with people.
Deborah – Right. It doesn’t take the place of the foundational operation.
Cammi – Another thing I think is that… people sometimes think, I don’t want to automate things, and you actually have to automate if you want to move faster, quicker than everyone else. And you do have to take risk.
Deborah – Is there any big mistake that you’ve made that you learned something from, that you can talk about?
Cammi – I think the biggest one is to manage my energy. Figure out who’s the right client and which project to work on. [Not every campaign] is the right campaign to work on. And a lot of times a client is not the right fit.
Deborah – Do you find that clients are coming to you now or do you have to go seek out business?
Cammi – Actually so far, all clients are coming to us. We don’t actually do anything really. We are just dealing with all the referrals coming to us at the moment. And the way this is structured… We actually don’t want to grow too fast too quick, because we want to have a life, too… We want to build something small and alive. Everyone can do whatever they want – they can spend time with their families, they can travel, they can do what they want to, and that’s the way we want our company to grow.
Deborah – That’s great.
Cammi – We actually said, where do we want to go? Do we want to be a five people company or do we want to be 20 or 100 people? We don’t want to be too big. We want to focus on the people who mean the most to us and do a good job.
Deborah – Nice… So last question. Are there any lessons you’ve learned along the way from people? Advice that you’ve been given or advice that you feel you would like to share? Something you’ve learned?
Cammi – It’s important that people start learning, people start trying to improve themselves. It’s really important for you, because you have to learn everything. You have to learn how to sell. It doesn’t matter who you are. You always have to be your best person, you have to sell that to your future employees, you have to sell that to your clients, you have to sell it to everyone you’re working with. You need to learn to write or you cannot tell your story. You can hire a writer, but you still need to know how to tell your story… You always need to learn, especially if it’s technical. It’s changing every single day. A lot of times we wake up in the morning, OMG, something changed, and we have a 10am meeting with a client. OK, we have half an hour, we have to figure this out… because the client knows that, they get notification, and they’re gonna ask, and you’re going to have to tell them, so you always have to learn… I think one of the things a lot of people don’t do is they don’t read. Everyone’s saying I’m busy, I’m busy. Everyone. Right. If you work 16 hours a day. But think this way, if someone spends their entire life to write a book, to put all the lessons they learned down on paper, and it costs maybe $20, to learn all that…
Deborah – Why not get that?
Cammi – So a lot of times people want to say fail fast and fail a lot. I don’t agree with that. I say, try to get it right the first time you do it. Because you don’t have to fail to learn the lesson. You can steal the lesson from someone else. They already failed, they already [did] that… So I feel that people need to get into reading more, need to actually talk to people who have done it before, and try to avoid failing, because why do you need to fail? The point is to learn the lesson, but if you can learn the lesson without failing…
Deborah – You’re the first who’s said that. That’s awesome. I kind of like your way better, actually, it’s so much less painful.
Cammi – No, it’s true, a lot of them, we would call people.
Deborah – Why didn’t I think of that? No, we have to fail and punish ourselves first and self-flagellate, and that’s how we learn, it’s painful.
Cammi – You don’t need to fail. Also, if you do things the wrong way, it takes forever to fix it.
Deborah – Oh, it takes so long.
Cammi – So, do it slow and get it right the first time.
Deborah – Yeah. Be careful. I like that. That’s a great note to end on. I love it. Thank you.