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Meet the new breed of start-up agency

Thursday, 18 April 2013 | By Michelle Hammond
The last few years have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of incubators and co-working spaces for local start-ups, not to mention increasing interest from traditionally risk-shy investors.


Now organisations such as The New Agency, The Frank Team and The Entourage, which offer entrepreneurs a range of services, from mentoring to software development, are looking to tap into the start-up scene.


So should you deploy the services of this new breed of business agency? Or is it a better bet to go it alone?


StartupSmart speaks to three of the main agency players to find out what’s on offer.


More contact with mentors and peers


The Frank Team is a video membership platform for students and young professionals, promising to help them become the “CEO of your career”.


Managing director Natasha Munasinghe says the organisation counts mentoring as one of its major strengths.


“We do a lot of mentoring, not so much for early stage start-ups but young business owners who have been in business for a year or two,” Munasinghe says.


“We run them through workshops and introduce them to other entrepreneurs.


“The most obvious asset or [positive] feedback we get from people who have been through the program is pairing them up with a mentor.


“The second thing, and one of the most important things, is to be connected with fellow people; fellow entrepreneurs.


“When you’re just starting out it’s an isolating journey. Hearing someone else is in the same boat as you… is in itself reassuring.”


Less special attention


Munasinghe says while The Frank Team can give entrepreneurs access to mentors and advisors, offering specialist advice is not its forte.


“If you need specialist sales and marketing [advice], a mentoring program might not be the best space… You need to talk to a sales or marketing coach to take that next step,” she says.


Alan Jones, who heads up The New Agency, says people who work for organisations such as his own are also more pressed for time than a specialist.


The New Agency helps start-ups “begin the journey to becoming household names” by way of software development, design, marketing, advertising and social media, among another things.


“It takes quite a lot of collaborative thinking to build a business than can run lean enough to be able to afford start-ups,” says Jones.


“It’s such a fast-growing, changing industry – whoever I employ doesn’t have enough time to stay on the edge of what’s happening. They have to always be billing their time out.”


The New Agency has, however, found ways to counteract this.


“We’re working mainly with freelancers and part-time project people. We’re trying to work with people who have a few direct client relationships of their own,” Jones says.


“We also prefer it when people are working on a start-up idea of their own because then they can have more empathy for a client.”


Instant access to industry insiders


When deciding whether a start-up agency is right for you, Jones says it’s important to consider the value of your existing contacts and any time or financial constraints.


“I think a lot there would depend on the depths of your own network. Speak to most entrepreneurs and they will say the hardest thing is trying to find people,” he says.


“If you’ve got a year off from work and your partner’s prepared to let you pursue your dream for a year, or you’ve got some capital or an overdraft on your home loan… then you really need to get cracking and then an agency is a better solution.”


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More accountability


Lorraine Murphy, who decided to utilise The Entourage when she started her business, says one of the best things an agency can offer is accountability.


The Entourage, led by managing director Jack Delosa, aims to inspire entrepreneurs to start, build and exit high-growth ventures in order to develop “the social entrepreneurs of tomorrow”.


Murphy, meanwhile, heads up The Remarkables Group, a talent agency for bloggers.


“When you’re a start-up, no one’s telling you what the best way is to do it. For a business like ours, because it was the first of its kind, no one had done it before,” Murphy says.


“That’s what really drew me into The Entourage. Also, the quality of the information. I also liked the idea of being accountable to someone else as well.”


Too much emphasis on mentors


Jones says he is wary of placing too much emphasis on mentoring, despite its prominence in other start-up programs.


“One of the most difficult things for a mentor is being able to step outside of their own experience,” he says.


“I’ve worked with successful entrepreneurs in the past. All they’ve been able to do is tell their story.


“You need a mentor to be able to look across a few different stories… and draw lessons from that.”


Delosa says there’s another potential problem associated with mentoring programs.


“A potential drawback… is that you start to listen to them without running it through your own filter, in which case you’re being intellectually lazy,” he says.


“Yes, you need to surround yourself with people with more business experience than you. However, you still need to be the master of your destiny.


“The voice inside of your head needs to be the loudest voice in the room.”


What the future holds


“I think we’ll see more [start-up agencies] popping up,” Jones says.


“To my knowledge, Pollenizer was the first start-up agency and it’s now more of an accelerator and incubator fund, and BlueChilli sits somewhere in between.


“With The New Agency, I do personally invest but the agency doesn’t. I certainly think there’s room for more players in all of the three slots.”