Listen to my So You Want to Start a Business podcast interview with Mostafa El-Bermawy, Growth Hacker and CEO of Berma & Co.
Mostafa is an accomplished marketing and start-up growth strategist with 9 years experience in accelerating revenue growth and expanding brands’ footprints.
He is also a curious, enterprising, and very caring guy. During his interview, you will start to wonder if he doesn’t care more about his client’s organisation then his own.
This interview is meaningful and honest. I recommend everyone in business, startup or otherwise, listen to this one.
To listen to the full interview on iTunes click here.
You can listen to the full interview on Stitcher click here.
To listen right here on my website click here.
My guess is that you are here because you are curious about what it might be like to start a business?
Perhaps you’ve been wondering if you have what it takes? If your idea will work or even how much it actually costs to build a successful business?
I’ve written a book that can answer pretty much all your questions “So You Want to Start a Business” and you can download the first 20 pages at www.thestartupsteps.com
15 years of experience working with start up businesses are condensed into this book.
It’s your step by step guide to launch your business smarter and faster and I’m so excited to be sharing it with you and can’t wait to hear about your progress.
Happy reading! and do please let me know how you go ….
Now here is the transcript of the podcast:
Ingrid: Hello, and here we are today with Mostafa El-Bermawy. Good morning, good afternoon, Mostafa.
Mostafa: Good morning.
Ingrid: ‘Cause it’s not morning where you are, is it? You’re in New York and I am in Sydney, and I have just looked out Mostafa’s window and he really is right there on the water in New York. It looked pretty fantastic. Good morning!
Ingrid: So, tell us what business are you in? What is your business?
Mostafa: I run Berma and Co which is a growth hacking agency based out of New York City and mainly focused on helping SaaS and e-commerce business with growth.
Ingrid: Just in terms of – if you were to explain that to someone who might not understand what that meant – what does that business actually do?
Mostafa: It’s basically a digital marketing agency, but we’re mostly focused on using data and, I guess, modern marketing tools and technologies to help your business grow. We also, like, are very data-driven, and most of us are engineers turned marketers and really use the growth hacking framework to grow your business fast and efficiently.
Mostafa: We focus on SaaS and e-commerce businesses and utilise various channels such as paid Facebook and surge, and also organic channels, SEO, so the classic marketing stacks. But we do it in a data-driven way, and we grow fast, and we have a proven framework that has worked for many organisations.
Ingrid: Thank you for that. So even though it sounds like it’s something quite different to some of the other businesses that have been on this podcast, a lot of the fundamentals are actually very similar, and we will explore that as we go through the questions. So when did you start this business?
Mostafa: I started about a year and a half ago.
Ingrid: And why? Why did you start the business?
Mostafa: I worked in various growth marketing positions and ran marketing and growth departments for various organisations as a full-time employee, as a consultant, and I realised that there’s a need for the type of service and, I guess, our approach to marketing and growth in general, and decided to document or, I guess, my proven and optimised process and turn that into a business.
Ingrid: Fantastic. And what did you personally want from this business from day one?
Mostafa: From day one I wanted to be, I guess, happy and doing the type of work I like. I do like this growth rush and basically coming into a business and helping with their growth pains, and it’s something that I’m good at, it’s something that I like doing.
I also don’t like to do it just for one brand, I like to do it for various brands ’cause I simply get bored. So I just wanted to do that and bring in other people, like-minded people that would like to do the same thing, and we do it for the businesses that we like, so that’s why I decided to do it.
Ingrid: That sounds pretty fantastic, doesn’t it? So here’s one of my favourite questions – when did the business feel real? When did you actually feel like you were in business?
Mostafa: Oh, that’s a great question. I realised that I was in business when, and this might sound weird, but when I fired our first client.
Ingrid: That’s a great answer. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about that?
Mostafa: Course. Well, we were just getting too much work and maxed out on our work, which is, as an agency, a great thing; no complaints. But when it hit this point, you start thinking about who’s your ideal client where you have the best fit? ‘Cause our approach to growth hacking and marketing in general isn’t the typical digital shop agency so we realised that some of the clients that we had early on are just not really a good fit. We’re not a good fit for them, and they’re not a good fit for us, as a client.
So we’re honest with them and we help them find other agencies. We did a really good transition plan and process, and we’re still friends, but we told them, hey, we can no longer work together. And it did feel real ’cause it’s not one of those common things. I’ve never done this before and it’s not something I realised that I’ll do that fast, so it felt quite real when I did that.
Ingrid: That’s really nice. And have you done it since, or was that a one-off?
Mostafa: So far a one-off. I hope I don’t have to do it again. Hopefully we can just continue with our team and find the right clients, but we’re really open to doing it over and over until we find the right clients where we can provide value. If we can’t provide value to any of our clients, eventually they will do it to us, so mostly we’re honest with our clients and sometimes when we are the right fit, they come back to us.
Ingrid: It’s so insightful to know who are those right clients, and what is the fit? And that brings me to my next question is how did you know that customers wanted what this business was offering? So this is around the idea that the clients are there and that they want this very bespoke product. Well, it’s actually a service, as you said, but how did you know that it was needed there, that there was a need for your business?
Mostafa: I realised that right away being, I guess, the head of marketing and growth in various positions in SaaS companies in Europe, and just doing the service I saw how organisations really need it as a full-time hire. I also like looking at the amount of, I guess, demand I got as a head of marketing with, I guess, an engineering and data background. Also being successful in these positions, I realised that I was like, “Wow, this is something that I can replicate and not just do for one brand, I can do for various brands.”
Having that agency, I guess, hat and label makes you approach this business in a different way and approach brands in different ways. I guess it was a challenge at the beginning, but I think we’re in a good place at this point.
Ingrid: That’s great. And so just a little bit of detail about those early days, how did you fund the business to start with? Was it a transition, or did you jump straight in?
Mostafa: It starts as, I guess, before having the agency I was a consultant, so it was a classic story of consultant turned agency where I had multiple clients as a consultant and started hiring people under me and full-time hires and part-time hires, and you wake up the next day and you have an agency.
Ingrid: And you have an agency. So how do you find new customers now? How do you know where they are? How do you find them? How do you know who they are?
Mostafa: I guess we’re lucky that we have never done any marketing for ourselves, it’s mostly referrals, and actually we’d like to keep it as that.
Mostafa: As I said, it’s really you find the client where will provide most value, and we have happy customers, and most of our customer base are really happy. We tend to get a lot of business from them, and therefore their other businesses as well, and we make sure that we keep them as long as we’re providing value.
Ingrid: So can I ask …? This is a question that wasn’t on our list, so what is it you believe you do that actually provides the great value to your customers and to your clients? What is it that you’re doing that’s making them very happy? Not the specifics like which data you look at and things, but philosophically, how is it that you keep your customers so happy?
Mostafa: I guess our approach, again, I think transparency and really looking at their client’s pains, listening to them and then telling them, “I can provide value here,” or “I cannot provide value.” Having done the same thing over and over to many clients and really optimise your framework and build the process that you know is bulletproof and battle-tested, it makes you really good at providing this value when needed.
Mostafa: We know when we can provide value and how, and we do it fast, and we’re some of the best at it and would like to continue to do that, and we try to stay ahead of the curve to find the latest and greatest techniques and processes. I guess this is how we stay on top and transparent, and reporting on these metrics when we have a good thing, also reporting on the bad metrics when we have them, and having that open and transparent communication just makes the client trust you.
It makes you reliable which is, I guess, as a business owner now, I really appreciate a reliable partner, someone that I can trust and just delegate something to knowing that they will take care of it as if it’s their own business.
Ingrid: And what you’ve just said applies to any business at all, really, doesn’t it? It’s really business fundamentals 101: have your processes be bulletproof, be reliable, do what you say you’re going to do, listen to what your clients want. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, those are the fundamentals, aren’t they?
Mostafa: Absolutely. Absolutely. Nothing innovative just good, classic, old business. But honestly, you’ll be surprised at how very few businesses are doing that out there.
Ingrid: It’s really interesting, isn’t it, how it really is basics that is what wins the clients when today people are looking for clever and smart, and yet it really doesn’t need to be that, does it? It just needs to be good old-fashioned business sense.
Ingrid: Thank you for that. I hope everybody listening has taken good note of that.
So can we talk a little bit about pricing, and you don’t need to tell us how much people pay, but how do you decide? What’s the process you use for deciding a pricing strategy for the business for the early days and then 18 months later?
Mostafa: In the early days, I actually let the clients decide the framework of payment themselves. So we did hourly rates, we did retainers, we did per project basis, and we always just came back to them with feedback of what would be the best approach, so it really depends on the type of projects we’re embarking upon.
But now we do have a framework that we knew would be ideal for the type of service we provide and also is good for the relationship that we’re building with these clients. We are building a long-term relationship, then we want to find ideal framework of payment that really makes us have this reliable partnership, as I mentioned.
I guess we tested various frameworks and approached the pricing, and we found the one that works best for us. And also, again, from a revenue and profitability perspective, and at the same time from a value delivery perspective, you know what we provide. If what we provide is, I guess, overpriced, our pricing is overpriced and we’re not providing the value these business are expecting, we will lose these clients eventually. So just a matter of having the right framework, the right pricing that is sustainable and good for both businesses.
Ingrid: No, that’s terrific. Thank you. And exit strategy? I know it’s only 18 months, but do you have a longer term view of where this could go?
Mostafa: I don’t know if it’s unfortunately or fortunately, but with agencies exits are hard, so I haven’t thought of it yet. I love the business, and I would like to continue to grow it, but if someone comes tomorrow and offers a big chunk of money, I guess I’ll have to think about it. But so far I haven’t thought much about it, and maybe someday I’ll have to.
Ingrid: Yeah, but for now you’re just having a great time providing the value doing what you’re doing.
Ingrid: Let’s have some reflective questions. Is there one thing you really wish you had done differently at the beginning?
Mostafa: The one thing I wish I’d done differently at the beginning was to believe in the value that we’re providing for our clients. A lot of the time you think that there are a lot of agencies out there, everyone’s doing the same thing, everyone is as good as you are, and that’s often not true.
Dealing with agencies before and just really writing down and, I guess, documenting your process that you know worked for you, building the right processes, hiring the right team, and just keeping your head down at work and just getting stuff down is all you need to do. And being honest and transparent, clients will come to you.
You might think there is a lot of noise out there, but honestly, if you’re one of the good ones and one of the best ones, and you’re a man of your craft or a lady of your craft, you will be able to win businesses.
Ingrid: That is just such sound wisdom. Thank you for that. And this is a slightly different question: Is there something you wish you’d known at the start? It’s a little bit different to what you’ve done differently, but is there something if somebody had told you about it at the beginning it would’ve made a difference to the ongoing business.
Mostafa: Yeah. I wish someone told me that 30% of my time would go to administrative work as a business owner. It’s just like there’s some stuff that you never thought that you would have to do. Working as a marketer on different brands, there’s all sort of administrative work that people take care of for you, and now that you’re running the business, there’s so many bills you have to pay and having to keep finances and maintain papers and legal stuff. It’s stuff that I’m not a fan of that I have to do and wish someone told me, “Hey, running a business isn’t just doing the things you love. You actually have to do a lot of things that you don’t like.” But yeah, the things you have to do in order to do the things you love, I guess.
Ingrid: And it’s true. I often think that no matter what we do, there’s always the bad bits. I always refer to it as “the filing”. There’s always that stuff. In the old days when we had paper, somebody had to do the filing, and there’s always filing. It’s emptying the dishwasher or whatever it is. There’s just stuff to do, isn’t there?
Mostafa: The other thing is that I’m bad at it, and I have to work on being good at it, so yeah.
Ingrid: One of my guests, a long time ago she said that you’re in charge of everything, and if you don’t realise that, you know…. just how important that is.
Yesterday I was doing something online, and there was a thing that said, “It’s going to take you 40 seconds to do this,” and two and a half hours later … It would’ve taken me 40 seconds if I’d had exactly the right information, but because I didn’t have … And that’s where the admin time just disappears, isn’t it, is that you end up spending a lot longer on something than you think you’re going to have to.
Ingrid: So, Mostafa, who, apart from yourself, has been the greatest assistance to you in your business? And you can either name names, or you can name people in general. Who has been of greatest assistance to you?
Mostafa: My greatest asset on a personal level, I guess my girlfriend been very helpful in the business early on in just being a consultant, having a different perspective as, I guess, a student of law, so that’s something that been really helpful early on. Also other mentors and clients, I guess, that believe in us as a company, and as a business, and from having running their own businesses they have provided a lot of value and just told me, “Mostafa, this is the way you should be doing it. This is my advice to you on this and that. Here’s our feedback for you.”
So just building these types of relationships with clients have actually been super, super helpful early on.
Ingrid: Yep, really nice. And who gives you feedback? It’s not really assistance, but who can give you some tough or good, useful feedback?
Mostafa: It’s honestly one of the things that we always try to do is get feedback from everyone we can get feedback from. Constantly asking our clients for feedback: “Hey, did we suck at this? Did we do this the right way? Did we meet your expectations here? What do-
Mostafa: … you think we could improve there?” So all these questions are constantly being asked of our clients, and I make sure now, as someone who’s running the business, to ask these questions constantly if my team is not asking it.
Ingrid: And I have to just say, I love the sound of that siren. It’s such a New York sound, isn’t it?
Mostafa: Oh, yeah. Every day.
Ingrid: Every day.
Ingrid: So, Mostafa, if someone comes to you and they say to you, “I am thinking about starting a business,” what would you say to them?
Mostafa: Someone comes to me and ask … I’d tell them ‘do it.’ If you have something to offer and that you think you’re good at and you love doing, just start doing it.
Again, keep your head down in business, continue to do it, be honest and transparent, open feedback, put your ego aside, and really just put the hours needed to get it done. You will have educative learning and educative improvements, and eventually you will have the business that you’re dreaming of.
Ingrid: That’s lovely. Thank you. Three characteristics that you have that make you successful? And I think I could almost answer this for you right now given what you said, but what do you think your three key characteristics are that have made you successful?
Mostafa: Oh, I’m surprised. I don’t think it’s as easy for me as, I guess, you. You probably know better. It’s hard to think of your own characteristics, but I guess just living the work I do is one characteristic that is making me good at what I do. Another one is being open and transparent about business and hopefully life in general. I like to think that. Another one is …
I can’t think of another one. I guess I’m bad at this. What do you think would be a characteristic in general?
Ingrid: Well, it’d be interesting to hear what the … So if you’re listening right now and you’re thinking what a third characteristic for Mostafa is, you can maybe send us a message.
But I think listening to you and having heard what you’ve said there about business, is that you truly care about your clients and you care about that relationship. To me it sounds like that’s something that’s very important to you, that you love what you do, but it’s not just a business that’s generating money and making stuff, you actually care about the people that are involved in their businesses. There’s something around that, I think, that sounds like a characteristic of yours in terms of humankind and business and respect and something tied up there. How does that sound?
Mostafa: I would agree with that, and also comes from the fact that I love what I do, and I take pride in doing it, so I want to be the best at it. At the same time I really appreciate these peoples trusting me with doing it, so I really want to grow them.
These people are in business the same way I’m in business. They don’t want to feel bad either, they want to make sure that they build the right business, and now they’re relied on me to help them make that happen. And I love doing it, so why not meet their expectations and care about their business and make it happen.
Ingrid: That’s lovely. And I think that’s what comes out in talking to you in this interview. Thank you so much.
Ingrid: As we draw this to a close, is there anything else that I haven’t asked you about your business or about your philosophy about business? Thinking about our audience who are people who are in the early stage or who are considering getting started in business, maybe they haven’t taken the leap or they’re kind of dabbling with a bit of a side hustle, is there anything else that you’d like to add before we finish?
Mostafa: Not really. You’ve asked everything that I can think of about our business at this point, but I’m very thankful for the opportunity, and I’m glad I got to talk to you and your audience.
Ingrid: Oh my gosh, I am so inspired. I am going to keep my head down for the rest of the day here. There’s going to be no distractions.
Ingrid: Thank you so much for your time, and I hope everybody listening has been able to take something away. I think your message is so deliciously solid about just doing the right thing for people, so thank you so much for your time today.
Mostafa: Thank you. Thank you for your time as well.