Celebrating Six Months

Early Lessons from the Early Days of Kanahoma

It’s hard to believe, but this week marks six months since the launch of Kanahoma.

Last November, on the eve of the election, I set out with the aspiration of building my own education marketing agency. With one client lined up, I took the leap, quit my job, and hung a shingle.

Since then, it’s been arguably the craziest six months of my life.

When It’s Good It’s Great

In our first month Kanahoma billed $1,000.

By our fifth month we broke $1M ARR.

Today, we have eight clients, three full-time employees, eight contractors, and a healthy pipeline of new opportunities.

It still astounds me to say, but we’ve yet to do a single outbound sales call. Everything we’ve built so far has been inbound and organic.

And the work has been rewarding. We’re working with everyone from a world-class R1 research institution to a small, tuition-dependent two-year art program.

Across our portfolio of clients, we’re actively providing marketing strategy and consulting, creative campaign development, and media planning and buying.

I can honestly say that the work has been meaningful, varied, and fun.

When It’s Hard It’s Heavy

Despite all our success, this has also been an extraordinarily challenging six months. Candidly, perhaps the hardest I’ve ever navigated.

On the day I launched Kanahoma, my wife - pregnant with our first child - contracted COVID-19. The first weeks of the business were quite literally built in isolation.

In January, we welcomed our baby girl into the world. Thankfully (and most importantly) both baby and Mom are healthy, but to say it has been exhausting would be an understatement.

And along the way I’ve learned hard lesson after hard lesson about what it means to own and run one’s own business. As ready as I thought I was, it’s been humbling to stumble as I struggle to build a business off cashflow.

Top Takeaways

When I think back on all I’ve learned over the past six months it’s difficult to distill to just a few nuggets, but here’s my best attempt:

  1. “It’s About Reputation, Not Revenue”
    Simply phenomenal advice from my long-time mentor Steve Hodownes about what it means to be an early stage business. I’m constantly reminding myself that the most important thing we can do to set ourselves up for a healthy future is to deliver for our partners today.

  2. “Your First Priority Is To Build A Stable Business.”
    A poignant point shared with me by my friend Paxton Ritter from iDesign that shifted my focus from short-term project-based work to seeking longer term relationships. The success of that shift is what gave me the confidence to scale the team.

  3. Using Size As A Strength
    While Kanahoma is small in size, it also means we have limited overhead and financial commitments. That has allowed us to turn down a lot of work that didn’t feel like the ideal fit for how we’re trying to position the agency. Had we been bigger, I’m not sure we would have bowed out of as much opportunity as we have so far.

  4. Build In The Open
    I’ve been inspired by the “Build In The Open” startup movement, in particular following Paul Yacoubian’s work with Copy.ai, and have found that the more I’m transparent about what we’re trying to build at Kanahoma the more receptive people are to who we are and what we do.

  5. A Successful Launch Starts With 15 Years Lead Time
    Finally, it’s been clear to me that much of our success to date has been predicated by my own previous experience working in the education industry for the past 15 years. Had I attempted this sooner, I am not sure things would have gone so well out the gate.

Final Thoughts

As I look back on our first six months, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the dozens of friends and colleagues who have made time for me.

Whether it’s routine check ins or one-off phone calls, so many of you have made the time to prop me up when I’ve felt alone and educate me when I’ve felt lost at sea.

And to the teammates who’ve joined me, and the partners who’ve trusted us, I can not begin to accurately articulate how deeply grateful I am for your collective support.

This has been - and will likely continue to be - the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s also been the most rewarding.

And as I think back on our first six months I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Nike Founder Phil Knight…

“Just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.”


Editor’s Note

Of the many blessings that have come over the past six months, one unexpected one has been the response to this newsletter. Taking a moment to pause, reflect, and write each week has been truly rewarding.

My sincerest thanks to each of you for giving me a spot in your inbox and sharing a few minutes with me each week.

Here’s to the next six months…

Seth


About the Author

Seth is the Founder and CEO of Kanahoma, a San Diego-based education marketing agency. Operating at the intersection of beautiful brand creative and effective direct response marketing, Kanahoma partners with colleges and universities, education technology and service providers, as well as K-12 organizations.

You can learn more about Kanahoma at www.Kanahoma.com.