Brooke Beach spent the last 16 months successfully pivoting Kevy into the road of success. The David Cummings-founded startup began as a point-to-point integration company in 2012, but after three years the business was stalling and not scaling as fast as needed. Cummings brought in Beach, then a marketing director at Kevy, to lead the company as CEO through its transition into a marketing automation platform. She was the right person for the job.
Last year, she told us shortly after taking the role of CEO that “her first priority is to continue to grow Kevy’s e-commerce marketing platform and provide customers with truly competitive and effective offers in this growing marketplace.” Since then, the company has had a strong team in place and acquired $250K in revenue, breaking even in a little over a year.
Yet, now, Beach is ready to step down.
Today, Beach sat down with Hypepotamus to share why she chose to leave Kevy as it’s on the rise, lessons learned as CEO, and what she hopes to see at Kevy and MarketWake, a digital marketing agency that she founded in 2015.
Why are you making this decision?
I stepped into my role at Kevy to lead the company during a time of pivot. With the help of an incredibly dedicated, brilliant team, we created a scalable business that is now ready for the next chapter of growth. And we had a unique journey to get there. Instead of starting a new business, we were tasked with changing a brand. That’s a lot harder to do than starting from scratch because the public already has one view of what you do and then you tell them, actually no — we are changing that. Just accept it. It wasn’t a pivot within the line of what we were already doing. I knew that going into it, it was going to be the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. I was right.
We went from giving refunds to old customers to starting a product. All of this comes down to the team, especially my CTO Don Pottinger. He literally built that product from nothing. We launched the first beta version in the fall of last year and we almost immediately reached $100K in revenue. That’s unusual for a tech company that was battling a reputation that was not ours. We wanted to treat Kevy as a new business, but it wasn’t. It had three years of another story.
I started looking at our team, our customer base and it became clear that my job was to build. I set off to make sure that the company was stable and now it is. I don’t want to spend years and years at a company I don’t own and leave the one that I started behind.
What are some of the lessons learned during your experience, including building a company to $250K in 16 months and developing a strong team?
Marketing is one of my passions. One of the things I learned really quickly is your reputation and your brand’s reputation matter dramatically. It’s a lot harder to back up and switch gears than it is to create something from nothing. I learned quickly that transparency was pivotal to our success – especially for our customers. You have to justify a change and a failure, in some people’s minds.
Another lesson would be treating your team well and being honest with them. During this time of transition I have been extremely moved by my team. I told them that I was making this decision and every single one of them separately said, “We admire you, your leadership and the way you’re treated us and how you’ve handled this transition. We couldn’t have done the things we did without you.” We created a culture of respect and that’s one of the biggest lessons. That’s essential if you want your company to succeed. We would have meetings and talks and we all respected each other. No family drama. We got to build and grow. At the end of the day, we knew that every lesson was worthwhile.
The other thing I learned, one of the biggest, is being okay to ask for help. Within two weeks of the job, I realized “I’m very qualified for this job, but I can’t go at this alone.” I decided early on to surround myself with smart, capable, wise people that could advise me on this journey. All of the sudden, I had an entire city supporting me. The support that flowed in was truly remarkable. I’m so grateful because there’s nothing I could’ve done without their advice or support. Being teachable is one of the most underrated values a CEO can have. No one talks about it, but it’s the most important thing that I learned. Knowing that you don’t know everything, but I know enough that I need and want your advice.
Obviously, being CEO is incredibly rewarding, so the decision to step down has to be extra tough. How do you know when it is time for a change, both professionally and personally?
We had broke even and that’s huge — most companies don’t reach break even or even profitability. We also had investment interest. At the end of the day, I realized that David [Cummings] owned the company and it was really his to run. Stepping down is really hard. My hope is that David runs it the way it needs to be run and if he doesn’t want to take that role, I hope that he finds someone to take it to the next level. I knew that at the end of the day, my job was to pivot through and we reached break even. We did it!
You have to be wise to make good decisions that affect other people. As a CEO, it stops with you — the company’s success and the company’s failure. You learn that very quickly. I am extremely proud of the work we achieved and even David said, “Most companies don’t achieve this kind of revenue in the time you achieved it.”
What advice do you have for others faced with tough transitions and/or decisions in their careers?
It’s so hard. You feel like the weight of the world is on you. You feel like the decision you make is going to be in the limelight. At the end of the day, you have to know that whatever decision you make is the best possible one for your team, for other people, for yourself and your family, and for your future. I met my goals that I set out to meet and looking ahead is awesome. Be careful to not be rash, you don’t want to make a decision out of emotion. Running a business is really hard, every day is a new challenge. It’s easy to make a decision out of emotion. My dad was an attorney and growing up he always taught us, “You can do whatever you want, as long as you come up with a reasonable, rational argument for why you need it.” We had to explain and really think about it. Sometimes, in thinking about it, we would talk ourselves out of it.
Looking back, it prepared me for some major decisions. One, the decision of taking the role, a really hard decision since that meant I had to leave the company I started. But, I saw the opportunity to make a difference and help them reach success. And then I had to make another hard decision, at the end of the day, I have a company that I founded and I’m responsible for it, the same way that I’m responsible to David and to Kevy. It’s time to face that responsibility and put it on my shoulders again.
What elements at MarketWake make you excited about the future?
I have been in a unique position to see how product and services intersect. I was able to grow a product company while still helping with strategies for a service company. During that time, I realized services and product have been separated for way too long. Every single person that on boarded with Kevy said, “This is awesome, but do you have anyone who can help design or manage it?” I realized that they are asking for services. They are asking for our agency. Then on our agency side, we would say, “Hey, we can do all of these things, but you really need a product to help make it happen.” What we want to do is develop a product under the MarketWake arm that marries services and product. Product is more stable than services, but services are needed to make the product reach profitability fast. We have the best of both worlds since I just ran a product company for the last 16 months. I know exactly what needs to happen.
MarketWake was born out of the desire to show revenue, to show bottom line value, to show transparency. That’s what we’ve done for all of our customers and why we’ve never lost a long-term customer. So in looking ahead, I see exciting growth and the ability to make a difference for many businesses. I will always cherish my time with the team at Kevy, and can’t wait for the next journey ahead with Marketwake.