The A-Team – Ryan Vong of Digital Pi

Ryan Vong, CEO of Digital Pi

Ryan Vong, CEO of Digital Pi, grew his company’s revenue from $1.3m in 2014 to $5.5m in 2017, a 323% increase, and now they are on track to hit $8.2m this year.  

Digital Pi helps companies leverage the marketing automation capabilities of the Marketo platform.  

In this interview with Eversprint‘s Malcolm Lui, Ryan shares how he and his team accelerated their high value sales by:  

  • Working only with clients where they can deliver successful results, where their services support their client’s strategic objectives.  
  • Having their A-team, the people who can help their clients best, work with the clients from day one, from the first pitch to the last day of the project.  
  • Recognizing that their market changes fast and that new marketing automation use cases can surface quickly and create new opportunities.  
  • Diversifying into B2C marketing automation, where they can leverage their B2B infrastructure and process expertise.  

Digital Pi Interview - (computer generated transcript) (transcribed by Sonix)

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Malcolm Lui: Malcolm Lui here. Welcome to Today we're speaking with Ryan Vong, the CEO of Digital Pi, a fast growing company that helps other companies leverage the marketing automation capabilities of the Marketo platform. Welcome to the call Ryan.

Ryan Vong: Thanks. Thanks for having me on.

Malcolm Lui: Ryan. You grew your company's revenue from one point three million dollars in 2014 to five point five million in 2017 a three hundred twenty three percent increase. And now you're on track to hit eight point two million in 2018 to achieve this rapid growth. What was your number one sales or marketing objective and what challenges did you have to overcome to get there

Creating successful clients is their mission.

Ryan Vong: That is a very good question. And we actually think about that quite a bit. It really boils down to really one major thing and was really the same idea initially when we began which was to create successful clients. I think that if that is your mission then the rest of it kind of comes into play. And so early on we we started we looked at companies where we engaged to see whether or not we could make them successful. So a lot of it is discovering you know what their needs are what the objectives were and whether or not we were the right ones to provide the services to be able to make that happen. And if the answer was no that we would not take on the client. And so through a lot of that filtering process we were able to take on clients and do what we set out to do. And that itself has kind of blossomed and grown over the period of time.

I think that you know in many ways we've kind of developed and built our whole infrastructure to make sure that the clients were successful there. There are many examples of that. But one of the one of the things that I saw when I was starting out we hired agencies to do our work. We noticed that there would always be a pitch team or an 18 come pitch services and act quickly after you signed a contract and you'll get a secondary set of folks who actually are doing the work who are not as good at this as the pitch team are the folks that were pitching that always felt like it was the wrong approach.

Ryan Vong: And so in our company you know we get the folks that are experts in what they do and get them involved in the projects. And granted it's you know sometimes you look at that like it's a scaling problem but I also look at it like it's it's a great challenge to get the best minds in a topic that they're good at. And once you get that you can get a lot of things solved quickly. So our engagements are set up that way. All company is structured that way. So there are any projects that I'm a specialist in I will be one person yes opinion and I will be part of that project. And so our clients always get the best people doing the work that they ask us to do and so that feels good for us. That feels right for the client and that only leads to success. And so everything we do kind of has that main focus on client success

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. I can definitely see that right. I mean if there's a big difference between that 18 who sells to you and then the. And then you get the a totally different team who isn't as good on things that you really appreciate from this from the pitch team. It can be it can really lead to customer disappointment.

Ryan Vong: Exactly.

Malcolm Lui: So can you share how many clients you had back in 2014 when you had revenue of one point three million and how many you're looking to have by the end of this year when you're when you're up to eight point two million.

Ryan Vong: You know I think back I believe at the time we were probably at twenty five know less than 30 customers. You know this year we're probably on pace to get closer to about 100 so it breaks out about that to that much

Malcolm Lui: Okay so four for the twenty five were with you back in 2014. Are they still with you today

3 year retention rate by design: their clients don't want to be pinned down to a vendor, so they strive to help them be self-sufficient. Many clients however love working with them and stay on longer.

Ryan Vong: A majority of Omar and a lot of our clients are you know on average our clients are with us for about three years. And a lot of that you know the the length of time of clients with us isn't really. So they we you know we pride ourselves on in terms of keeping customers forever and there's a there's a there's a different mindset when we do the engagement. So you know the other aspects you know. So when I started this company I looked at things I did not like when I when I engaged with the company and some of those tactics were I'm going to make it so complex for you that everything you do you rely on me to do. And I never really like that feeling as well. So when we engaged we tried to look at it from a perspective of at some point I need a hand this off how the how best to train the client teach them what we're doing infuse lots of knowledge that they can. You know. Be on their own and run their own instances. That is what they want. And that's what our. Our goal and our our objectives are. Now. You. In our in the scenario though. There's typically a lot of. Change turnover within our clients companies. Folks will move around. You know we tend to be the that. Kind of like. The stable. Inside the company we like we're always there were always there to help And we're always consistent about it. And so companies like that and over time we kind of just become part of their company. And that's. That's been the big surprise for us. And so. You know our intent was that they will leave. But a lot of them love working with us and so they stay. And so out of those. Companies. A majority of them are still around today

Malcolm Lui: Fantastic. So this year you're you're aiming targeting planning to have about 100 clients or so. So you've had over the past three years four years you've actually found 75 80 new clients. How did you go about finding them

Majority of new clients from from word of mouth referrals, but that is changing with recent agency acquisition.

Ryan Vong: A majority of our clients come from word of mouth. It's probably very similar to you know startups and companies like ours right. Our reputation is very important to us. When you get clients successful they will refer when you get testimonials. We get referrals you know people do no background checks. You know they'll they'll call up customers you've worked with. Those have always been good. And so a lot of a lot of companies now we'll just call up customers you work with without even letting you know that they're looking to contact you first. So a lot of that research is already done. And so we believe in that. And so that has been very helpful to us. Now one of the things that we've done this year is actually acquired a smaller agency that is extremely talented in the marketing aspect of it. So you know it this year we closed chemical revenue and marketing and integrated. We're now starting to do a lot more in terms of alcohol marketing in terms of marketing tactics that we we we teach our clients about the tactics that we preach about like we're doing a lot of those things now to actually ramp. And so we're seeing returns. You know we talk about it we know what we're doing. And so we're now having the opportunity to really do more for ourselves. And so I'm starting to see that mix change you know there'll be a lot a lot of different as we move into 20 19 as well

Malcolm Lui: Now that you say you acquired a marketing firm to help you with your outbound marketing or did you say or do you mean to say that you hired a firm

Ryan Vong: We actually acquired a company that that was a you know I would say they're their competitor of ours. But the CEO is also a good friend of mine and I had a east coast presence. And so we acquired them to kind of be party time but one of the things I really really liked about them was that they were you know five people but they were able to do such incredible content incredible marketing just for their small agency that you know it was just such a good win win. And once we acquire them and I said look this is what I'd love you to do for us build up the brand in our company. Now we're seeing tons more marketing and so it was just that you know I'd say that the acquisition wasn't mainly for that. But it's been additive. It's been great you know exponentially from from the marketing front from our side

Malcolm Lui: Right. So with the with the 5 5 people that you that you've brought on board from this acquisition how was your new customer mix changed. Like what percentage are still coming from referrals and which what percentage is not coming from your outbound marketing efforts and maybe perhaps inbound marketing efforts.

Ryan Vong: I would say a majority and we're still referral based. What I am noticing that's different are we traditionally don't get you know net cold after he's come our way. And so we're starting to see a lot more of those which it's a it's a really it's really fun times for us because you know here we are getting new RFP is asking about our services and we're helping to develop the relationship from you know names all the way through. Right. So it's it's a new sales you know dynamic that we didn't have before. And so I can say that you know over the course of 2019 that that will could become even more. But right now you know again it's still we've brought on the you know we acquired the agency. They also have relationships there we're growing the business they're in a very similar fashion. And so our network just gotten bigger

Malcolm Lui: Right. So what you're saying now is that you're because of the additional marketing you're actually getting companies coming out of the blue asking you for an RFP.

Ryan Vong: That is correct that

Malcolm Lui: That's

Ryan Vong: Is correct

Malcolm Lui: That's awesome.

Ryan Vong: So we know

Malcolm Lui: What. Yes go on sorry.

Ryan Vong: It so we know that it's working.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah that's us. It's always fantastic when you have those sort of opportunities coming to your door. I mean you didn't spend any time to find them. They found you. That's it's the best. So Ryan what are your objectives your plans your targets safe over the next three years and what's the plan on achieving them.

Ryan Vong: Well I mean the primary target is going to continue to grow top line as well as even to our margins. I mean all the the the traditional financial models that we want we're going to target. Now how we get now we get there is going to be different. As of today we're primarily a no on the market platform. That mix is going to change in the next couple months. We're going to look at a more and around the BDC area to see what types of systems and capabilities are are out there to go after a completely different market. And I think from a B2B perspective Marketo is the premier platform for it with its recent acquisition by Adobe. I think it's going to bring in you know another set of opportunities. And so that business is going to continue to grow I think is going to grow and in in a great pace to add to that we have to we have to diversify. We have to look at additional platforms and didn't look at it from what are the other competitive platforms we can bring in. And that wasn't you know we wanted to use you know the best in its space and for B2B. McKenna was it. That story is is you know undefined in the BDC space. There's there are quite a few avenues to explore there and I'm hoping to add on an additional platform and to really focus on this this audience coming up for 2013.

Malcolm Lui: So why he earlier you said you see a need to diversify. Why do you think going into the B2C B2C space is the way to do it.

Ryan Vong: I think it's one of these sale. And it's just the way I'm looking at it. Like when you win the B2B space and then you get when the BDC space you win I mean

Malcolm Lui: All

Ryan Vong: Like

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Ryan Vong: There's like it just kind of it's one of those like Manifest Destiny patterns. It's it's similar to most B2B platforms want to have a b c span. All right Marketo has its own way of saying look we not only serve B2B we serve see in reality it doesn't do it at the scale that it needs to. Right.

Malcolm Lui: Ok

Ryan Vong: And there are lots of opportunities for that. And I'm looking at it like here's an additional opportunity using very similar methodologies and processes. You know you swap out the language and you swap out some of it some of the you know the intricacies of B2C.

Malcolm Lui: Ok

Ryan Vong: Now looking into that there's a there's just so much more there that I think we can explore

Malcolm Lui: Ok. Do you have particular client targets like numbers of additional clients you want over the next three years on the B2B side as well as in the BTC B to C side

Ryan Vong: We do. I mean we actually have you know our planning is and as long as most traditional companies I mean most folks will project out one two to three five years out. You know we're not we're not there. I mean we plan out a year at a time and we look at a quarter at a time and a month at a time. I mean that is the nature of how fast our market changes. Right. This acquisition came so very suddenly you know there are new use cases that come up. You know we're working with a company in North Carolina that purchased marketing automation and it was a textile manufacturing company that would you know take recycled products and spin them into yarn and they were going to use the system to market to suppliers of their materials in a very traditional company you know was created in the 60s. You know it's nothing that we thought you know it's like when you sell the stuff you go Well you know who is it really blonde. You think tech companies will adopt it. But then we're starting to see a lot more industries adopt it. And so it changes you know once you have a use case like that you can build upon those use cases. And so we look at it you know in a very short window of time.

Malcolm Lui: Ok. Can you share what. Say for example what your client growth target is for one year on the B2B space and what your plans are to get there.

Ryan Vong: Sure. Sure. I think that you know in 20 19 you know in terms of client base we are looking possibly to get closer to one hundred and forty or so clients that

Malcolm Lui: Ok. So you're 40 percent increase from your buy your current levels

Ryan Vong: Yeah. The key is that the client contracts themselves as well. Right. How deep of a footprint can we get. How big are those relationships. And I think where we are starting to really think through what our Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3 accounts look like what the characteristics are of those kinds of companies. And you know there's there's also you know as our company is growing where we're also having to look at you know who we traditionally served in the beginning might not be the same folks that we can serve like moving forward right as the company grows there. There's a certain level of maturity that has to happen a certain level of pricing structure and there's a certain level of expertise that our brand represents. And so all of those put pressures on your pricing. And so the clients that you use to serve you know three years ago you might not be able to. And so that mix is going to be more important I think than the number of clients that we're going to try to get.

Malcolm Lui: Okay

Ryan Vong: Let's give you a rough ideas.

Malcolm Lui: I think you only get bigger clients and bigger deals.

Ryan Vong: They are they are tending to be bigger clients and bigger deals now. You know a lot of that is just more and more of those clients are finding you know the type of services the type of technology very useful for their organizations. I think those companies you know take a look a lot longer to top something like this because you know when you get into an enterprise anywhere 2 billion or more right. When they're rolling these automation systems out you know the platform you're you're effecting change around for the whole company. And that's not something that's going to happen overnight. You know you work with clients that are. A lot smaller. Mean yes let's just get. Sales Marketing in line and get a platform get some tactics. Let's go. Let's do this. It happens quicker. Less people involved. Right. So.

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Ryan Vong: Complexity of the challenges. Are greater which is taking longer now. Because of the success. You know. With the early adopters of this know. Inside these enterprise companies. We're starting to see a lot more that just say you know what. It's kind of the equivalent of. If you have a company why wouldn't you have a Web site.

Malcolm Lui: Right. Exactly

Ryan Vong: When You do any marketing. Why wouldn't you have an automation system. It's going to become more and more common. And right now. That's not there yet. There's still a lot of room for that. And we're starting to see that. Anybody who spent any money on working should have automation system to. Help with the execution of it to. Track the autopilot. You know and there are a lot of process efficiencies from doing that

Malcolm Lui: Yeah definitely. Now what's your what's your plan on finding the 40 new clients I actually might be a little bit more right. Because you're going to have some clients who are you know at the end of their lifecycle and they're going to move on to some other take some other path and so you might actually need to find more than 40. You might need to find 50 or 60 perhaps

Ryan Vong: Yeah well

Malcolm Lui: So

Ryan Vong: We we're going to do a mix of things. You know one of the things that we you know we we preach and we we teach out there is actually you know account based strategies we're actually deploying that for ourselves. So we have very specific targets in mind companies that we will target next year. We're tuning our marketing and our marketing engine is you know just getting started. Now I'd say just kidding start meeting. You know we have all the infrastructure in place. We're now starting to put you know campaigns and tactics through it. And so we're going to continue to test and measure this the universe for us so far has been it's good because it's been defined you know we have some really good ideas. I've done our research and so it's a matter of getting in front those clients engaging them you know through the similar things that we talk about you know are they in a a place to look for services that we can offer. How do we get you know best get their attention get in front of them make sure that it's a priority. So you know these are all the nuts and bolts of you know the thought patterns that have to happen before you even you know launch something out there

Malcolm Lui: Right. Good to see that you're you're eating your own cooking as well

Ryan Vong: Yes. Yes. You know one of the one of the neat things about you know a company and I said this early on because I'm you know part of it goes back to just the history of we having to deal with the stuff. I love the research. I love the theories but when it comes time to getting it done I need the experience of someone who's done it you know and so in that suit you know same way whenever we look at all the growing technologies out there what's out there that we love experimenting with them saying you know this actually seems to do this. And what this way you know as a marker I can probably fault myself for this almost everything we say sound the same. You know like The word scene in the same areas is pitching it the same way. And it's hard. It's. Hard to cut through that you know. And so. We're where a lot of the times that company that folks will come to and say look I'm thinking about buying these things. Tell me how you think it fits in or where it does. It. Down to a very granular level like technically this is what it does. And this is How they are pitching it but that's not the reality of it. You know and so. You know we do a lot of experiments. That way and we. You know part of our our mission is to. Set a lot of these. You know document a lot of that and share a lot of that knowledge. So. It saves. A lot more time for folks

Malcolm Lui: Yeah definitely in your your pre selling them and you know those who are only need the knowledge their product and buy from you. Anyway just cool but then there will be others who say that this event has exactly what I want. We can't do this ourselves. Let's talk to these guys and get and get their take on things.

Ryan Vong: Yeah. Now roughly

Malcolm Lui: Now what what he thinks will be the biggest challenge for finding these 50 or 60 clients over next year

Their biggest challenge is understanding the strategic objectives of their clients and how their services can support those objectives.

Ryan Vong: The biggest challenge I think will always be a matter of their priorities you know it's always gonna be that you know as as much as this is kind of an interesting you know it's an interesting viewpoint and only because we think because we do a lot of automation things we understand what's happening. We are trying to get in front of the clients and we have all the systems and the tools in place. People will buy when they're ready to buy. You know ultimately we can't control that and priorities that go on within the companies. You know we don't know what they are. You know it's marketing a key initiative. We hope so. But to then make it in know is it a infrastructure product. Is it a security thing that they're looking at. So you're always competing with lots and lots of priorities on companies. And so our biggest challenge is really going to be understanding the strategic objectives of these companies and how they tie into our servers or how our services can support those objectives. That is if we can find out from all those companies you know what those are and how we we are aligned to them and support them then we have a pretty good shot at.

Malcolm Lui: Right. On the Beat Besa sorry on the B2C side. I know you're still looking at the platforms. Is it too early now to two to share what your targets might be in terms of getting clients and the B to B to C side

B2C companies need marketing automation even more than B2B companies.

Ryan Vong: It's a little bit early but here's here's kind of you know there are some interesting parallels and we are you know about to announce a partnership with a platform in a couple months that until all that sign I really can't reveal it. There are certain characteristics that are you know there that are very similar to what we do. If you think about you know things that happen in that world e-commerce types of transactions and you know large and we're talking millions of people in databases right they need automation probably more so than a B2B marketer. Right.

Ryan Vong: When you when you pay and you buy something you're expecting the response to come back immediately. Right. Of your purchase coupons whatever they are. And those are you know sent out in the millions. You'll need workflows to govern the processes for how that happens. You'll need a medium to deliver into the medium that they interact with. Right. And you also need to understand a lot more about this you know the buyer's specific individual buyer is now not a B2B you know buying committee. Right. This is all individual.

Current B2C marketing is not as structured as B2B marketing.

Ryan Vong: So a marketing changes but the infrastructure the logic and how all that functions is still very much automation process centric. And so their characteristics are very similar. I think that with us having this experience we can help you think through that because right now when I look in that world all if all I see right now are really you know major major email platforms that play in that space you know the big platforms that just send out emails as a response but there's it's not a coordinated effort to get data to understand buyer journeys and be able to act upon it and know trigger at the right times. And so you know there are some things out there I know but it's it's still it's not as structured as that I see it in the B2B.

Malcolm Lui: Right now do you see the challenges of hitting your B2C client targets similar to finding the b to b namely you know understanding where they're coming from understanding what the priorities are understanding what their strategies are and seeing how your service can fit into that will be similar along those lines or do you anticipate a different process

Ryan Vong: I think you know be similar but it's you know for us it's going to be how do we build our story right. With the experience it's kind of like when we started this company it's like Who are you. How do you prove that you can do what you're saying right. It's all it's like doing it all over again except with you know a lot more experience a lot more you know trips and falls and mistakes we've made. Right now we can you know and we have a track record and we have a lot more money to try to you know get better data and understanding.

Ryan Vong: So I don't think that I mean I think the challenges are going to be harder because the companies that have those relationships with their customers are going to be bigger. And this is more transactional more real time. You know when you make a mistake in emails that affect millions of people that's very different than actually sending e-mails to you know a B to be audience you know for a webinar that was had the wrong date or something you know they're just as bad but one affects you no one has some legal locations that you send the wrong coupons or discounts or where.

Malcolm Lui: Right. And you know it's easier to apologize to 100 people than you know. Three hundred thousand.

Ryan Vong: Exactly

Malcolm Lui: Yes. Two last questions for you Ryan. Who are your ideal clients and what's the best way for them to get in touch with your team.

Their ideal clients have over $500m of revenue.

Ryan Vong: I would say you know our ideal clients right now. From a revenue perspective. And I have to say it. Not that you know it's that there are exceptions to this. But generally anybody companies with revenues of 500 million or above are a fit for us. There are in need of really understanding you know and and being able to translate improve their marketing spend to our eye. You know honestly folks that have the marketing platform are a natural fit for us. And I think you know I'd say give us a shot. Just info at Digital pie dot com or no contact with some digital by that comment. We are pretty responsive for any new sales increase.

Malcolm Lui: Would you mind spelling out your demeaning

Ryan Vong: Sure. It's D I G I T ale P. icon so digital pie high as in the you know the the sequence of numbers that represent the circle.

Malcolm Lui: Yes. The irrational number.

Ryan Vong: Exactly.

Malcolm Lui: Thanks so much Ryan for spending time with me today and sharing how you grew your company so fast

Ryan Vong: Well thank you for having me on Malcolm I appreciate you taking the time.

Malcolm Lui: We've been speaking with Ryan Vong, the CEO of Digital Pi, about his company's rapid growth. For interviews with other fast growing companies or to learn how we can increase your firm's high ticket sales through automation, visit

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