See all News & Resource


8 min read

Agent3 turns 10!

Clive Armitage

March 16, 2023


Just over ten years ago, myself, Dan Sands and Paul Mackender found ourselves in a bar experiencing an intoxicating mixture of fear and exhilaration, having just been given an investment green light from Next Fifteen CEO, Tim Dyson, to start Agent3.  Our trepidation was based on the fact that we were walking away from senior roles at Bite Communications, a technology communications brand which we had helped grow from its founding team of five in 1995 to over 300 people by 2012.  But trumping any nerves about leaving Bite was the growing excitement that we had a mandate from Tim to create a new type of marketing services business, which we all believed had huge growth potential.  Fast forward a few months and the stark reality of this mandate hit home in January 2013 as Paul, Dan and I sat in our rather compact first office (aka the disused stationery cupboard at one of Next Fifteen’s brands) with no clients and no revenue!  

However, while it was a sobering thought to realize that we pretty quickly had to start selling ‘stuff’ to pay our way, we were confident that we had identified a problem for our prospective customers that they needed help with.  Given our backgrounds in technology communications, the three of us had had a front row seat as an accelerating tide of technology innovation had started to change the marketing process irrevocably.  We’d seen Scott Brinker attempt to collate the emergence of ‘martech’ tools in 2011 with his first Martech tracker and then been amazed when a year later he had trebled the number of companies that he could include in the tracker (it was circa 350 in 2012 and is now close to 10,000!).   This explosion in how technology was supporting marketers represented a huge change for our customers in how they went to market.  And in turn this change represented an opportunity for us to help brands navigate and prosper from the way that technology was starting to really impact the marketing process.  

Recognizing this, we called ourselves Agent3 because we believed that the combination of data, technology innovation and creative content would drive the future of what we termed ‘modern marketing’.  For us, back in 2013, ‘modern marketing’ was predicated on the belief that brands needed to listen and respond to customer needs, engaging them increasingly through digital channels and with content that matched the problem the customer needed solving (and not the solution the brand wanted to sell).  From playing with this concept and experimenting with solutions for various large brands in our early days, we increasingly focused on solving the most common problem our customers presented us with; ‘how do you help us engage better with the 20% of our customers who represent the 80% of our revenue’.  At the same time, since our good friend Bev Burgess had first identified Account Based Marketing (ABM) as a ‘thing’ back in 2003, ABM as a discipline was gaining market interest and traction with brands and technology innovators alike.  The moniker of ABM specialists quickly became something we were very comfortable with, gaining a global reputation for deploying results focused ABM programs that aligned sales and marketing around the biggest growth opportunities for our customers.  

Fast forward to today and Agent3 now employs more than 200 people across the globe, serving many of the world’s most iconic technology brands from offices across North America, Europe and Asia.  It’s been quite the ride and as founders, Paul, Dan and I have learned so much along the way.  So, we wanted to share our top five learnings here in the hope that anybody reading this blog, on a similar journey, may take heart from some of the things we got wrong and take note of some of the things we got right.  Thankfully, the latter has just about shaded the former!

1) Fail fast. 

When you’re building a business the temptation, after you have poured investment dollars and people hours into a project, is to keep trying to make it work, even when it becomes obvious that success may be a distant prospect.  We invested heavily in our earliest days in an Insight platform (which was in turn brazenly copied by one of our competitors – you know who you are…) and while the idea was a good one, our lack of experience and market readiness weighed heavily on us and we were too slow to change direction.  That inability to know when to ‘quit’ cost us a year in terms of growth and profit (although we learned a ton in the process). So, there is a definite art to knowing when to quit and this book here is well worth a read.

2) Fast growth can be a dangerous thing. 

When you are in a hyper growth mode as a services business (to my mind, in excess of 40% per annum) managing the business efficiently and effectively can become really challenging, quickly.  On the one hand, everyone is excited by new and interesting customers coming through the door as well as the sight of a regular procession of new joiners to help service the increasing demand.  But on the other hand, there is the requirement to maintain a consistent culture, the need to ensure processes and systems can cope with the business’ increased size and complexity, as well as the importance of not pushing your people too far out of their comfort zone too quickly.  While I think we have managed to keep a really strong culture as we have grown, and our commitment to excellence in customer service has remained unwavering, we failed to invest quickly enough in the backbone of the business, to support us as we scaled.  So, we were too slow to match our operational resources and systems to the growth we were experiencing and we created unnecessary headaches for ourselves as a result.  So, key learning; invest in your business infrastructure as you grow and don’t believe you’ll ‘get to it when you have time’.

3) Growth is not linear. 

Ok, I’ll be honest, I’ve nicked that from Tim Dyson but he’s right; you can’t expect constant growth in any business.  Rather like a rollercoaster ride, there are times when growth can be wildly exciting and you may even feel out of control.  But there will also be times when the ride is quite slow and you are waiting for the next thrill.  The lesson here is to be prepared for both scenarios and to then maximize them to your advantage.  So, if things feel a bit hairy and growth is explosive, get round your people and customers and make sure standards remain high.  And don’t forget to make time to keep investing in the business infrastructure (see point above).  Then in the quieter times, keep a close eye on the key metrics for the business and ensure that you have all the data you require to maximize profitability but also to know when and where to invest to fuel your next growth spurt.

4) Don’t over rotate on good OR bad news. 

This is definitely one I’ve had to work on personally, because it is so tempting to be euphoric when something goes really well and conversely, overreact when something doesn’t go the way you want it to.  Instead, it’s essential to keep a calm perspective when confronted with either good or bad news.  Doing so will help you make the right call in terms of how you build on good news or more effectively mend things if the news is not so great.  And remember, everyone in the business will be taking a cue from how leadership reacts to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune so behave accordingly!

5) Be customer obsessed. 

To remain relevant (and therefore have your services be in demand), you have to be finely attuned to what your customers’ evolving needs are.  One of the best things we have done since the start of the business is to create forums where we could get feedback on the problems customers were facing.  So, initially, while in start up mode, we created an Advisory Council (thanks to Lindsey ArmstrongChris BoormanRichard RobinsonDavid Eldridge and Rob Wirzycz for their help in the early days!) which was incredibly helpful in honing our offer.  As the business then developed, we’ve created our own Customer Advisory Board to allow us to tap into the thoughts and ideas of some of our customers on a periodic basis.  Again, absolutely invaluable in helping us determine the right strategic direction for our ongoing development.  

Building businesses is hugely rewarding, and the first ten years of building Agent3, has lived up to everything Paul, Dan and I hoped for in the earliest days of sitting in a small windowless office, wondering about our future.  And I can only extend our heartfelt gratitude to everyone (our people, our clients, our partners and our investors) who have helped us along the journey to reach this point.  But the story is by no means complete.  As we look forward, the opportunity to support brands to be ever more effective with their marketing through the smart application of data, technology and content remains as significant as ever.  In my next blog I’ll be explaining how Agent3 is adapting its offer to double down on growth by helping brands more smartly engage their customers across the entire lifecycle of their relationship.  We’re betting on this approach being the key to us experiencing continued rapid growth over the next ten years of our existence.  Watch this space…

Share this post