A CEO That Knows Enough to be Dangerous
Ajax Marketing interviews the fastest growing companies in the US with the goal of finding out what made them grow so fast. With 2016 revenue of $11.6M and three year growth of 77%, Quest Workspaces, a provider of shared office space in South Florida and New York, ranks 3,800 in the Inc. 5000. Here’s what Laura Kozelouzek, our CEO, had to say in a recent podcast with Ajax.
Ajax: Tell us about your business. What do you do, and why do people do business with you?
Laura: That’s a great question. We provide shared office space in South Florida and also New York, coworking space, shared office, conference facilities, virtual offices, and we’re very fortunate to be in an industry sector that has experienced tremendous growth. And with that unfortunately we have experienced tremendous competition.
So for us it’s been very important to develop a strong brand and customer experience. And then communicating that very clearly to our customers.
When I started out the company, the plan wasn’t to achieve all this growth but just to serve these markets the best we could and deliver the best possible customer experience we could. And the growth just followed.
Ajax: So tell us, was there anything specific within what you just said that was the specific driver of growth?
Laura: Everyone has strong opinions about the way to grow your business. In my opinion, it starts with strong marketing and then from there come strong leads. Then you have to be able to communicate what your value proposition is through your sales team.
Once you’ve actually turned your lead into a real customer, the focus in on client retention and giving them something that they don’t ever want to live without.
For us we provide such flexibility with their leases that if they don’t get the value out of the experience then you’re not going to have the retention. So we see the full lifecycle.
For us we see it that you have to do each component and each part in such a meaningful way. And then once you do that you perform and you get the results. And then I guess you wind up on the Inc. 5000!
Ajax: Who do you serve? I know that Regus serves a specific type of client and WeWork is completely different. Who is an ideal client for you?
Laura: We call our clients “Questers.” For us the ideal Quester is someone who cares about service and cares about community. What I mean by that is that we’re providing not just the physical office space (shared office space in South Florida) but also the environment. It’s creating a space to work where people want to be in the office. And that’s not delivered just by how we’re serving them on an administrative capacity but also that we’re providing a fun, energetic space with a great vibe.
We’re filling it with people who bring that same level of energy. We’re doing that not just with our staff but with our clients. It’s a very discerning customer. The real I say that is that they tend to be entrepreneurial but they’re more seasoned in that they know what they want and what they’re looking for. It’s not just free beer or a chair and a desk, and some shared office space in South Florida or New York.
Ajax: My mother is a real estate agent. Do you do a lot of business with real estate agents?
Laura: Yes! Especially in our shared office space in South Florida, we do have a lot of clients who are in the business. It’s a great option because they don’t have to invest in the infrastructure or a receptionist.
It’s not just the experience we’re giving our Questers but also their guest. We believe that those first impressions are really important and it’s important for us to create that first impressing for our Questers and their guests.
So for an agent who is on their own or even an agent who is part of a larger firm, that can be ideal.
As an example, we have several options for shared office space in South Florida so people can often use any one location based upon where they have a meeting or where their customers are.
Ajax: Did you use a sales team to grow your business or did you rely on traditional marketing?
Laura: I would say it’s both. To me, sales and results come down to a numbers game. If you’ve got amazing conversions, that’s fantastic. But if you don’t have that many leads then you’re not going to get those results.
On the flip side, you can have an amazing sales funnel and the best marketing in the world, but if you don’t have a capable sales team who knows how to communicate what you’re offering then you’re also not going to achieve great success.
We approach it from both angles. So I’m always asking, how do we get more from both.
Digital is really important. SEO is important and making sure we have a large presence on the web. But we also have this grass roots initiative where we work locally. Our sales team finds partnership opportunities for everywhere we have shared office space in South Florida.
For example, we opened a new location in Plantation, Florida and partnered with the local bar association. We offered them a complimentary office for all their members, we host their events. We very much believe that the more you give, the more you tend to get back. The more we can help local groups and share what we’re doing, the more it tends to generate leads for us.
And when you look at the marketing, there are several different facets of the marketing that we make sure that we approach in a strong, purposeful way and really know the audience we are going after.
Ajax: So in speaking with a lot of the Inc. 500 companies, one of the things I noticed is that many companies are sacrificing bottom line results in order to grow their top line. Now that you are where you are, do you focus more on revenue growth or on top line growth?
Laura: I think both. As a growing point, you sometimes get to those inflection points where you need to make investments in resources. We’re willing to do that as long as we see the return is there.
In the early days for any entrepreneur, it’s all about survival. I started a company with 50k of my own investment. Month to month it was always about, “are we going to be in business.”
Once it gets to the point where you are stabilized and you’ve got strong margins and great growth it becomes a little more of a luxury to make investments that can take the company to the next level. We’re always looking to do that but we approach those decisions really prudently.
I don’t want to lose that “scrappiness” that we had as a startup as we approach the next level.
Ajax: What marketing strategies did you use: SEO, PPC? What results were you getting?
Laura: Initially for us, what was really important was getting the word out in terms of us being a really credible, high quality option for people. Initially we were focused on PR because we felt we didn’t think people knew who we are. SEO has always been strong. We also work with a lot of referral partners, meaning, others who have a strong online presence who can refer us leads and we pay commissions to those groups as well.
To this day, we’re constantly looking for new sources of leads. What we’ve also found is that as time passes and you grow, we’re receiving a much greater percentage of our leads from referrals. I think that’s natural for any business.
Clearly though now the digital presence is the greatest source of leads along with referrals.
Ajax: Are you doing this inhouse or using agencies?
Laura: I found that the size of company that we are, we tend to outsource those disciplines that aren’t our core competencies. We aren’t experts in digital marketing or graphic design. In many cases it doesn’t support having those resources in house.
Most of our team has one specific role but if we find that someone has a talent that can be used in our marketing capacity, all of a sudden they have another job title.
So to answer your question, we use vendors but for the grunt work we have resources inhouse.
Ajax: So how do you measure Return on Investment when it comes to your marketing? If you spend $10k per month do you feel that you know what you’re getting back?
Laura: The most honest answer is that I feel that we have data, and I feel this is getting better. I don’t think I’ll ever feel 100% satisfied with being able to track the direct results of a campaign. Sometimes there are so many variables in play.
Where we are today versus where we were three years ago is a huge improvement. Would I hope that next year we’ll be even better? I would.
We’ve also implemented Hubspot which has been very helpful in terms of not just creating sales funnels but also guiding the marketing, but being able to understand what’s working and what is not.
Ajax: As a CEO of a fast growing company, how involved are you in the sales funnels and the sequences within Hubspot?
Laura: I get very involved. Not so much in terms of the programming, but in terms of conceptualizing the logic behind where our business could come from. For me, the sales and marketing piece of business is what I enjoy the most and what I’m strongest at. I get involved as much as I can.
Ajax: Many CEOs are not tech savvy. I love the fact that you get it.
Laura: I think I know enough to be dangerous. I’ve heard that from my team.
As a CEO, I see myself as the person who’s got to constantly step back and question how we can get things better. My team is in the thick of it. I always am thinking about what is capable and what we can achieve.
Ajax: Were there any mistakes that you learned from your marketing?
Laura: No, luckily. I’ve started companies prior to Quest Workspaces with larger partners. What I’ve learned is that, in my opinion, it’s best to start small and you can tweak along the way.
We designed a website that was non mobile responsive. Sometimes in that scrappiness you’re looking to get the best results for the lowest cost. So we had to scramble and the end result wasn’t necessarily what we wanted.
That was one thing I learned. You can’t really mess around with your website.
Ajax: What advice would you give someone entering your line of work about marketing?
Laura: I think that because everyone is seeing the valuation that WeWork is getting that there is this mentality that “you build it and it will come.” The dollars will come from the sky.
It couldn’t be further from the truth.
In terms of our industry, we’re in a very competitive landscape providing shared office space in South Florida and you have to really understand who your customer is and you have to have something very unique and compelling to offer, and you can articulate it well…You have to be able to get that message across over several verticals and in several different ways. It’s a lot of work and a lot of detail.
That is the one thing I would tell people.
I used to run a restaurant and people used to say that they’d love to open a restaurant because they love to go out to eat. What people don’t realize is that the devil is in the details and being able to deliver that experience in a consistent manner.
Ajax: What are some hobbies and passions that you have?
Laura: I love traveling and adventure. I’m a snow skier, water skier, scuba diver. I climb mountains. Anything that involves learning something new. I’ve been described as a thrill seeker.
I enjoy traveling because I love people. The more you travel the more you realize that people are basically the same with the same basic needs.
Ajax: Keep moving. People in motion stay in motion.
Laura: If you’re not growing, you’re dead.
Ajax: How are you going to leverage your prestigious Inc. award?
Laura: The Inc. Award is something we’re extremely proud of. I’m very hands on and before starting Quest I was actually an executive with Regus. I was part of the group that grew that company very large. But I became removed from the day to day of the business and the customers and seeing the results of the work we were doing.
My original purpose for starting the company was to be the best in the market we serve: shared office space in South Florida and New York.
Ajax: What is one final thing you want people listening to this to know?
Laura: For anybody listening to this who has that burning desire to start their own business, I don’t know anybody who has ever regretted it. I would say to go for it! What holds people back is fear. Go for it and make it happen. For me the biggest fear is not trying something, way more than trying and not having it work out.
Anyone interested in a personal tour of any of Quest’s 10 locations nationwide should email firstname.lastname@example.org.