Episode #58 Interview with Nathan Hookway

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In this episode of the NTP Podcast we interview Nathan Hookway, General Manager at Zimple Digital. We discuss his role at Zimple, his experience at University for the past 13 years now studying a Masters degree and plans for growth at Zimple Digital.

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Show Notes

Here you can source all the things we have talked about in the podcast whether that be books, events, meet-up groups and what’s new in the newcastle tech scene.

Time Frames:

00:37 – How did your (Nathan) role begin at Zimple Digital and how has it evolved since then?

01:58 – Tell us about your experience at University.

05:53 – What advice would you give to students wanting to start a career in marketing or digital?

07:20 – Lets talk about Zimple Digital’s growth.

08:01 – Can you talk about some of those plans (for growth)?

10:15 – What can you tell us about some of the clients that you work with?

11:33 Are there any particular skills that you see becoming more and more popular?

15:00 – What can you tell us about the culture at Zimple Digital?

16:35 – Is there anything when you’re looking to hire people that is a must have?

18:30 – Are there any productivity tools that you use as a team?

20:30 – Are there any areas where you support your staff with learning or personal development?

24:00 – What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

25:10 – What podcasts do you listen to?

26:20 – If you were to give your younger self advice, what would it be?

27:30 – Where can people find you?

Transcription:

Linda– hi everyone welcome to the new tech people podcast this is one of our first episodes for 2021 and today we’re going to be chatting with nathan hookway general manager of zimple digital about his career today and zimple’s plans for growth in 2021 and beyond.

hi nathan welcome to the new tech people podcast thanks for coming and spending some time today so i understand your role as capacity of general manager at zimple digital can you tell us how that began and that’s evolved over the last several years you’ve been there for about eight years now.

Nathan- yeah so zimple’s been around officially i think in about 2012 we got all the company documents together and kicked it all off prior to that the other two directors ryan and blake were you know forming the foundations of what the business was yeah in that time i was i was in a another business so i had a franchise on the central coast um it was gnc yeah so that was um sports supplements so and that was good we ran that business for two and a half years but in the background there was conversations around you know digital and the impact it has on business which was sort of the inception of zimple and then and then the boys sort of picked it up and ran with it and i decided that we found out that we’re going to have a baby so my priorities changed and i was like okay i don’t want to work for frank… anymore, i’d like to sort of do my own thing so i was feeling the constrains of a franchise model. We wrapped that up after two and a half years and I came back in as a director with Zimple around 2012,2013.

Linda- Good and we’ll get to that in a minute and talk more about um simple’s growth so in terms of you starting a career in marketing and digital yes i know that you began starting studying a bachelor of biomedical sciences so tell us about that journey.

Nathan: So in 2007 i was 24 so i decided that i wanted to go back to school at 24. i was in real estate and it wasn’t really you know ticking boxes for me so yeah instead of just joining the university of newcastle i decided that i’d moved to perth. ryan was already over there finishing his um his degree at curtin so i thought okay well i can go over there and sort of see what happens so i joined the university of notre dame as an undergrad in pe teaching and got bored with that within the first semester and i kind of i did pretty well at anatomy and physiology so i transferred across to biomedical science and i continued with that for two and a half years moved back to newcastle and the curriculums didn’t quite line up between university of notre dame and university of newcastle it was essentially double the duration and when i moved back i met my wife so again priorities change in life um so i finished that up i i just deferred the rest of the course i had i could have had it wrapped up in probably about six months but i decided that wasn’t my path and we bought the the business on the central coast.

We bought into that business i was a typical franchise model so gnc are sort of a worldwide well they were they’re bankrupt now

Linda- so good old franchise models.

Nathan – they were a big deal in the united states um yeah throughout australasia but the model didn’t quite transpire to to australia when i picked up the franchise they were moving from a corporate to a franchise model so there was a good opportunity on the table and we took it but yeah that’s where the sort of digital stuff came in i recognized when i was in the franchise that digital was starting to take a big slice of the pie in terms of retail revenue yeah um but i couldn’t do anything in the franchise model so that was the inception of the conversations yeah and a digital agency you can’t just go and create your own e-commerce site it hasn’t seen that has to be from the brand yeah we couldn’t even run a facebook page so right um that was quite frustrating we built a website ryan built a website for for the store to try and build it and they squashed that so yeah it was it was quite frustrating so during during that two and a half years i transferred what i could to the university of newcastle and i started in undergrad in com finance um so that’s my my official undergrad is com finance and i finished that up probably two or three years ago while we were sort of growing the business so it’s been a long long haul um i think i’ve been at uni now….

Linda –For most of your yeah most of your working career.

Nathan- My awakened life yeah i’ve um it’s coming this is my 13th year so i’m starting a master’s in marketing at the moment so 13 years part-time studying at university yeah and a business and a wife and two beautiful little girls.

Linda – i’ve had two career changes in my career so yeah it’s just i think it’s um too much pressure for students especially just to figure out what they want to do straight away out of high school.

Nathan – You’ve got to be passionate about what you’re doing particularly uni i mean uni teaches like technical skills which is is really good but it also teaches you time management and and how to control yourself that’s the the biggest lessons i got out of that so that’s flowed into everything i do now so what advice would you give to students wanting to start a career in marketing or digital yeah digital marketing in particular the curriculum’s still pretty light at the uni it’s changing rapidly but it’s still pretty traditional so i’d still say focus on traditional marketing so everyone within our team at zimple is a marketer first and then we span off into our sort of you need the foundation and the fundamentals first and that’s just different applying it across different channels yeah different platforms i mean if you specialization is is still recommended like you can still need to so like seo or sem social media content production there’s there’s a whole range of areas that you go into but the output of those particular skills are only as good as the strategic thought that’s gone into producing them yes so yeah we always try and take a strategy-led approach based on objectives and then back that up with skills so yeah anyone looking to start a career in digital i’d say focus predominantly on the soft skills so thinking listening being able to synthesize information and then put it onto paper and then have you back up in the tactical execution of that yeah definitely and market research obviously because that’s okay if you yeah exactly can we helping your clients grow their businesses.

Linda- So let’s talk about simple so you’ve been steadily growing the business over the last several years which is exciting and you’re a sort of full-service creative and digital yeah agency based in charlestown.

Nathan – Yeah so there’s there’s 18 of us now which is great so last year we moved into a new premises um just above rascals in in Charlestown up in the new corner development which was pretty exciting so we did a full fit out and that was to accommodate the short term and future growth of the the company we’ve hit the short-term growth already and we’re looking to expand beyond that yeah so yeah we’ve got a pretty diverse team up there and everything seems to be moving in the right direction so we’re pretty good and can you talk about some of those plans for growth at this point and what are you going into other sort of areas or new client segments yeah so traditionally our client base is businesses that are already sort of executing some marketing but due to competitive pressures they need to sort of increase their their digital presence in particular and that’s why that would come to us what we’ve observed is the barriers to entry in business have lowered considerably off the back of you know digital means of communicating with people so yeah businesses have been around for 20 or 30 years that have a great reputation they’ve got plenty of word of mouth business are starting to notice that their revenue is in decline right due to all these upshoots so that’s where we come in and different channels people there yeah yeah well it’s very accessible yeah you don’t in the past you know you put a billboard up you run a radio campaign or you do some tvc but now everyone seems to think they can put together a facebook page and campaign and go for it.

Linda- Yeah no we certainly don’t have a lot of followers on our facebook page our main channel is linkedin obviously yeah that’s i guess our business but um yeah it certainly pays to pay an expert to optimize that for you.

Nathan – you touched on it earlier the the research that goes into anything that we do at Zimple you know we want to be agnostic enough to be able to say okay well not everyone needs this particular application of our skills we might need a specialist in this area over here it depends on the nature of firstly what the business wants and then what the data’s telling us about what the opportunity is in the marketplace and a lot of sort of smaller businesses really don’t don’t fully understand what their market segment is as well so i guess you can provide advice around yeah it goes straight back to the marketing plan and yeah and before that even a business plan so it helps to we’ve learned over the years to position ourselves to work with established businesses typically in the service based industries but it does expand beyond that because without a business plan it doesn’t matter how good a job you’re doing at the tactical execution of digital marketing or a website if it has no context higher up the chain then you know it doesn’t end well.

Linda- And what can you tell us about some of the clients that you work with?

Nathan- So we work with a broad range of clients our primary personas that we work with are marketing managers um sort of those passionate doers that are in their sweat equity style we work with legacy builders so the people are trying to you know build a sustainable business long term and they want a scalable infrastructure in their marketing plan to to be able to do that and then there’s the freedom seekers and they’re the sort of the the tradies that are you know they’re applying their craft and they’re they’re they’re winning but they want to take a step back and and get some time so and that those personas can apply to a broad range of industry sectors we do a lot of work in the construction industry i think that’s just more so reflective of the economy.

Linda- yeah definitely there’s heaps of construction going on in newcastle as well which is exciting.

Nathan- yeah so we work down into sydney as well a number of our larger clients are in sydney a few major home builders and other housing construction industry sort of businesses but then we work with service-based businesses right across newcastle you know digital skills are changing quite rapidly and i think the marketing area is no exception are there any particular skills that you see becoming more and more popular or more in demand or is there skills that you know that you find hard to find yourself i mean skills can be taught the our approach is that it’s more about the attitude and the way of thinking rather than the actual skill set itself that’s why i went and made a recommendation around soft skills so the ability to think and synthesize information is probably more important than the actual tactical implementation particularly in our team where say the designers and developers will be talking to the header strategy who’ll be talking to a social media manager who’ll be talking to account management so the way that our agency is structured we apply that sort of design thinking so we try and say okay well here’s the problem.

Now let’s all look at that same problem with our different expertise and and create a solution the skills predominantly line being able to understand what a client wants and then apply their craft yeah based on that but also more and more account managers are having to sort of up skill in the analytics area as well because if you are developing a campaign or a website for your client or a facebook campaign you need to be able to translate what the results that’s that campaign has been and that’s if you can lock down the objective of what the business owner wants and then put a clear sort of target on that through data then the sustainability of the campaign is is almost guaranteed so our account managers in particular lean on our header strategy and digital marketers on a daily basis but their skill set is is quite high our account managers are very good at opening up analytics and and wrapping a story around what’s actually happening you have to want to do that and i think our account management team genuinely want to get a good result so they’re willing to to jump in there rather than saying that’s a bit scary in the back of google analytics um so yeah the ability to interpret data but as as most people are aware you can do what you want with yeah with the data.

Linda- I certainly remember my days back in account management with leo burnett yes just at the beginning of online advertising and flash banner ads yes yes showing my age now but you know these clients you know we’re used to um getting results from tvc and print campaigns and outdoor campaigns and then having to deliver the results of an online campaign where the click through seems like really minimal but it was probably yeah the industry standard at the time it’s a hard there’s still residual from that constantly trying to marry above the line and below the line activity it’s just as much an art as it is a science the correlation between you know running radio tv billboard and then marrying that with the data that we’re seeing through analytics is is a challenge um and and really it’s kind of that holy grail that everyone’s searching for in terms of attribution.

Nathan- Yeah if you can get that right you can scale really well but i think that’s also explaining that to the client that just because it’s lower it doesn’t matter it’s failed exactly and quite often marketing is a necessary evil to a lot of businesses i think um which is why it often gets relegated to sort of an office admin or someone yeah that you know is interested in instagram or facebook but isn’t necessarily qualified to yeah to deploy a campaign so yeah sure yeah so what can you tell us about the culture and what it’s like to work at Zimple it’s fun it really is it’s we’ve got a we’ve got a good group of people in there i guess from an academic or a theoretical point of view we’re probably mixed with a market culture so kind of like a corporate family where everyone’s ideas are sort of valued i mean everyone gets an opportunity to put forward ideas and and discuss things we’re pretty flat in that regard but then from a market perspective everyone prides themselves on being a professional and driving themselves and driving results for the clients so it’s a combination of those two elements probably front-facing with the client it’s the the market culture but internally yeah it’s it’s it’s a pretty good place to be yeah i know i’ve um i know a fair few people that work at simple and they’ve enjoyed working there yeah yeah and that’s um culture’s a funny thing it’s not necessary i’m learning over the years it’s not something that you can dictate or sort of put a slogan on the wall and then everyone just buys into that vision and that culture yeah exactly taken time to get the right mix of people into the business it’s no good coming from director level so it’s no good myself blake orion saying okay this is where it needs to be we’ll set the financial and growth targets for the business and my role then is to facilitate the team and letting that culture reveal itself and it’s done that it’s taken a long time but yeah we’ve got there good.

Linda- You touched on sort of attributes that are really important to you in terms of those soft skills is there anything else when you’re looking to hire people that you look for?

Nathan – Our growth to date hasn’t really been offered a specific formula in terms of acquisition of of new staff i majoritively will be the one leading that new hire the first thing i’m looking for is team fit that’s that’s always the the first thing and generally you can pick up on that in the first 10 minutes or so and then closely followed by that is the skill set of the individual to understand whether or not they can meet the demands of the role. i heard a good saying it’s hiring new people like giving the keys to your house and letting someone in taking care of your kids and it’s kind of on the the gatekeeper there because i understand that the wrong person in in a role can have a bad effect on the business.

Linda- you know where i was explaining to you before we’re hiring at the moment as well and we’re really protective of our culture and it’s really important that the next people that come into Newytechpeople as well are going to add positively to the culture and yeah i think you don’t have to all be the same personality type that’s for sure but that’s the challenge you know is diversity. thought diversity of people i think that’s the sort of zeitgeist of the business.

Nathan – i guess it’s sort of it’s it’s a collection of individuals that you know come together in our case to be Zimple the gravity that comes from that but we’re finding word of mouth is a just the same way it would be in marketing word of mouth is quite a strong driver for new new hires yeah um you know you’ve had a couple of people come back as well yeah people want to work in a place with good people that are professional.

Linda- absolutely yeah and is there any productivity tools that you guys use as a team?

Nathan – So what works for you guys from a team perspective operationally we use stream time as our sort of project management software so that is that specific to advertising or i’ve never heard of it yeah it’s it’ll be akin to like a monday.com or okay it can be repurposed for multiple industries it tracks our productivity our burn rate and all of our projects how we’ve costed the project who’s working on it how it finished and it archives all that information so in conjunction with that i use a program called magnifier that our accountant’s maximum accounting advisory um put us onto so i bring the capacity side of the productivity and efficiency side of the operational execution into our projections and um it gives us a pretty clear picture of the future so that drives a lot of the growth being able to forecast three six twelve months into the future and then just be constantly navigating around where we are relative to that target makes my job pretty easy.

Linda- i’ll have to talk to you about that later.  james and i are thinking we need to improve some of those back office systems.

Nathan – yeah well we we spent a lot of time ryan’s  an electrical engineer by qualification so he’s um he put together a whole suite of um spreadsheets that we’re using for a number of years there to sort of track where we’re at and where we’re going and we build a back-end system blake led an internal project called the xanth that was used for a number of years which helped us to step to where we are now and that that was tracking a lot of our stuff but this this program integrates all of that and it uses apis to pull in information from different areas and yeah we haven’t looked back.

Linda- yeah good so i know you’ve got a pretty strong growth trajectory for this year yeah which may often open up opportunities for career development for others is there any particular areas that you support your staff with learning or professional development?

Nathan – yeah so there’s a number of our team that are just by their own motivation studying so i had a strategy is doing psychology content producers doing law which is interesting um i’m doing my masters as as i said earlier so we’re pretty broad in terms of education we support that our videographers on the path to studying robotics at as well yeah so that’s been quite a good hire and a new introduction of service offering um through video and photography at simple which is really exciting that’s something that’s going to form a big part of our growth as we recognise pretty early in the piece that video is a primary form of communicating yeah and that ramped up certainly yeah yeah the trend towards the way that people consume content and and the time video is going to be integral to that so yeah we’re pretty excited to have have Garth on board he had his own business for eight years so he’s bringing a lot of energy to the team which is good but outside of my traditional education paths monthly we hold lunch and learns so that’s just where a team member will get up and talk about their specific role and then that becomes an open forum where everyone can ask questions and help to understand you know what what an account manager is doing versus a developer versus content.

Linda – Yeah so is there anything else you want to add in terms of zimple’s growth any exciting plans that are coming up?

Nathan – yeah the the growth is managed growth in alignment with you know our constitution and our financial projections so the a lot of our growth has been driven through demand we can we can model everything we can make spreadsheet and our projection software look great but the unknown variable there is is the market and actually acquiring that new business and making sure it’s a good fit for the company so that that is the unknown but during times like this and we just don’t know what’s yeah yeah yeah that’s happening so it’s it’s about positioning um positioning the business in sectors that are relatively maybe recession proof if anything does come down the pipeline yeah we’ve been fortunate that to to date um the whole COVID period was actually okay for zimple we grew through that period which was it was a result of a lot of businesses pivoting towards digital because they had no other means.

Linda- It certainly sped up everyone’s fans during that time after a bit of a lull everyone was a bit in shock i think.

Nathan – yeah well it forced people to face um digital so people that maybe were hesitant about using zoom for meetings and and jumping on there and using that form of communication were forced to adopt it and then that bled out into broader sort of applications of what they can do with their digital presence so we capitalized on that and that’s where we were able to grow last year with six new team members through that period.  i think like you you touched on before diversification of customer base yeah it’s really critical to see you through those times yeah and we the way that we structure the company is we have a like a shareholder meeting on a monthly basis where we review progress today towards our targets but also what happened historically being able to lean on our accounting team to be a trusted advisor throughout the whole covert advent was was pretty powerful it was good yeah they they steered the ship.

Linda – So what about you personally what do you like to do in your spare time?

Nathan – yeah spare time (laughter) and studying yeah for 13 years my spare time was uni not so much now i found undergrad versus masters is totally different the the stuff that i’m learning currently is just directly applicable whereas com finance was was relevant but it wasn’t something that i could take and apply i was never going to be in corporate corporate land doing that stuff so yeah so outside of my studies spending time with my family and friends food i like listening to music aussie rules yeah good i feel tragic watch cricket and science.

Linda – who’s your team?

Nathan –hawthorne

Linda – yeah ah my kids follow hawthorne through their father. I played in a previous life and it was back in the 80s i think so from from a pretty young age 80s and 90s i started following hawthorne so i went through the the big dip and then we had our good times and then um yeah let’s not talk about it now.

Linda – Do you listen to podcasts? 

Nathan – i try to listen to podcasts pretty regularly rather than i try and use that down time in the car to yeah get some good stuff in there and i jump around a little bit i mean i try and jump across genres and i tend to lean towards podcasts that have a pretty diverse sort of guest lineup so i listened to hamish and andy pretty regularly they always put a smile on my face aubry marcus podcast um so he’s the founder of uh on it a sports supplement business so yeah listen to that a fair bit um obviously still interested in the health industry then yeah just in general just general health um more so around how to optimize so burnout doesn’t occur but yeah yeah so that’s that’s good. tim ferriss has been a staple for a long time i think he is for a few people and yeah joe rogan joe rogans he gets some pretty diverse guests on there he found alternate ideas so i enjoy that.

Linda- yeah good and so if you were to thinking back during your career and you know the study that you’ve done if you were to give any career advice to your younger self what do you think that would be?

Nathan – I mean career wise i didn’t start thinking about that probably until 24 and that was you know i came out of school not really knowing where i wanted to go i went to good schools local schools and it was all fine but nothing really grabbed me. it wasn’t until i stepped into sort of academia that i sort of started to find my feet a little bit the advice i’d give my younger self though would probably just be to find something where i can sort of genuinely be myself and help other people. I found zimple’s been a great platform to do that particularly as we grow more and more it’s a real opportunity to help people so that’s been good and don’t choose a career where you’re going to live in quite desperation that’d be the other one yeah just taking the clock away just for a paycheck it doesn’t work it’s not sustainable.

Linda – So where can people find you?

Nathan – they can find me on linkedin so just nathan hookway or they can shoot me an email through our company website.

Linda – well it was really good to see you today and thanks for coming on the new tech people podcast it was a really interesting story to hear about your career journey and your plans for growth at Zimple.

Nathan – yeah cheers thanks for having me Linda thank you!

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