Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
May 6, 2014 7:51 AM

Why Did I Sell Twist Image (And Other Questions)?

Last week, my three business partners and I announced that Twist Image would be joining WPP. It was a very long and extremely emotional journey. We were able to really let the world know about this acquisition last Thursday morning, once WPP announced it to the London Stock Exchange. From there, it became a race to tell our team, our clients, the media, our family and friends in a world where the tweets started flying about five minutes after it was announced. Since then, I, personally, have experienced an outpouring of amazing kindness and love. On top of that, I can tell (based on media interviews, questions from team members and family) that there may be a few, unanswered questions about why we were making this move, at this moment in time. 

So, here goes...

Why did you sell Twist Image... I mean, really?

First of all, "I" didn't sell anything. Twist Image is actually four business partners. Mickael Kanfi started the agency back in 2000 (he's our Chief Product Officer), Shortly thereafter, Aubrey Rosenhek joined him (he's our Chief Operating Officer). I met these guys (who had another employee or two, at the time) and we decided that I would join in 2002 (now, my title is President, but I prefer the title Media Hacker ;). A few years after that, we managed to convince Mark Goodman to join us as our CEO (Mark was responsible for launching FCB Direct in Canada). Everything we do, we do as a team. Truthfully, business was great and, with each and every passing year, we continued to grow and do better. We built this agency up. We currently have over one hundred full-time digital marketing professionals on our team across two offices. About a year and a half ago, we decided that it was time to make a bigger bet. To really go for it at a bigger scale. We looked at acquiring a couple of businesses and we looked at bulking up on some services that we didn't offer. We even looked at partnering with other strategic agencies. Along the way, we started thinking about joining someone bigger than us. As the four partners, we sat down and discussed what each scenario could look like. From there, we created frameworks (or "best possible outcomes") for each scenario. For each scenario we had a handful of "must-have" scenarios that would lead to that "best possible outcome." As that journey unfolded, we realized that being acquired could provide our company with a best case scenario, in terms of enabling it to grow, while securing the future of the agency and the many people that it makes up. Ultimately, the WPP deal best suited our needs, in terms of enabling us to add new services, have access to great talent, leverage their strategic relationships and be a better Twist Image.

So, is this acquisition a good thing?

No. It's THE BEST thing. We are thrilled about this opportunity. We are excited about what the future holds. We are confident and excited that we will be able to better serve our existing clients. Plus, and this is selfish, I want to grow as well (and I know that my three other business partners feel the same way that I do). WPP employs over 175,000 employees in 3000 offices in 110 countries. They have deep strategic relationships with Facebook, Adobe, Twitter and more. They own agencies as diverse as AKQA, JWT, Mindshare and more. There are a ton of smart people who are a part of the WPP family. Access like that can't be understated. On another tangent, I had no idea that the perception might be that we were selling the business because times are tough or times are stagnant (which is why some businesses decide to sell). This was not the case for us. We have seen growth in every year that we have been in business, and this year was already looking better than last. Often businesses sell because one (or more) of the owners also wants out. Again, this was not the scenario. Not by a long shot. I really can't express in words how great of a deal this is and how thrilled we all are that it came to fruition. Yes, it's a dream come true.

Are you selling to get out of the business?

No chance. We truly saw this as an opportunity to grow. The four of us are committed to seeing this through. A big part of making this deal come together was the agreement from WPP that the four of us (and our entire team) can keep on keeping on. We're all in it for the long haul. WPP was attracted to us for our entrepreneurial spirit and our track record. It is our understanding that this really is "business as usual" with a plus to it (being newer and more services). Now, we can add a whole bunch of interesting components to make us even more unique in the marketplace and more valuable to our clients. I am often asked what the "exit strategy" is for Twist Image and my response is (and will always be) the same: Twist Image was my exit strategy. My exit strategy is my desire to do the work that I am supposed to be doing. This is it.

Is this going to change Twist Image?

We hope so. We have always been an agency that wanted to work with big brands on more complex digital marketing challenges. We have always been an agency that focuses on ongoing digital marketing opportunities, instead of quick projects. That desire for scale and complexity has not changed or wavered in the past fourteen years. So, yes, we did this deal in the hopes that it would change Twist Image. That it will enable us to grow, adapt, add and push the envelope of digital marketing. We do this kind of pushing for our clients, and we're excited to keep on helping them to achieve their goals as digital marketing continues to evolve.

How much did you sell the business for?

Really? I'm actually shocked that people have asked me this question. You may be shocked to know that it gets asked often. How much money do you make? What's your salary? Maybe I come from a different generation, but these are not the types of questions I have ever asked anybody. It seems rude to ask (maybe it's just me). Obviously, one of the "best possible outcomes" for my partners (and myself) in figuring out whether or not an acquisition was a plausible avenue for us included financial terms. That's about all you're going to get from me. If we did this deal, it should be obvious that it met that part of our desired outcomes. It may sound cliche, but it's not about the money (I can hear you snickering, but it's true). We've been running a successful and profitable business for a long while. We have all gained enough experience to keep us employed for the long haul. This deal was much more about securing the future of the agency, it's health and growth and our ability to tap into new and exciting opportunities. We love what we do. We want to continue doing what we do and we feel very lucky that we're going to be able to do just that. If this were just about money, I probably would be Silicon Valley right now slogging it out.

Do you feel like a sell out?

I don't even know what a sell out is. Really. I got into business to feed and nurture my creative spirit (and that is coupled with making a good living). I have always had a desire to grow Twist Image to be as big as it possibly can be. I have always had a desire to grow a profitable business as well. That has never changed, and this move will only help facilitate that. The humor of being called a sell out in the marketing industry isn't lost on me either. My job is pretty simple: to help brands sell more stuff and connect to more people. I fell madly and deeply in love with social media, because it shifted marketing away from shouting at people, to creating real interactions between real human beings. I still believe in that and I still believe that marketing is a wonderful profession. Am I a sell out? I hope that my job is to help brands sell out of whatever it is that they produce with each and every passing day. This question also reminds me of the rock band, Metallica. After their massively successful The Black Album (1991), they kept getting accused of being sell outs. The band would famously retort: "Yes, we sell out... every arena, every single night, every day of the year." 

Is there anything you don't like about the deal?

It's going to be hard to go from being the final decision maker with my partners to being an employee. I have been an entrepreneur for a long time, and choosing that path was directly related to my desire of not wanting to have any bosses. With that, I have matured and grown since I first thought like that. So, while I am no longer the entrepreneur, the deal was structured in a way that leaves the four business partners in a very entrepreneurial place. I'm also, naturally, anxious about this because it's such a big change. So, while I am thrilled about it, the anxious mind can wander into some funky territories. So, other than moving from entrepreneur to being entrepreneurial, we're all totally psyched about this deal.

Are you still going to blog, podcast, write books, speak, etc...?

In a word: yes. WPP likes and admires the work that we have done, and they recognize how powerful it has been in terms of our business and brand development. I will still blog and podcast with the current schedule and frequency. We will still share our "6 Links" every Saturday (so long as Alistair and Hugh desire to contribute). I will still speak, and there are some pretty cool plans in development for the next business book. So, if you thought you might get a reprieve from my tornado of content, I apologize. It ain't going to happen.

Are you happy?

I don't share much about my personal life. Those that know me can understand how challenging the past four months have been. Lots of ups, but some pretty deep downs too (all related to personal stuff). I am happy. In fact, happy is not the right word. I am proud. I am so grateful. People have asked me if selling Twist Image is like putting a child up for adoption. It wasn't (granted, I have no idea what that might feel like). It was more like sending your child off to university (granted, I have no idea what that might feel like, either). We knew that we wanted to do something big with Twist Image, and this relationship with WPP just feels right. The people we have met have been incredible, and everyone is genuinely excited about what comes next. I get to put on my (black) jeans and sneakers, and go to work today just like I did yesterday. Only now, it feels like we're working with a bigger and more impressive toolbox. I'm fully aware that this is the honeymoon phase, and that things will change. I'm pragmatic. I'm also very confident that the challenges we will face will make me a better marketing professional and a better businessperson, and that's why I get up in the morning. That makes me very happy. I hope you're happy too. Life is too short to be doing something that doesn't make you happy, proud and grateful.

Any questions that I left out? Feel free to ask me on Twitter (I'm @mitchjoel there). I'm happy to answer them.

By Mitch Joel

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