Dennis Consorte, Digital Marketing & Leadership Consultant for Startups, Snackable Solutions

This interview is with Dennis Consorte, a digital marketing and leadership consultant for startups at Snackable Solutions.

Dennis Consorte, Digital Marketing & Leadership Consultant for Startups, Snackable Solutions

Dennis, welcome to! For our readers who are eager to learn from your journey, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your experience in the startup world?

I sold my first e-commerce business in the early 2000s. At the time, I was unhappy with my career in office administration. So, a friend and I got together to launch our website. I learned web development and SEO on the fly and used those skills to drive online business. Within two years, our business was acquired, and I realized that I could hone my digital marketing skills to bring value to different companies.

Eventually, I founded my digital marketing agency, Consorte Marketing. Although I've shifted the services I offer to my clients, I mostly help startups and smaller public companies. In the past, I was focused on driving revenue. That led to a period of burnout until I realized that work should be purposeful and fun. Now, I look forward to new challenges as I help others who remind me of myself.

Many of our readers are at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journeys. Could you walk us through your career path and highlight some pivotal moments that led you to where you are today?

I graduated from college with a degree in psychology, which wasn't very applicable in the job market without pursuing a doctorate. Since I had what felt like an enormous amount of debt to pay down, that wasn't an option. I bought a few books on Microsoft Office, and after a few days of studying, I landed my first gig as an office temp. Eventually, I was hired full-time as an administrative assistant. My responsibilities increased, but my pay remained stagnant, and I was unhappy.

A friend got laid off from his job as an analyst at that time, and we decided to start an e-commerce business together. This time around, I had a lot more to learn over a longer period of time. But my autodidactic study of Microsoft Office showed me that with the right skills, I could pivot again. I read every SEO message forum I could find while learning PHP and databases as we were building our website. It was a success, and we started capturing customers. But then, sales flattened out, and I didn't have the experience or resources at the time to know how to pivot again. So, we found a buyer.

I was lucky in that I maintained good relationships with several competitors. One of them bought our business, and I came on board as part of their team with a little equity and a job as a digital marketer. That lasted for a few years until I saw that sales were going flat for them, too. So, I pivoted again and took on a job as the Director of E-commerce for a well-established company's brick-and-mortar business that needed to break into e-commerce. That business thrived by the time I left, and it was time to pivot again.

I took on the role of Chief Marketing Officer for an e-commerce development company. At the time, they focused almost entirely on web design and development, with just a basic SEO product to offer their clients. My job was to build out an entire marketing division to further monetize their design clients. Within a few years, I succeeded in building out a marketing department that covered all aspects of website promotion.

I learned a lot about building a marketing company, and it was time to pivot again. That's when I started my digital marketing agency, where I served my clients and offered a private label solution to other agency partners.

You mentioned working with early-stage startups as a consultant. What's the most common challenge you see these startups facing, and what advice do you give them to overcome it?

One of the greatest challenges that early-stage startups face is knowing when to hold the line, and when to pivot. Too many founders have “shiny object syndrome.” They start moving in one direction, and then a new idea captures their attention, and they shift their focus away from what they had been building, resulting in zero growth.

Outside my marketing work, I help guide the ship for young startups. When their attention wanders, I help them refocus on the end goal. And, when it is time to pivot, I help with that too. Often, these decisions include analyzing a mix of performance metrics and a subjective understanding of the market, the team, and its capabilities.

You've been on both sides of the table, bootstrapping your own ventures and raising outside funding. For entrepreneurs wondering about the right path for them, what factors should they consider when deciding whether to bootstrap or seek funding?

I've raised millions of dollars for start-ups, and I've bootstrapped. You get to keep more of the profits the longer you wait to bring in outside funding. Alternatively, you can move much faster if you've secured enough capital to reduce the stress of keeping the lights on while you focus on building your business.

Before you seek capital, build a board of advisors. Find experienced people who can help guide some of your decision-making. Initially, you can keep things informal so that you're not giving up equity until it's a necessity. Start with friends and family who have a genuine interest in your success, and expand as needs change.

You've emphasized the importance of a lean approach to spending in your previous answers. Can you share a specific example of how you've successfully implemented this approach in one of your startups, and what impact it had?

The idea behind lean management is continuous improvement over time. Generally, this means determining what customers value, building and optimizing workflows, and repeating the process in pursuit of perfection. One process I've repeated several times for startups is a content-publishing workflow. Depending on the volume of content produced, the team generally consists of subject-matter experts, keyword researchers, writers, editors, content uploaders and formatters, quality assurance, strategy, and oversight.

At every point, there are ways to optimize the process. For example, keyword researchers can batch several articles at a time to produce a set of keyword requirements for an entire week or month. Writers can be required to run their content through Grammarly before it's passed to an editor. Leadership can improve and enforce SOPs based on real-world outcomes to improve the content we create.

This applies to people too. When it comes to content creation, I've had success with paying freelancers on a per-article basis rather than hiring full-time employees. Writing is a creative process, and some writers are better at certain types of articles. Over time, I've developed a system that rewards talented freelancers who stick to deadlines with more work while keeping others as a backup. When you build out your lean systems, look at the people and the process to find areas of improvement.

Building a strong team is crucial for any startup's success. Beyond your tip about finding a balance between youthful energy and seasoned experience, what strategies have you found effective for building a high-performing team?

The key to developing a high-performance team is having a clearly defined mission and vision that everyone understands and buys into. Without a mission, people are just showing up for a paycheck. Eventually, they'll leave because they can get more money elsewhere. But if you give them a mission they can believe in—if your company's core values align with their values—then they'll stay because they love what they do.

Don't just point people to your mission statement; they need to live it every day. Remind people of your mission in different ways to keep everyone on track. Periodically have meetings where you talk about the future of the company. Ask your team questions and get them engaged in the process. You may even make adjustments based on your team's input. If you get everyone aligned and moving in the same direction, there's no stopping you.

You've learned valuable lessons from both your successes and the ideas that didn't pan out. Can you share a time you had to make the difficult decision to abandon a startup idea? What led you to that decision, and what did you learn from the experience?

Several years after I launched my digital marketing agency, I burned out. I was so focused on acquiring new business that I forgot why I was there in the first place. I lost my purpose, and work was no longer fun. So, I shuttered the business for two years and spent that time figuring out my next move. I realized I wanted to help people overcome the struggles I faced, and I knew that I could help them by narrowing my focus. Eventually, I relaunched and even wrote the book, "Back After Burnout," where I share lessons learned along with valuable exercises that helped me get back on track.

The digital landscape is constantly evolving. How do you stay informed about the latest trends and adapt your strategies to ensure your businesses remain competitive?

I set aside time every day to scan headlines in my industry and scroll through social media to pick up on new trends. Once in a while, I'll stumble across something interesting. Sometimes I'll dig deeper into an idea, and sometimes I'll let it stew a bit before making any major moves. One thing you can do when considering a new trend is to ask yourself what it will look like several years into the future.

For example, generative AI is finding its way into all aspects of digital marketing. Today, it looks like a process where a human enters a prompt, and the AI produces an output based on the content that the large language model was trained on. Sometimes it's spot-on, and sometimes it's way off. If I imagine that process in the future, I see something closer to a natural conversation where the AI asks questions and engages in a dialogue to refine its response to the initial prompt. Shift your thinking to 'what's next,' and you'll stay ahead of the curve.

What's the most valuable piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs who are just starting out on their journey?

It's okay to fail. Your first idea may be a smashing success, or it could feel like a miserable failure. The most important thing is that you learn along the way so that if it fails, you move on to the next thing. But if it succeeds, take that win and run with it. Look to every day as a new opportunity to improve your ideas and grow in new directions. And finally, give back. There is nothing so rewarding as knowing that you've helped someone else achieve the same success.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and expertise. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

If you want to know more about my entrepreneurial journey, then check out my book, 'Back After Burnout,' on Amazon.

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