Nico Hodel is the co-founder and CTO of Start It Up NYC, a “programmatic marketing and web development agency based in New York City.” The company provides clients a diverse range of services such as “content marketing, app development, digital advertising, innovation consulting and event production.” Their clients also come mainly from the startup sector, B2B firms, and entrepreneurs of small businesses.
Prior to co-founding Start It Up NYC with his business partner Adi Patil, Nico Hodel spent over four years working on development efforts at Valence Digital, his former company. At Valence, he oversaw and managed the company’s marketing and development team, composed of 12 persons, who worked on projects in the “Angular, React, and React Native frameworks.”
Nico Hodel moved on from working on web development assignments in the fields of law, technology, and finance for clients across the world to taking an advisory role at the company. After that, he teamed up with his business partner to launch Start It Up NYC.
At Start It Up NYC, Nico Hodel and his team supplies his clients with services such as “web design and development, digital content development, app development, digital marketing strategy” as well as “press releases and media affiliations.”
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Nico Hodel: When I started my first company, a web development and marketing agency called Valence Digital, I was working primarily with restaurants and small businesses to help modernize their digital marketing and online presence. With zero industry connections, establishing trust with business owners was a monumental effort. I would go door-to-door to restaurants, Doctors offices, gyms or wellness centers, and private health clinics to talk to them about the benefits of redesigning their websites and getting listed on directory sites like Yelp and Googly My Business. I’d explain to them what a Facebook or Adwords pay-per-click campaign was, and how it might help them get new customers.
Me and a few friends that I convinced to join me in the hustle would spend hours cold calling law offices, after finding their awful websites through Google searches and pitch them on building a new website.
It was a grind. We felt like we were drowning in a sea of rejection. What kept us going were those few early wins that told us we were on to something, and the positive results our clients saw from our work. Valence continues to service clients to this day, and I’m happy to still have a hand in its growing digital publication.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Nico Hodel: One memory that stands out is forgetting to configure the DNS settings of one of the first websites I ever built over ten years ago. I proudly sent my client the link the site, only for them to see their old website staring back at them when they clicked on the link. I still remember receiving an email from them consisting only of a single question mark.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Embrace a Lean, Agile, and Adaptive Company Culture
With so much so many unpredictable events taking place on the global stage, it’s more important than ever for companies to minimize bloat and cut down on waste. In terms of software development, that means adopting an agile development model that’s focused on building stellar MVPs based on extensive A/B testing, market research and continuous user feedback.
2. Bring the Agile Methodology to an Agency Model
The same company culture can be brought into an agency model by orienting service offerings around customer needs and requests. This is an approach we took from the very beginning of Start It Up by explaining the expertise and resources we had to offer and asking the client how we could provide value. Based on their answer, we would provide recommendations and eventually craft a customized proposal for a set of service offerings based on their exact needs.
After years of repeating this process, we came to find sets of services that were frequently needed and requested by clients. When we launched Start It Up’s subsidiary Rriter, we consolidated some of these sets of services into packages that clients could purchase on their own directly from our website. The point is that our specific service offerings came, not from us, but from our clients’ requests.
3. Create a Content Calendar
Now more than ever, content is king. It’s the primary way that the public can interact with your brand, and good content is crucial to establish your company as a thought leader, educator, and resource in your niche. For B2B companies, the best way to earn a prospective client’s trust is to provide them valuable content related to your niche. Doing so will make that prospect more likely to convert into a paying customer than any sales presentation or pitch deck..
Creating an editorial calendar for your content marketing campaign is an important step to make sure your team is publishing high-quality content regularly. Tools like Asana or Trello allow you to easily create an editorial calendar that’s accessible to all relevant team members, assign writing tasks, and keep track of when content is completed and published.
I’ve spoken with so many business owners that knew they should be publishing content regularly but struggled to find team members that could write articles on top of existing responsibilities. Many of them tried to hire freelancers or search for a full-time writer but were frustrated with the results. This feedback is what led us to launch Rriter, through which we could ensure on-time delivery of content according to their editorial calendar.
4. Make Remote Work Fun
World events have accelerated the already inevitable trend towards remote work, and leaders should find ways to embrace this reality and make remote work fun for their employees. Tools like Zoom, Slack, Google Meet, and others should be used to gamify remote work. Rather than being an isolating experience, team members should feel engaged, valued, and productive while working from home.
Encourage employees to consciously “clock out” even when working from home, so that their work doesn’t bleed into their personal life.
For nerds like myself that grew up playing video games, remote work comes naturally. There’s a reason why many developers, technical project managers, and engineers have been quick to adapt to working from home. Why? Well, working remotely really means coordinating virtually with team members to accomplish common objectives. I’ve been doing that since I first got hooked on online gaming at 12 years old. I speak from experience when I say that with video conferencing, streaming, and messaging tools, remote work can be as fun, engaging, collaborative, and addictive as an online game or MMORPG.
5. Build a Business Culture of Learning and Curiosity
Part of taking a company from good to great and making it adaptive to political and economic shifts is to foster an atmosphere or learning. Rather than being confined to repetitive tasks and processes, team members should be encouraged to learn new skills that they can then apply to help the company grow. Cross-functional skill sets are becoming increasingly important for workers to develop, and online learning platforms offer a plethora of helpful resources. Instead of limiting workers by forcing them into narrow roles, make your company a resource for them to continue learning and growing.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Nico Hodel: A social impact angle is absolutely crucial to keep morale high among employees and to act as a driving force for managers’ decisions. Our modern shareholder model of capitalism forces too many companies to abandon their values in pursuit of the almighty dollar. We need more purpose driven businesses to lead the return to a stakeholder model of capitalism in which companies consider not just the bottom line, but also the well-being of their workers, local community, country, and the world at large.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Nico Hodel: Content, content, and content. That’s what can build trust with an audience and motivate them to take action.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Nico Hodel: Share content that can make the lives of your audience better, and you’ve got a recipe for a beloved brand. Provide a product or service that makes the lives of your customers better, and you’ve got a recipe for a successful business.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Nico Hodel: You can follow me on social media at:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!