Meet the Partners Series: Nick Slettengren
From 2013 to 2015, Power Digital Marketing has experienced an explosion of growth – 540% growth to be exact – and in 2015 alone, they accrued more than $3 million in revenue. Recently, they were awarded the #2 Fastest Growing Company in San Diego, and they have only been doing business since November of 2012.
To add to the list of accolades, they were also ranked in the Top 10 Best Places to Work in San Diego. Power Digital Marketing is, without a doubt, one of the leading businesses in San Diego, and lucky for me, I was granted the opportunity to intern there in the Paid Media department.
The Entrepreneur Before He Started The Venture
While attending SDSU, Nick Slettengren had no idea what he wanted to do; he received an undergraduate degree in Communications after six years of study. With that being said, Nick always knew that he wanted to start his own company, which is exactly what he did right after college.
However, like the majority of businesses, it failed to make it out of its first year of operations, only lasting about eight months. With that venture ultimately turning out to be a failure, Nick had to dive into the real world by applying for an entry level sales job for an internet connection company.
He claims that he entered the digital marketing industry by accident – meeting a guy at a pool party who runs a digital marketing agency that focused on Google Local Search. As described by Nick, their conversation led him to obtain a job at his company, Organik SEO, but it was not acquired in a traditional way. After quitting his sales job at the internet company, Nick went to Organik SEO under the impression that he would begin his first day.
Needless to say, Nick was surprised when he showed up at his office and was told that the casual conversation they had was not actually a job offer. Refusing taking no for an answer, Nick gave him an offer: he wouldn’t get paid a wage, but only receive a 20% commission on every client that he brings in. They came to an agreement and Nick would work for Organik SEO for six months, building their business up $30,000+ by signing clients on to $500 contracts.
Although he was successful in this endeavor, being the sales guy for this company did not give Nick the fulfillment that he was yearning for.
Nick began his own business while he was still in college: hanging Christmas lights. This is what put him through college, and he emphasized the importance of having what he calls an ATM (at-the-moment) business. He credits this ATM business to his future success in being an entrepreneur.
When I asked him what kind of an impact SDSU’s Lavin Program had on him, he stressed how imperative it is to gather a business network at a young age. He said that he did not realize it at the moment, but having a network of like-minded people can take you far in life. He described the Lavin community as being similar to a fraternity, meaning that he would do anything he could to help out any members, including myself.
The Entrepreneur At The Time He Started The Venture
When asked about the primary motivation for starting PDM, Nick had a simple, straight-forward answer: he was fed up with agencies having a “one-size fits all” approach to digital marketing. At an early point in his career, he knew that that was not the way to structure online marketing campaigns.
He was also tired of not receiving the credit that he felt was due to him for the work he was doing, a common strain that employees deal with at some point or another. With the help from Bernard Schroeder, Nick was able to sign a client for SEO – and so Power Digital was born. He quit his job at a highly reputable company, Internet Marketing Inc., and began PDM.
With any business venture, there will always be risks that any entrepreneur will come across. First and foremost, leaving a secure job with a paid salary was a risk that Nick was more than willing to take. He knew that with the skill set that he built in SEO, he was more than qualified to attain a job with an agency, if need be. In regards to the preparedness of this venture, Nick had mixed emotions, feeling both afraid and excited to begin this new endeavor. He told me that what got him over the initial hump was consulting his mentor.
The Entrepreneur As He Grew The Venture
Something that brings the early members of PDM to laughter is when they reminisce on the first office they had: a room at a urinal factory. It was a humbling experience for them, but they wanted nothing more than to move out of there and get a new office.
One of the breaking points for PDM, as clarified by Nick, was when they moved out of the urinal factory into their office in Kearny Mesa; he called it a sense of relief. The other milestone for PDM in the growing stages was when they hit the one million mark for revenue, and it only took them a year and a half to get there. He stated that although he himself was far from a millionaire, it was tremendously special to him to be able to call PDM a million-dollar company.
Their biggest mistake that was made early on was when they “bit off more than they could chew” when they attempted a software development project with a client. It goes without saying, PDM specializes in digital marketing, not software development. They ended up losing big on that deal, costing them money, time, and lost relationships.
Although this project turned out to be a bump in the growth of the business, Nick clearly stated that it was important for them to have gone through this because it was a learning experience for everyone involved.
The Entrepreneur Today And Tomorrow
The very first thing that Nick responded with when I asked him what his future plans are with PDM is that he would like the company to have a global presence. Along with that, he also brought up the importance of hiring within, and possibly even having a board of directors that would completely run the show with the three partners out of the picture. He does recognize, however, that scaling is a big risk that could result in a failure.
Reflections On The Interview
At the end of the interview, I had Nick give me three pieces of advice that he would give to a college student that was also an aspiring entrepreneur:
Build a skill set – Don’t try to be a Jack of All Trades
Too many people want to be great at everything, and more often than not, that is simply unachievable. In the words of Nick, the “Jack of All Trades is the master of none”. Most of the time, people are merely skimming the surface.
Don’t be afraid to ask
He reminded me that, no matter what title or position someone is in, we are all human and we can all relate. He emphasized his point by stating that I would have never been able to interview him had I never stepped out of my comfort zone and simply, asked.
Keep your head down and hustle
“Don’t worry about what your friends are doing” – this point really stuck with me. I am in a position where I look around and see what some of my colleagues are doing, and to be quite honest, you get a tad bit jealous of a friend when they are making $35 an hour working for Deloitte, while you’re spending your summer doing an unpaid internship. Through all of Nick’s experiences, including when he was working for free, it has put him in a position where people that he used to work under are now asking him for advice on how to run their company.
Before attaining this internship, I used to tell myself that I would never waste my time working unpaid. I fully take that statement back after my time at PDM, because unlike others that got paid big bucks to grab coffee for everyone in the office, I learned something of value, and it has made me even hungrier to learn more.
Nick’s “hustler” mentality resonated with me once I officially met him at the beginning of my internship, and especially after this interview. I was more than appreciative of his time, and he inspires me to create something of value in the near future.