Little Giant CEO Mark Hurley on work/life balance and venturing into the unknown

Little Giant founder and CEO Mark Hurley knows a thing or two about founding a company – he started his first business when he was 17, and the digital agency he founded later with no previous advertising experience, Little Giant, was named New Zealand Digital Agency of the Year at the 2017 Campaign Asia-Pacific’s Agency of the Year Awards.

What age did you found your first company?

I started my first business when I was 17. Inspired following a long summer picking fruit, for minimum wage, I decided there had to be a better way. Together my brother and I created an apparel company which we ran rather unsuccessfully.

Despite it not being commercially lucrative, I learnt so much and grew as a leader. I am sure that experience, although years ago, is in part why Little Giant has become so successful as I have applied many learnings along the way.

Why did you decide you wanted to be your own boss?

I grew up in a household of entrepreneurs, so creating my own business and making my own way in the world was all I ever knew or wanted. It has never been about being the boss though, it’s always been about building and creating something. Building a culture, a service offering, a brand… crafting something new, that people love. This is what I enjoy about being involved in start-ups.

What made you decide to venture into advertising and start Little Giant?

I was always creatively driven, and in the early 2000’s became obsessed with technology and the internet and how it was going to impact our daily lives.

By 2011 (when Little Giant launched) the way people consumed content was changing rapidly and with it, the advertising industry.  While I had never worked in the advertising industry, I saw an opportunity to combine my passion for creativity and technology, creating a new breed of agency that was designed to service clients’ needs better in the connected age.

As a CEO, what are some of the way you mitigate burning out and maintain a work/life balance?

I’ve only figured this out in the last couple of years, and it’s still a work in progress. I spent my 20’s running myself into the ground, working inefficiently and not putting enough trust in the people around me.

Now I value my sleep more than ever, and I’m so much more productive and creative with seven-plus hours under my belt. I think the stigma of entrepreneurs needing to survive on four hours a night is foolish. Consistent quality sleep is the best thing anyone can do for themselves.

Exercise and nutrition are also so important for any high performing executive. I have cut way back on alcohol, eat a predominantly pescatarian diet full of vegetables, and try to commit to working up a sweat at least five times a week.

Where does that philosophy stem from?

I have always been obsessed with ongoing self-improvement. I love finding a productivity or biology hack to improve my performance, efficiency, and health. I am constantly trying new things, committing to new ways of living – I’m sure it’s exhausting for my fiancée, Camille.

What’s next in the pipeline for Little Giant? What’s your big, hairy audacious goal?

Our goal for Little Giant over the next five years is to be New Zealand’s leading agency. Not leading digital agency, but the leading agency, period.

How do we define best? Well for us, we want to be known for the best strategic and creative work in the country, as well as for the best digital product design and development work. We want to provide industry-leading service to our clients, at a level they rave about. Most importantly we want to maintain our amazing culture at scale, so we can continue to attract and retain New Zealand’s smartest entrepreneurs, artists and technologists.

I am so excited about what 2018 holds for Little Giant, it still feels like we’re just getting started.

What are some exciting New Zealand companies you’re involved with outside of Little Giant? Why did you choose to invest or take on a role with them?

I have set up an investment company called Whisky Ventures, to invest in high growth companies and early-stage startups.

Our first investment was in Sharesies, a micro-investing platform that launched in 2017. We invested in their Series A round. They have a great brand, terrific product, strong technology and a hugely talented team. I am really excited to be involved in their journey.

We have also just invested in a new venture, which is still in stealth mode. It’s a technology-focused product that uses blockchain technology to change the way people, institutions and organisations invest in high-value assets.

What advice would you give to someone looking to found their own company?

Make sure you are passionate about the idea. It will require complete commitment and constant sacrifice. Without a burning passion for what you are doing it makes those long days awfully hard.

And do your research. Not all good ideas are good businesses, and not all business models and industries are made equal. Can the business be run profitably? Can it scale? Can you build a defensive moat against competitors?

Always listen to people’s advice, but be strong in your convictions. I can remember countless people I respect, who were more experienced than me, telling me Little Giant wouldn’t work or wouldn’t become a profitable enterprise. They were wrong.

What is your involvement with cryptocurrencies?

I have been investing in cryptocurrencies for about 18 months; I primarily hold Bitcoin and Ethereum. I’ve sold down some of my holdings over the last few months as I felt valuations ran far past anything justifiable, and therefore I saw an opportunity to take profits.

I will continue to hold some Ethereum as I am a big believer in the platform they have created, and what can be built on top of it. If Bitcoin can become a genuine form of currency accepted universally, then it’s a steal at its current valuation. I’m no longer convinced it’s heading in that direction however with high transaction fees and processing times.

I struggle to see value in the majority of altcoins available today. I am confident a high percentage of these eventually be valued at zero.

Do you have any predictions on where this technology will go in the future?

The underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies (blockchain) is the biggest revolution since the smartphone, and you could argue the internet itself. Blockchain technology will disrupt some of the world’s largest industries and be integrated within products and services we use every day. It will create a new wave of technology giants who will go on to rival the Google & Amazon’s of the world. It’s very exciting.

  • This article originally appeared on Idealog.

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