Kelly Long is a co-founder and partner at Manifold, overseeing high profile accounts including Uber, Bumble, GitHub, and others, and leads Manifold’s business development. Prior to Manifold, Kelly held senior positions at Yahoo in the Global Buzz Marketing department, working with brand marketing and product leads, as well as with global advertising partners to create and implement unique, experiential marketing and advertising campaigns. She also held various positions in Yahoo’s Corporate Communications division for many years working closely with the executive team on internal and external communications around the company’s financial news, M&A deals, strategic partnerships, and general corporate issues. Prior to Yahoo, Kelly held positions at Porter Novelli and Ogilvy overseeing corporate communications programs for global clients including Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, McAfee, and others. She is currently a member of the Ambassador Board for Make-A-Wish Oregon.
How did the concept for Manifold come about?
My business partners and I worked together at Yahoo for a number of years, running a department called “The Buzz Marketing Group”. We were basically a mini agency inside of Yahoo, created to support Yahoo’s key network properties, along with the company’s largest advertising customers. We were a rogue group of sorts, always pushing the creative boundaries of our thinking, in hopes that we would create meaningful and clever campaigns that people would remember.
We’d always joked amongst each other, “You know, we could probably do this on our own one day.” In March 2010, we took that leap. It was one of the scariest and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my professional career.
How was the first year in business?
Our first year in business was a daily rollercoaster of unknown ups and downs. It was exciting and terrifying all at the same time, but we learned some of our most important lessons that year.
We learned to hustle. We learned humility. We learned that we’d never succeed without trust.
And, for anyone thinking about starting a business, hire an attorney and an accountant immediately.
We launched our agency, Manifold, without a single client and started our journey of knocking on doors. We owe a lot of our initial success to our network – the many friends, past coworkers, and peers who first gave us a chance and signed on as clients in year one.
We worked out of my tiny, one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco for the first few weeks, dreaming of what life would be like when we finally had a “real” office. We just celebrated our nine-year anniversary in March, and now have three permanent offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland.
What was your marketing strategy?
Relationships, relationships, relationships …and press.
When we left Yahoo, we wanted to do it the right way. The day that we officially opened our doors, we had no clients, we had no beautiful work to include in an agency capabilities deck, and being a service business, we really didn’t even have a product – other than the four founding partners.
What we did have was a deep understanding of marketing and PR and the power of relationships. We called our media friends, we called our brand friends, and we networked our asses off.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
I think we grew at a steady, organic, and appropriate rate for an agency. Our number one priority was to win business, then use that money to create great work and hire great people.
We each wrote a check for a small, equal amount to start the business and felt strongly that we wanted to try and go it alone for as long as we could, without taking on debt or outside capital. I feel proud to say that nine years later, we are still fiercely and independently run.
How do you define success?
Personally, I define success as enjoying what I do every day (well okay, let’s be honest…MOST days), challenging myself, working with good, honest, and real people, watching my team succeed, knowing I gave it my all, learning from my failures, making time for the most important things in my life, meeting smart people that make me smarter and laughing as much as humanly possible along the journey.
What is the key to success?
Honesty, kindness, an open mind, a good work ethic, listening – really listening, and surrounding yourself with an army of great people.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Get a passport and do what your parents always told you NOT to do…talk to strangers. It’s amazing what you will learn when you get out of your comfort zone.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” – JFK
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
“We meet no ordinary people in our lives.” – C.S. Lewis
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” – MLK, Jr.
What are some of your favorite books?
My favorite book by far that I’ve read recently is Shantaram – it’s one of the most beautifully-written books ever.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The day we lost a significant client, the four partners had to have very difficult “what if” conversations about our agency and our team, and plan for that potentially imminent future. I knew we all loved our team, but it was that day that made me realize the lengths that all of us would go to protect them. We worked harder and smarter than ever…not for the money, but to take care of our people. I’m proud to say it worked.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I’m Irish, and with that comes a whole slew of personality traits – some good, many crazy. But one that always carries me through is positivity. When faced with adversity, the best way to push through is to look at both sides and realize there is always a worse side and I’m not on it. Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself. Tell yourself, “We can do this. There are people in this world that have it much worse.”
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Be bold. Trust your gut. Ask for help. Treat people well. Be competitive. Be passionate, and work hard.
This interview was brought to you by Audible. Try a 30-day free trial and receive two free audiobooks!
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
Check out our Books page to see the top books recommended by entrepreneurs, professional athletes, and executives.