Business Not 101

Technology and design thinking to empower creativity with Mohamed Hamad Founder of Third Wunder

April 08, 2023 Olivier Bousette Season 4 Episode 33
Business Not 101
Technology and design thinking to empower creativity with Mohamed Hamad Founder of Third Wunder
Show Notes Transcript

Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, and now residing in Montreal, Canada, Mohamed is a web marketing and development professional with 2 decades of experience in web development and design and almost a decade of experience in web marketing and SEO. He has worked in government, for startups and agencies around the world.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Information Systems in UX Design and System Integration from MIT in Auckland, Mohamed has worked across the gamut of the tech industry. From project management for government, web development and R&D at a Montreal-based startup, and Account management and Digital Strategy at Montreal’s largest performance-based marketing agency (NVI, now iProspect).

Mohamed co-founded Third Wunder in 2014, and has since built an agency that has worked with well-known brand names, including L’Oreal and Airbnb, and companies in Canada, the US, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. 


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Olivier B: Welcome to Business Not 1 0 1, a podcast that explores the uncommon side of business, goes beyond the conventional teachings, delves into the practical real world strategies and insights from successful founders, entrepreneurs, industry experts that understand what drives growth and how to achieve success in an ever-changing business landscape.

So join us and let's go beyond the basics. Hi, Mohammed. How are you?

Mohamed H: Hi it's great to, great to be here. How are you doing?

Olivier B: Great. Thank you for joining us on Business not 1 0 1. All right, let's just jump into it. Please introduce yourself and give us your business pitch.

Mohamed H: Hi, my name is Mohamed Hamad. I'm the founder of Third Wonder. We're a digital marketing agency that leverage technology and design thinking to empower creativity and connection. We're a full service marketing agency that works end to end with clients to leverage their creativity to make sure that they achieve their.

Olivier B: That's great. So what was. A moment [00:01:00] that made you launch this? What was your background that said, oh, I'm gonna, this is what I need to do.

Mohamed H: So I've I've been in the digital marketing space for some time and worked at a digital marketing agency back in the back in the day. And I ended up freelancing and consulting for a few. Where after leaving that company, I wanted to venture out on my own. And after a few year, few years of freelancing, I decided that I needed to kinda extend myself a little bit more.

And build on some of the things that I've learned as a consultant and as a marketer. And I I sought out a partner and we started building up the company and that's kind of how we went off. I have a very particular set of skills from from a, I come from a technical background, but I also kind of grew up in the arts and from an arts background and kind of want to, wanted to bring those two things together.

In the marketing space because digital marketing in itself is a very technical [00:02:00] space, but it's also it piggybacks on a lot of creativity and connection and storytelling and all that. And we wanted to kind of bring those two things together and leverage it to create new services.

Olivier B: That's really interesting and, and sort of something struck me is did you feel that you needed to have that time as a freelancer to be able to, to really jump into your agency and create the agency? Or do you feel it's something that almost like you could have skipped 

Mohamed H: i, as at the time that I was working at a digital marketing agency, you know, as a, as an account manager and a strategist There was, I felt like there was something missing because, you know, you would just get the client, someone would hand over a client, the sales team would go out and get the, get the clients, and they would hand you a mandate.

Then you would work with the, you know, with the, with the client themselves and figure things out. But I always felt that there was something missing. That later on came out when we're working with the client. I didn't really understand how to get about that until I actually started doing the sales [00:03:00] myself and actually connecting with with clients, really understanding their business and understanding their needs from the get-go.

And then trying to figure out and find out solutions for their business problem and. . That was, that was part of how you know, we differentiated ourselves early on, was that we came in with the knowledge and know-how, and not just, you know, from a sales perspective, you know, this is the, you know, the list of things that we do and how we do them, but we really knew how to get things done.

So when we talk to our clients more prospective clients, we, you know, we could pitch real world solutions right there in the.

Olivier B: When you first started your agency and obviously with your, with your co-founder. you guys hit a lot of roadblocks that you feel that you didn't expect coming from that field already. 

Mohamed H: Yes, there was you know, there's every sorts of challenge when you start a new business. You know, you're a new name, you're a new entity, you know, you have to prove yourself. You know, you might have a background and you might have connections and your [00:04:00] network, but you know, when it comes down to competing head to head with some.

More established names or some of the bigger names there, like really honing in that pitch and how do you differentiate yourself and what is it that makes you. Faster, more nimble, more agile more creative. You know, there's a risk factor for a company to kind of, you know put their trust in a, a fledgling entity.

So that was, that was some of the, the, the bottlenecks that we, you know, the roadblocks that we that we experienced early on and. Yeah. And then there's the experience part of, you know, running a business, running an agency, and, and freelancing is a completely different world than, you know, than than running a business in itself.

Olivier B: Yeah, I can imagine, because now you are hiring people, you have employees, you have relationships. You, it's completely different than just running it a little bit by yourself.

Mohamed H: Mm-hmm.

Olivier B: doing freelancing myself and consulting. I know that difference is when I work in a team of people, it's, it's overwhelming sometimes how you have to manage so many different [00:05:00] aspects then versus just you, yourself and your computer.

That's brilliant. So one of the questions I've added this year is, what is the secret sauce of your agency or your business that differentiates yourself? Because like you were saying earlier with the roadblocks, people need to get to know you. So what is one of the things you differentiated and created this sort of secret sauce to everybody saying, here, this is why you should work with me.

Mohamed H: I think at the end of the day, it's it's about bringing together technology, design, thinking, and, you know, marketing in, in bringing them together. And a lot of companies or a lot of agencies will have. Very specific niches in that, you know, their performance marketing or their design agencies or their social media agencies, or, you know, there will be a web dev shop or whatever it is.

You know, we, we've carved out ourselves a little bit of a triangle where, you know, we bring design thinking into the development process. With the fundamentals in the digital marketing space where all of those three inform each [00:06:00] other to make a better experience. And that's how we like to kind of play things where we want to make sure that whatever that's being designed looks good, but also has a great user experience.

Also leads to marketing goals, really, you know, looks at conversions and. and, and, and fits with the brand of the, of the of the client. And those things sometimes get lost in the weeds when you have you know, one one agency or one company that's very focused on something very specific. And we usually work with specialists in those per respective fields because, you know, being a generalist it's really hard to be like an expert on everything.

At the same time. But we wanna make sure that all of those things are always put front and center in focus.

Olivier B: That's a great point. So sort of looking at this at to your business model how have you done to grow your community, your, your customer base, be your community around your business? Because that's something that's unique to each [00:07:00] business and obviously to yourselves.

But can you walk us through how you started off from freelancing, starting your agency and getting your first customers and sort of building up your community? How was, how did that look like?

Mohamed H: It was a lot of relationship building. It was it was a lot of you know, going out there, meeting people, talking to people about what their needs are, how they go about things, what are their challenges are you know really understanding the business landscape out. And what are the, the, the key challenges that people are facing and then tailoring a solution to those, to those needs.

But always making sure to maintain good relationships, you know people move around in the industry a lot. You know, and they tend to bring their people with them. So having good, strong, reliable relationships over time expanding those ones and making sure that you have a strong word of mouth is key there.

You know, a warm lead is much more you know, it's, it's, it's a better lead in than a cold lead. And it's really good for.

Olivier B: It sounds like, so most [00:08:00] of your contacts are referral business. Is that big for you guys?

Mohamed H: Referral business, yes. Is very big. And it's it's part, it's, it's part of the key there in that, you know, when put people move around or they start their own, like, you know, they branch up and they start their agencies or they join a new company or they get, they level up and they they get promoted.

You know, it's you know, we are there to make sure. You know, our clients succeed as much as possible so that they can level up as much as we level up with them as well.

Olivier B: What are some of the platforms you guys are really strong at? Certainly for social media, for your own customer base? Are you using like LinkedIn or do you find yourself on like TikTok and what, what's something that's working for you guys?

Mohamed H: We are rethinking of our social media strategy in general as, as an agency. The, the funny thing about that is we tend to focus a lot more on our clients' social media, that you know, our own gets put on the back burner, but we're we're trying out a few new things and primarily it's how do we bring [00:09:00] value?

There's a, there's, there's a lot of agencies out there and there's a lot of you know , there's a lot of information that kind of clashes or there's, there's, there's a lot of clout out there and we want to make sure that we bring value and, and how do I say it? You know, a level of trust in our social media that brings people in.

And we don't really look at social media as a sales tool in general. We look at it as an awareness tool, a branding, a messaging. And you know, from that comes sales and that's at the end of the pipeline there. But really it's just to make sure that people understand who we are and how we do things and why we do things the way we do.

Olivier B: Yeah, that's a great point. What does your typical sales process look? Like how, how do you go from acquisition with the customer to the onboarding, to, you know, selling and building the customer? What does it look like for you guys?

Mohamed H: It depends on which channel they came in from. Usually if it is a word of mouth, we do have a connection there. Someone has briefed the client on what we do and how we do it and their experience with [00:10:00] them. But really it's The, the first steps there is understanding who they are, what they need, what they're trying to achieve, and why they're seeking the, the, the the methodology or the reasoning that they came to us in general.

You know, sometimes a client would think that they need a particular form or a particular strategy. But looking into their business, it's, it's a good idea. But it might be a it's something that's to be done, two steps down the line, and there's something else that needs to be done before that, you know?

So it's really to understand who they are and why they're, what, what they need. And then, Creating a roadmap for that. So there's a lot of back and forth in the beginning to really get that down. And then from there, you know, you know, we, we, we give 'em a proposal for what we think that should be done.

And, you know, obviously they'll be shopping around and comparing comparing notes and stuff. But you know, the fact that we are a full service agency that we. look at things end to end [00:11:00] usually is a an advantage for us because then everything is consolidated in one place. They have one point of contact.

We talk to them about a lot of different things. We bring more solutions to the table. We look at things from a broader perspective and and then we start the project, which depending on the type of project it is you know, they, it has different steps on how you kick it off. But really we, it's, it's, we got have to make sure that we're all on the same line and we know exactly where we're going and what the roadmap is.

Olivier B: And do you find a lot of your customers are gonna be repeat lifelong customers, so they keep coming back to you once if they worked with you? Or has your experience been been that your customers. Each time it's like a new startup, like you gotta re-pitch the ideas and they, they're, and they're shopping around.

In your experience, in your agency,

Mohamed H: Generally our clients actually last two to three years plus. So we would have, I think we do have clients where it's a one-off. You know, they just need a very particular thing and we deliver on [00:12:00] it, and that's about it. But the majority of our clients are three to five years. You know, we, we work with them very closely on a whole slew of solutions and services and we do a lot of consulting and make sure that, you know, we give them great advice now that they keep coming back and you know, they.

And again, it's to the fact of building strong relationships. You know, we wanna make sure that you know what their needs are met and and they can level up on everything that they're doing. And they keep growing and we grow, we grow with them.

Olivier B: Yeah, that's a great point. If there's one piece of advice you can pass on to the listeners to say, you know what, this is something you should focus in on sales and for customers, what would it be and why?

Mohamed H: I would say really understanding your customer base and your audience. There is a lot of assumptions that usually get made about who the business is selling to. And sometimes once you dig, you, once you dig deep into the weeds, you find out that there [00:13:00] is a whole different audience that's just slightly adjacent or you know, it, it's, it's right there in front of you, but you know, you just don't see it because of the assumptions that.

And, you know, it's our job to kind of go out there and, and look for these things, but you know, making sure that you you take the time to really, you know, test out your assumptions to reevaluate things on a regular basis. You know, the last five years have been such a topsy-turvy world in, in consumer behavior that you know, what we thought was, was canon five years ago during the pandemic has shifted, consumer behavior has shifted, purchasing online has shifted.

You know, loyalties have have changed. So it's, it's always a, it's a good thing to keep re-exam. What you do for home and why?

Olivier B: That's great. And this sort of leads into my next question is if you can go back in time and leave yourself a message of what to [00:14:00] do or what not. What it, what would it be and why?

Mohamed H: That is a great question. I would say don't try to do everything yourself, , you know, like yeah, give. Things out to your team, trust in your team, A lot more expand on that. There's a dearth of knowledge out there that that needs to be pulled in. And it's all about experimentation and trying out and giving ideas the space to to grow and to play.

And that's a, that's an important part.

Olivier B: That's great. One question I added this season as well is and I had touched on it last year, was do you have a business mentor or a business coach that you use and would, if yes, would you suggest people to have one?

Mohamed H: Early in the days I didn't have a business mentor, but through the freelancing community I had [00:15:00] a, a whole bunch of peers that we would compare notes and talk about things and, you know, work out ideas and hash things out and all of that. And over the years, . You know, I've, I've played around or toyed around with the idea of a business mentor.

I I should have gone for one back in the day. I, you know, I would've helped out in a lot of the stuff that, you know, as I leveled up would've helped me understand certain things earlier on. And kind of, you know, cut through a lot of the the trial and. I would definitely suggest if someone's just starting out or getting into a new space, is to find someone that, that they can, someone with experience and someone with a good, strong background to be able to bounce ideas with and to really hone in what they're trying to do.

Olivier B: Yeah, a hundred percent agree with that. That's brilliant. What does one personality do? One trait in your industry if somebody wants to start. Their own agency or their own freelancing that you think they really need to have and those who don't, you [00:16:00] feel like you've seen them fail, what would it be and why?

Mohamed H: I would say grit and.

grit to really push through, you know, the downs because we all know that things go up and, you know, you're, you're feeling great when they're up there, but you know, they can go down really quickly and things change on a dime. As seen in the last few years. And to, to really kind of push through. And the opt the optimism is key to the grit.

Just to be able to kind of see through the hard times and, you know, to, to, to strive for that, that goal that you have, that, that, the good side that comes out of it again. And I think those two key things really put together, make for a good entrepreneur.

Olivier B: Yeah. That's great. You know, one of the things I always wonder, and from experienced founders like yourself who've gone from freelancing to opening up the [00:17:00] agency, having employees, is what is one person that everybody should look at and hire right away? What's the first thing like, you know, I always, for me it's a bookkeeper cause I'm horrible at keeping track of all my expenses.

But from your experience, what would it be? Who would that person be? What role would that person be?

Mohamed H: I would agree with you there. Finances and bookkeeping. Someone to really dig into the weeds. It's something that you should definitely understand and learn how to do yourself so that you have more informed conversations with your accountant and bookkeeper. But outsource that as early as possible.

Make sure you got someone that knows it, end to end, understands the caveats. Someone that'll bring. All the red flags and all the green flags to you, you know and can understand, you know, where, what things mean. I mean, you know, if your balance sheet is the heart of your, of your business you know, having a healthy balance sheet is like having a healthy heart to your business, , [00:18:00] and it'll, it'll help you mind your own.

Yeah, and it'll help you mind your business in a lot of different ways. Like it'll give you a lot better a, a, a very different perspective on things.

Olivier B: Yeah. That's brilliant. I, I, I'm glad I'm not the only one. So that, that's a great piece of advice. So, switching gears a little bit, I'd like to get to know you as an entrepreneur and as a founder a bit more. One of the questions I ask everybody is, how do you stay productive? How do you stay focused?

What's your trips to, to do so?

Mohamed H: Focus that is a lifelong challenge to, to make sure that you're focusing on the right things and keep focusing on the right things. You know, there's. I'm I come from a design background and a technology background, so sometimes I get distracted with the shiny object syndrome of like, Ooh, this is the cool new thing.

This is the hot new thing here and there, let's try this out, and all that. But I think the key thing for me is every year I, you know, I spend some time at the end of each year, Are kind of [00:19:00] planning out OKRs for the next year, right? Really looking high level of the business of, of the year before.

And what we're going to be really focusing on in the different departments and the different skill sets and, and that becomes your, your, your guiding light to really, you know, focus you on, do where you want to go and achieve there. And, , you know, and at the beginning of the year, I after I've kind of formulated things, I hash it out with the team and make sure that each one also is, is focused on what their objectives are.

And we keep looking back at that on a regular basis. And that just makes sure that, you know, we're in line of what we're trying to do and what we're trying to achieve, and we're all open about it. We have, you know, discussions about what we're trying to do this year and that keeps us in focus.

Olivier B: Use any specific tools, any software, or are you you know, sort of journal, write it down yourself, kind of person.

Mohamed H: I used to do a lot of things with mind maps and outlining and, you know, I sketch a lot, so I would try draw [00:20:00] diagrams and but lately I have been using a tool called, Which is, you know, I'm absolutely in love with the tool and it has really changed the way I keep things all together and keep track of things and it's a fantastic tool.

Olivier B: Yeah, that's great. And I, I agree about mind mapping. I find myself getting into any gritties when I work with people and we start. Going too far and too deep, you end up in this maze. And I think sometimes simplifying is more important than trying to get every little point down, so that's brilliant.

Mohamed H: Mm-hmm.

Olivier B: next question that I love personally is if you could meet any entrepreneur for coffee and get to pick their brain for an hour, who would it be and why?

Mohamed H: You know, that's always a really tough one to say cuz there's a lot of people that you would want to meet. And you know, off the top of my head, you know, the, the, the very cliche one would be something like Steve Jobs or whatever it is. But, and you know, looking back, I think there was an [00:21:00] interesting one, mark and.

From well, one of the co-founders of what became Netscape, and I think that person would be really interesting. You know, he's, he's an investor in a lot of startups and and a lot of the big companies that we have, you know, we, we take for granted today. But I think my fascination was with him was being one of those early adopters of the web and the internet.

And creating the graphical browser and working in those wild west days of the early frontier of the internet was, is a, is a fascinating experience to go through. And I think that would be pretty cool to, to, to pick his brain about how all of that, cuz you know, growing up in the nineties and actually using those old, cool browsers and to see what we do with them now and how it evolved is, is, is.

Olivier B: Yeah, I think finding somebody who's done something uniquely different and looking at it from a different point of view is a brilliant way to to meet and get discussed and expand your your sort of, your [00:22:00] point of view and business.

Oh, that's brilliant. Next question I love is what is one non-fiction book that you would suggest everybody, entrepreneur.

Mohamed H: nonfiction book and this is one of my favorites. And design of Everyday Things by den Don Norman. It is one of those bugs that I fell in love with back in the day because it really outlines a lot of the absurdities of just general design. and it looks at it very critically. And after you read that book, you just end up looking at things and you're like, why is it that way?

And that that really sparks a sense of curiosity and critical thinking about the things around you that we just take for granted because this is the way they are, right? But they don't need to be that way. And that way it gives you an insight. Of how to, how to shape your [00:23:00] thinking around a problem set, how to look at you know, how to look at issues from a very humanistic standpoint and really kind of create new ideas around people themselves and culture and how how a solution can really fit within that space.

Olivier B: That's brilliant. That's brilliant. Last closing question. How can people reach out and connect with you?

Mohamed H: You can always find me on our website, third Third spelled out T H i r d w u N d e I'm a bit of a personal person or a private person on social media these days. But if you want to follow me on Instagram, I like, I do like photography and taking pictures of weird things that happen in the.

You can find me at Mohammed Hamad, m o h a m e d h a m a d. And yeah.

Olivier B: Perfect, and we'll be putting those in our show notes. 

Mohamed H: [00:24:00] Thank you. And how about you? What's what are some of the more interesting experiences you've had while creating this podcast and then some of the learnings? You know, you've been interviewing people for quite some time and you've heard some interesting stories.

Olivier B: Oh yeah, that's a great question. It's, you get an amazing view that I didn't expect. I expected a lot of the standard responses that I had heard at events or at, you know, presentations. Getting to know the people. Before the interview and during the interview and even after the interview it's given me an insight on things that I didn't expect.

It's really sort of opened up my eyes of what I thought was standard rules in business to realize like, you know what, no, I can. Do things completely different and how somebody's past history, their experiences from the personal experiences they have to their experiences as in business and in their community, shape them.

But it also rubs off on me and gives [00:25:00] me a different point of view. I get to sort of step in people's shoes for half an hour, listen to them and it's really sort of expanded my business, sort of you and my personal life as well.

Mohamed H: That's awesome. Yeah. You've you've had some great interviews in the past and you know, I've listened to quite a few of them and. Yeah. That's a great network you're building up there.

Olivier B: Thank you so much. I appreciate it, and thanks again for joining us today.

Mohamed H: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Olivier B: Business Not 101 is hosted and written by me, Olivier Bousette and produced and edited by our talented podcast team to listen to Business Not 1 0 1. You'll find us in all your favorite podcast apps as well as YouTube. We hope you've enjoyed this interview and it's given you some valuable insights and helped you along your business journey.

And if you have any comments or questions, please reach out to us. Thank you for joining us and listening to this episode of Business Not 1 0 1.