When it comes to David and Goliath, Ben Tyson knows who he is backing. After falling in love with the media industry shortly before leaving University, Ben connected with two friends and helped them with their social media start-up. Four years on he is managing director of his own agency – and its success. It’s all thanks to a solid set of principles based on learning, hard work, the right team and a dedication to helping those companies willing to take risks to adapt and survive in a changing society – the ‘Davids’. I caught up with Ben to find out how it all happened…
Did you always have a good idea of what you wanted to do as a career?
I studied History at Exeter University and graduated in 2012. During my time there, I had that inevitable panic about what to do when I left, so I spent most of my third year working with the student media teams, and joined a company that a friend of mine had started called UniSportOnline.
We live-streamed student sport online which 1000s of people would watch, and this is where my obsession with the media industry began, and my love for working with creatives and new technology. When I left university I joined two friends – Rob and Ben – at The Eleven, their social media start-up. I brought the creative and strategic support they needed for their clients. It was their mission that won me over – to help the Davids, not the Goliaths. To clarify, being a ‘David’ is nothing to do with the size of a company and its revenue – it’s about how a client is willing to think, if they will take risks and the speed at which they move.
Four years later I’m running Born Social with Char – our first Account Manager – and love every moment of it.
What do you love most about what you do?
There are three things that I love about my job:
First is the people – we have an amazing team at Born Social. It is a genuine pleasure to be able to work with them every day.
Second is the clients. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing businesses over the past few years, from fast-growing startups, to the world’s biggest organisations. The challenges we help them with are all shapes and sizes, but they are always centred around our core principle of supporting the ‘Davids’.
Third is the opportunity. As an agency, we’re incredibly ambitious, and although we’ve come a long way in four years, this really is just the start. We want to work with companies around the world and help re-define how agencies work with clients… and here we’ve got a great opportunity to do that!
Which skills and/or character traits do you think helped you succeed?
At Born Social we value four characteristics in everyone we work with: Passion, Ambition, Curiosity and Togetherness. Without those four I wouldn’t have got half as far as I have today.
Beyond that I have a few personal values that I try to live by:
- Always say yes to opportunities – you never know what will come of it even if on the surface it doesn’t look promising. You’ll never leave your comfort zone if you don’t start saying yes.
- Follow the learning – I read a lot, listen to a lot and watch a lot. If I’m not learning something new every day, then I’m probably not at my best.
- Relish “not-knowing” – honestly, unless you are in the most structured job in the world, there will always be scenarios where you haven’t got a clue what to do, what decision to make, or what is the best route forward. Enjoy those moments – don’t fear them. The search for the best solution is what helps you to grow.
- Surround yourself with people better than you – whether it’s mentors, peers or team members… work with people who are so good they intimidate you.
- Feedback – it can be hard to get feedback, particularly as someone in a senior position. But it is so so important in order to progress. Ask for it incessantly from everyone and anyone around you, take it graciously and act on it. Without consistent and in-depth feedback there is a very ceiling on how far you can get.
You are what they refer to as a ‘millennial’ or ‘digital native’ – how much has this helped you?
One of the founding principles of Born Social was that we are part of the first generation to have grown up with social media – and to have defined how a lot of the platforms are used. You will see from our websitethat our team is still a (relatively) young one that works on this principle. For an industry as modern as social media, this has worked hugely in our favour and is now a key part of our brand and services.
What have been your biggest challenges as a young leader?
They’re probably no different to the challenges that any leader faces. Those three things that are so important to Born Social – our people, our clients, and our opportunity – are the three things that challenge us most at the same time. It’s neither easy or accidental that we have the culture we do… it is the result of a lot of time spent interviewing and hiring the right people, including working under capacity when we haven’t been able to find the perfect person for a role.
What do you do to keep your skills fresh in such a fast paced industry that is always evolving?
I mentioned earlier how I try to learn something new everyday. So I read a lot – everything from news to opinion pieces to books – and I try to go to industry events a couple of times a week.
More than anything else though, is my team at Born Social. They help keep me up to date. We have a group agency briefing every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on a new or niche area of social media hosted by our Senior Strategist – these sessions are essential.
I’m also fortunate enough to be part of the Marketing Academy Scholarship this year, which has connected me with a network of marketeers from big brands and agencies. It is teaching me a lot about both the industry as a whole, and developing new leadership skills.
When it comes down to it, our world moves so fast that the only way to stay up-to-date in any area is to be serious about investing your time in it. Trying to learn half-heartedly won’t get you anywhere.
Any tips for other rising stars in this sector?
Find mentors, sponsors or advisors who can help you with your specific challenges and help you build your career. It could be someone already in your organisation, someone in your network, or just someone you respect. Without good advice and someone willing to push me and ask me the hard questions, I wouldn’t have got far at all.
The value of having a good network never fails to amaze me. I can’t tell you how many times we have got out of sticky situations simply by knowing the right person at the right company. Time spent meeting people and getting to know them is never time wasted.
Most importantly, always help others. In any scenario or relationship, think about what you can give back more than what you can get. People like to work with fair people who they can trust.