With Scott Orn

A Startup Podcast by Kruze Consulting

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Scott Orn

Scott Orn, CFA

Mike Barash of Codeword - The Startup PR Playbook

Posted on: 09/06/2016

Mike Barash

Mike Barash

Co-Founder - Codeword

Mike Barash of Codeword - Podcast Summary

Mike is the founding partner at Codeword (formerly Knock Twice), a hybrid PR, content, advertising, branding and design agency that puts start-ups on the map and builds campaigns for some of the biggest brands in the world. Mike is one of the best in the business and we’re lucky to have him as a guest. He walks us through the Startup PR Playbook and also gives some great career advice.

Mike Barash of Codeword - Podcast Transcript

Scott Orn: Welcome to the Founders and Friends Podcast with Scott Orn of Kruze Consulting. This week’s episode is with Mike Barash of Codeword Agency. Mike has built one heck of a company there along with his partners. They have tons of startup clients. They also have some big guys like Google. But great company. Mike knows everything about PR. He’s learned the business from the ground up. Tons of good advice here. Also good advice about taking risk in your life. I hope you enjoy the podcast. Mike’s a lot of fun and we had a lot of fun recording this. Welcome to Founders and Friends Podcast. We’ve renamed in honor … not in honor of everybody that’s been on it but especially Mike Barash from Codeword PR Agency who’s our guest today. Welcome Mike.
Mike Barash: Hey Scott. Thanks for having me on.
Scott Orn: Thank you so much for coming by. So Mike, fresh off Coachella and Guns N’ Roses. Exactly what you want to do for your voice to be perfect for radio.
Mike Barash: Yeah first day. Day 1 after eating more dust and food for two days in that desert.
Scott Orn: So welcome. Thanks for doing this.
Mike Barash: Sure.
Scott Orn: So Mike is and I’m not exaggerating here, my friend who knows the most about PR. He’s amazing. He’s my go-to guy. Email him all the time probably too many times. I’m sorry for that.
Mike Barash: Not really. You’re too busy.
Scott Orn: Yeah. And Mike runs Codeword which is a tech PR firm that’s totally kicking ass. I’ll let him tell you all about it but we’re really lucky to have Mike here for a little bit of time. He can share some advice, some anecdotes and I always like to start, how did you get into this? How did you get into the business?
Mike Barash: The business, it’s a good question. I kind of fell into it after college. I didn’t even know what I was going to do. I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t think I could actually do that and so not that I didn’t have to confidence to, I just didn’t know that you could just move to LA and like try it. So I got a sales job that I hated and then a girl that I was seeing at the time, her roommate was doing PR for startups and she seemed to always be like going to Vegas and having fun and doing interesting things and so I thought I’ll try this and it was in 2000. And then things went up really fast for a little bit and then kind of cratered. PR was a world that I was able to kind of navigate. It combined my love for writing with taking sort of complex ideas and helping to make them simple, helping founders who knew that they had something really interesting on their hands but they didn’t know how to tell the world about it and then selling that idea to press. And so it was quickly a good fit.
Scott Orn: That’s a great story. I always feel like we … because I started in ’99 out of college. I feel like we got so lucky. We caught the first boom and got a ton of experience. Even though like our whole lives are shook up like a year later when everything crashed.
Mike Barash: I was too young to know or care really what was happening. Like I was aware that it was not great for people but I had my … still have my job and just kind of heads down. But yeah. I think we were. I always was kind of bummed that I missed that boat from like ’95 to ’99 just because I feel like there is a lot of not easy money but easier opportunities. But yeah. I think we really hit it at a good time and we’ve weathered some shit now and so we kind of know what to do.
Scott Orn: Yeah. That’s a good point. So how did you go from just working at an agency to starting your own firm? Like that’s a really big deal.
Mike Barash: I was at a bunch of agencies. I would stay someplace for like a year and a half, two years and then end up either not getting bored, that’s not fair but getting kind of trapped in a role that needed more time to get out of that I felt that I was ready to get beyond or I wanted to do something else with different clients. So I kind of went from an agency focusing on one thing to another agency focusing on something else. And then I went to a bigger agency to get more brand experience and then I went to Atomic PR which that was by far my favourite experience and I got to run a team that was like starting my own little agency within a bigger agency. So that was kind of a good taste of what agency life would be like. But with a sort of a safety net underneath. And then I kind of hit this peak where like I’d be talking to a guy like you across the table and I was a VP and I thought, I don’t know what this guy knows. I know nothing about business. I’ve only been an agency guy.
Scott Orn: You know the PR game.
Mike Barash: Yeah.
Scott Orn: But you don’t know …
Mike Barash: It made me just feel bad. Like I couldn’t talk to them. I couldn’t have good conversations. So I was lucky enough to work with a woman named Aileen who’s a client of mine at Blurb and Blurb is a photography book company that I kind of fell in love with and so we would travel everywhere while I was her agency and then she kind of, I didn’t know it at the time. I thought it was my idea but she had been sort of trying to recruit me for a year or so. And so I’m like, hey, I have idea. And she’s like, yeah. Welcome to the party.
Scott Orn: Here’s your employment document.
Mike Barash: And I ran marketing for her for like four years. And then after that …
Scott Orn: Oh I didn’t know that.
Mike Barash: Yeah and so that way I got to see like how a company works and like they actually made books and in quantities of one or hundreds and so I got to see like this is what production looks like and this is how it relates to product design and engineering and fulfilment and customer support. And so after that, I did partnerships in marketing and PR and events and so it was kind of a nice broad exposure to how a business runs and then how to get the word out and actually sell stuff. And then so after that, I didn’t know … I wanted to do something on my own but I’m not like a widget guy or an engineer and so I just thought, I’ll do consulting and then kind of you know, quickly realized that I knew enough people and could sell these services and so then thought, well I could do this mercenary thing forever. But it’s kind of unfulfilling because I’m alone and having an agency sounded great. So I found a couple of my friends. One a journalist and the other one actually a money guy from New York.
Scott Orn: I’ve met your money guy. He’s a nice guy.
Mike Barash: He’s great. He’s amazing. And so Kyle was my journalist friend and he and I had had this talk [inaudible 00:05:35] one year and just like, I think we could do this agency thing better. We could sort of flip the model on its head and work with startups, charge a little bit less and set it up with more senior people and really make it work. And so then when I said to him, let’s do this now. He said, you should meet my friend Jeff. I said, I don’t know man. We don’t need a money guy. We’re an agency. And then I met Jeff and I like to tell people not Kyle necessarily but I met Jeff and I was like, we don’t need Kyle. Let’s do this. But we do need Kyle and he’s still here and he’s our founder as well.
Scott Orn: Is he the New York partner?
Mike Barash: Yeah.
Scott Orn: I remember you introducing me to him. He was cool.
Mike Barash: So it’s Kyle and then Michael is our fourth partner in New York.
Scott Orn: Awesome.
Mike Barash: Two of them run New York and then Jeff runs Utah and I run here.
Scott Orn: Got it.
Mike Barash: But that’s kind of how we started and Jeff and I were the two that were there to the linears like no office, three clients, trying to figure out you know, I was basically like okay Jeff, when people pay us, they’re going to pay you and then I’ll tell you how much money I need to live and you give it to me if you can. But I didn’t … I know how to do money stuff but you can’t do … I didn’t want to do client stuff and try to run a business. It would’ve fallen on its face because I know what I’m bad at and Jeff is great at all the things that I’m good at but then at the other things too.
Scott Orn: Well having a partner you can trust is huge. I mean I know for us, it’s like I’ve told you this before like simple things that everyone thinks they know how to do like collections or keeping your own books straight or whatever you know, it’s just so hard to run the business while being a service provider because you find like … I find at Kruze Consulting like Vanessa and I like we’ll react … so we put the clients ahead of ourselves and so like we’ll react to these clients who are sending urgent emails all day long and then they’ll be like, hey, you haven’t billed me like in three weeks and we’re like, yeah I know. It’s because you keep sending us emails telling us to do stuff. It’s really hard to balance that.
Mike Barash: Things slip through the cracks and then there’s people who just don’t pay you and then there’s … when should I hire my next person? Do I have enough money? How do I know that? Do I forecast it? What does the model look like? Those are things that I have a brain for but I didn’t want to … like my highest and best use is going to sell the agency and getting people in the door. And so Jeff was a perfect complement and he was able to help me figure out like not even help me. Just tell me. Okay you can hire someone now. And we’ve developed a very close friendship and talk a few times.
Scott Orn: That’s amazing. That’s awesome.
Mike Barash: Yeah.
Scott Orn: I was going back to your comments about Blurb. I remember seeing Aileen speak at the Montgomery Conference probably in like ’08. She was really dynamic.
Mike Barash: She’s great. Oh my God.
Scott Orn: She’s a really good CEO.
Mike Barash: Yeah. She was fantastic.
Scott Orn: Is she still in Blurb?
Mike Barash: She just transitioned like a few months ago from CEO to I think she’s Chairman of the Board and is like kind of involved on a day-to-day basis but not as much as she was.
Scott Orn: She was awesome. She could pitch. I felt like my checkbook coming out of my pocket as she was talking.
Mike Barash: She was the easiest person I ever do PR for because I’ll just be like, okay, here’s your notes. Go into this room and then when you’re done come back out.
Scott Orn: She’s amazing. So what do you look for in your clients now? Because like I think a lot of people don’t appreciate that. Like Codeword or even Kruze Consulting like we’re selling but we’re also kind of looking for the right client, the right kind of person we want to work with. What do you look for?
Mike Barash: We don’t do any like outreach or marketing outbound. We just kind of we go to events and like with our clients and meet people that way or it’s client referrals or it’s, we saw the work you did for Big Switch so we think that we’re in a similar space. Can you help us? But it’s a lot of that and it’s not like okay, here’s our outbound marketing plan. And we look for you know, we do … so we’re Codeword Agency. We do PR and we do also content design, advertising, branding strategy. So we sort of like by virtue of starting with the journalist and a finance guy and me, we have these built-in other capabilities that we’ve grown as a business that’s needed to support it and we’ve added an Art Department and stuff like that. So on the one hand, we look for startup clients that have you know, a little bit of money so that they can support a program because I think PR is best when it’s ongoing and not just like lights on, lights off. And then you know, other than that, we look for a good story. Somebody who’s not going to be just a one trick pony. There’s a lot of apps that are sort of neat but once you launch them and you say okay, this app does thing X like what’s next?
Scott Orn: Where is it going? Yeah.
Mike Barash: And I made you know, I made mistakes and not even mistakes but work with companies that that’s the case and then after three months, you’re like, okay. So the plan for the next three months …
Scott Orn: I’ve talked to every single journalist [inaudible 00:10:07] talk to.
Mike Barash: Yeah. We can’t just go back and tell them to write about you again. That’s not interesting to you. So we look for people who have sort of a compelling story and a vision and a road map and interesting real leadership behind them. We’ve seen all kinds of companies over the years and some of them come with a perfect pedigree like great leaders from all over different communities and they’re like this music company that had just all the right people. They had a great product it looked like. They had a great plan and model. They had label deals. They had a little bit of money and they’re so exciting and dynamic and we thought, oh my God, this is going to be fantastic. And then a year and a half down the road like just mistake, mistake, mistake. It didn’t really come together. And you sort of see those things enough and it’s different but it’s similar to VC deal flow in a very different scale but you just learn like okay, these are the things that I’m going to look for. These are the things that are important to me. And it’s usually like it’s people to be honest with you. It’s like somebody who you can talk to and you know that they’re just substantial. They’re able to weather a storm. They have a good idea. They’re confident. They’re able to talk about and articulate what they want to do.
Scott Orn: Yeah. You’re also like in the coaching business a little bit. You have to be able to … the founder has to be a little bit malleable and be willing to experiment and kind of take your advice on a plan. And I’m sure you know, 50% of the founders out there are still working on that. Where it’s just like you find someone who’s immediately incorporating your advice, it’s got to feel really good.
Mike Barash: Yeah it does. I mean it’s all kinds, right? I tell people this job is at least 75% therapy and I think that that’s true. Whether it’s to the employees or to the clients or talking to press but you’re oftentimes trying to just sort of help somebody get confident about the story they want to tell or tell it in the right way or just remind them these are the three things that you need hit. But there are times when we definitely butt heads with the clients that we work with because they’ll hire us to do this thing and then they don’t see the value in the thing that they’ve bought or they think that they know how to do the thing better and so they wanted like … they kind of get in the way and it’s not like that’s a deal breaker but there’s a lot of coaching that happens there. It’s more like the coaching around okay this is why this thing that we need to do. This is why it’s important to do these things on the way. Or this is why we’re doing this and not this or this is why we need to do it in three weeks and not in two weeks.
Scott Orn: And you can’t skip five steps. You have to do the hard work. You said something, I’ve always loved this about you. You always say like you have to get the journalist like the people who are writing interested about the company story. Like how do you do that? Or what are the things they’re looking for? Like what’s interesting to a journalist?
Mike Barash: They’re interested in like … they’re not interested in being a marketing mouthpiece or telling you know, this product is available today. Some are because that’s what their publication is about but most of the big ones aren’t and they’re interested in interesting people and people that have compelling thoughts about the things that they focus on. And they’re interested in at the end of the day, good stories and things that are going to be interesting to their readers. So that doesn’t happen with one email that says, “Hi. Jeff is available if you want to talk about this new product that’s coming out on Tuesday.” That happens when you’re like, “Hey, let’s go get drinks or dinner with this guy. Here’s why I think you’d like him.” And I think that the more trust that we’ve built up with the journalists, the more they’re going to trust us to say, okay, yeah. Mike usually brings me interesting people. I’d love to do that. And so we do that with a lot of our clients. We’ll set them up with dinners with a few members of the press and we’ll just try to get them in some of a relationship before they need anything. So then when it comes time to like need something, hopefully there’s been a relationship formed and some trust and it works.
Scott Orn: Yeah because I don’t think the journalist want to be like a hired gun. The marketing mouthpiece thing is a great point.
Mike Barash: Yeah. And like think about if you’re a journalist, you’ve got your own stories that you’re interested in. You have your editorial mandates that they’re telling you, this is what you need to cover. You got news that comes at you without you knowing it on a certain day and then you’ve got I don’t know, hundreds of agencies that are pitching you stories because some of them relevant but like probably 75% of them just sort of spray and pray. That’s a lot of noise.
Scott Orn: Spray and pray, I’ve had drinks with you and some Tech Crunch journalists or other publications and they talk about that and they’re like, I can’t even read my email. It’s just bombarded. And it’s like, I think hiring and working with someone like you who has a relationship and also they look at your email and they read it for what you’re talking about. Not just like oh this is some dude who wants me to be the corporate mouthpiece.
Mike Barash: That’s the key. It’s trust. And it’s not even me. It’s like, I had this talk this morning. A guy who works with us, Tim is just outstanding and we were talking about he’ll take a day and spend the day like really reading up on a journalist and getting one pitch out to the right person instead of sending twelve out to people that may or may not be the thing. And I think that I know that the press appreciate that kind of thought. Because we get a lot of client referrals from press.
Scott Orn: Oh that’s super … I never thought about that.
Mike Barash: It’s one of the most validating moments ever. Like we have a client called Cloud9 in New York. I asked them, how did you find us? Because you guys are in New York. We don’t really do the kind of PR that you would need. We’re not known for that in New York. We do a lot of big brand stuff out there. And she said, actually you are a journalist referral. And it was a woman named Alyson Shontell who we’ve worked with in the past and like we communicate with her not because we need something but because like I like her writing and I think she’s great. We’ve had drinks. I like her as a person.
Scott Orn: I think they reached out to us actually too at Kruze Consulting. I recognize that name. That is pretty amazing though like if a journalist, I mean that’s gold. That means you’re doing your job the right way.
Mike Barash: I don’t know. It’s like you and me passing stuff back. Just because you’re a journalist, I don’t think of them as like this different type of person. They’re just a new friend.
Scott Orn: That’s what makes tech in Silicon Valley and New York and LA like so powerful is that people do those referrals and they trust each other and they trust each other’s network. It’s really really awesome. Bruno’s barking on the background. Mike has the most adorable dog. And if you subscribe to his Instagram account, you’ll see this like super cute dog but that dog comes at you hard when you come in the door.
Mike Barash: Yeah. Seven pounds of fury.
Scott Orn: So when you were you know, you talked about like what you look for in a client, what are some of the advice you give like couple suggestions like if I come to you with a new idea, is it build the relationships early with the journalist? Like how do you go by doing that?
Mike Barash: It depends on what the client is trying to do. Some of them are … they have a long-term product rollout schedule and it’s going to be a thing that exists for many years and it’s an enterprise grade product and others have an app. Others have a, some kind of a service. And I think that depending on what your PR goals are, there’s going to be different things to do but I think some safe tips are you know, think about the long-term. Think about instead of like how can the journalist help me, think about how can I help this journalist. Like why would they be interested in talking to me? How should I go about … don’t reach out and say, hi I have this thing that’s happening tomorrow. Can you write on it? Like get in touch with them before you need to and to be honest, that’s why we’re doing this thing called PR University and we kick off on Thursday and it’s going to be like a free thing we do every week for five weeks. So anybody can come in and we’ll just like go over different part of the process.
Scott Orn: That’s super smart.
Mike Barash: Exactly like what you’re doing and I obviously it’s going to be nice to have some people that say, oh my God. This is great. It’s also a lot like I guess I do maybe need to think about an agency but I think you know, founders are so like you’re going in different directions as you know. You have a thousand things to do. Even marketing managers internally at companies like PR is like a tiny slice of the pie. And so I think that you know, one piece of advice would be consider at a certain point when you think you’re ready to have a story to tell, you might need an agency to help you do that. Not because you can’t but because it’s not your highest and best use. Like you need to be focused on sales or development or fundraising or whatever the thing might be that day.
Scott Orn: I think the PR University is such a great idea because we talk about how a lot of times founders don’t know what their financials are supposed to look like. They don’t know that their prior accountant did a bad job until we actually show them. Like one of the thing we do is put people on a joint [inaudible 00:18:36] and like go over their books before we touch them and say like, hey that’s a problem right there. That’s a problem. These are all things that … it sounds like that’s kind of … you’re not … we’re not negative about it. We’re just showing them our value and it sounds like you’re doing the same thing. It’s like, these are the rules. This is how you should do it. It’s going to be a lot. You have other things to do as a founder. We can amplify your voice and make it easy for you.
Mike Barash: Sure. And if you don’t want to do an agency, then that’s fine too. Like here’s how you should think about approaching it and hire somebody internal. At some point, they’re going to … if you’re successful enough, then your story will outgrow one person’s ability to tell it or you’ll have more demand from the media side than you can fulfil but just having somebody that’s able to even take a look at an announcement and say, okay this thing is going to happen on Thursday. Let’s try to get an exclusive because it’s not going to be something that twenty-five people cover but somebody will. And if they don’t, let’s have some content at the ready so that we can put it out into the world ourselves. Or let’s think about next week. How do we turn it into an infographic or what data is going to come from this? Think about it in a different way. Not just like a binary. A, this goes out into the world and people cover it or B, nothing happens.
Scott Orn: You’ve talked about content marketing, so like you were super early on that and I tip of the cap to you. And that’s one of the things we do a lot at Kruze Consulting. Put a ton of content. Vanessa is such a good writer. She puts tons of stuff out. You came to me like we’re having drinks like four or five years ago and you’re like, this content marketing is going to be big. I’m building the capabilities already. I know this is a good investment. Like how did you anticipate that? What were you seeing?
Mike Barash: That was all Kyle. I mean we as an agency saw it coming. Kyle was doing that in 2009, 2010 as part of J. Walter Thompson doing like brand stuff. Helping brands think more like publishers and tell a story.
Scott Orn: Maybe explain to the listeners like what is content marketing.
Mike Barash: He worked with Microsoft Silverlight and some other campaigns at JWT but like big scale stuff and helping them just starting to tell a story and act more as a publisher if that makes sense. By that I mean, make it interesting and engaging and authentic and not try to …
Scott Orn: And have some authority.
Mike Barash: Yeah. Exactly. But make it I don’t know, his thing is fill the internet with beautiful things but make them interesting and I think that that’s like if you think about commercials, like I’ll watch a commercial if it’s good and I don’t care that J. Crew put out that Casey Neistat skateboard thing. Like I think it’s awesome and I like him. So I watch it. And it’s a similar idea. So with big brands, like they understand that they have to pay for that. Like we have staffs of ten people working on Qualcomm, twelve people working on Google and they run it like a news desk and its former editors and writers and people who have been journalists and so they and we build you know, gifs and we run Tumblr pages and all of these things that are just fun and interesting and engaging and they level up to you know, for Qualcomm it’s a big message about getting the Snapdragon story out. So we target a very specific set of people who would consider buying something because it has that chip in it and then give them things that they would want. But they’re good. It’s not like an advertisement. It’s quality content. And so you know, being able to apply that to a startup scale is not always easy and I don’t think startups necessarily always understand or expect to pay for that. But PR is something that I think is universally understood that like this is a thing that I should have at some point and this is a way to get my story out. So once they kind of come into our world under the PR tip of the spear, then they kind of get their head and then poke around and like, oh I can do design. [Crosstalk 00:22:08] And so we just roll it all into one and it’s like hours or hours. You can do what you want.
Scott Orn: I love the fill the internet with beautiful little things. That’s exactly what we do too. It’s like, people are going to find it whether they’re searching forever, seeing them on social media and a lot of times we talk about it as like a breadcrumb trail and it’s like they find one thing that Vanessa’s written and then they can’t help but read ton of them.
Mike Barash: Yeah because it’s good.
Scott Orn: It’s good and it really helps them.
Mike Barash: It’s not an advertisement. It’s not like this thing that’s interrupting the experience that you’re trying to have by saying, hey look at me. It’s like, it is the experience. So then you tend to trust it more.
Scott Orn: That’s amazing. Thank you for all the advice you’ve given us on that too like that’s … it’s big for us.
Mike Barash: Sure.
Scott Orn: You talked about people coming in through PR and then oftentimes they see content management like or content marketing. Is it a stepping stone? Like PR’s the first thing and then content second?
Mike Barash: It’s all integrated.
Scott Orn: How do you size up a client and give them like you’re the doctor. You’re prescribing them.
Mike Barash: We kind of look at so Hotel Tonight is a good example of that. They hired us to do PR and they have a schedule of stuff that’s going to happen. Some of it’s product related. Some of it’s like announcement related and internal to the company like a funding announcement or something like that or a new hire. Some of it’s events driven. Some of it is more on the content side. And so that’s where we kind of look at what is your first six months look like for example? And then lay it out visually so we have product thing here. Company announcement thing here. Other product thing here. And then in between, how do we stay relevant? How do we continue to excite our core audience and drive awareness to people who may not have heard of Hotel Tonight. And so that’s where we come up with like okay, what kind of data do we have access to? How can we package that up into something interesting and then who do we take that to? Is that a thing that we take to the press and we pitch it and we give it to Fast Company and then it’s exciting to them because it’s interesting data that they would not otherwise have or do we put it out on our own blog? Do we make these little snackable chunks of things and just tweet them? I mean it’s all sort of part of an integrated package but we try to wrap it up and then you know, you can look at it like horizontally stretched out on a page and see where to put stuff. It makes it easy.
Scott Orn: That’s cool.
Mike Barash: A timeline.
Scott Orn: I’ve never thought about like that’s really good. What’s some … this is a little cheesy but it’s a real question. What advice do you give people who are getting into PR now? Aside from working at Codeword obviously.
Mike Barash: You mean as a career?
Scott Orn: Yeah. Coming out of college. Coming out of MBA.
Mike Barash: I would say … so you know, there’s a couple paths you can take. I think it’s good to start at an agency. You get some fundamentals that you probably need but consider whether a big name agency is something that you really should do. I think that bigger, older more traditional agencies can be really good and helpful if you’re the right kind of person to be there and you can have structure and you can learn, you could get stock too and you can kind of be shielded from client engagements for a longer period of time. So I think it really depends on what kind of a person you are trying to get into this field. If you’re somebody who’s very sort of confident, entrepreneurial and selfstarter, I would say go to a small shop where you can get exposed to a ton of stuff as fast as you can and make your own way quickly and then you know, after a few years, go try and get in-house somewhere. Go work for a brand or a startup and try and get some skin in the game because you might not win and the startup might go under or you might win big and then you’re kind of set. And it’s either way, you’ll learn from the failure and sort of see when I looked back on my career, this stuff that has taught me the most and that I think oh man I remember that learning is usually when I fell on my face or something bad happened at the company or it’s never like oh we had this huge easy funding announcement of $100 million from a name partner like that taught me a lot about X. That taught me that people are interested in important things. You don’t learn anything. But so I think you know, take some risks is what I’d say because when you’re in your early 20’s, like who cares?
Scott Orn: Yeah. I think people don’t always realize like your career can be very resilient. As long as you’re learning along the way, people love that and people do love people who take risk. Like they’re going to hire you.
Mike Barash: And also like don’t do PR. Go travel. Go take two years in travel. Whenever I hire people, everybody out there has travelled a lot. And I just think that …
Scott Orn: Is that just seeing the world or knowing how to talk to people? Or …
Mike Barash: I think it’s both. I think if you travel you’re a better person. Like you’re A, forcing yourself to get outside your comfort zone. You’re B, taking a risk, throwing yourself into a weird place and like thriving and people who have spent like a year in some place different are invariably just they take shit in stride. They go with the flow with stuff more and they’re just more worldly.
Scott Orn: Yeah. That’s really good. We actually let some of our team members work remotely for a couple of weeks. It just breaks it up for them and they do get the … one of our guys is in New York right now and he’s having a blast. But he’s also doing a ton of meetings and he’s getting out of his comfort zone. It’s a really good feeling.
Mike Barash: Yeah. Our people too like if they … they’re all over the place from time to time. It’s kind of like, okay, until … they’re usually the right kind of people but the people who aren’t the people that can handle that very quickly, sort of that becomes apparent.
Scott Orn: How do you manage like you have strong partners like I can tell you have a strong partnership with your co-founders, how do you manage bicoastal? What are some tricks you guys do?
Mike Barash: It’s really hard. We try to do team like all staff meetings every couple of weeks and then depending on interest, that will wane sometimes. There’s no substitute for face-to-face at a company that’s our size. It’s not like we have budget to just fly everybody back and forth so they can spend time together. But we do for client work, if there’s a client reason to be in another office, we encourage that all the time. And I think you know, we’ve had some issues that have come up with people just not knowing each other and then having 90% of their interaction be on email. So then it can get a little bit itchy. Like tone is not best communicated through email.
Scott Orn: I always try to get people to call each other.
Mike Barash: Yeah. Pick up the phone. Spend time with each other and then for the partners and I, we run … we have weekly calls that are a couple of hours to go over all of the accounts one by one and all the finances behind those and hours and people and you know, it’s a lot of work but it’s something that we’ve just sort of built into the way that we grew the agency when there were ten people. We did it that way.
Scott Orn: What’s next for you guys?
Mike Barash: I don’t know.
Scott Orn: You built an amazing company here.
Mike Barash: I think we’re just going to keep going. We all like what we’re doing. We like to work. We’re going to continue to grow. But we’re proud of what we do. I think we’re always trying to look for ways to just be better.
Scott Orn: You do do that and I respect that like it’s really fun talking to you about this stuff.
Mike Barash: Yeah.
Scott Orn: Tell people where they can find you. Your URL and …
Mike Barash: Yeah. You can find us at Our Twitter handle is also @CodewordAgency. We have offices down by the ballpark in San Francisco. We’re in New York on like 6th and 30th I want to say. For the Salt Lake audience, we’re at Thanksgiving Point. Salt Lake is up and coming actually.
Scott Orn: There are tons of Salt Lake City startups now. One of my friends is this guy Gavin is a seed stage investor.
Mike Barash: Gavin Christensen?
Scott Orn: Yeah.
Mike Barash: [inaudible 00:29:31] with that guy.
Scott Orn: No way? He was a classmate of mine.
Mike Barash: Oh no way?
Scott Orn: Yeah. Yeah. He’s a good dude. They’re doing well. Cool. You can just logon to the website. Can you give them your email address so they can send you?
Mike Barash: Check us out. You can hit me at
Scott Orn: And what’s your Instagram? So they can follow.
Mike Barash: My Instagram is mab2.0.
Scott Orn: Awesome and we’re both breathing a big sigh of relief today because Steph Curry’s knee is okay. You’re a big Warriors fan.
Mike Barash: Huge.
Scott Orn: What do you think? Do you think we can do it this year?
Mike Barash: Yeah absolutely.
Scott Orn: I think so too. Awesome man. Well thank you so much.
Mike Barash: Thanks for having me on.
Scott Orn: Really appreciate it. And again, Mike Barash, Codeword Agency. Thank you for spending time with us.
Mike Barash: Yeah.

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