an interview with:
Lee Matthew Jackson
Founder - Angled Crown / Event Engine / Agency Trailblazer (Podcast)
Name: Lee Matthew Jackson
Job Title: Founder/Co-Founder
Company Names: Angled Crown, Event Engine, Agency Trailblazer
Creative Sector: Digital
I spoke Lee Matthew Jackson about self-promotion and nailing that digital design interview.
Lee is the founder of two tech agencies: Angled Crown and Event Engine, plus a popular podacast for digital agency owners called Agency Trailblazer.
Obviously, the world is a little bit upside down at the moment and a lot of students will be graduating or going into their third years, wondering what to do over the summer to get a little bit ahead. So, we wanted to discuss what can students actively be doing for their careers at this moment in time?
*Watch the video here or on the Tern Heads YouTube channel or read extracts below.
What was your career journey like?
So, I didn’t stay in university. I’m actually one of those people who learns by doing therefore, an internship is pretty much the perfect scenario for myself because I can get in somewhere and learn what to do on the job and get real world experience. I’m not the sort of person that can be sat and taught from a textbook because I retain approximately zero.
I now run two agencies. One is called Angled Crown, which is White Label WordPress development company, and then the other one is called Event Engine, which is a platform for event organizers to be able to run their events online.
We have recently (due to current events) pivoted a little bit offering digital venues to allow physical events to move online and achieve the same or similar outcomes for our clients.
Over the years, I’ve pretty much accidentally built businesses, which has been wonderful and they’ve both been super successful, and nearly been catastrophic failures. It’s been a complete roller coaster running my own agency. But it’s also been, the most fun times of my life.
I have since gone back into education and done courses, et cetera, to upscale because I’m kind of an upside-down learner where I need to do a few things first, get the right interest for it, then I can actually get into it.
I imagine a lot of the people who are consuming your content, already have the interest and have already invested time in university, which I kinda wish I’d been able to do. So, I actually envy you if you are in that position because you can kind of hit the ground running in an agency somewhere.
Did you know what sector you wanted to go into?
I thought I wanted to get into IT at first because that paid well. The only way I could get in there was by becoming an IT intern. I actually went into the IT industry with zero qualifications other than I knew how to build a computer with Windows 98 on it, and the rest was taught to me and I worked my way up in that company.
After working for several companies, I was finally promoted to IT Manager, but I realised that I had this massive itch to be scratched which was creativity. I had spent a lot of time designing stuff on the side, building websites or designing stuff or creating games.
Clearly, I was not in the industry I was meant to be in. I was simply doing what I thought I had to. That’s my first top tip, I guess – Don’t do what you think you have to because of the money. IT paid me a lot of money but I’m a hell of a lot better off now, for two reasons: Number one, I’m happy. Number two, I’m also better off financially, doing what I love, which is perfect.
I came to a point as IT Manager where I was just so freaking bored. I was no longer allowed to go and do the IT stuff which was kind of interesting because I know how to manage teams, et cetera. And I was just, miserable and unhappy and eventually just had to pull the plug and say, “No, I’m done, I’m gonna go launch an agency.”
And thankfully at that very time, a couple of guys from an existing design to print agency were struggling with how they were going shift online and become a digital agency. So, I’m like, “Hey, hello. I’m a digital guy with zero experience in business, will you welcome in?” And they did!
They welcomed me in, I became a shareholder of the business and eventually became one of the directors and the rest is pretty much history for that company. We grew that from a predominantly print company into a digital product-based business – which is Event Engine as you see today.
How did the Agency Trailblazer podcast start?
Agency Trailblazer is a brand which I kind of spearheaded. I’m the face of the brand. And I’ve kind of become a mini brand in my own right with the beard and the hat and the hoodies.
I have grown a very large Facebook and listener audience from around the world by just showing up once a week on a podcast for the last five years. It’s a very surreal and weird experience but it has afforded me some of the most amazing opportunities to work with some of the biggest companies I’d never even dreamed of working with.
Would you encourage companies to take on interns and apprentices?
Absolutely. We are actually looking for our next intern probably at the end of this year now. One of our employees, Larissa, started as an apprentice five years ago now. She was age 17 with zero experience but she was obviously willing to learn. And I say zero experience, she played around, she’d been learning a few things at school on what she could be doing with regards to online development, et cetera. But very, very limited.
She could just do the basics, make a basic blog, and show that she had the ability to research and she showed that she had the ability to learn just by looking at some of the examples that she gave in her CV. I interviewed her, I asked the all-important question Marvel or DC? And she correctly responded Marvel, which is fantastic.
She got the job, pretty much based on that and also the fact that I got a good vibe from her that I knew that she was somebody who was interested because when I said, “Do you know much about the company?” She was like, “Yeah.” And then she just splurged out a whole load of stuff about our business, I’m like, “She’s done the research.”
So that’s a top tip, do the research!
I knew she’d researched us because she then started asking me loads of questions (another tip, ask loads of questions!). She asked a question about how we do stuff and how this, that and the other works and I was like, “She really wants to learn, this is phenomenal.” So, she came in and within a few short months she was already building websites from zero, which is amazing.
She actually came in on the first day with a book on HTML that she bought herself that had loads of bookmarks and notes and I was just like, “YES!”
She’s still here, she’s one of our lead developers, she manages other people within this company now, which is phenomenal. She’s just left to have a baby but when she comes back again, she’ll be helping me as we onboard the next apprentice and do it all over again.
We really believe as an agency, and I think a lot of agencies believe the same thing, that it’s actually really important to get somebody with the right character and the passion and the energy in rather than the expert, because the expert will come with a lot of baggage and preconceived ideas.
We had an experience when we were in a rush and we had the choice between bringing on an intern or getting someone in fast and it cost us thousands of pounds. A) to get that person in from the recruitment company. B) because the person came in with a massive attitude and they ended up not really doing all of the work and then they disappeared after a few months.
It was an awful experience, as opposed to the beautiful experience of onboarding Larissa and seeing her grow. And I’m seeing how loyal she is as well to our company, because she’s helped build it to where it is, because she’s felt a part of that. And we wanna do that all over again, with our next apprentice.
What can students start doing early to get them ahead in the jobs market?
Right now, if you’re in year one, if you’re in the early days, what you probably wanna start doing is creating lots and lots of content over the next year or so. So, as you learn stuff as you experience stuff, put that out in blog form or in video form, or in podcast form.
What you will be doing is showing up as you and showing yourself as a thinker, as a thought leader, as somebody who really cares and is really passionate.
If you show up to a potential interview with a catalogue of content that you’ve built over the years showing your passions, showing your personality, that is going to work way better than any sort of CV.
We actually send a link to our podcast for every big proposal that we have. I’ll say, “Hey, before we work together, if you want to get a little bit of a flavour for who we are, check out the podcast.” Because there are 300 episodes of content of me being an idiot. So, if you like that, then you’ll get that 🙂
That’s a great calling card. I think that will be very, very powerful for people who are looking to get into agencies or get a job because it’s showing that you have an interest, you have a passion and you have a voice. And those are very, very attractive attributes for any employer, you want somebody who is passionate, who is confident, et cetera.
So, I would say start working on that at least in year one and year two, you can even start doing it in year three, if you’ve not been, it’s just a really good creative outlet and it’s something that’s yours, and you will take with you wherever you go.
For example, I’m branding up Lee Matthew Jackson as the brand, which then transcends any business I’m a part of. I’m responsible for multiple brands and it’s actually quite hard sometimes to manage them all whereas if I can be there at the top, the brand, Lee Matthew Jackson, then people can just go off on any avenue they need to with me.
If you create that content, that’s not stuff that your future employers will ever own, that’s always a part of you. That’s your legacy and something that you can build up and you can continue to build up through the years, which means perhaps in the future, if you need to pivot, you’ve got something that you can fall back on.
How should students approach businesses for jobs?
When it comes to interviews, look for businesses you actually want to be a part of and contact them. Then when you message them, tell them why you want to be a part of their business. What is it about what they do that really, really appeals to you?
Send them your portfolio or your website link, or whatever you’ve got, that might illustrate your experiences and say, hey look, this is the sort of stuff I work on. I would love to be a part of what you do, because I really believe in your mission, I have a passion for X, Y, Z, and I would love to learn more from you guys.
You can butter up a little bit, I guess. But showing them that you’re interested in being a part of their business, being a part of their mission, being a team player and learning from them – that I would say is very important.
And then equally when you then come into the interview – remember, Larissa did all the right things – She asked all the questions, she’d already done the research. She was asking deep questions that were beyond questions I was expecting from an interview, which made her stand out from everybody else.
Everyone else was asking how many holidays they would get and what the pay was. She wasn’t interested in all that. She was interested in the plan for the podcast. Were we launching a YouTube channel? Are we doing a blog? and coming up with ideas.
Having those types of conversations and asking those probing questions, but equally showing that she had done her research.
What interview tips would you give to creative students?
One of the most effective things is to speak their language back to them.
As you become immersed in whatever online content they have, speak that back to them, speak in their language. We do that with clients.
Larissa was doing that with me as well. You could tell she had listened to the podcast because she had mentioned that she loves how I’ve got this passion for helping people love what they do and fall in love with their business. She’d mentioned it off the cuff during a conversation and I was just like, “This is great.” I kept it cool, obviously. I didn’t wanna look keen, but I’d already made my mind up halfway through the interview that this was going to be the girl for the job.
What are your apprentices doing in the company now?
Nowadays, Larissa is still building websites but a lot of the time, she’s actually helping me with strategy. She’s helping me with content, she’s helping me with designs. She came in as a developer, she’s now become a designer, because I’ve freed her up to do that and to pursue the passions that she believes she has.
She’s now designing stuff as well. She’s doing catalogues, we launched an event last year. So she’s done branding for the event last year and again for the event this year just before she left for maternity leave, and cracking out some amazing content because we’ve just given her that freedom, because we recognized in her that there is a bundle of energy and an excitement and somebody who’s really bought into our mission.
If I can free her up as much as I can to have that freedom, I know she’s going to blossom and come up with more crazy cool ideas, which she does.
What should you NOT do in an interview?
Don’t not be yourself.
Seriously. I’ve shown up to many interviews being fake Lee because I think I have to be professional and all of that other stuff and then they have a shock when I actually get the job and I joined the company because I’m clearly not like that person.
Don’t be fake, be yourself. Because if you’ve gotta play a character for the next few years, it’s just awful. So, it sounds so cliche doesn’t it, be yourself. But it’s so freaking true! Be yourself.
Don’t be an idiot, don’t be immature like you would be with your mates and all that sort of stuff. You can still be professional but relaxed, have humour and be interested in stuff.
But be your engaged self rather than the professional or whatever you think they’re looking for. Because when you turn up somewhere not as yourself, you will potentially attract people who you’re not going to vibe with anyway, if that makes sense.
If they like the fake you, you’re probably not gonna like them. And we find that within business, so for myself, I used to show up in a suit and tie and I’ve got old videos of me going, “If you’re a design agency who creates great quality design, “but you get stuck with your code, look no further.” And I’m there in a suit. I’m not even moving my arms because I’m trying to be Mister Super Professional. And we attracted businesses that were quite hoity-toity, super professional, miserable emails, rude, arrogant, always chasing us for stuff, because I was attracting that sort of clientele, because I was showing up in a manner that they found appealing.
I have a conversation with my clients just like I’m doing with you right now, in this room, with this hat on. Sometimes a hoodie (a lot of the times a hoodie ’cause it hides the lockdown fat) But I’m showing up as myself, I’m attracting people who just like to have fun and they all have a shared mission. And they know I freaking well care and I’m gonna do my damn best. So show up as yourself, because otherwise you’re going to get stuck in a job you hate.
What can young creatives do in their spare time to get ahead?
I would recommend listening to the Agency Trailblazer podcast because if you’re looking to get into agency life, there’s nothing better than listening to a podcast like ours.
It will help you understand what’s important to agency owners.
For example: lead generation, niching and understanding who it is they serve plus all sorts of really important topics because you can re-purpose that for yourself for when you show up to these potential jobs.
It will allow you to show a level of understanding of how agencies work and what’s important to them. That will help you be attractive to potential employers