After a week’s hiatus due to travel we’re back with the NI Digital Experts interview series. This week I interviewed Andy Hill, who’s been an industry friend of mine for years.
I first met Andy through the Digital Exchange networking group that helped me find my feet in Northern Ireland when I first moved here, and he’s been a constant source of advice and inspiration for me.
I credit Andy to a large extent with planting the seeds that led to my eventual decision to start my own business. His encouragement over the years helped me grow confident enough to take that leap, and I’ll always be immensely grateful for that.
Andy is a seasoned digital marketer and renowned throughout Northern Ireland as a true social media expert. Chances are you’ve probably Liked a page and commented on a post he’s managed.
So let’s hear it from Andy and his journey in to digital:
Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in to the digital industry: how did you discover the internet, and how you became so involved with it?
My name is Andy Hill and I run Dokoo Digital, we are a social media marketing agency who help clients build their brand online. My journey in the digital industry began after university when I started working in a marketing role for a manufacturing company. This was a fairly traditional marketing role and I spent most of my time travelling around Europe and the USA.
One of my favourite assignments was to help source a supplier to build our new company website. I loved this assignment and working with a web company I was captivated with online technologies, and from then I knew my career lay online (coincidentally Gareth Dunlop was one of the developers behind that site).
Around 2006 I discovered Google Adsense, and with a little knowledge set up basic websites in certain niches and made money from ad revenue. I was amazed when I saw my first cheque roll in and knew I wanted to learn more about how online worked. I started my first agency in 2007 which you can read about below.
Back when we were growing up, there wasn’t any sort of formal education in to digital technologies outside of computer science. You have a degree in Business Studies – do you find that your formal education has helped at all in your digital journey? If you could go back, would you choose to study the same subject, another subject, or skip university altogether?
I remember studying computer science for GCSE at Sullivan Upper school, this was 1995 and it was extremely boring! All we learned about was binary code and local area networks. When I went to university in Newcastle Upon Tyne the internet was booming, but, like many degrees at the time, there was very little teaching about the web and its potential in any of my lectures.
If I’m being brutally honest, I don’t think university really helped me understand what business was really about. Ironic really as I was studying a business studies degree. My biggest takeaway from university was making some lifelong friends and a lot of debt!
I had a job in a bar whilst at Uni and I often joke I learnt more from that job in dealing with people than I did at Uni!
What I did find useful were the Chartered Institute of Marketing qualifications. I studied these whilst I was working full time and would encourage anyone who has an interesting in marketing to look into these.
Like myself, you’ve gone through a number of in-house and agency-side jobs before you started Dokoo Digital. When did you decide that starting your own business was the right decision? Tell us about your journey as an entrepreneur.
I was made redundant from a senior marketing role in 2006, the company that I worked for was the sort of company that people worked for their entire careers. This never sat right with me and when I was offered redundancy I jumped at the chance and decided to set up my own advertising business.
I had no idea about setting up a business, and together with a business partner we managed to secure deals with NatWest, Three Mobile, and UNICEF in our first few months of business. The business went from strength to strength and I realised very quickly that I never wanted to work for anyone else. I never set out to be an entrepreneur but whenever I made my first money online I knew I could do this, and I loved it.
I have been running businesses for over ten years and it is one of the hardest yet most rewarding things anyone can do.
Why the name ‘Dokoo Digital’?
I was sitting at an awards event in London in 2013 and Dokoo had just launched, and a gentleman sitting next to me turned and said, “Dokoo, I like it, I take it you know ancient Greek?”
From my puzzled look he obviously knew I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about so he continued, “Dokoo means hero in ancient Greek, I take it you named your business after that?”
I replied, “I would love to say that was the case but the reality is I was struggling to come up with a name for my business and went on a domain registry. Dokoo.com was available for £200 so bought it and haven’t looked back.”
The gentleman laughed and said, “whatever you do, don’t tell the story again about buying the domain for £200, use the ancient Greek angle.”
In Northern Ireland you have a strong reputation as a social media expert. Like SEO, it’s a field that suffers from its fair share of cowboys and fly-by-night amateurs. How do you distinguish yourself as a true expert and manage to win your clients’ confidence?
If I had a pound for every social media expert I have met in NI I would probably have about £245 :-). It used to annoy me as many of these people did nothing but ruin the reputation of the profession but now I am a lot more mellow as I have noticed many of these people have been “found out.”
The reason I know that we are good at what we do as all we do is social media. Since the days of Myspace I’ve loved setting up online communities and most of the people reading this have probably commented or liked one of the pages I run, as we have in excess of 2 million people in our online communities (social media pages). My Facebook business manager causes people much amusement as I think at last count I am admin on over 250 business pages.
If people ask us to design a website, run an AdWords campaign, or help with SEO then we decline. We have probably lost a lot of work over our refusal to do these services but I truly believe that no company can be an expert in all things online.
I make a point of telling clients that I am on the board of the Chartered Institute of Marketing for Ireland as social media is a marketing discipline which requires structured marketing strategy to get the best results.
One thing that has always worked for us at Dokoo is world of mouth. Most of our clients refer us work, there is no better compliment that we are doing a good job. I recently worked out that over 90% of our new business enquires in 2016 came from word of mouth.
Tell us a bit about your hobbies outside of work; what do you enjoy in your life outside of the office?
I enjoy spending time with my wife Nicole and my one year old daughter Lily. I am an avid Northern Ireland football supporter and had an amazing time in France supporting Our Wee Country. I have also written a book that only close friends and family know about, It was even number one in Kindle’s free book chart!
Lastly, give us one website or app that you feel is vastly underrated and deserves a wider audience.
I recently changed to Vitality as my life insurance provider (exciting I know!) and they have a cool policy were if you walk for 7,000 steps 3 times a week you get one free cinema ticket a week and a free Starbucks drink. Now, this might sound gimmicky but since I signed up I have never been off the Vitality app and Moves app checking my rewards / step count.
Audible is another app that I love, with a young child in the house I find reading books a struggle at times, so when I discovered Audible I became addicted. I never thought I would listen to audiobooks but now I can’t go on any car journey without listening to a business book.
About Andy Hill
Andy on Twitter: @FollowAndyHill