New Queenstown local Ryan Mitchell wants Do Good Things to be the incubator for an exponentially growing tech scene.
Ryan Mitchell, founder and director of Do Good Things, has a lot on his mind. In a quick half-hour chat, we heard about the snap decision that saw him leave Auckland, the beauty of starting over, the simplicity of running Craft CMS on Cloud Containers, and the exponential change that Do Good Things is going to help bring to Queenstown. Here are the edited highlights.
SiteHost: Let’s go back to before Do Good Things began. How major was the pandemic in your origin story?
Ryan: I was living in Auckland, where my work was mainly on the marketing side of things rather than the tech side. My clients were small-to-mid sized businesses, and when Covid happened, it literally felt like the world was ending. Service providers’ ad spend went down to almost zero, and almost the only work coming through was for Covid pop-up notifications.
I’d decided to sell up and move to Melbourne but, you know, Covid. Winter was pretty miserable up in Auckland so, screw it, let's go to Queenstown! A week later, I drove to Queenstown and became a consultant. My wife quit her job and came down about a month later. We’re pretty lucky that we could do that. There’s a lot of opportunity down here.
What was it like restarting as a solo act?
Ryan: My background is in marketing technology, so I'm good at SEO, Google Ads, that sort of thing. I had a track record I could use to earn some cool clients. I thought I didn't want to become an agency because I was over the agency vibe, but I realised that a lot of the decisions you make at the start dictate the next 5-10 years. It's good to start fresh and run with what you’re good at.
It was just me last year, in a shared space called the Mountain Club. Now we’ve got a team in our own studio, and it feels permanent.
How is the local digital or tech scene in Queenstown?
Ryan: It’s massive, and it’s growing. It’s at the start of an exponential curve, literally. There's a lot of investors, but not a lot of people to do the work. A lot of the brains, not a lot of the doers.
Where are you finding talent as you build up your agency?
Ryan: I've got Liam, my cousin, next to me. He worked with me at my other agency too. We’ve hired a CTO, Robbie, from Christchurch - he’s remote at the moment - and we're looking to get a design lead and another dev on board soon.
It's definitely hard to get talent in Queenstown. I go to a recruiter and pay the fees. He does the job, and he's really good. He screens everyone, I trust him, and I get good people. It saves me mucking around.
Not many people get to start at an agency with only a few websites. People often come into agencies when there are already 100 sites - Silverstripe, WordPress, Craft, and Shopify all segmented and in different repos - stuff just everywhere. A lot of devs are like, “I worked at a big agency, but I was stuck fixing an old PHP site for two months.”
"Once we’d decided to go with Craft CMS, I found SiteHost, and it made my life literally about 20% easier."
So can you promise developers easier, more productive workdays?
Ryan: Developers won’t be walking into a minefield. All of our builds are going to be on point. That’s why we’ve got Robbie in a senior role. He smooths it all over, then we can have a succinct system that's going to be built on Craft CMS, all using SiteHost.
It's a matter of finding good people, getting them in, growing this dev team, and then just feeding the backs, bro! I want to manage multi-site really easily. There’s a couple of things we’re cooking up for that. It’s all happening.
How do early decisions affect the amount of technical complexity you end up with?
Ryan: I learned from my first agency, where I was the architect on the tech side. We were using AWS, Azure, Plesk and so on, and we had WordPress, Craft and Silverstripe sites. But then we made a decision to just roll out Craft. None of the Craft sites we were running were broken, whereas WordPress was constantly going down.
Once we’d decided to go with Craft, I found SiteHost, and it made my life literally about 20% easier, maybe more. It took a couple weeks to get my head around containerised stuff, but it made things so much easier.
Is there anything you don’t use Craft CMS for?
Ryan: Craft just ticks all the right boxes for the way that New Zealand and Australian agencies work, I guess. We use it for anything that's not eCommerce. There are use cases for Craft Commerce, like stores with one or two SKUs.
Shopify’s great for a lot of retailers, but it has psychologically conditioned people to Shopify checkout flows. There are customer experiences, like stores with smaller SKU counts but high ticket items, where that flow falls short.
Can you find many developers with Craft experience, or are you bringing on people with other skills to build on?
Ryan: The transition to Craft is quite easy for most developers. But since we use headless technology, we actually just hire React developers. In Craft, you can do 80% of the work without writing any code, which is freakin’ phenomenal. As long as they know GraphQL and can write those queries, anyone can go into Craft and create the entry blocks. We create custom Craft plugins to introduce advanced logic, and that’s when coding really comes into it.
We're heavy on React because we're componentising and modularising everything, all of our design systems, everything. Plugging it into Craft is the easy part, especially with SiteHost and not having any IT management that you need to do. It's beautiful.
You have clients here and around the world. Does the distance between you and the client make any difference?
Ryan: In some areas, it might, like if we need to hold workshops. But we’ll just fly to Sydney or Auckland or Christchurch if we really need to.
We put some of our bigger clients into a Slack channel and work with them like we're part of the team. There's not that agency ‘brick wall’ where it's going to take a week to meet with your account manager. We get things sorted fast.
When you work so closely with clients, how do you help them understand their role?
Ryan: If they've got a marketing team or manager, we know we'll be plugged in quite easily. If it's an owner-operator, some people just want a website that sells products. There’s still a human element, but the solution is not as hands-on. We work out which category each customer is in during the pre-sales process.
How do you get your bigger clients to trust you with everything from search marketing right through to the website itself?
Ryan: You’ve got to build it up. If I was a tradie with a toolkit, then marketing technologies, SEO, Google Ads and so on would be my thing. That’s what gets me in the door.
So you start on PPC, run it for a couple months, then you talk about conversion optimisation, running Hotjar, maybe redesigning the website. Of course, not every account is going to be profitable straight away. But once you've proven that you can do it - that you can pull these levers and it's working - that’s when clients are like, “let's do this!”
It comes down to the screening process as well - we’re not a demand generation agency. We’re about performance marketing and building web assets. We don't do creative content that drives initial awareness through Facebook. We're here for when you've got all that stuff in place and need to optimise it.
"We're positioning ourselves to be the tech incubator at the start of the exponential curve in Queenstown. There are plenty of VCs, plenty of money. We’ll be like a launchpad."
Do your clients typically understand those different marketing jobs, or do you find yourself explaining it a lot?
Ryan: I’m like a beacon repeating that all the time. Some clients already get it, generally the ones with marketing teams.
If we're talking about an owner-operator who just wants it done, then ideally, our role is to build the site, sort the hosting, manage the Google Ads campaign for two or three months, and then just check in every quarter as things run. It doesn't take too much - they could be spending under $1500 a month. If it isn’t working after a couple of months, something fundamentally needs to change.
Once we know that this thing can run itself, Google just sends us alerts if you've overspent or anything. Then you’re responsible for your paid social and Google Ads unless you want us on retainer. And if you want a new feature on your site, we bill the hours and build it. That's probably 50% of our clientele, maybe 60%.
How does your relationship differ with larger-scale clients?
Ryan: Our bigger clients have marketing teams who are always testing stuff and just constantly going. There, we collaborate, and I'll come in from a high level, almost like an unofficial board member in the marketing team. I'm honest as well - you can definitely find performance marketing resources that are way cheaper than us.
With Brand Developers Limited, a big network of brands like Thin Lizzy, I came in as a PPC consultant and reskinned all their accounts, which took hundreds of hours. Now they've got an internal person who's managing that. We focus on big-picture strategy things and the levers we can pull instead of split-testing an ad or rolling out negative keywords.
That same sort of blueprint comes in for other big customers too.
How will you make sure that Do Good Things stays equally effective for two very different types of clients?
Ryan: We're in a phase of growth at the moment, so it's a matter of building the team. Over the next 3-5 years, we’ll be about 70% tech and design, with a strong marketing arm. React is scalable across all devices, and Craft CMS can run apps for 2000 concurrent users, so we’ll use GraphQL for that stuff. Marketing tech will be for a select few because it’s harder to scale out.
If you think about people who make great sites, like Ghost Street for instance, or Little Giant [now Isobar] back in the day, they were so good because they merged everything together - design, development, and marketing. And they did it quite synchronously. More niche design/development agencies might do a really good job of making an app, but not when it comes to the performance marketing side or the business overlay side - like cash flow forecasts and governance.
Or look at what Fergbaker has done. Ferg owns the bakery, make the bread, and they sell it on their burgers. They own that whole supply chain.
So what would the tech equivalent of Queenstown’s famous Fergburger look like?
Ryan: Where we are, a lot of people have ideas that no one can deliver on. It’s a matter of formulating the team and structure so we can be the incubator of ideas. We're positioning ourselves to be the tech incubator at the start of the exponential curve in Queenstown. There are plenty of VCs, plenty of money. We’ll be like a launchpad.
I feel that Do Good Things has been mapped out not perfectly but as perfectly as possible to mitigate risks that agencies come across. That’s why we’ll eventually act as an incubator for Queenstown. This place is going to change so much, and we’re just at the start.
We’ve got an opportunity to take a lot of market share before tech giants like Google or Apple turn up here saying, “we need resources”. Okay, maybe that's more like a 10-year thing!
Is it easier to make big plans in the early days of a new agency?
Ryan: Yes, but it's been a long journey. After coming to Queenstown I don’t want to end up five years down the track just going along with good revenue, okay tech and so on. That’s not for us. We’ve got the chance to make everything align right, and we’re cooking up something really cool.