Daniel Frye – RELENTLESSLY POSITIVE
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye, Photography by Nick Hook
We rarely self-promote at Grow Exeter, as our ethos is to shine a light on the huge variety of amazing people and businesses in and around Exeter. However, sometimes, it’s important to stop for a second, take stock and remember what an amazing, challenging and rewarding journey we have been on since launching last September.
So, on a recent balmy Monday morning, I took a stroll up to Exeter’s South St. Standard – a gem of a coffee house, bar and eatery – to meet with our C.E.O Daniel Frye who, along with his business partner Llew Nicholls, founded Grow Marketing Ltd (parent company of Grow Exeter) last year.
We had the pleasure of being joined by freelance photographer (and friend) Nick Hook, which always means that laughter, good food and beard-related discussion are never far away. And we weren’t disappointed as Nick’s friend Ben (one of the amazing chefs at South St. Standard) gave us a sneaky-taste of a new house-special – a delectable Grilled Sirloin, Chimichurri, Pickled Chilli and Aioli burger – which was one of the most taste-bud-pleasing experiences I have had this year.
Once we had polished that off (and after an impromptu rendition of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ by R.Kelly) a relaxed, laughter-filled and sometimes poignant conversation unfolded over a few more drinks and a stroll through Exeter towards Gandy Street. Bearing in mind that mine and Dan’s thirteen-year friendship is almost entirely built on dad jokes and a dark sense of humour, poignancy is a rare but welcome occurrence.
Our conversation particularly centred around the culture, ethos and vision of Grow Marketing, which we have so intentionally crafted and fought to protect. After all, who we are and the way that we do things is the only real thing that makes us unique. Pinpointing our identity and then confidently weaving it into the fabric of our business and clearly communicating it both internally and externally has been vital to our success so far.
So, after our first or a few coffees (it was a bit too early for a beer) we settled down for a chat.
Hello Mr Frye. Nice to meet you.
Dad joke number one Joff. That didn’t take long. Start how you mean to carry on I guess!
Ok. Let’s try and get serious for a second. Talk to me about the journey of Grow Marketing so far?
Honestly, it’s been the hardest-working year of most of our staff’s lives I think, as well as the most rewarding. As a very basic ethos we work very hard but have a lot of fun in the process. You spend so much of your time in life working and, if you don’t enjoy yourself, things get miserable very quickly.
Essentially, we started with an idea – to celebrate the growth story of Exeter and the surrounding region, particularly in terms of its business community.
We then took that idea to market and, with a relentlessly positive approach, have managed to engage with some of the regions most interesting, exciting and successful people and brands as a result.
The idea was welcomed with open arms by the local and regional business community as there was no other media organisation championing them and giving them an opportunity to capture and celebrate the variety of incredible things that are being achieved right here in and around the city that we all love so much.
We have been brave, bold and unashamed in our mission – to increasingly help to put Exeter on the regional, national and global map – and have built a dream team of amazing people to make it happen. We started with two people and how have a team of 15, each incredibly talented in their particular field.
That said, although it has been exciting, rewarding and fun, it has also been incredibly tough and tiring at times. As any person who has set up their own business will know, you are faced daily with multiple hurdles to get over and challenges to overcome. There have been a few difficult and dark days along the way but, thankfully, they have been few and far between.
Tell our readers about some of those challenges then, and how we have overcome them?
Well, one of the very first challenges that we faced was that we had several people from the local business community tell us that our idea wouldn’t work. Very kind of them to say so too! I think people’s preconceptions about printed media are such that they tar every publisher with the same brush. Also, other publishers had tried to launch business-related magazines in the city in recent years, but had failed, so some people thought the idea was a non-starter. Little did they know the levels of commitment and the unique approach that we would have and what that would enable us to achieve.
Someone recently said to us, “Grow Exeter isn’t a magazine. It is a movement, captured in a magazine!”. I actually think this is an excellent summary of us as a publisher.
Another challenge that we have faced is that, due to the positive vision that we have, we have attracted an awful lot of goodwill and it has been a constant challenge to turn this goodwill into commercial reward. Not that every good thing we do needs to show a financial return, but we are a business and can only continue to achieve the things that we want to in the region with the support and partnership of the business community that we exist within.
In terms of how we have overcome these challenges (and many more), one of our strong suits is that we are well experienced in taking calculated risks. When it comes to strategic, financial or staffing decisions, several of our Directors have years of experience in assessing, calculating and executing risky decisions. Risk is not an enemy to battle with, rather a wild animal to harness.
I suppose that links with one of the positive challenges that we have encountered, which is that we have an incredibly creative team who are never short of ideas. Seriously, there isn’t a day that goes by without someone having an idea which has the potential to be meaningful and impactful. The challenge has been working out which ones to give our limited time and money to and, then, backing it with our full arsenal of skills, resources, passion and energy. Our team has proven that there is nothing they can’t achieve when they put their mind to it.
So, tell our readers more about the vision behind Grow Exeter then?
Firstly, it’s important to point out that Grow Exeter is just one of our products at Grow Marketing, the parent company of Grow Exeter. The simple vision of Grow Marketing as an umbrella organisation is to make a positive impact through our products and services. We are also due to announce shortly some other projects and new publications which will have their own vision. Exciting times!
To come back to Grow Exeter though, the basic vision is to work hand-in-hand with the local business community, enhancing the business offering of the city and stimulating the continued growth of the city and region. We have intentionally encapsulated this all within the very name of the magazine. Grow by name, grow by nature!
That vision can be experienced or felt by every single person we interact with – whether internally or externally. So, the way that we treat our customers (both prospective and existing) and our staff needs to reinforce this vision.
Could you unpack what that term ‘relentlessly positive’ means to you and the Grow team?
We made an intentional decision from day one in our business to position ourselves as an alternative media source in the region, particularly by taking on the relentlessly positive approach that we have. It’s not that we are naïve though – we know there are significant challenges for the city and region to overcome (infrastructure, development, Brexit etc) but we would rather give a platform to the people who are trying to find solutions to those challenges than just be another negative voice in the media conversation.
And why did you choose Exeter as the location to launch this positive news movement?
I don’t think we chose Exeter. I think it chose us. It is a genuinely interesting, exciting and vibrant place to live and work. I mean, where else is there such an exciting and perpetual growth story? Where else can you work for leading (in some cases globally leading) firms, leave your desk and be surfing at the beach or walking in a national park by 6pm?
In terms of population vs impact, Exeter is punching way above its weight, but it is consistently proving that this isn’t a fluke. Exeter is a sustainably over-performing city.
More practically, the core of our individual business networks was in and around Exeter, so it made logical sense to locate ourselves here. Also, to put it bluntly, we saw an opportunity and took it. Other publishers had tried to launch business titles but failed and we were convinced that it wasn’t the concept that was flawed, but rather the delivery.
So, we went about creating a product (and more importantly a message) that filled a vacuum in the media space of Exeter.
And we’ve already been approached by multiple other cities and regional organisations to ask if we would consider launching Grow titles in other locations or for the region as a whole. It is something we are strongly considering in terms of our future strategy, but we won’t make decisions simply on the basis of growing as a business. It has to fit into our ethos and approach too. We’re only just getting started.
And could you illuminate our audience a little in terms of that ethos that you talk about?
Yes Joff. Yes I can…
We have five pillars that prop up our entire organisation and act as perfect filters for us to run ideas or decisions through before we move forward. They are Growth, Integrity, Value, Efficiency and Relationship. You’ll notice that the first letter of each word create an acronym – GIVER – a reflection of the fact that we want to be an organisation that gives rather than takes; that creates rather than consumes.
These are the five things that we use to measure our impact and success in business. And not just whether these five things are achieved for our business, but also whether we bring these things to the table for the businesses that we work and partner with.
And what about the culture of Grow? The daily expression of these values?
The culture of Grow is the stuff that the public doesn’t see. The stuff behind the scenes. How people are treated, how they feel and how hard we work.
Our people are our greatest asset and without them we are nothing. So, we treat them with respect, we give them the maximum amount of autonomy possible in their roles and empower them to own their positions with passion and pride. It is completely ridiculous to hire someone (i.e literally invest in them) but then not back up that investment with trust, support and empowerment. For example, everyone in our business has a voice. We embrace ideas from all corners of a growing team and some of the best ideas that we have had as a business haven’t come from the people with the most impressive titles. We are the sum of all our parts and every part is inherently valuable. So our people know that their skills and their personalities are greatly valued by the company.
We also have a very strong work ethic so, even though we have an absolute ball in the process, we work tirelessly to achieve our goals and objectives. And we don’t waste our time with pointless meetings!
And, finally, share with our readers some of the best advice that you have been given in your career?
There are so many. The first one that comes to mind was fairly recently, just before we set up Grow. Matt Phillips, the M.D of I.T Champion, said to me ‘Dan, whatever you do, don’t have a backup plan because, if you have one, you’ll revert to it.’ I have taken that to heart and not allowed myself the luxury or temptation of a plan B for Grow.
I think another piece of advice that I live by is not to live with regrets. They’ll chew you up on the inside. And finally, I’d offer one piece of advice of my own. Don’t wait to achieve your dreams. Make a start and just see what happens. It’s a leap of faith, but one you will never regret.
Thanks Danno. I think it’s socially acceptable for us to have a beer now. Mine’s a lager and you’re paying!