Interview: Dan Simmons, founder of Populate

There’s certainly no shortage of marketing agencies in the world, although Cardiff-based Populate aims to differentiate itself from the competition by using social media to help SMEs grow.

Dan Simmons, who set the company up as Tide Creative in July 2015, is a true entrepreneur. Having taken the risks, his company is thriving and has just been asked to join the Natwest Entrepreneurial Spark scheme based at Central Square.

We speak to him about the growth of his agency and how he plans to dominate the world of social media over the next few years. He also offers some valuable advice for the next generation of business owners.

TD: Who are you, and what does your company do?

DS: I am Dan, and my business has actually just been through a rebrand. We are now proudly known as Populate (formerly Tide Creative). We are a specialist social media marketing agency, which basically breaks down into two things.

We offer a fully managed service for SME’s across the UK, creating content, growing your channels, engaging with your community and perhaps most importantly, integrating with your overall marketing strategy to grow your business online.

Our aim is to help businesses and organisations at all levels to form effective digital strategies that engage with the ever changing landscape of the online world. It is also important for strategies to incorporate offline assets in order to be effective.

TD: Why did you set the business up?

DS: The marketing industry is an extremely saturated one, and there are lots of agencies offering a full 360° service. However, more often than not, social media is an after thought. There was a lack of experts in the industry that had a proven track record with managing social media accounts effectively.

I saw a gap in the market for a dedicated, energetic and agile business to pick up the mantle. Alongside this, traditional marketing agencies that provide a first-class service are often out of the price range of SMEs – I wanted to provide a service that matched them on quality but was accessible for business owners with limited budgets.

In short, we identified a need and have worked to create a streamlined business that sets us apart.

TD: What problem is it solving?

DS: There are many businesses who are aware of the developments in the digital arena but do not know how to utilise them correctly and are seeking specialist agencies to guide them. We have created a solution that fits for both SMEs that are looking to outsource their social media management and also larger organisations that are in need of support with their digital strategy.

TD: What makes your business unique?

DS: We are a young, vibrant and energetic agency who were all born in the social media age. As a young business owner, it was important for me that I created an entrepreneurial environment, bringing on board the right characters to ensure each one of our clients gets fantastic value for their investment.

We’re not your typical agency. We work in an extremely close relationship with our clients due to the nature of our work, really becoming an extension of their business.

The average age here is currently 23, which gives us a unique selling point. We have all grown up during the boom of social media, and we’ve lived and breathed it throughout our whole lives which gives us an in built knowledge base to draw upon. From here we are able to delve deeper into what is possible on social media and push the boundaries for our clients.

I am also passionate about promoting entrepreneurship in others. We support each of our staff members if they have aspirations outside of the office, whether it is launching a product or writing a blog. We allow time each week for them to draw upon each others skills to develop their own idea.

TD: What’s been your biggest success, and biggest obstacle?

DS: As a young business, I think it is important to take each bit of success as a stepping stone. Over the last 18 months, we’ve had lots of stepping stones, from winning the Santander Spark Award, expanding our team and moving to larger offices to helping one of our clients over fund substantially via crowdfunding. We have also been asked to join the Natwest Entrepreneurial Spark scheme based at Central Square.

Obstacles occur on a daily basis and are something any business will have to go through. Any business owner needs to have the drive and determination to battle through. Perhaps the biggest obstacle I have faced so far is finding that illusive 25th hour in the day needed for the business to progress at a speed that fulfils my own desire for growth!

TD: Where do you see your business in 5 years’ time?

DS: 5 years in our industry is an extremely long time, who knows how the social media landscape will have developed! For Populate I envisage we will have stayed ahead of the curve, developed our offering to ensure all of our clients continue to be forefront of their industry and known for their online presence.

As a company, we will be the go-to agency for any SME looking to improve their social media, while also influencing what others are doing in the space with innovative and though-provoking campaigns.

Our offering is applicable all over the world and I see us growing overseas to facilitate the growing need for our services.

TD: What do you think of Welsh tech?

DS: The Welsh tech scene is booming. I have spent a lot of time around some of Wales’ finest innovators in the tech space, and there are some fantastic businesses being built here.

It’s an amazingly supportive community and one I am glad to be a part of. With the investment in to Cardiff city centre and spaces such as Tramshed Tech popping up. The region is growing and there is an exciting future ahead.

TD: Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?

DS: My journey so far has pushed me to the limit. It’s a tough old road and I think it is important for other hopeful entrepreneurs to know that. For me there is nothing that can replace hard work. Be prepared to work harder than your competitors, do your research and put everything in to your business.

I also think it’s important to try and surround yourself with other motivated people. You will push each other to succeed and there is a lot that can be learnt form each other.

Someone once told me, “give everyone five minutes of your time and who knows what you might achieve” – something that really resonates with me, be open to everyone, listen and learn.