From Reluctant Marketer to LatAm Inbound Powerhouse with Agency Owner Juan Carlos Hernandez

Episode 42 of The Verblio Show

What do a professional tour guide and the director of a marketing agency have in common?

As Juan Carlos Hernandez knows, both have to deal with plenty of unexpected bumps—whether it’s a girl on your tour “losing” her passport so she can stay in the country with her new boyfriend, or a global pandemic causing a 39% drop in your revenue. No matter the circumstances, though, Juan Carlos has found a way forward, and his agency Hint today is stronger than ever.

In this episode, he tells how Hint went from a two-man show to the largest Hubspot partner in Latin America, and the lessons he learned through a failed startup. He also explains how inbound marketing differs in Mexico versus the U.S. and shares his favorite slang term that gets completely lost in translation.

Guest-at-a-Glance

📛 Name: Juan Carlos

💥 What he does: Director of Hint, the largest inbound agency in Latin America.

🖱️ Find Juan Carlos on the web: Hint | LinkedIn

💡 Get smart: “Replacing people with software just doesn’t work.”

Top Takeaways

The value of failure 👉

Juan Carlos left his first agency to build a startup—a “micro version of Change.org” for local initiatives—which ended up failing. In the process, though, he learned plenty to take with him to his next endeavor, the inbound agency Hint.

“We learned so much about what not to do and what we were good at. It gave us so much learning and value for our customers when we built Hint because you don’t have to pay for the things we did,” he explains.

And it isn’t just customers who benefit from that learning. There’s a reason investors look for entrepreneurs who have failed in a previous venture. Having a failure under your belt means you’re bringing additional learnings and value to the table—and those are lessons you won’t have to learn on their dime.

International differences in inbound 👉

An agency owner in the U.S. once told Juan Carlos that go kart companies were his least favorite clients for doing inbound. Juan Carlos’s reaction?

“How the hell can a go kart company pay for an inbound strategy?”

In Latin America, pursuing an inbound strategy simply wouldn’t be possible for such a niche industry—the cost would be too great.

“The price of software doesn’t change through economies, but the cost of living does,” Juan Carlos explains. Hint and other agencies in Mexico and throughout Latin America have to help their foreign customers—and software partners like Hubspot—understand that difference. “The cost of a license could be the salary of a manager,” he says. “We have to do a lot more for what we’re paid for.”

Episode Highlights

Adventures as a tour guide

“I had one person that lost her passport on purpose at the airport on the day they were supposed to leave because she wanted to stay. So it was a mess—three more days of work, I had to lose my next tour and a lot of money because I had to solve that situation. I couldn’t leave her stranded. And everyone was mad at the girl because she kind of fell in love with a Mexican and she wanted to stay with him forever. So, yeah. Well, you know, we’re that way sometimes.”

His approach as a professor of advertising

“I was really passionate about it. I’m not a big fan of technology… I was more passionate about the fundamentals of the creative mindset, projected through the likes of Bill Bernbach or David Oglivy and trying to get my students to understand the value of a creative strategy and the creative mindset.

For my exams, I would have them analyze print ads as if we were talking about a work of art. So, I’d have them try to discover, what’s the underlying strategy behind this ad or behind this campaign, and what did the author or the creative person try to achieve with this? I didn’t focus so much on things that you could find on Facebook and Google, but pretty much just tried to make them think.”

How a UX design company got into inbound marketing

“We started to work with local software companies and it was great, but it was project-based work and we would feel that we would help them build great products, but then their marketing would suck and the products sometimes would not get that much attention.

So we tried to solve that last thing that they needed, and that’s how we migrated, reluctantly, to marketing. Because we wanted the product that we designed to be successful in the market—because our customers couldn’t do digital marketing, and it was worthless to have a great product without a buzz or meeting its market.”

From a two-man show to one of Hubspot’s most prestigious global partners

“The secret there is just doing better work than you’re paid for, and exceeding expectations on purpose. So if you’re paying me $10 for some project, I will do a $15 project. And the cool thing about that is you start small, but when people see that project and come to you and ask you how much was that, you say $15. And they hire you for $15, and you do work of $20, $25. And you try to exceed that until you get to a point when you’re pretty profitable and you get to hire more people.”

Agency as incubator

“We are treating our business like an incubator right now. Even though we’re only a 43 people company, we’ve rearranged our financial structure so every business unit that is composed of four to six people has its own PNL. It’s about having a mindset to make them grow and maybe have independent businesses in the future, and to know how to expand without acquiring agencies.”

From surviving the pandemic to thriving

“We had a lot of leads that were cold that didn’t listen to us at the time and didn’t want to hire us. They saw us as a ‘good-to-have’ service, but due to the pandemic, we became a ‘must-have’ service and they just came knocking at the door. Current customers revalued our relationship and said, ‘You just cannot leave us. We need you guys.’ And they bought more services from us.”

Top Quotes

🎙️ Juan Carlos:

[17:46] “People will tell you the best versions of themselves, but when you build something, you will hit reality.”

[21:45] “The secret is to do better work than you’re paid for.”

[34:03] “Replacing people with software just doesn’t work.”

[31:02] “I know to the percentage point what works and what doesn’t, and, for creative people, that is bliss.”

Learn More

Learn more about Juan Carlos’s favorite Mexican author Juan Rulfo and his novel Pedro Paramo.

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