Go figure, the guy who started a New Media Agency 11 years ago has always been a hustler. From buying, repairing, and reselling computer systems, to hosting websites for his favorite hobbies, and building businesses, our fearless leader Mike Donato has had an eye for opportunity his whole life. I sat down with the President, Founder, and Lead Strategist of Helix House and asked him all sorts of questions. We started by talking about how he went from building websites for early FPS gaming to running a top New Media Agency. Without further ado, let’s get to it! (Buckle up! It’s a doozy!)
Phewwww. Ok. You ready for the long story?
Technology, in general, is something I’ve been interested in going way back. As a kid, I’d buy pallets of non-working computer systems and use the parts to rebuild working computers which I could resell. I would do that over and over again.
That lead me to build websites which eventually lead to web development. I combined that with my second hobby, gaming, and started making gaming websites. I actually came out with one of the first ranked leagues or ladders for some of the popular FPS games at the time.
Soon, I realized I could make money with these websites by selling ad space. That is when things really took off.
When I was 19 I got into the restaurant business, built a website for the restaurant, and started doing SEO for the restaurant site. Soon, I realized I was enjoying that portion more than food service. I was essentially working at the restaurant during the day, and going out on calls doing computer service repair work at night. The computer service work just seemed to grow on its own without much effort while I was killing myself in the foodservice industry. It just became obvious which direction to head.
My first big break after that was landing a contract with the Arizona Department of Transportation. They had us review their client grant applications through ADOT. A big part of that process was development and marketing work. Incredibly enough, we still do work for them today, over 15 years later!
Pretty soon, I left the restaurant industry and went full time into advertising, specifically digital and SEO. After that, we launched our first office in Tucson and grew from there.
See, that’s a tough one because each of those sales is somewhat different, right? I don’t even like the term ‘sales’ in general because we really don’t do sales. The way we function is to lean more toward strategy and getting to understand a client’s current challenges are and building out a way to meet those challenges.
First, we dive deep, taking a look to figure out exactly what is going on in the business by jumping into data and reports. Then, we figure out the most immediate areas of opportunity, where can we show the most growth in the shortest period of time. A long term strategy starts taking shape from there, where we look 6-12 months into the future to grow and expand.
So, you know, while each strategy has a very similar structure, we need to understand the current challenges a company is facing as well as what their goals are for the future, where they want to go, at that point, each strategy becomes quite custom.
Yeah, that’s how it always initiates. Nobody would pick up the phone and give us a call unless there was some type of challenge they were trying to overcome.
Every single company is in a different starting point, they have a different path that would lend to the most efficient way of accomplishing or achieving their goals and each of those series of goals is different too.
So, at that point if there wasn’t a difference it would be more of ‘This thing could potentially help you, or this one thing we do is the solution for you,’ instead of ‘here’s the specific challenge, here are the items that can solve that challenge for you, here is how we would execute those and here is what you could expect as that execution is moving forward.
I think there are two main areas. If a client hears themselves saying the words, ‘I need more…’ this desire for growth, whether because they are not receiving the volume they need to survive as a business or because they have specific growth objectives they are working into.
Outside of that, one that is becoming more common for us is, ‘I know things are working, but I don’t know what things are working.’ That’s something New Media can answer. The beauty of New Media is that you can track everything down to its finest points. You can tell all the way from an initial search, how that was generated, all the way down to what ended up, what the end result of that initial interaction was. Whether it was a sale, a lead, a drop-off, or whatever it is, you can track someone all the way through the process.
My days are really a mix of quite a few things. Primarily, my time is split into three major categories: business operations, client interaction or customer service, and generating new business through strategy.
Of course, there is a ton, a ton of work that goes into each of these categories from discovery meetings to strategy sessions to reporting calls to all the major work that is required to keep the business running smoothly from an operational standpoint. Between all of the different hats I wear, no day really looks like another.
I think there are two main areas which give me the most satisfaction. One is just the general challenge. Running a business takes a lot of effort, a lot of energy, a lot of knowledge, and a constant commitment to growth – especially in our industry where things are constantly changing.
So that generalized challenge where there is always something we can be improving, it fits very well with me as the type of person who needs to be constantly moving.
The other end that I really love is that we literally change peoples’ lives. Our campaigns change the face of people’s businesses and their lives and I just think that that’s amazing. I just had a conversation with one of our clients and he was saying “A year ago at this time you were talking to me about how much was going to change over the next 12 months.” And what do you know, that came true. In that intervening year, his whole business has changed, his schedule, his travel, everything! His entire life is completely different than it was a year ago and now we’re talking about the next steps. So you just think how things will look a year from now, and then in 5 years, and in 10.
I just find it really interesting to think about and look at when you take that different perspective.
You know it’s so interesting, I think most of us start with this goal of global domination. You want to be this behemoth, this giant – I wanted to dominate the industry and I wanted to dominate the world. As I have become more seasoned as a business owner, I have developed a different perspective. Instead of wanting to dominate the world, I care more about having a positive impact on my community, and for me, that means my coworkers and clients.
Right now, I’m really enjoying seeing the team we have built at Helix House grow, evolve, and come into its own. If I can continue to support and empower that growth, then that’s exactly what I want to do. I want to see Helix House providing a great culture and a great environment where people can come in, do the things they love, and support themselves by doing so. I want people to have safety and security in their jobs, and the empowerment to be able to take as much ownership as they feel is right for them. I want to build an environment where people can grow and to make their lives better. I think that’s really more of what it’s turning into for me, a vehicle for comfort and happiness, because that’s really what it truly can be. I think we lose sight of that or we miss that in the beginning and as time goes on you realize that’s honestly more important than those other things.
Whatever specific deliverables or production aspects those things will fill themselves in there, I think if you are clear on what you want it to be in people’s lives – my life, the employee’s lives, clients’ lives what place you want to fill, the rest will fall into place.
One of the biggest things I see is that everyone is looking for the ‘secret’. The reality is there is no secret! The only way that these things work is if you put a lot of effort and energy into them. That’s from a company standpoint where we put energy into production, and from a client’s standpoint where they need to put energy into their own business operations while actively taking part in our partnership…. Those two items coming together make a successful campaign.
There’s no switch, no secret out there. You need to actively and attentively put energy towards a goal – that is the closest thing to a secret that I have. The ‘real’ secret is hard work from both ends gets you the results.
The search for comfort, if that makes any sense?
I feel like we are taught or told, especially as entrepreneurs and business owners, that the harder you work, the more you sacrifice, the more successful you will be. We hear so often that success needs to be difficult. That the struggle is necessary to accomplish great things. The longer that I’ve been doing this, the more I’m convinced that that isn’t the case.
When I look at improvements, it isn’t just about making things better, it’s about how do we do this more effortlessly, with more comfort and more ease.
The inspiration is that success doesn’t need to be a struggle. There are clear and simple paths out there. We can improve by doing things effortlessly, with more comfort and more ease. That’s one of those things that does keep me moving every day.
What I am always chasing is the feeling of… everything clicking into place. Comfort doesn’t mean working just a few hours a week or having a small volume of work and an easy life. As an organization, as an entity it’s about finding… rhythm. It’s about all of us being in alignment and on the right path…
Almost like, ‘belonging’
Right! Getting to a place where the company provides everything it can to the staff, and the staff is in the right space, doing the right things that feel good and rewarding to them. When all of those things are in alignment, you could work 20 hours a day, and sure you’d be tired, but it wouldn’t feel like shit.
I’ve been watching just brainless stuff recently.
Old action movies, Marvel movies. A bit of an 80s binge lately? Watched War Games on Prime and went down that kind of path.
My bucket list exclusively travels. One of the big things I want to accomplish in life is… I feel like we end up experiencing so little outside of our microcosm – the things we are directly surrounded by, the people we know, cultural influences, media, it’s completely different here than it is for anyone else. I want to stack as many cultural experiences as I can before I kick the bucket.
India, Nicaragua, Nigeria
I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’d probably haunt Alona.
One question I do not hear enough of is “What’s next?” The beauty of New Media is that there is always opportunity for growth. Most companies, once they start receiving results, check off the digital box and move on to their next objective. While in more traditional forms of advertising this method is tried and true, the myriad of digital advertising platforms paired with an almost limitless audience base, means the scale opportunity for business using digital is enormous.