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Member Spotlight: Steven Wong of Ready State

Ready State is a San Francisco-based investigative marketing agency that transforms brands from the inside out. The agency works with top notch clients, such as Google and airbnb, and they have major LGBTQ+ cred, given, in part, that their headquarters at 524 Union Street was recognized by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as having extraordinary value to queer history in the city. The building was San Francisco’s fourth LGBTQ Historic Landmark!

“As a gay founder, I’m deeply grateful for the freedoms we enjoy now,” said Ready State Co-Founder Steven Wong. “We wouldn’t be able to be who are today if it weren’t for the efforts of those who went in and out of these same doors before us.”

The site was home to one of the earliest lesbian bars, Tom Arbulich’s Paper Doll, from 1944–1961. The bar also had gay male clientele and was famed for its good value meals.

Ready State has its own claims to fame and is doing the site proud, as Wong here explains.

GGBA: What are the mission and values of Ready State?

Steven Wong: Ready State is a creative agency that helps our clients like Google, Lyft, Verizon, and Torani connect with their customers. We describe what we do as Investigative Marketing. Even with digital marketing, most brands take a spray and pray approach to advertising.

We think this is a huge missed opportunity, so we use cutting-edge technology to help our clients to listen to their customers and have conversations about what they really need from the brands.

Sometimes the answer is nothing, and that’s okay. The value is when brands find the customers that need them. We help brands to uncover these opportunities to connect by investigating what makes them tick.

GGBA: Why did you decide to create your business?

Steven Wong: I and Co-Founder Kabeer Mamnoon had leadership roles in a major advertising agency in 2013 when we decided to split off and found Ready State. We believed that marketing was ripe for a makeover and that the new generation of marketers like Google wanted to work with agencies that could sprint like a startup, so that’s what we created.

GGBA: Who are some of your role models, and especially those who helped to influence your agency?

Steven Wong: Silicon Valley circa 2010 was what inspired our formation. At that point, Dropbox and Instagram were still hot startups, and the traditional agency approach to marketing was antithetical to their “move fast and break things” attitude.

The startups had a huge appetite for marketing assets, but felt that simply going through the marketing checklist did a disservice to their brands and their customers, so we honed our approach to marketing with them, and carried that approach over to working with large clients too.

This means that we have to probe beyond the usual briefs. For Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), our managing editor sits with their research scientists to understand the research and also to grasp what inspires them to invent what they do. Then we turn these into richly visualized stories.

This also means that we test and learn through our campaigns. For Verizon we work together to come up with hypotheses about what their customers might be most interested in, and then we use what we call our “bionic workflow” to create a wide range of campaign creatives to learn what is the most effective.

GGBA: Why did you decide to join the GGBA, and how long have you been a member?

Steven Wong: We joined the GGBA in the fall of 2019. We were delighted but not surprised to discover that the world’s first LGBTQ chamber of commerce was right here in San Francisco, and were eager to take our official first step as a business to support the LGBTQ community.

As part of our maturation as a business, we have been developing our stance, policies, and certifications as a diverse business. Our diversity has made our work better. It has made us more resilient. And more creative.

That’s is why our team of writers, designers, and strategists has always come from the full spectrum of racial, sexual, and educational backgrounds.

GGBA: How has being a member of GGBA helped your business so far?

Steven Wong: We attended the GGBA annual luncheon this spring and had the opportunity to pitch on stage to a number of large corporations such as Comcast and Wells Fargo. At the event, we also met other members and have been able to leverage their services to support our business.

We were also honored to have been admitted to the first cohort of their CEO High-Performance Accelerator Program, which helped us to put a critical lens to our business processes and growth infrastructure, as well as to our executive presentation skills.

This level of advocacy for small businesses is exceptional in any context and inspires us to find ways to pay if forward in the future.

GGBA: Do you go to the GGBA monthly Make Contact networking events, which are now virtual? Have they benefited you and your business, and would you recommend them to others?

Steven Wong: The monthly networking events are a friendly and approachable way to learn more about the GGBA, meet their leadership, and network with other business owners. We strongly encourage everyone to attend an event to see if the GGBA could be beneficial for their professional goals.

GGBA: What other advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting their own business?

Steven Wong: It’s a bad time to try to launch a new business because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, if you are going to take the plunge, then I would advise that you be obsessive about the following:

  1. Product-Market fit;
  2. Business model;
  3. Being lean.

Check that you are building something that someone needs, and not just what you want to build. Then check again, and keep checking regularly to ensure that you have a real product, not just a hobby.

Make sure it’s a viable business. Make sure that your customers will pay for your business to be profitable, and keep testing their pricing sensitivity make your business as profitable as you want it to be.

And don’t get ahead of yourself; don’t spend future profits that you may never earn. Many people think they need that nice office, the designed swags, a team of employees. Sure, but don’t forget that every dollar that’s not going towards getting you more business is a dollar out of your pocket.

When you are a big success, don’t leave your community behind. Bring them along and find ways to give back.

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