Diana Lee – Bootstrapping a Multi-Million Dollar AgencyMorgan Gertler
Diana Lee is the CEO and co-founder of Constellation Agency, an amazing digital platform that helps dealers who sell cars…sell them better. She’s going to share her story of growth and how she scaled growing her business in a tough, competitive market.
When Constellation Agency first started it was a digital media agency that was designed to serve dealerships. But in the last four years, it’s completely transformed into something totally different. Diana’s team ended up developing a software-as-a-service technology that now other agencies and holding companies are using to launch OEMs as well as other brands globally. It’s gone from a very one-on-one relationship dealer model to working with publishers and more.
SAAS and Marketing
Constellation Agency handles most of the digital advertising for over 1,000 dealerships across the country. This includes social learning pages, websites, and any type of creative assets. This platform acts as software-as-a-service that mass produces creative assets. And it could be creative for Facebook, Instagram, e-blasts and more. It integrates into any type of media as well as CRM tools and mass produces the creative for agencies, advertisers, dealerships, or anybody that’s actually trying to perform digital marketing.
“If we can make the customer go into a subscription model where they knew how much the price was instead of an hour billable model, then we could actually sustain this business model by making a subscription plan.”
Diana and her team realized that if they can have machines automate the basics of creative designs, then they can actually have their artists do higher functioning creative work, where they use more after-effects and animation. Basically, all the things that they went to school for and wanted to be engaged in.
Diana immigrated to the US from South Korea with her parents when she was just 5 years old. Her family lived in the slums of Philadelphia and her parents worked 15 hour days. They would leave at like five in the morning, they get home at like nine o’clock at night. Her parents were determined for her and her sister to have a meaningful life because they sacrificed their own lives to get to America. Like many immigrants, they brought their children for a better life.
While Diana was in college she applied to be a greeter at a local car dealership. Two weeks after starting they told her, “You’re a salesperson because there are too many customers in the showroom.” She didn’t know what she was doing, but she became a salesperson and did so well that summer that they said, “If you continue to go to school in the mornings from 9:00 to 2:00, you can work every day from 2:00 to 9:00 and sell cars. And so Diana did that for the next several years. By the time she was 21, she became a finance manager but had been planning to go to law school.
Succeeding with New Skills
And you might be wondering, (like us) what made Diana so good at selling cars, especially as a college student with no experience in sales.
Diana explained, “I think what made me special was that back in 1989, there weren’t many female salespeople and even fewer women of color. Like never mind having a female salesperson, but a woman of color, I was like the only one. The sad thing is, everybody could recognize me because there I was like the only Asian person selling cars at the time.”
So Diana continued her career at the dealership and moved up to become a finance manager. Then after that, she spent 13 years in the consulting space for the OEMs (original equipment manufacturer). Shortly after that, at the age of 47, her husband said, “If you don’t do it now, you’re never going to do it. If you don’t jump and start your own company now, you’re 47 years old, you’re not going to do it.”
Growing a Company
Diana found her co-founder and launched Constellation Agency. Within four years they became #65 in fastest-growing companies. In the first three years it grew over 4000%. They’re hitting up to 50 million in sales this year alone. They went from working with dealerships to working with agencies of record and holding companies.
“It has been a tremendous ride from just the very beginning.”
We wanted to know Diana’s secret sauce for such successful business growth. But she told us that it was mostly sheer grit. “We didn’t have any money, people think like we threw money at it. There was no money, we started with $22,000 at my co-founders, in his apartment.”
It was sheer grit in terms of how many hours they spent together to get it to go. It was the team’s collaboration and their undying desire to get it off the ground. They went on the road with a PowerPoint deck: there were no case studies, no campaigns.
Setting Themselves Apart
Diana spent 9 to 12 hours on the road going from dealership to dealership, asking them for money. And here’s the other part, this is the funny part, remember I told you we started initially as a digital marketing agency.
“I went in and I said, ‘You have a high density of Hispanics in the area, it’s 46%. Do you do digital marketing in Spanish?’ That’s where it started. Or in Korean, or in Chinese, or in Russian, or in Arabic. Because you know what, all those company owners, they did it all in English, but they forgot the other languages.”
Other vendors didn’t do it, there were no other companies doing it. So instead of going in and saying, do you do English-speaking ads, Diana went in and said something completely different.
Want to hear how other businesses found success like Diana? Check out more Smart Hustle interviews here.