How This 18-Year-Old Built a Million-Dollar Marketing Agency For Brands with “It”

What were you doing when you were 16? While many of us were just trying to survive high school, Joseph Reth was starting his own marketing agency. RethDigital is a creative digital agency that fuses disruptive storytelling and applied artificial intelligence for brands with “it” on modern media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. 

In 2020, the agency generated $372,220 in annual recurring revenue. This year, RethDigital redefined exponential growth by crossing $90,000 in monthly recurring contracts in July at a $1.1 million annual run rate.

Joseph developed his skills in storytelling, programming, and graphic design when he was only 10 years old. He started by creating his own wallpapers using Photoshop because he couldn’t find anything online that he liked. “From very early on, I had the belief that if other people aren’t doing it correctly, then you just have to do it yourself,” says Joseph.  

For this reason, he started his first agency Augment SEO in 2017. Joseph saw small businesses struggle with digital marketing and had a hard time connecting with their audiences. As a Gen Zer, he grew up in the digital space, and knew he could help these local businesses. But could it scale? Not if he were to do it as a freelancer, no. He needed to think bigger. 

The Strategy of Getting Scrappy

Since 2019, RethDigital has grown into a premier agency, working with major names like HBO, Comedy Central, Target, Whole Foods, and National Geographic on innovative marketing strategies. Staffed with a group of 11 culture-driven individuals, the agency has a deep understanding of its customers’ needs and ensures their brands reflect their style.

But it wasn’t always this way. When RethDigital was founded, it was very scrappy. Joseph says, “It was just me and a designer I had previously worked with at my first agency. We were doing cold emails, cold calls, and reaching out to everyone I knew in the industry. I was basically the account manager, the brand strategist, the social media manager, and so on – I was wearing all the hats.” 

How This 18-Year-Old Built a Million-Dollar Marketing Agency For Brands with “It”
Like many founders, Joseph handled everything in the early days of his agency, from account management to brand strategy.

Joseph focused on building a sophisticated website, with a sleek design and powerful copy, and a few strong case studies that showcased RethDigital’s potential. It was crucial that the agency’s branding was on point. Joseph argues, “Why would a company hand over the keys to their kingdom so to speak if that agency’s own marketing isn’t on par?” 

Once they started getting clients, the single focus was to exceed expectations. “At the beginning, we didn’t really have a mission. The north star was just to make clients happy, keep clients happy, and repeat,” says Joseph. RethDigital was working with month-to-month contracts at the time, so there was no obligation for the client to stay on. They had to deliver results to retain clients. 

Standing Out in a Row of Lemonade Stands

Besides RethDigital’s branding, the agency had to find a way to stand out among all the marketing agencies that offer almost identical services. Joseph shares, “As much as I hate to say it, agencies are a dime a dozen. The way I think about it is like a street full of lemonade stands. You’re walking by them and they all offer the same thing: lemonade. So, how does someone decide which one to pick?”

For RethDigital, that differentiator is their company culture. The company places a lot of emphasis on transparency, both internally and externally. Even though they are a private company, they release their numbers publicly on their website. “We build trust with current and potential clients by being vulnerable and extremely transparent, sharing who we work with and how we’re growing,” says Joseph. 

Joseph advises, “Even as a young startup, it’s really important to have these values established early on and have that foundation built. So that when people come into your lemonade stand, they’re like ‘Oh yeah, these guys are different.’” 

Transitioning From Hands-On to Big-Picture CEO

Reth Digital started growing rapidly and their strategic model of simply making clients happy didn’t work anymore. “My brain was focused on the hands-on tasks that needed to be completed and not necessarily on the big picture of where the agency was going. But that’s inevitable, really. If you’re a bootstrapped founder that didn’t get startup capital, you’re going to have to be involved in the day-to-day operations. And then at some point, you have to shift perspectives and become the big-picture CEO who guides the company.”

Along with this shift in mindset, it was also a challenge to adapt the company’s operating structure. “Hiring is a struggle because an agency is only as good as the team they have. With every new hire, we have to find people who align with the company’s goals and can perform at the same level as our current employees. We went from a two-person team to an eleven-person team in under three years and are currently in the process of hiring for another pod,” says Joseph. 

In the past year, the agency has been able to focus on building a skilled team, delivering an even stronger performance, and strengthening their brand. Going forward, RethDigital has big plans to expand in the tech and artificial intelligence space, distinguishing itself from other agencies even more.  

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Andrew Gazdecki
Andrew Gazdecki
Andrew is an award-winning serial entrepreneur with three exits. He’s the founder and CEO of MicroAcquire, the world’s most founder-friendly startup marketplace, and its rebellious child, Bootstrappers, which gives voice to the entrepreneurial underdog. When not building businesses, he writes for Forbes, Entrepreneur, and now, Bootstrappers.

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