Matthew Kearney Of Leading Response: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Service-Based Business

Charlie Katz
Nov 30, 2021 · 9 min read

Lastly is data, and not just data for the sake of it, but information that can be curated, scrubbed and analyzed to help make informed decisions. You have to make so many decisions these days; you can’t afford to make the wrong ones, so you need good data.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Kearney, CEO of LeadingResponse.

Matthew has a passion for technology that can drive growth for clients, shareholders and team. He has 20 years’ track record of successful leadership at Screenvision, Daily Mail Online, Talent Partners and now LeadingResponse and he has also held board and marketing technology advisor positions with Telenor ASA and Rock Holdings Inc. Not-for-profit board positions have included BAFTA and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Today, in addition to being LeadingResponse’s CEO, he has board positions at GSTV LLC, Priority Technology Holdings Inc and American Financial Education Alliance. He holds an MBA from London Business School, a BSc in Aeronautical Engineering from Manchester University, and CEng from the Royal Aeronautical Society.

He has joint UK/US citizenship, lives in New York City with his wife and two children and loves to get home to Liverpool to see family and Everton FC whenever possible.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Two years ago, I took over as CEO for LeadingResponse, a leading performance marketing company dedicated to enhancing customer acquisition for clients across the country.

Before joining the company, I led, grew, and successfully sold several companies since moving from London to the US in 2002. I grew each company by fostering a strong culture and using robust technology while heavily focusing on client success.

When I was approached to run LeadingResponse, it was the perfect opportunity at just the right time. I was involved with several boards at that point in my career, but I was ready to get back in the CEO saddle.

What excited me most about LeadingResponse was the business had been created through a series of acquisitions. Each had its own identity and ways of doing things, and I recognized it as an excellent opportunity to create something way better from the sum of the parts.

Since I have been here, we have been transforming the siloed acquisitions into an overarching brand by pooling the teams, processes, technology, and data. This allows us to create a culture and operation that is cutting edge for the mission. We connect people with a need for professional help in areas of real importance — their or their family’s physical or financial well-being — with the high-end lawyers, wealth managers and healthcare professionals they need.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

There’s been a series of them. One of our most exciting “aha moments” came from our new Consumer Data Platform (CDP). In a typical year, we are contacted by millions of consumers seeking professional advice. So, we harnessed and packaged this data in a secure centralized database, the CDP, to help us better predict the needs of those consumers as well as their responses to different types of outreach from us — emails, letters, social media, paid search.

What this revealed was that LeadingResponse has more than 7.5 million personal data records including behavioral, transaction, and demographic, and socioeconomic data points. This is a huge asset and will play a big role in our continued growth.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I feel very comfortable here in the US — Americans and Brits really are cousins — but I still regularly get caught out by national and regional differences. The first time someone tried to greet me with a hug was onstage at a live event. I recoiled at the invasion of my body space causing a massive outburst of laughter!

I have also learned to be more direct. In the US, I don’t have to precede everything with “would you possibly consider” and I’m trying to delete the word “actually” from my vocabulary. I have also developed a variety of techniques to change the topic of Monday morning conversation away from sports that I neither follow nor understand.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?

LeadingResponse was born out of three separate companies, and six months after I joined as CEO, we purchased a fourth one. But this time, instead of leaving it separate like before we integrated the company straight away. That was a massive leap forward, and we were able to pool resources, share best practice perform as a team way faster.

We integrated the other companies shortly after. Today, we’re one company that speaks with one voice.

What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?

You have to be consistent and authentic. How we articulate our culture is the same across every medium: emails, conversations, video conferences, and so on. This is massively important, and it takes time to develop those values and the vocabulary to express them succinctly. At LeadingResponse, the executive team believes strongly in transparency and collaboration. But you can’t just just say it. You have to live it. So we have created steering committees that are across disciplines and departments that are focused on specific initiatives. This ensures that we have employees working together across the organization. For transparency, we hold quarterly all-hands Town Hall meetings where I present the quarterly financials and departmental updates. We close the meeting with a Q&A session, where every single question is addressed. These questions are contributed anonymously through a survey link that is sent out weeks before the call. This enables employees to see that any and all concerns will receive a response. I think this goes a long way in living up to our value of transparency.

Additionally, I would say of all the communication routes, the most important is our website. Our customers and employees view it. It’s also viewed by people who might want to apply for a job and by bankers and investors.

Because of this, we pay extra attention to it. Our shared culture and values are constantly evolving and improving, and our website is the real-life embodiment of that.

Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?

One of the things that makes an effective leader is passion. You have to enjoy what you do, and you’ve got to be passionate about providing the best possible service to your customers.

During the pandemic, this principle has become even more critical than ever before. Our work and home lives blurred, and the idea of clocking off is consigned to the past. The people who aren’t passionate about their jobs struggled way more with these changes than those who enjoy their work.

With that said, if we’re going to pull a positive out of the last 18 or so months, I think the overall work/life balance, particularly in the US, has improved. Thanks to new flexible work environments, we’re all better able to find balance, allowing more people to enjoy what they do, be free to work where they want, and to a degree when they want.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

One of the most challenging days that stands out was March 16, 2020. Over the weekend, COVID-19 had triggered the first lockdown. Lockdowns dramatically impacted over 50% of our revenues.

Cancellations were coming in because in-person, face-to-face meetings are essential for our customers to connect with their audiences and build trust. It’s an integral part of our mix, and suddenly in-person appointments and events stopped. We had to respond to that as a business and counsel our customers.

We had to lay off a lot of people shortly after lockdown started. Revenue has returned and everyone is back now — which we vowed would happen as soon as possible — but that was one of the most challenging periods I’ve ever faced.

So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?

Looking back, I think our team at LeadingResponse is emerging from the pandemic stronger than before. The team spirit created as a result of the urgent need to react was phenomenal, and I think it strengthened our culture enormously.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Understand your client. Have regular conversations, even the tough ones, so that you can dig into the pain points they’re experiencing and how your partnership can help solve them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve had several mentors throughout my career including now, but one that I’m very grateful for is my first boss after I graduated from business school, Jane Crawford. I worked in technology investments for a big venture capital company called 3i. Jane’s team was responsible for investing many millions of dollars every year, and here I was, this cocky, new kid on the block. I was so full of myself that we used to go hammer and tongs over things (British lingo for disagreeing).

I look back now and think of the learnings she provided me, which I bring with me to this day. Probably the most significant learning was the accuracy of thought — if you’re going to describe a concept, do it in simple phrases and paragraphs. Don’t use jargon or babble.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I think as a society we’re getting far too quick to judge and opinions too polarized so I would start a “don’t be judgie” movement. Just because somebody has a different opinion doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hear them out, listen, and regard their views as valid. We all have different lived experiences and backgrounds, so I think it’s important to approach everyone with an open ear.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on LinkedIn. You can also follow LeadingResponse on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn or by visiting LeadingResponse.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Pop Culture, Business, Tech, Wellness, & Social Impact