The Greatest Entrepreneurship Incubator You’ve Never Heard Of

Today I want to tell you about an entrepreneurship incubator that very few know about. It’s called Distilled, and they are an online marketing agency based in London UK with offices in New York City and Seattle as well. They are currently around 70 employees worldwide.


Why do I say that Distilled is an entrepreneur incubator? Let’s have a look at all the Distilled alumni now running their own businesses:

As we all know, to be an entrepreneur isn’t just starting your own business. Working inhouse has intrapreneurship needs and Distilled alums have gone on to do amazing things post Distilled as well:

  • Ron Garrett – Director of Corporate Sales at
  • Stephanie Chang – Acquisition Manager at Etsy
  • Geoff Kenyon – Director of Online Marketing at Houzz
  • Mike Pantoliano – VP of Business Intelligence at Ookla
  • Stephanie Coles – Account Manager at Zillow
  • James Daugherty – Account Manager at Moz
  • Rob Toledo – Senior Marketing Manager at Pitchbook
  • David Sottimano – VP Strategy at Define Media Group

Sometimes the cushion of time allows you to look back and really evaluate why something worked or happened. There are a few features of how Distilled is built that, at least during my time there, attracted these kinds of people and also made many of us into who we are today. I also hear the current cohort there are wicked awesome, so keep an eye out for all of them.

Oh, and they didn’t ask me to do this, but they put on conferences in London, Boston, and San Diego and you should go. I’ve been many times and always learned a ton from the other speakers.

Throw People Into The Deep End

When I started at Distilled in June 2011, I had about a year and a half of marketing experience under my belt (all self taught) and 8 months doing it fulltime. Upon starting, Tom threw me directly into the deep end with clients because of my prior consulting experience. He figured I could handle myself with clients and could figure out what I didn’t know in SEO/marketing as I went.

We did this time and time again with people at Distilled and I’ve continued to do it to others (and myself) since I left Distilled in September 2013. Words like “curious”, “productive”, and “ship it” have been used to describe my work and my teams because I try to foster an attitude of getting things done and experimenting. Marketing is, after all, experimenting to find what works. Funny enough, so is entrepreneurship.

I learned this at Distilled.

Foster A Culture of Experimentation

Working at Distilled was one of the most creative times in my professional life, even rivaling now as I build my own product and work on my own projects and consulting clients. If you look at some of | the content | produced | during that time through the content being produced today by the current Distilled team, they are constantly thinking and experimenting and moving the industry forward.

At Distilled, I learned to try and learn new things all the time. No tool to do what you want? Hack it together in Google Docs. No great way to communicate across a bunch of offices (pre-Slack)? That’s fine, we used Google+ (calling it D+) as an internal social network. No budget to go to a conference? Figure it out and go anyways.

Recently in the growth marketing space people have been talking about how important it is to move fast and run tests all the time. That is exactly what we were doing at Distilled 5 years ago, back in 2011.

Encourage Them To Be Public


One of the great things Distilled did for many of us who are now on our own was requiring us to blog on the Distilled and Moz blogs (where they write once a week still). Some of us (like myself) love to write and did more of it than we were required to do, but everyone had to write. I think this was incredibly valuable for all of us because it gave us great exposure and got us comfortable with putting ideas in public for critique.

One of the hardest parts of anyone’s professional life is being critiqued. I believe that having your thoughts and ideas critiqued and being ok with that, even welcoming that, is a learned skill. Whether it’s publishing a post on the highest trafficked marketing site online or bringing up new ideas in a room full of executives, you have to learn how to put together and idea and share it.

Not everyone at Distilled is as public as I or others are, but I genuinely believe that this requirement helped all of us be better marketers and professionals. It also set many of us up for being entrepreneurs (and thus still building the Distilled brand as alums).

Provide A Wide Variety of Experiences

Through working at Distilled I was able to have my hands in many types of projects and clients:

  • Large enterprise companies
  • Small venture back clients
  • Our own training platform DistilledU (where I learned how to launch a SaaS business)
  • International clients
  • Communicating across offices
  • Going to conferences all over the place and meeting a lot of people

Consulting is hard work, as is running a business, and I genuinely believe that being able to draw on a wide variety of past experiences is what makes most successful entrepreneurs exactly that – successful. You learn to do what needs to be done to be successful, whether that is learning how to code (better) or hopping on a plane short notice to go save an enterprise-level client contract.

I credit much of my experience professionally and why entrepreneurship works for to my time at Distilled.

So what are the takeaways here? Obviously not everyone can go work for Distilled (though they are hiring). So if you have aspirations to be an entrepreneur, or simply accelerate your career in a few short years, what are the features you should look for in your next gig? I think they should be:

  • Are you allowed, even encouraged, to be creative in your work and find new ways of doing things?
  • Are you given enough budget to not be frustrated, yet not enough to do everything you might want to do? Learning to work within constraints is amazingly important.
  • Are you able to work across teams and learn about the jobs of others, even taking part in projects that aren’t directly in line with your job description?
  • Are you encouraged to be public and talk about your work publicly?

You don’t have to be in marketing or even go work for an agency to get the experiences you need. If you want the above four, I usually recommend that people go join a fast growing startup or established company that is not huge (I’d say under 60) because you’ll be exposed to a wide variety of experiences. Large companies have their own merits and can work well for people who want to be specialists (and believe me, specialists are amazing when you are a generalist like me), but for people who want to launch their own company and move fast, a big company can be constraining.

I loved my time at Distilled and count myself very lucky to be among their alumni. I am where I am today, with a growing software product and some great consulting and coaching clients, because of my time there.

Thank you Distilled and those there who took a chance on me. I am forever grateful.


5 thoughts on “The Greatest Entrepreneurship Incubator You’ve Never Heard Of

  1. Thanks for the kind words John.

    It is incredibly rewarding to see ex-Distillers go on to such great things. People leaving is never something you want to happen, but that blow is softened (for me at least) knowing they are moving on to do something that fits with who they are.

    1. Duncan – any time. Distilled was an amazing place to work with amazing people doing incredible things there and afterwards. I love seeing my old coworkers at conferences or in random cities and picking right back up, building those friendships and getting into smart and interesting conversations. And much of it is thanks to you, Will, and Tom’s push to build a culture of smart people. I will always be grateful.

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