What do a timeless children’s bedtime ritual and Apple’s Worldwide Development Conference have in common?
One word: stories.
Stories are the centre of the human experience. It’s how we make sense of the world, of our history, of each other – and while something as nebulous as storytelling may seem alien to the world of corporate boardrooms and earnings targets, they may have more in common than we think.
According to Ben Lee, a lot more.
Lee is the new Chief Marketing Officer of Formula.Monks, the technology consultancy of the 9000-person global consulting behemoth, Media.Monks. But long before joining Formula.Monks, he’d built a career as a seasoned tech entrepreneur that reads like a story in itself.
As a teenager, Lee built an e-commerce platform for his father’s battery store and scaled it to the point of securing massive contracts with the LAPD. He left his father’s business to start as a busboy at age 18, and within two years, he worked his way up to managing two of the largest nightclubs in Los Angeles, overseeing millions of dollars in annual revenue. He started his own restaurant venture before it was cratered by the global financial crisis, costing him nearly everything – but in the midst of that economic chaos, he started a software development agency that he grew into being a digital partner to Snoop Dogg and Tony Robbins. He went on to scale two development agencies to multimillion-dollar levels, employing 350+ people across multiple continents.
And then – what else could make a better story? He left it all. Burnt out after a decade in the agency business, Lee exited his companies in 2020 to retire in Costa Rica.
“I was burnt out after 10 years of burning the candle at both ends,” he says. “I thought I was out of the corporate world for good.”
Lee took 3 years to focus on healing: reconnecting with nature, learning to live life with balance, and spending plenty of time surfing in the waves. But when a long-time friend and colleague, Brady Brim DeForest, approached him about a position with Formula.Monks, well, his story took a different turn.
“It’s funny – they came to me about the position two years ago, but it wasn’t the right time for me,” says Lee. “I wasn’t done healing.”
Even funnier? By joining Formula.Monks, Lee is returning to the company where he first got his start in tech.
Reunited After All These Years
13 years ago, and many iterations prior, what is now Formula.Monks was an agency called CitrusByte. CitrusByte gave Lee his start in tech.
“It was a young, scrappy little agency, and I was a scrappy kid with big ambitions,” Lee recounts. “I learned so much there. I learned what it takes to succeed in the agency business, and those lessons are still invaluable to me now.”
13 years down the line, however, both have grown. Mightily.
Formula.Monks is one of the premier technology consulting operations in the world. Their client list is star-studded, building products and creating teams for massive enterprise companies like Morningstar, UPS, Lululemon, Expedia, and many, many more. Their services are diverse, ranging from building digital products to creating global teams of tech and creative specialists from scratch for a broad range of projects. But more than anything, Formula is an enterprise transformation firm.
“The world demands constant adaptation – it’s the only way to survive, let alone succeed. And yet, at the scale of enterprise, that’s incredibly difficult to do quickly and well,” Lee explains. “That’s what we do for clients: we drive massive transformation for massive enterprise operations that may not have the agility to do that otherwise.”
Formula.Monks has undergone their own massive transformation since hiring Lee all those years ago, and that, Lee says, is what finally inspired him to come back.
“I’ve seen so many iterations of this business. I saw them as a startup, and now, to see this giganticpowerhouse they’ve become – that was so exciting to me. That’s what pulled me out of retirement,” he says.
A Story of Reinvention
That story of transformation is also why Formula wanted Lee for the job.
Lee is someone who’s reinvented himself time and time again at countless stages in his career; from battery ecommerce to hospitality, hospitality to digital development. In fact, he’s so skilled at that art of transformation that a few years ago, he managed to transform himself into something countless people strive for but few attain: an influencer.
“Ha,” he says when asked about his influencer days. “It’s funny, I started it as a way to try to better differentiate my development business. But it kind of took on a life of its own.”
Lee, along with a handful of other storytelling trailblazers, pioneered a new kind of story-based content on LinkedIn that broke open the algorithm. Within weeks, Lee’s short-form, anecdotal posts and unique approach to storytelling catapulted him to a massive social media presence, garnering millions of views and hundreds of thousands of engagements. In fact, he was one of a few people collectively dubbed the
‘LinkedIn Mafia’ for their success on the platform, eventually even seeing the algorithm changed to suppress their content.
Lee parlayed that success into an early presence on TikTok, where his stories also garnered millions of views. All told, he’s generated well over 200 million impressions on his content across all platforms.
Retelling the Story of a Brand
So why does that make him right for his new gig as CMO?
“I have a different approach than a lot of CMOs, but for us, that’s the right fit,” he explains. “I have a unique style of telling stories – and I intend to put that front and center in how we think about our marketing, our positioning, how we tell the story of our new brand.”
As a tech CEO, Lee turned himself into an influencer. Now, he wants to pull the same trick for more people at his new company. To Lee, there’s no reason why a Managing Partner of a company with a $1billion market capitalization shouldn’t be an influencer. But no one knows better than he that the key to getting there is excellent storytelling.
“That’s part of what I’m so excited for in this new chapter,” he says. “I’ve seen this company grow in so many ways, go through so many iterations. And now, with the history we have, the successes we have under our belt, the client book we have – I’m excited to dive in and tell that story. To make our story central to not just our marketing, but our value proposition, our go to market strategy, to everything that we do.”
His excitement is well-founded. Formula.Monks is relatively new as a brand, but the collective of entrepreneurs, creatives, and technologists that Ben is joining is already a force to be reckoned with. Formula has built industry-leading Centers of Excellence for financial giants in Bogota, created IoT systems tracking millions of components in a global supply chain, and designed the ecommerce experience for the largest companies in the world.
Lee wants to tell that story, and to make it front and center for everything that the company does. He wants to reinvent the entire idea of marketing for the company, and instead of focusing on ad placement and copy, make the people making it all happen – and their stories – the centerpiece of the strategy.
Lee and Formula.Monks are still a new partnership, and their story is only beginning. But Lee has made his career crafting stories that captivate millions of people – so wherever he takes his and the company’s story next, it’s sure to be a good one.