In 1998, after searching for their business idea, Joe Griffin and his father hit on an idea they called Submitawebsite, which allowed businesses to submit their sites to many search engines at once.
He sold that company Web.com.
I invited him to talk about how he did it, and about his current company, iAcquire, a marketing and reputation management firm.
Joe Griffin, iAcquire
Joe Griffin is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at iAcquire which is a global leader in digital brand strategy and marketing services engagement for SEO, reputation management, content marketing, digital public relations and social media marketing.
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Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. And I’m laughing because I recorded an interview with Joe Griffin about how he sold his company and how he built it before and so on and as I was researching it and doing the interview I realized he started a bigger company after the one that I’m talking to him about. You guys know that my goal here is to talk to entrepreneurs about how they built their big successes – not the small five- and-dime store on the corner, not the small pizzeria that’s a lifestyle business where they’re just scraping by but the big successes, the ones that really inspire us and push us to do bigger. So then when I realized I didn’t interview him about his biggest success, I said, ‘Joe, let’s do a second interview.’ He was gracious enough to say, ‘Yes.’ We both took a three-minute break and then we both came right back here to talk about his current business.
Joe is the co-founder of iAcquire, which offers digital brand strategy and marketing service engagements for SEO, reputation management, content marketing, digital public relations and social media marketing. It looks like we scraped this intro together so quickly that I probably just copied it off of my research which copied it off of your website, but Joe, in a word, you do online marketing and reputation management for big companies. Thanks for coming here to talk about the business.
Joe: You got it. Thanks for having me again.
Andrew: The “ah-ha” moment that led you to launch iAcquire after you sold a business successfully was you told me there was this big talent pool that you saw was available. Why was there suddenly a big talent pool?
Joe: So in 2008, that year and the year before and then even leading into 2009, there was a series of acquisitions that were underway or that had recently been completed. There was a pretty big glut of opportunity just in those companies either that were going through that process or had recently gone through that process. It was also a time where there was a lot of… Just like there is right now, the rapidness of the change was exciting. I think a lot of people were looking to do new things. So I felt that it was really the right time to start a new business. Personally it was, but also just in the market the timing was right. Then my business partner, Jay Swanson, who we’ll talk about as well and how that came to be, but he felt that same way. So the timing really was good.
Andrew: And it was search engine optimization companies that you noticed were starting to get acquired?
Joe: It was everything – SEO companies, also just interactive agencies like iCrossing as an example, 360i was buying companies and also had recently been acquired by a larger group. There were a lot of firms out there that… Just a lot of shake-up going on and when those things occur sometimes some of the talented people are going to be open to looking at new opportunities.
Andrew: You were in that space because you sold your company to iCrossing and you noticed that there were people who were unhappy about what was going on. Without giving me a name of a person, can you just describe someone who talked to you about, ‘Hey, this isn’t life the way I wanted it to be’?
Joe: Yes, I think that… a few different people, in fact. I think that the general sentiment was that I think – and I wouldn’t say it was that people were unhappy necessarily, although probably some of that too – but I think people just wanted to be a part of something that was innovative and young, a company that really believed in the culture of the business. And I think that’s what fun about startups is that you have that opportunity to do things a little differently. For us it was – and it still is – about being more agile, leveraging technology and really getting the best people we can possibly get. That’s a culture we have. Have fun and work hard. Work hard, play hard is deeply ingrained in what we do.
Andrew: So, Joe, I see the opportunity to hire these people, what I don’t yet understand is where’s the opportunity on the customer’s side? What were customers so eager for that you said, “Yes, I now have the people who can give it to them.”
Joe: I think that what a lot of the large brands saw and continue to see is that these larger agencies, and this is something that we have to be very careful of as we grow, is a bit of a depersonalized experience, number one. Then, number two, as you start to get too large it becomes difficult to be nimble. Obviously, digital is all about how nimble can you be, how smart and efficient can you be.
Even things like leveraging social media, proper SEO strategy, current SEO strategy are things that were not being employed by a lot of these large agencies. So, we said …
Andrew: For example? I want to be more specific. I started out this interview by just reading a bunch of marketing phrases, reputation management, marketing service engagement [??]. Give me something specific that the bigger companies couldn’t do that a younger, more nimble company could do, that was so powerful that made you say, “I can build a business around this.” What’s one specific thing that a younger company can do?
Joe: Sure, so one thing that we did, as an example, is that we took advantage off page SEO, which is link building. We said, “What types of link building services can we off these big brands, that they don’t have the bandwidth to do in-house, and that they don’t have the, potentially, the expertise to even understand how to do it; or if they did understand how to do it, not have the right types of partners that they could go to who would do that work for them.” And so …
Andrew: Who would you go to for link building for a bigger company?
Joe: Who would we approach?
Andrew: Yeah, what was your process?
Joe: For us, it’s pretty much any website, and especially large brands, when it comes to search engine rankings, obviously, the back link portfolio of a website is going to be a major indicator of that websites trust and ultimately how that website is going to rank for keywords. A lot of these big brands were doing things, some did things properly on their site, but most still don’t, but had very little, or no off site strategy to get new websites linked to them. That means they weren’t think about things like content marketing, which is one of our core services that we offer, in terms of how can we leverage content in a way that is compelling, in a way that other websites on the internet want to pick up our content and link back to our clients.
Andrew: So, one of the things that you were going to do is create content for your customers and get it out on other sites?
Joe: Correct, create content for them, re-purpose content that they already had, they might have buyer’s guides, they could have data studies that they’ve done. Whether it’s creating article type content or creative pieces, whether it be video, or motion graphics [SP], or infographics …
Andrew: Weren’t there companies at the time that were already doing that? That doesn’t seem that innovative to get back links through content marketing. That was being done throughout the early 2000s, no?
Joe: It was being done, but it wasn’t being done at scale. We felt that the companies that were doing it were limited in their scope, and certainly there were companies doing it, but typically it was a small division underneath an under-funded SEO group, inside of a big agency that was attempting to do it, but just doesn’t have the resources.
Andrew: I see, but on the smaller scale, there were smaller mom and pop, mom and pop, it was usually like two brothers or two buddies, who were really going to really aggressively get you links. You’re saying, on the bigger scale, for bigger companies, that didn’t exist. Those hustlers weren’t there for them.
Joe: That’s right. That’s right, and when you’re working with these larger brands, there are financial, or their legal compliances that you have to deal with. There are a lot of different things that you have to go through. You have to have a tight process, you have to have a good process, and you need the right types of technology and reporting. The way that you communicate has to be different. Us taking that off page SEO and content marketing approach and, now I used the word polished in our last interview, but polishing that and preparing that in a way that was consumable for the enterprise businesses was a really great market opportunity for us. But, it provided those brands something that they need.
Andrew: When I interviewed you about how you sold, what happened after you sold submit a website, your previous business, you told me that, “One thing I had the opportunity to do was invest in other companies.” I’m curious about how that went for you. A lot of entrepreneurs sell a company, and then they become angel investors, and hopefully they sometimes go on to become bigger investors or incubators. How did it work for you?
Joe: I started an incubator.
Andrew: You did?
Joe: I did start an incubator with a couple other friends as well. That incubator for me was a little bit of a part-time project. I just kind of did it for fun. For me, really, it was just do it for fun and try to help other people out and then I could take some equity, obviously, with me in the event that I get involved in the next Facebook or something like that. I started a couple things. I helped a couple friends out with some businesses. I did make a few investments into some businesses that I felt had some opportunity. I didn’t hit any Facebooks, no Facebook-type opportunities, but iAcquire obviously was one of those initial startups. From that perspective, iAcquire is absolutely the big win, but a couple other break-evens and some losses, too.
Andrew: OK. Why didn’t you continue? Why didn’t you say, ‘I’m going to get better and better at this. This is going to be my thing. I’ll impart what I know about marketing to these guys. I’ll impart what I know about business and I’ll cultivate as many of these hustlers as possible and they’ll do the big work and I’ll cash out years later.’?
Joe: Yes, that’s a good question. An incubation business is hard. One thing I’ve found over time, especially when you get into partnerships – and I’ve been in several partnerships – partnerships are hard. It goes back to my father and me and difficulty there. It’s hard to have business partners. That can be tricky. It depends on… There’s a right way to do it. Obviously Y Combinator, as an example, has done a great job of it. There’s also a company called TechStars that’s done really well. Obviously Kickstarter has done amazing. There are companies out there that are doing it really well. I’ve typically…most of the time when I look at companies that are incubators, it’s tricky. It’s a tricky business, and I think…I don’t know if that was for me. You have to deal with a lot of business owners, a lot of guys who are strapped for cash, there’s constantly dealing with investors. In a lot of ways it’s fun, but I think what it is more is I just have a passion for what I do now. And ultimately I wanted to just get back into it. I love helping companies succeed online. I want to be all over search, all over social, reputation management, digital strategy, content marketing. Those things are just exciting and fun and I like to play in that sector.
Andrew: You also dabbled in real estate. What kind of investments did you make there?
Joe: At one point I had maybe six or seven properties personally that were investment properties. I was able to sell most of those. I still have a couple. That was just another investment. That was not the best timing, either.
Andrew: I know that those two directions aren’t for me. Investing and start- ups and once I start even getting all the legal paperwork I think, ‘I don’t want to be in this business.’ Same thing with real estate – I don’t want to deal with tenants. I know when… My landlords are really nice and I’m a really good tenant. I still wouldn’t want to be my own landlord and be in their shoes. How did you know that this, though, that iAcquire, that doing consulting services for bigger businesses was your thing, was this big passion in life? No one grows up saying they want to do that. How did you know that this felt right, that this is a marriage?
Joe: Well, for me… And you make a funny comment. You’re right. People don’t typically grow up, but in some ways I kind of did grow up with this. My first real job was working with my dad and submitting a website. That was a search engine marketing business. I’ve been in the search engine marketing business for 14 years. It’s just what I know and it’s what I do and I really love it and I love the people. For iAcquire, the reason why iAcquire has been so successful, there are probably several reasons, but it really comes down to having the right people, which is one of the reasons by my great friend and business partner, Jay Swanson, why he and I get along so well. We really believed that if we get the right people together… Our thought was let’s attract the best talent that we can. Let’s just go head hunt the best talent. Let’s put ourselves out there. Let’s be bold. Let’s tell people that come join our organization and together we’ll build a $100 million agency and we’ll be the next big interactive agency. That’s exactly what we’re doing.
Andrew: Where are you now? What size revenue?
Joe: Revenues, I probably wouldn’t reveal too much, but we’re above $10 million a year.
Andrew: Let me make that clear: You’re above $10 million a year. You won’t allow me to say what I have here on my screen, but we can say above 10 million a year in sales.
Andrew: What kind of margins do you have in a business where it’s all dependent on employees and personal touch with your customers? What’s the net margin on a business like this?
Joe: This is not the business that has the 50% profit margin.
Joe: There are slimmer margins in a business like this, and you do a business like this not because you’re trying, you’re not looking to squeeze a ton of money out of every dollar. If you can end up in a place where you’re making a little bit of money, you’re doing pretty good. But this is a business that has a lot of scale. So it’s not a high-margin but there’s a lot of scale in the business and ultimately there’s a lot of opportunity in the bottom line as you scale.
Andrew: Is it more than 10% that ends up in the bottom line?
Joe: So it depends. It depends on where you’re at in your lifecycle, at what stage you’re at in your business. For us, our position is not that we want to try to maximize the bottom line as much as it is. We want to grow our business and our capabilities and scale the company. For us, we really try to take our revenues and take our dollars and plug them back into technology and back into head count and back into growth, so we’re very much interested in growing the business.
Andrew: All right. Thanks for being open about the revenues to the extent that you could be.
Andrew: I think that it’s helpful to get a sense of the size of business, to get a sense of where you’ve come in the last – what’s it been now? – three years. Less actually, I think, than three years. You now know the team. You know what you’re going to be building. You know what your unique selling opportunity is. Where do you get your first customer?
Joe: Fortunately both myself and my business partner have been in the space so long we’ve got a lot of relationships and contacts. So we reached out to people who we knew had an appetite for SEO and people who we knew were looking to…people who wanted a better service. And there are a lot of people out there today still.
Andrew: How did you know about these people?
Joe: Just from being in the space so long – from being in the business so long, going to conferences, personally managing accounts, personally doing sales, talking to people, networking, reaching out to people cold, all the different things that you do to network in a business. It’s driven a lot of relationships over the years for myself and Jay, and we’ve been able to tap into those relationships and expand upon those relationships.
Andrew: Who was your first customer? Sorry to interrupt. The reason that I do this, Joe, is because – and I’m apologizing as much to you as to the audience who’ve in the comments when I’ve interrupted at all will say, “Andrew, stop interrupting; let the guy talk” – I’ve found that stories become much easier to grasp when there are specifics. If you tell me about how you get most of your customers’ people kind of hear it, but if you tell me that story about how you got the one customer it really puts an image in their head and an understanding about your business. So I thought we could start with the first. Where’d you get the first customer?
Joe: Our first customer, I believe…I think our first customer was actually a relationship that Jay and I both had. It was a friend of ours actually at a company called Break Media and break.com with some sister sites. We had that relationship, we reached out to him and said, “Hey, we’ve got a new business and we think we can help you guys from a consulting prospective and help you better structure your site, help you think about SEO in a way that would bring more traffic into your site.” These guys have…this is a content company, video and content.
Andrew: And they get search engine optimization? They get that whole idea of…?
Joe: Oh, yes. Very. Search, social, I mean, the type of social sharing that they get on a daily basis is exorbitant. They’re fully digital.
Andrew: How did you know them?
Joe: I think we met at probably a conference. I try to go to these search engine conferences, three or four or five a year. Eight or nine years pass by and you meet a lot of people.
Andrew: Is this the head, Keith Richman, at Break, who you knew or someone who works for him?
Joe: This was actually Baron, a guy named Baron Ginnetti (sp).
Andrew: So you knew these were guys who were willing to take chances, who were willing to try something new, who were open to new ideas?
Joe: Exactly. That company in particular, they are on the cusp of developing great content every day. That’s what they do, and the do that across probably a couple hundred different properties. Baron’s a guy who gets search. He runs search over there. He knows what he’s doing so it’s not like he has to use us. He could build a lot of those competencies in house and he does have a lot of those competencies in-house, but I think that because our relationship, we were able to say, “Hey, we have a unique value proposition. Let’s talk about what we can do.” And ultimately, there is some consulting and assistance. We were able to help him increase that exposure that they already have, which was pretty significant, but continue to make that better.
Andrew: What’s the first core thing you guys did for Break [sounds like]?
Joe: I think it was a consulting project, just helping them to structure their website in a way that makes it more friendly and more conducive for search.
Andrew: So even Break needs help structuring their website? I feel like they totally get how to structure the website, for sharing, for research.
Joe: They do. Yeah. I mean, they are… Those guys are one of the most… They’ve got their act together better than just about anyone else out there in their space. And like I said, [??], who runs their team, is one of the top in-house SEOs. So they know how to structure, but it’s always good to get a second set of eyes on it. I mean, you can miss things. You can miss internal linking. You could have duplicated pages that might be occurring. You might be overusing H1 tags or image alts, or who knows. So it’s good to get a second pair of eyes in there and make sure you’re doing things right.
Andrew: Okay. I see, as I said in our previous interview, that on your website there are a bunch of lead generating opportunities. Not just lead generating opportunities, but sticky ones: “I can give you my email address in return for something, and then we can connect, and hopefully I’ll become one of your customers.” At what point did you start adding those?
Joe: So I think our first… So Link Diagnosis, which is one of our tools, LinkDiagnosis.com, we launched that tool… That tool actually launched before I acquired .com, so that was a tool that we had kind of worked on behind the scenes, launched, and used to generated leads even before the company officially was formed. So it was kind of a pre-lead generator. But it wasn’t just to generate leads; it was also to contribute value to the SEO community. And it’s what a lot of those guides are.
And even though we do look for a tweet or an email to download that information… If we can market it to you, we will probably will. But we also… We want to launch out our newsletter, we want to connect with you, and we believe in staying in touch with the community and adding value to the community, even if we don’t directly get value back. But by doing that, obviously, you increase your brand exposure, and you get more word-of-mouth business, and build that trust up.
Andrew: How effective was Link Diagnosis when you first launched it?
Joe: It was very effective, very effective. I mean, today it gets probably 20,000 or 30,000 visitors a month, so it’s got a decent traffic base. And it’s not a huge lead gen for us, although we do get leads from it, but it’s a little gem in the SEO community. It’s a tool that a lot of people like, and it helps them do their job.
Andrew: All right. So you launched with that. How did you get the word out about it?
Joe: So I believe that the… a) the site, we were able to get it ranked well. So people looking for link building-type tools that ranked well. And then we also just done a lot of PR. So went out and contacted web masters, we contacted editors, in particular, that worked at some of the different search engine publications, and let them know about it. And so it was a pretty viral spread once it started to get out.
Andrew: OK. All right. So it’s the tool. It’s friends. What else were you using to bring in new customers?
Joe: So again, early on especially, it was literally, “Just pick the phone up and let’s call our contacts. The people that we know in the industry.” It’s just word-of-mouth. It’s, “Hey, let’s… “Really, just talking to people. I mean, again, getting back to some of the connections that we had: pick the phone up, call them, tell them about what you’re doing, and see if they’re interested. And so, Jay and I, in particular, did all the sales for the first year, year and a half that we started the business. And then ultimately… Eventually, we started bringing in our own sales teams and cultivating an outbound sales force that could do that at more scale.
Andrew: Outbound to whom?
Joe: So our target customer was going to be anyone that’s in the financial services sector, the technology space, V to V, entertainment, automotive, and typically were… When we outbound and target companies, we’re targeting companies that have annual revenues of 100 million or greater.
Andrew: And how do you know who to talk to at those companies to get them to sign up?
Joe: So depending on the size of the company, there could be a… Sometimes there’s an SEO Director. Depending on the company and the size of the company, there could be a Search Engine Marketing Director, or like a VP of Online Marketing or a CMO, so there are different levels. And depending on the approach that we’re taking with different companies… So depending on the company, we might prospect that company a little differently depending on what their need states are. One of the things that we try to do a good job of is identifying where they’re weak. So we find that, “Hey, you’re weak in these areas.” And based on the areas where they’re weak, that’s going to help us understand the audience we need to speak to internally.
Andrew: I see. What’s the biggest weakness that you notice? What’s a common one?
Joe: So companies don’t do a good job, just first and foremost, of optimizing their websites, still. I know it sounds simple, but they don’t. And a lot of these big agencies are on very, what I would consider, Legacy CMS Systems. And I won’t name any because I don’t want to throw them under bus, but there are a lot of CMS systems out there that don’t allow you to properly optimize your website.
Andrew: So do you move them over to one that does?
Joe: We help them to transition their CMS. Often times, that’s already in the plans, and we’ve come in as a strategic adviser and consultant to help them make that transition. And sometimes we’ll help them find areas, even if it could be as simple as their [??], or it could be advanced settings sometimes in those CMS that need to be turned on. And it could be that there are third-party plugins or tools that can plug into those systems to make them more search engine-friendly.
So companies still are… We find that they’re on some of these older systems. I think one of the biggest areas where they’re still lacking, and something that we put front and center in everything that we do, is what we called “Audience Analysis”. And that’s helping them understand who their customers are, the different types of customers that they have coming onto their website, and how are they actually communicating with those customers. Because we’re not just trying to build content for searches; we’re also building content for people.
So we find a lot of times companies may… They may be communicating with their customers in a way that doesn’t actually resonate with their customers. And so, we can help people to improve time on site. We can help them to improve the number of page views that a person would visit on their site. And those things actually also impact search. So Google’s looking at: what’s the bounce rate now? So if someone hits your site and they leave in 14 seconds, on average, and go back to Google, that’s not a very good… That’s not necessarily the experience that Google’s looking for, unless maybe it’s… someone’s looking at Dictionary.com, or something where they might have a different expectation for time on site.
But yeah, definitely the audience that they’re speaking to, the way they’re communicating, the way their site is structured, and even simple things like keyword analysis. I mean, we find all the time that as you start navigating through a company’s website, even their top level pages, that they haven’t done… they’ve not done a good job either of thinking about or integrating the different keywords that are relevant to those pages.
So it’s still simple stuff, but there is still a rapid and some [??] dysfunction organizationally where these companies aren’t doing it right. And a lot of it is… And there are a lot of people internally that know how to do it, but sometimes you have to speak to the company in a way that works for them internally, and that might mean that we have to prepare special types of deliverables that can maybe… we can put in the hands of their CTO and help them build an internal case for why they [??].
So, as an example, and let’s use the CMS example, you could be an SEO Director that hates the CMS that you work on every day, and you can’t stand it, but you don’t have any… Your ability to formally communicate the value proposition for why you guys need to not only spend the money to move to a CMS, but the time to get those resources, that can be very difficult for an in-house SEO to do. Because we’ve done things like that so many times, we’ve been able to build deliverables and consulting pieces, and we’ve got this lovely artillery of ammunition and material, so we can provide people to help them sell this stuff internally because…
Andrew: I see. So now you’ve given them the research and the credibility to be able to say, “We need to invest money in updating it.”
Joe: That’s one of the primary things we do. That’s on the strategy side, consulting side. Helping them understand that global strategy, where they need… where that work needs to occur on their site, and then how do you go about actually making it happen, and tactically, what needs to be done to do it? And we’ll do the strategy, and we’ll do the market research, and we’ll actually develop those deliverables, and then we’ll also do the work. So we’ll come in and actually write the content and write the meta tags and write the [??] snippets and optimize their YouTube channel, as an example. So we do… Everything that let’s us search, we do.
Andrew: What’s the biggest factor in convincing upper management that they should finally invest in a new CMS, in a new strategy that would involve everything right down to YouTube?
Joe: That’s my favorite question actually, and it’s the one that I like to answer the most. I believe that upper management, let’s call it the CEO and the C-level [??], a lot of them get it and they’re smart — obviously, they’re brilliant people — but a lot of times they view SEO as an ad model. They look at it like it’s an ad model, like it’s pay-per-click, because it’s not uncommon that big brands are spending north of $10 million or $25 million a year on Google ads. And so they’re… the way they understand searches, “I pay for something and I get a click and it comes in.” And they know what organic search is, they know what SEO is but they want to treat it like it’s paid search and it’s not. Really it’s PR. SEO is PR because it’s inbound and it’s about creating a perception. It’s about awareness, brand integrity. It’s about reputation management too. We have some clients that get hundreds of thousands, even millions of visitors each month from what we call their branded keywords. So, someone types in their brand name, they Google their brand name, and if that first page of search results don’t really tell the story you want to tell, you’re losing sales. You’re losing sales there…
Andrew: I’ve done interviews about this going all the way back 5 years ago to the very beginning maybe even the very first interview that I ever did with Michael [SP] Dorage. You’re telling me that that’s still an issue for companies?
Joe: [??] Biggest issue.
Joe: Huge. So Andy, if you look at some of the studies out there, about 35% of all clicks on the internet that refer traffic somewhere come from organic search. About 6 or 7% actually come from a paid search click. So about 75-80% of all clicks are still coming from organic. That’s where people click. And people aren’t taking advantage of that. They don’t think about it in the right way, they still look at it as kind of a secret sauce, as being unattainable. SEO is a process. You have to integrate it throughout your whole company. The best champion for SEO is the CEO. If you can get a CEO behind SEO you’re working with a company that’s going to do things well on the search side.
Andrew: I think it was Ad Knowledge. I went in through a friend who worked there late at night who showed me around the office space and they just had desk after desk of just phones. Basically all they would do is call people up and sell them ads and I’d say, who would these people call? He said, it’s easy. We go to Google and we start doing searches and we see who turns up the top, who’s buying from Google and those are our targets and then we start converting. This whole process is just so dead simple and then they end up with customers who come back month after month to buy from them. What’s yours? What’s your process for getting all those people who have the old CMS’s and who are good customers for you?
Joe: So we’ve invested significantly into our technology division. We started as a technology company and so technology is very integrated into everything that we do and we use technology even when we do [??] we do is we take a look at specific [??] identified sites that are in that target market that we want to be our customers and we run diagnostics against those websites to see how are they performing on page, and how are they performing off page from the perspective of, how many websites link to them and where they rank for the keywords that they should be ranking for. So we’re able to do, we call it a search mash. It’s basically a process where we’re able to, by using technology, identify those flaws and those areas of weakness in an automated way so that gives us the opportunity to say hey, let’s look at this prospect pool and where are those opportunities that we feel we can make our customers. We find those weaknesses and we let them know about it.
Andrew: You’re saying you have software that finds the weakness and then gives you the lead?
Joe: Essentially the software is able to, by providing us that data. Then when we do that data analysis we can discover those opportunities and then we can make those prospects.
Andrew: Is it spidering the web? How’s it getting all those people into the system?
Joe: We have software that spiders the web, we have software that ties into some of the major API’s like [SP] SU amaz as an example. And we have software that looks at elements on their website and we take that software and we analyze those different components and we basically do some data analysis and some data engineering and put those things together and say, where are the low-hanging fruits? What are the biggest opportunities? That same [??] is used in our actual professional services when we actually start doing on-page SEO analysis or off-page SEO and content marketing. We’ll actually use a lot of that same technology. Its used in a different matter but it still comes back to a lot of that core technology and helps drive that efficiency that we try to extend to our customers.
Andrew: So Joe, your software goes out, finds websites that have certain criteria including weaknesses that you guys want to solve and then, does it spit out a phone number or does it just spit out a name and then your salesperson has to know where to call?
Joe: So, a couple different ways we do it. We do have the ability to import a list into, let’s say Salesforce, and then there are some plugins that we have in Salesforce that will help to put some of that information together for us. The prospecting process is not an automated one. So, to kind of find the prospects is, because we want to know where those weaknesses are, but generally when we go to reach out to a company, we want to really find the right person. We’ll take a look at the company’s leadership. We might, obviously, go to Linked-In. We might tap into some connections that we already have, but we’re going to reach out to that person on a personal level. We might offer to come see them in person, as well, face to face. Ultimately, in the prospecting process, there’s a lot of hand holding there. It’s something that we think really requires a lot of integrity.
Andrew: OK. Give me an example of a company that’s out there that you didn’t get, but your software got all the information about them and you know they’re a good, good prospect, but they’re not getting it.
Joe: Well, that happens all the time. I don’t know if I have a specific example. I hate to even use a specific example, because I don’t want to throw a brand under the bus, but I’ll tell you that …
Andrew: Their CTO would probably be happy for you to mention it publicly and, plus, they’re not listening to this.
Joe: Hopefully not. I think that people choose not to make some of the decisions that they know they need to make because they are … I think I’m kind of answering your question in a roundabout way, but I think it still comes back to the leadership of the business. Does the CEO support SEO, yes or no. If yes, how much do they support it, how does that trickle down stream? What happens other times in big organizations is they end up with one person, it might be a team of three, sometimes it’s a team of five, but it’s a drastically underfunded SEO operation that does not have the resources to do the type of championing that they need to do. They don’t have the funding sometimes to even get access to the tools they need. Sometimes they have a lot of money. Sometimes they have a lot of cash, but no personnel file. What’s happening is that they just don’t have the type of support that they need. So, we find opportunities where they can make some simple changes and, because they don’t have that support, they know they’re not going to be able to achieve it. They may just tell us, “Hey, you guys, we know that, we know this part of our site sucks. Thanks for telling us again, but we can’t do anything about it.”
Andrew: Why does so much search engine optimization work and the other work that you do charge on a monthly basis? Why isn’t it a set it, and maybe not forget it, but set it and let your people continue to manage it kind of process?
Joe: Depending on the service that we’re offering, some of them are like that. As an example, our content marketing service, it’s not as hands on in terms of the technical consulting that SEO requires. SEO is a very skill oriented trade where you’ve got to be super hands on. The content marketing to some degree is too, but that’s a case where someone could say, “Hey, I want you guys to develop (??) stories every month, spend 100 hours pitching it to major trade publications, try to get those stories locked in, integrate us into that story, and hopefully we’ll get a link out of it.” In some of those types of cases, it could be a little bit more set it and forget it for the customer where we just keep that work going for them. It’s a little bit of a blend in our services. It just depends on what the service is, what the type of engagement requirement is, but there’s that blend.
Andrew: In our first interview, one of the best parts for me was when you talked about the challenge about the time when sales were down, or you had to let go of some people, unfortunately, where you and your dad had to move in together, and then eat the Kentucky Fried Chicken that was sold just before closing because that’s the cheapest. Take me back to the biggest challenge now at iAcquire.
Joe: So, iAcquire, we’re a young company. I think we were formally, our entity (??) was formed in, I believe, April of 2009. From a legal entity perspective, we’re almost four years old. The first year or two were … the first year was super rapid growth. We went from zero to 60 very, very quickly and built a quick business. Then what happened with us is, and this happens common, to maintain a trajectory at a certain clip becomes very difficult. Sometimes you have to take one step back to take two steps forward. I believe that we’ve done a really good job of managing growth, but managing growth is something that can be very difficult. Sometimes you try to step out on that limb and that limb is going to break.
Andrew: So you grew too fast?
Joe: We’ve experienced that in the past where we’ve grown too fast. We are in a position where we had to kind of slow the breaks down.
Andrew: What happens when you grow to fast? I didn’t think that that was a big problem, what happened?
Joe:: Well, I don’t know if there is a specific issue that I would point to that I would say that this happened because we grew too fast, but I would say that throughout time as we have grown the business that we have seen that some of the things that we have tried to launch have not been as stressful as I had hoped that they would be. Whereas we invested in areas of the business that they didn’t do as well as we wanted them to do. The speed of growth and where that can affect you really is, you can essentially bite off more than you can chew. I think that is the best way that you can put it.
Andrew: So, what did you bite off more than you can chew?
Joe:: [??] as an example, we’ve invested in certain technology platforms that as an example we talked about crawling the internet, so we have a technology platform called Irank. It’s a (?) technology that does crawl the Internet and ties into those API, and we try to take thing a couple of times to a place where it’s hard to [??]. As an example we were at one point crawling billions of pages every month across the internet. That’s really great because you can do some really heavy data in that analyses, but we thought that was going to cost thousands of dollars a month to maintain and we get into it and it’s $50,000 a month. So either I am going to have to continue to invest 50 thousand a month and more to maintain the level of data analysis and data mining that we were doing or you just back off. That’s an example where we put a lot of money into the project.
We still do it but we don’t crawl thousands of pages a month anymore. We focus on more popular pages of the web. That’s a perfect example of, like technology in particular even Head Count. We have been fortunate that we have not had to retract because of the overgrowth on the other side but we have had to suck it up for a few months longer that we had hope to, to see if we had a return on our own investments. In hiring certain people or certain departments, so you have to be careful about scaling your product lines too quickly. You have to make sure you put the time in your R&D right up front you have to make sure of what the process is going to look like. If it sounds like I’m giving a half-hearted plug to it, it’s because what I really wanted you guys to do is go back and listen to the previous interview that I recorded with Bill, the one about the company that he started as a teenager. I just recorded it about an hour ago, and I love it so much, and I’m promoting it right now, in this interview. Go back and watch that other interview.
All right. [laughs] Here’s what I wanted to get to.
Joe: I feel like you’re setting me up for a doozy right now.
Andrew: [laughs] Usually, I do that to get people to stick around past the plug to listen to the last question. It was hardly a plug here today, but it was still important to keep them around for this. Why did you want to do this interview? Your PR person asked me. So it wasn’t just like you were dragged into this. It was an intentional thing. Tell me. Be open. Why do this interview?
Joe: We’re doing this interview because we want to get our name out there. We want to get more mainstream press. As we grow the business, it’s important that the company’s leadership, myself, my partner, the executives in the company, that we get out there a little bit more, that we start to draw some attention inward. Tell people our story. Tell people that we even exist. I mean, we’re growing rapidly, but a lot of people don’t know about us. So, we’re expanding our wings this year. It’s something in particular that is kind of a New Year’s resolution for the company.
Andrew: How does it help your business to get you, and to get Jay Swanson out there, your co-founder?
Joe: So, it’s important that, you know, it’s important that not only people know who we are, but that we put a face to the brand. And, you know, our business . . . in our little sector, we’re pretty well-known, I think, but we haven’t done a great job of humanizing our brand. And there’s a lot of really great people that work here. We’ve got almost 100 employees, now, between our New York office and our Phoenix office. So we want to tell people about not just what we do, but who we are. Because we think that — going back to what I talked about earlier in the conversation — we think that our agility and our youth, in terms of the way we view the Internet, we think that it’s the people that really are driving that level of innovation and that strategy that we’re putting forth for our customers. So we want people to know who those people are. And it certainly starts at the top, and then it goes all the way down to the bottom.
Andrew: And is it because you’re hoping to get customers from this, or partnerships, or biz dev, or acquisition opportunities in the future?
Joe: I think that it’s important to . . . I think it’s important. It is for customer development, absolutely. And if there’s a future acquisition down the line, that’s going to be important, too. So yeah, it’s very much about getting our brand out there, getting exposure. You know, that’s what it’s all about. And, you know, that’s what we do for our clients, and we haven’t done a great job of doing that for ourselves, but we want to change that. And, you know, we’ve got to find good channels like Mixergy that we can do that in.
Andrew: I see. Because there are a bunch of people who I’m sure are listening to us right now who are saying, “I’ve got a successful company. Why go on Mixergy? Or why go on any other site?” And I know that partially it’s to get customers, but my audience isn’t the perfect customers for every business. I don’t even know if it’s the perfect customer base for iAcquire. Maybe, maybe not. But what I hear more and more of is, “I do it for biz dev opportunities down the road. That people who are doing business with me, or will do business with me tomorrow, are watching this to get an understanding of who we are, and when we go and open the door, or try to open the door, with them, it’ll be a warmer reception that we’ll get.” Is that actually it?
Joe: I think, again, I think that’s accurate. I think that’s very accurate. For me, it’s a platform — in particular, why I like this interview, the way you’ve got it set up — it’s a platform that I can share with other people that, maybe they don’t have time to get on the phone with me right now. Not just customers. It could be other PR contacts. It could be partners. It’s a platform that humanizes me. It lets me . . . they get an opportunity to hear me. They get an opportunity to see me in a Q&A environment. So I think that’s really, for us, why we like the Mixergy channel, in particular, is it gives us that opportunity to share those videos.
Andrew: All right. Well, thank you for doing this interview. I will tell everyone in the audience to go check out iQuire.com and to find a way to reach out to you. Especially, more and more what I’m seeing is, at conferences, people will see someone who they’ve interviewed at Mixergy, and while ordinarily they may not want to go over and say hello to someone, they might wait for an opportunity, like when they’re up on stage, to wait for them to come off stage and be one of the group of people, or maybe even hope that they’ll get to sit next to them at dinner so they can talk. Well, if you listen to them on Mixergy, you’ve got this connection, and what I’m finding is, more and more, people will go and say hello to the guest when they seem them at a conference, or when they see them at an event. And if you guys see Joe, I hope you say, “Hey, I saw you on . . . ” I don’t even care if you give me credit. You can say, “I saw you on some website, and I saw the interview.” But do find a way to connect with him, and with anyone whose interview you see me do, because I tend to interview good people. And Joe, thank you for doing this.
Joe: Thank you. Have a great one.
Andrew: Thank you for watching. Bye, guys.
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