How Ryan Deiss turned Traffic and Conversion Summit (and digital marketing) into a real business

Ryan Deiss is the founder of a Traffic & Conversion, a conference for digital marketers. He is also the founder of DigitalMarketer which offers tools and training for digital marketers.

A few years ago I went to the Traffic & Conversion Summit for the first time. I bought a ticket not expecting to go to any of the sessions, but I bought a ticket wanting to meet people there.

But I underestimated the size of the business and the legitimacy of digital marketing at the time. I want to undo that assumption today and learn how Ryan became one of the best marketers out there.

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Ryan Deiss

Ryan Deiss

Digital Marketer

Ryan Deiss is the founder of a Traffic & Conversion, a conference for digital marketers. He is also the founder of DigitalMarketer which offers tools and training for digital marketers.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses for an audience of real entrepreneurs. And it’s live day that I’m doing here with a few entrepreneurs who are focused on the marketing space. And this whole thing happened largely because of a conversation that I had with Ryan Deiss a few years ago when I interviewed him. There’s this thing that echoed in my head where for years as I was running, I said, “Why did you ask him the question about legitimizing? Are you like . . . ” I don’t know what the phrase was, but it was basically justify yourself to me and my audience as a marketer and that you’re not just like this creepy online marketer.

And my frustration with that was that I teed him up for an answer that I heard him give Noah Kagan at brunch, and I thought, “I got a cliched answer.” It wasn’t until years later that I realized that’s not the problem. The problem was that I wasted time there instead of finding out how he does his marketing so well.

And the way that it hit me was I went to Traffic & Conversion a few years ago for the first time and I bought a ticket not expecting to go to any of the sessions, but I bought a ticket thinking, “I want to get to know people. I’m going to buy a ticket to the Ryan feels like another ticket sale. He’ll feel appreciative that Andrew bought the ticket.” And I remember walking into this . . . Ryan is smiling as I said this.

I remember walking into this event going, “He’s not even going to know I’m here. There are literally thousands of people here. And it’s not just thousands of people taking over this place in San Diego. It’s thousands of people and these booths that are full of people and there’s like training in a corner that’s just jam-packed with people. He’s not going to know I’m here.”

I went over and I said hi to him. There’s no way that he even remembers that I said hi because everybody was swarming him. And that’s when it hit me. I underestimated the size of his business. I made a mistake by asking, “Why are you here instead of how did you get here?” We need to correct that. I need to respect online marketing more. I need to see if I can make this happen again and I got my dream guest Ryan Deiss coming in here where we could talk about that.

Ryan Deiss is the founder of a couple of companies. The first is that conference that I told you about, it’s Traffic & Conversion. I’m hesitating for a second there because I’m all about my notes, and my tab with the notes just disappeared. Traffic & Conversion that is the place where everyone who does digital marketing seems to just get together. And he sold that business. We’ll find out a little bit about that.

And the second company that he’s known for is DigitalMarketer. They’ve got tools and training for digital marketers. And specifically, what I’m fascinated by is something called DigitalMarketer Lab, where people pay a monthly fee to learn from professionals who are in marketing about how to do it.

This interview where I get to redo my mistakes of the past and we get to learn marketing from the guy who does marketing virtually better than anyone else and knows it better than anyone else I can think of, it’s sponsored by two phenomenal companies. The first will, well, will do your books, your financial books. It’s called Pilot. I just signed up with them. I can’t wait for you guys to hear about them, and I wish Ryan had them years ago. You’ll see why. And the second will help hire phenomenal developers is called Toptal.

Ryan, welcome. Good to have you here.

Ryan: Good to be back. Yeah, excited to get a second crack at this one.

Andrew: You laughed when I said that. I was so surprised by how many people were at that conference.

Ryan: Yeah, I mean, it’s the industry as a whole has grown. You know, it is funny because when you and I talked before, and do you even remember what year that was?

Andrew: No, I’d look it up while we’re talking and tell you.

Ryan: I mean, in internet years it was a billion years ago. But, you know, back then it was if you were teaching and talking about or even doing some type of online or digital marketing, people would kind of look at you a little bit sideways. Like, “Is what you’re doing legal? Is it spam? Is it this?” Now the industry has been fully legitimized. I think everybody recognizes that. Digital marketing is marketing. Adweek recorded, I guess, like the month before last that this is going to be the year that digital actually surpasses traditional media spend, traditional ad spend. So it now is just, you know, digital is marketing. Marketing is digital.

It’s just it’s gone there. So I’d love to take credit for all the growth of the event. I like to think there’s some things we did smart, and we can talk about some of those. But in general, I think the industry as a whole has just grown. There are more digital marketers and more demand gen folks. It’s just gotten bigger. And I think we’ve been the beneficiary of some of those broader trends.

Andrew: This was 2012. I think that in our world digital marketing made sense at the time, but people who just did digital marketing were the ones who were suspect. If you were doing marketing at a tech company, there was more credibility that came with that. If you were doing it and teaching people at a tech company how to do it, people were weary. I think that’s the difference. What came first? It was actually the conference, right?

Ryan: Well, I mean, I’ve been doing marketing for my own businesses. And even to this day, I still own a number of businesses that have nothing to do with the teaching of marketing. This was always a side project. So I started off selling eBooks on everything from how to make your own baby food to how to roll your own sushi. That was how I paid my way through college. Bought my, you know, now wife’s engagement ring. And to me the teaching of digital marketing was always a little side project, a little side hustle that I would do to fund my other wild, crazy harebrained entrepreneurial schemes. So I didn’t have to go and, you know, raise money from investors.

But in terms of the sequence of, you know, me as a marketing teacher, yeah, I’ve been selling stuff. I’ve been selling little, whether it’s an eBook or a course here and there since the early 2000s. Like literally the year 2000, I think is when I sold, you know, my very first product that had something to do with marketing. But where it really got kicked off was at the very first Traffic & Conversion Summit in 2009. So in 2009, you know, me and my business partner, you know, buddy, we’re like, “Let’s do an event. Everybody else is doing events. Surely they’re making money, you know, can’t be that hard.” And so we said, “Let’s put on events and let’s have it be different. Let’s not having to be one of these pitch fest style events. Let’s just get a bunch of people in a room and for three days, let’s just share what we know.”

And so it was just us talking. I think we had like maybe one or two other outside speakers come in. And it was just us talking and sharing. And our goal that first year was to have everybody leave and say, “Wow, that was the best event I’ve ever been to.” And it wasn’t to make money and we didn’t make any money. We lost lots of money. As a result of that we sold tickets to the next year’s event to help cover the cost. And it was the third Traffic & Conversion Summit where I remember looking at a room of about 800 people saying this might be a thing. And so at T&C three was when we launched DigitalMarketer. So DigitalMarketer kind of launched in 2011, 2012. But it really didn’t even get going until about 2014. But yeah, definitely T&C, the event came first. The community is what birthed DigitalMarketer as a brand.

Andrew: How did you get people to come to the first conference?

Ryan: Begged.

Andrew: Was it you personally emailing people and telling them, “I’m doing this thing. Do you want to come?”

Ryan: Yeah, yeah.

Andrew: Really?

Ryan: I mean, so we had a list, right? I mean, I had a fairly small list. So I said, “I’m doing this thing and here’s why it’s going to be different.” And I think we sold 80 something tickets. And, you know, our goal was like, “If we just get 200 people in the room, that’ll feel like a really significant event.” So that was my goal. I wanted at least 100 or I was just going to cancel the whole thing. So we got 80, which is the worst number in the world, right? Because it’s too much. This happens in business, right? You much rather have a total miserable failure than something that’s close. So it was close enough that we just had to make it work and so, yeah, it was just hand-to-hand combat. I’m emailing people. We direct mailed our customers at the time. Yeah, paper. Printed out, fold, affixed a stamp, put it in.

Andrew: Customers of your digital educational products?

Ryan: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I even went to friends of mine who I knew had stuff and I said, “Can I directly mail your customers. You don’t have to send me their stuff, send it your customer list to this mailing house. I’ll cover all the costs and it’ll be your affiliate link in there.” So it was everything that I could do that we can do just to fill it up. I think even with some products at the end, we wound up bonusing a ticket. It was everything we could do. And the first one had around 280 something attendees, which we saw was a huge, huge win until we [inaudible 00:08:23].

Andrew: So you sold 80 tickets. But then at the day, it was 280 people who showed up.

Ryan: No, we sold 80 tickets with maybe a month to go. So we did a big promotion. And so I had about a month ago. And I think we only had 100 or so. And in the last two weeks, we almost doubled the number of tickets that we sold, which I now know from doing events now for over a decade, that’s not that atypical, like so many people decide in the last minute to actually buy the ticket.

Andrew: I do and so you’re saying it’s if 100 tickets are sold before, you might get another 200 after, the last month or so?

Ryan: You’ll get an additional 100 for a total of 200.

Andrew: Another 100. Got it. And so in your case, you ended up with 280 people. How did you lose money when it’s 280 people paying to come to this event?

Ryan: Well, I think the ticket was only a couple hundred dollars. And, you know, to put on an event with AV and, you know, we had printed binders for everyone. I think our total costs were at least $120,000. And I don’t think we made that off the ticket sales and we had no sponsors. And again, most of the events at that point were pitch events. So a speaker would come up, they talk about something for 45 to 60 minutes. They’d sell for 20 to 30 minutes. Everybody rushed in the back of the room. I knew as a consumer, I didn’t like that at all. So I didn’t want to put on that kind of event.

Well, the downside to changing the model is we also removed the primary monetization vehicle that most of these events had. But I think that that decision was is the reason that T&C grew and other events shrunk. It’s just better for the customers, better experience.

Andrew: I do see with the one that I went to there were people who were selling something. It was, “I’m doing my thing. Maybe I’m not allowed . . . ” I think they’re not allowed to sell from the stage, right, but they could do upsell or follow up afterwards. What’s the rule?

Ryan: So some people violate the no sales rule and they’re not invited back and if it’s shameful enough, then we’ve got other things we [take them to 00:10:19]. You can offer something free of value on your last slide, but it needs to be very, very, very subtle. There’s no pitching. I mean, if you have something that’s relevant to what you just talked about, if you’ve got a template, if you’ve got a, “Hey, you can go and get . . . You know, I’ve got some over here.” And you want to have people opt in. That’s fine. But there’s no passing out order forms, just for making an offer.

Andrew: Got it. So it’s opt in but not selling. That make sense. Kim Walsh Phillips sent out an email this last one saying, “I had this thing that I was going to sell and I couldn’t because I realized that I would get . . . ” I think she said fined or she would get dinged for doing it. And she didn’t know it until the last minute. And she did this email where she talked about what she came up with at the last minute as a way of connecting with people. It was definitely not a sell. Okay, got it. And so you didn’t have that. And then when you grew it beyond that, what was it that allowed you to grow beyond? How did you get more customers?

Ryan: Well, yeah, I think a lot of it was the industry as a whole grew. So I mean, I don’t believe that luck can be discounted in any business, right? I mean, so the digital marketing as a whole grew. But what happened is, normally what happens in an event is you’ll have people that will go and they’ll get sold the entire time that they’re there. And either they have a good time, kind of when they leave, and they come out of the ether of the event they’re like, “I didn’t really learn anything. And I don’t come back with anything. I don’t want to send other people there because it’s almost like I’m just sending them to a Tupperware party kind of thing.” At T&C it was different. Everybody was like, “This was the best event I’ve ever been to,” and they told their friends.

So it’s a very boring strategy. It’s called deliver an amazing product and people will talk about it. And that’s why for the first three T&Cs; we lost money off of those events. That was essentially our customer acquisition cost was putting on a really great event then other people would want to come to. And it wasn’t until we realized that, “Okay, we’ve got now enough people here that we can begin to have sponsors. So people to come and sponsor the event, people who want to be aligned with this event because now there’s, you know, 1,000 people coming to this event. People will pay good money to have a booth and have their name associated with it and that can offset the costs.”

Andrew: Was there more money from the booths than from the tickets?

Ryan: It’s about 50/50.

Andrew: Okay. And so . . .

Ryan: Actually, that’s not true. I’m sorry, let me double check that. It’s about 60/40. So sponsors are 40%, ticket sales are 60%.

Andrew: Okay, and so the first DigitalMarketer content, I think I understood that it came from that conference, from recordings of the conference?

Ryan: Parts of it did. Yeah, so one of the ways that we monetized the conference is we took individual sessions, and we would turn those into product. And then we would sell those and then eventually the entire model at DigitalMarketer shifted to, “Let’s take all of our content and put it into a member’s area.” And that’s what became Lab and kind of the first iteration. That was a miserable failure and then we sort of figured it out.

But yeah, you know, it’s funny, like, we made sure if you want to produce great content, put people in a room because you’re going to make sure if you’ve got any dignity whatsoever, but it’s great, because when those people are standing right back at you, and you can see the blank stares and the expressions. And you can tell like they’re like, “I just didn’t want to disappoint people. I knew they invested in the ticket, but I knew they invested way more in the travel to get there and in the hotel, and I just didn’t want to disappoint them.” So our best work was always the work that we did going into a Traffic & Conversion Summit. So . . .

Andrew: Why didn’t it work then? When you had those recordings, why didn’t that work on the site?

Ryan: Yeah. Because in the beginning, we just put everything into one member’s area and we said, “Sign up and you’ll get everything.” And when you say it’s like, you know, it’s the old cliché, right, “If you highlight everything, you highlight nothing.” You know, our vision was let’s create Netflix for marketers. Let’s have this one stop shop where everybody can come. And if you ask people, they’ll say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I want.” And the people who did buy and who stayed, that was why they stayed. But one of the things as marketers, as product developers, startup founders, never confuse the reason that people stay with the reason they buy originally.

And so we really started to drill down, you know, “Why did you buy? Why did you sign up?” It was, “Well, I saw in this one bullet point that you had this training on Facebook ads, and I really needed to know that. So I just signed up to get that. And then I was excited that there was all these other things.” Well, so the only people who bought were the people who took the time to actually read all the stuff that came in it. That’s only about nobody, right? So the reason it didn’t work in the beginning is because we tried to sell everything. We tried to sell membership. We tried to sell subscription, instead of selling to a very specific use case, a very specific need.

Andrew: I get that. The problem that I have with doing that is then you’re selling one person’s work. And in your case, it’s not you guys who are creating it, it was your speakers, the participants who are coming in. And it feels a little weird to make money off of one person’s work on your site who’s not getting paid for that work, right?

Ryan: In the beginning it was all our work. Yeah.

Andrew: So even though most people who were speaking . . . oh, because you guys you were the only one speaking at the conference.

Ryan: Bingo. So in the beginning it was really, really simple. It was only us. Then what we did is we shifted over to a . . . we shifted over to more of a publishing type model. And the deal was, “Look, what we’re going to do is when we sell your work à la carte, we’re going to give you a royalty on the à la carte sales. But the subscription revenue on the back is ours.”

It eventually got to a point where we didn’t even need to do that. People wanted to contribute. They wanted to speak. The community had grown to the extent that we didn’t even need to offer royalties now on frontend à la carte sales. We could just say, “We’re not doing that anymore. If you want to speak to our community, here’s what we’re going to do with it. You’re okay with that.”

And now we don’t even do that with the content at Traffic & Conversion’s on it. You know, now the content that we à la carte sell is stuff that, you know, we have a faculty program, there’s different people who are subject matter experts in particular areas of digital marketing. Because in the past, I could be an expert in digital marketing, and I was. And now digital marketing is 15 different things. Nobody can be an expert in all of it. So we built out a faculty model and the deal is that we have is very simple. You’re going to come in and you’re going to produce some content but we’re going to only ask for about a day of your time. We’re going to give you lots of stuff, lots of exposure to the community and you’re going to leverage that to build your own brand. And that’s how you’re going to monetize and people are happy to do that.

Andrew: I remember asking you. You came to an event and my suite at some conference and it was so packed that it was you . . .

Ryan: That was Leadpages.

Andrew: Leadpages, right.

Ryan: Yeah. Convince and Convert. Yeah, I was there with Clay.

Andrew: And Derek Halpern and I and you were standing outside with a handful of people because the room was just so packed. I think that’s also where we saw Amanda Holmes out there in the hallway. And I remember saying to you at the time, “I’m a little worried about the quality of some of the content on the site, the video quality.” And I saw at the time that you were doing screen sharing or your people are doing screen sharing in the courses and you said that’s intentional. You remember why? Why that was okay? Why you didn’t want to have people at the time in studios and just do screen share and talking to the mic?

Ryan: So we’ll do studio work if it’s more conceptual. So if somebody is teaching a broader base, foundational idea or a framework that isn’t going to change all the time, then by all means. The office I’m in right now we have a studio. We do training.

Andrew: I saw Molly Pittman for example, do it. I saw two cameras on, but that’s resent, isn’t it?

Ryan: We’ve been doing it that way since about 2015.

Andrew: Okay. I didn’t realize.

Ryan: But keep in mind. In any given course, there’s going to be some head-on stuff where it’s going to be professionally produced where somebody is talking about, again, the concepts, the foundation, the fundamentals, the frameworks, the models, the stuff that doesn’t change all the time. If I’m going to teach you about email marketing, I can talk about, you know, and lay out a basic, you know, automated follow-up sequence funnel and basically say, “Okay, you know, people, three emails here, do this.”

And I can draw that up and explain it head on, heavily produced, and that’s not going to change very quickly. Similarly, if I’m going to explain the foundational aspects of Facebook ads, that’s not going to change very quickly. But when you’re talking about getting in and showing somebody the how-tos of stepping through and how to do that, it changes our interface every other day. And so getting somebody back in the studio can be very expensive, time consuming on their part. And so our thing is we always mix it. We always blend it so the stuff that we know is going to change often screen capture because then you can update frequently. And it doesn’t kind of mangle the video or feel like it’s a bunch of different . . . it was shot at a bunch of times.

Andrew: Where did the original traffic come from for DigitalMarketer? Was it content marketing? Was it . . . uh-huh?

Ryan: No, originally it came from the list that I built going way back forever ago, and even back then it was always advertising. So I’ve always been . . . I always say always. In the earliest days of search engine optimization when it was easy, right? I mean, look, I made my very first sale online in 1999. Google was a science fair project then. You know what I’m saying like? I was optimizing for AltaVista and Lycos and Dogpile and stuff like that. So back then I was really good at search engine optimization because it was easy, just with keyword stuff at the bottom of the page, that was the growth hack, right? And, you know, you’d put your keywords with the same color as the background and nobody could see it, right? That was the big like breakthrough then.

So when search engine optimization got hard and when it kept changing, and I realized I didn’t have control over this, that’s when I said, “I want to get good at advertising and I want to engineer the economic, structure the economics of my business such that I can afford to go out and acquire.” And I said I want to get good at advertising.” And that was very, very, very unpopular for a good number of years with the content marketing, the inbound movement. It was almost this thing . . . people still I hear them brag about the fact that, “We spend nothing on advertising.”

I’ve always just thought that was weird. I don’t know. I don’t get it. The two are not mutually exclusive. And so I always bought ads. I would advertise on the different channels. I would drive them to my website. I would offer them something of value that they would opt in. And then I would have the ability to follow up and, you know, it might take me 30, 60, 90 days to recoup that initial ad spend. So early on, I couldn’t scale very quickly, you know, but as it built over time we just take care of those customers always.

Andrew: Just ads? It wasn’t even affiliates?

Ryan: No, the affiliates when we would do affiliate type stuff, it was always just my own personal network. We never had a big affiliate base. So it would be my personal network of . . . I manage my affiliate program, which is texting friends saying, “Hey, will you promote?” I never liked the affiliate game that much because it was almost always driven by reciprocation. And so it was, “I’m going to I’ll mail it for yours if you mail for mine.” That always to me seemed like a losing game. And . . .

Andrew: I think last time you were on you were talking about how you did affiliates. And one of the things that made you different was you were willing to pay like 100% of your sale to the affiliate. And the reason you were willing to do that was because you wanted ongoing revenue from them.

Ryan: Yeah, we would do that on frontend sales. And this was back when, you know, you said we had that talk in 2012.

Andrew: Yeah. Before DigitalMarketer took off.

Ryan: Think about 2012 . . . yeah, exactly, everybody was doing these big $2,000 launches.

Andrew: I just banged my coffee cup.

Ryan: [inaudible 00:21:51]. Amateur. No. But no point having a pop filter if you’re going to nail it with your coffee cup. That’s me. But, no, but everybody was doing these giant $2,000 product launches. And I’m not saying those don’t work. But again, I never saw that as being the best experience for the customer. And so I always wanted to charge less. I mean, my feeling has always been the best product should win. I just want the best product or service to win. But I know that that’s not how it works. The best marketed, the best sold product wins.

So I always liked the idea of leveling the playing field. It’s like, “You’re going to charge 2,000 for that, I’m going to charge 200.” That was always my thing. But when I’m only charging . . . when I’m charging a 10th of what somebody else is charging for, obviously, I can’t pay as much in terms of affiliate commissions. And I’ll give you 100%. I just want to have the best offer.

Andrew: All right, let me talk about my first sponsor, then we’ll come back in and continue with this. First sponsor is a company called Pilot. I’ve signed up for them. They are doing my books. Anyone can go sign up for them at pilot.com/mixergy. Actually you can’t. It’s trick. They won’t let you by going to pilot.com/mixergy even though it says buy. I’ll talk about in a second. But you had an issue with your finances. I thought maybe we could talk about that within this ad. What happened, Ryan?

Ryan: Yeah, I mean, so when I was first getting started in business, I didn’t know how to manage my books. I kind of managed my books by looking at my bank account and if there was more money in than the previous month, then I assumed that things were okay. You know, I didn’t have this notion of bills outstanding, you know, accounts receivable, accounts payable, any of this stuff.

Andrew: Taxes owed, they were not recorded on your books?

Ryan: Well, so it started I wound up racking up about $200,000 and $250,000 of credit card debt because I wasn’t managing my books. I basically read my books on credit cards and lines of credit. This was back in 2008, you know, 2007, 2008. And then the way that I dug myself out of that hole the next year is I just didn’t pay taxes. I paid off the credit card companies, but I wasn’t able to pay taxes. And so then now I owe another quarter million dollars to the IRS and, I mean, again, I’ve dug myself out of that hole as well, thankfully.

Andrew: By selling and by growing stuff, yeah.

Ryan: By selling stuff and not, you know, eating ramen noodle and all that stuff that you’re supposed to do when you do dumb things. But yeah, had I managed my cash flow better I wouldn’t have gotten in that situation.

Andrew: I really like having somebody else do my books. I used to like doing it myself because I wanted to be on top of every penny and having to reconcile it. It would force me to pay attention everything but I realized when I was busy, I wouldn’t do it enough. And so I thought about hiring a bookkeeper to do it. And I remember asking our mutual friend, Noah Kagan, for someone, and asking a few others. Then I realized, “No, I don’t want a single bookkeeper because if they don’t show up because they’re sick or because whatever or because they have a client who’s taking up more of their time, I don’t want their excuse. I want my books done and I can’t force them to do it.”

So I like working with a company that will do my books. I really have been enjoying Pilot because they use QuickBooks. They just fill it out. I signed up and then I forgot them. And then I went in and I looked and I go, “This is amazing.” I’ll tell you how amazing it is. I love these beads. It helps me stay focused. Rebecca on our team created a page to sell these beads. I looked at my income statement and I didn’t even know it. I looked at my income statement, I said, “What is this?”

And it turned out I didn’t realize that we started selling those beads. It was Rebecca starting to sell them. Pilot recognized that there was a sale for that. They put a number on it. It was like $700 or something in her experiment. And that’s how I discovered we were selling it, because not only did Pilot know we were selling it, but they accounted for it beautifully. And so I recognized in that moment that they can pick up on things that I’m not even telling them and help me understand my business better than I understand it myself. I definitely want to work with them.

And so they’re doing my books. They signed up as sponsors only after we spent months, literally months saying no to them and vetting them, making sure they were right. And now that they are, they’re doing this quirky thing. If you go to pilot.com/mixergy, it says try it for free, but you can’t. As soon as you fill in your information, you’re basically booking a time with their people. They want to get to know you before they take you on as a client. And so the advantage for us is this, even if you don’t want to sign up for Pilot, I recommend that everybody go through that form and get their free consultation, what they will do for everybody who’s doing this.

So I said, “Look, if you guys aren’t selling, what are you going to give my people as benefit?” So we could go over their books with them? I said, “Great.” So if you’re signing up, they will go over your books, they will tell you what you should tell your bookkeeper to do and improve next time. What mistakes you’re having. If you’ve never done your books yet, because you’ve got a new company, they will help you think about how to structure it properly in QuickBooks, or whatever you want. And then if you want to work with them, you could do it in the future. But for now, all they’re going to do is give you free training, free feedback on your books.

All you have to do is go to pilot.com/mixergy and you’ll see there. If you decide to stick with them, they’ll even give you 20% off Pilot core for six months. But really, just use them for free feedback on your book. See if what you’re doing is right, or if there’s a better way to improve it, or how you could do it if you want to start from scratch. I really like them as a company.

I see that you started doing ads. What was working for you in the early days of advertising before you got into this thing called splintering content that I’ve heard from you about you for a while? What was working for you? Or was nothing working for you until you started splintering your content?

Ryan: Well, from an ad perspective, I mean, that’s just advertising. What was working back then is there was a new channel coming on every other day, right? I mean, Google was adding more placements, Facebook was adding new placements. And so there were always little advantages and tricks and hacks we had. Now the only real advantage from an advertising perspective is just having a better message being a better copywriter is really what it comes down to. And again, having the economics of your company such that you can spend a little bit more. You can wait just a little bit longer to monetize and also just have a good retargeting setup.

So, I mean, we can get into that if you want to, but the big advantage we didn’t . . . What took DigitalMarketer Lab from a losing offer into a winning offer didn’t have anything to do with the ads, it had everything to do with the offer on the page. So we just we switched from advertising, “Hey, we have this membership where you can get everything,” to, you know, again, just, “Do you want this one little thing? This one little bullet point?” And we only talked to them about that. And then only then once they bought that, did we say, you know, “Okay. Now, that you have this one, do you want everything else?”

And I’ve got my theories on why this works. Like I know there’s a lot of people in marketing who likes to pretend like they’re neuroscientists. I don’t. But one thing that I’ve seen happen, at least for me with my own buying, when I make a purchase, basically the act of purchasing allows me to check that thing off in my mind, right? And so I’ve done this with fitness before, right? It’s like, “I really need to lose weight. I really need to get in better shape. I know I’m going to buy this piece exercise equipment,” or, “I’m going to buy, you know, these Beachbody videos,” or, “I’m going to, you know, I’m going to sign up for, you know, food delivery services. I’m getting going to eat better,” right?

The second I make that purchase. It’s like okay, check. And I just become so much more abundant in my thinking. I’m open for ideas where when you’re experiencing a very real and tangible pain, it’s the only thing you can think about. So if you’re in pain, you just get this tunnel vision. And you think, “I can’t think about anything else until this one pain is addressed.” But what we found is, we didn’t have to solve that problem for people to be willing to go to the next stage. So some of these big pain is, “I don’t have any traffic, I need to figure out Facebook ads.” We didn’t have to say, “Okay, buy our training on Facebook ads. Now, go and set up your Facebook ads, get a winner. Okay, now you’re ready to sign up for Lab.” They just had to buy our training on Facebook ads, and then feel like okay, check. I’m now going to be able to do that.

And then we were able to explain to him face, you know, getting ads and buying ads is just one piece of the puzzle. You also need to know how to do email marketing and how are you going to convert those people once they get there, you know. So to be able to say, “You got a piece of it. And this piece is really, really, really important.” And it stands alone. If that’s the only thing you need, that’s great.

So this isn’t a bait and switch. This is useful but incomplete, right? This is good. And if the only thing you need is that, then that’s great. But good chance you’re getting these other stuff. So we’ll let you have all of that. In the beginning, we just asked them to return go ahead and sign up for the membership. We charge them right then and there. And we then switched it to just take a trial to remove all the friction and try and get access to all of it for free.

Andrew: I think it was a buck per, right?

Ryan: So that was really what made. It was a $1 in the beginning because the way the merchant account was set up is there was no way to do a free trial and have it rebill unless you charge something. So yeah, so it was $1. It’s now a totally free trial.

Andrew: Oh, really? You can collect credit cards and not charge anything?

Ryan: Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah. I copied that from you.

Ryan: If you set it up the right way. Yeah, if you set it up the right way. And in the beginning, we didn’t set it up the right way and it messed up a whole bunch of stuff. So I would recommend if you want to keep it simple, charge a $1. It’s not like conversion rates at free were substantially better than they were at a $1 just for what it’s worth.

Andrew: I copied that from you because it made so much sense just charge a buck and have people try it out. And if they’re not happy, they could cancel and we even would refund the buck. It doesn’t really matter. I heard that, I think, from you, the reason that you did the interview before was you wanted to see what our pre-interview process was like. You wanted to see how we create content at Mixergy back at 2012. I’m wondering what else we should be learning from you? What’s working for you at DigitalMarketer that you look at Andrew and go, “I can’t believe this guy is not getting it because his head is in a different world”? What are you seeing that you think that way?

Ryan: I think, so if I look at it, I’m not going to try to say what you can learn from me because you’re great at so many things I’m not. And I don’t even know the stuff you’re good at, right? We don’t talk about all. You get on these things and talk to people about what they’re good at as opposed to what you’re good at. So I don’t want to pretend that I can necessarily teach you anything. But some things that we’ve done that I think have worked really, really, really well is we in addition to kind of the splintering, so the à la carte offer on the front to bring people in, that’s something that we’ve done that’s just worked. And I’ve talked about it a lot. I share that idea.

I see tragically few people do it. I don’t know why? Everybody still wants to go in there. And by the way, it can also work in SaaS. It’s done in SaaS. If you think about the way that enterprise SaaS is sold. What do you do? You sell individual use cases. You don’t go and drill down to every feature that you got in your software. You sell a use case, right? Somebody is excited about that one use case would buy the whole thing. So it’s nothing new. We didn’t invent anything. We just applied it to a different category.

But the other thing that we did, remember I said before, don’t confuse the reason that people buy with the reason they stay. People join DigitalMarketer Lab because they want to know how to do one particular thing. And we show them how to do that one thing. And then they figure out, “Okay, but then I can do this thing and this thing and this thing.” But the reason they actually stay is for the community.

And the thing I think we’ve done better than just about any other company in our space is we built true community. We built a community. Tactically, it looks like a Facebook group, but also Traffic & Conversion Summit is a community. We’ve been very thoughtful about getting people to come out to encourage the networking there. We used to say at Traffic & Conversion Summit, this is not a networking event.

You need to be in the room or you’re not going to get the value. We don’t say that anymore because that’s stupid and it’s wrong. There’s probably more value to be had in the hallways than there is in the room. Now, we want to still produce amazing content, so you feel a little bit conflicted. But in general, there is nothing bigger. I think there’s nothing you can do for your company to grow and to make sure that it lasts and becomes something significant than to put a special emphasis on how do we build community around what we’re doing. That is brand today.

Andrew: So then what’s different about your Facebook group from other people’s Facebook groups? What are we not seeing as we look as outsiders?

Ryan: So for one, it’s paid. So the only people who are in it are people who have paid to be in it. Number two, we have professional community managers who are in there, again, not part-timers, not somebody who is an active member and they’re helping you. Somebody whose full time job it is just to manage that community. And it is a full-time thing.

Andrew: That helps us a lot. When there’s a full-time person.

Ryan: It helps us grow.

Andrew: Yeah. Because then they get to know the people who are in there, they get to make connections. And there’s a responsibility for that product.

Ryan: They also make sure if a question gets asked, it gets answered. So if a question gets asked in our community, they’ll let it be there for a little while. And if they know somebody has the answer, because again, they know and we’re over 10,000 members in our community, right? And so obviously, Justina, who’s our community manager doesn’t know all of them, but she knows dozens of them is probably the order of magnitude. And so if a question gets asked, she’ll tag somebody else in the group.

So the other thing that we do is we make sure that when we first launched that community, I was very active in there. I was the one answering the question. And what I found is that if somebody asked the question, I answered it, the conversation died. Because nobody . . . there’s like, “Well, I can’t add. Ryan answered and I can’t add anything to it. I don’t want to look stupid.” And so I stopped the answering questions.

I went in there and I just said, “I would wait.” If somebody else answered the question really well, I just typed in like, “Hey, what Graham said.” You know, “Hey, what Jen said. I can’t do it any better than that. That was phenomenal.” Or, “Yep, totally agree with what they said. I got this. I love it.” So it’s more about facilitation and about getting other members inside of that community to contribute so that it does become this snowball that just rolls downhill.

Now, I’m basically just there to kind of protect and preserve the culture, right? And the culture of our community is you just can’t be mean at all. We will tolerate no meanness. And if somebody does it, I’ll chime in and be like, “Hey, you need to be really, really, really careful. I understand what you’re trying to say and I appreciate what you’re saying. Your tone doesn’t suggest that so would you mind rephrasing it differently?” Because, you know, and I’ll be that direct. Because protecting that community is everything. It’s everything. So you can’t be mean.

But we’ll also be goofy, right? So I’ll post stuff in. It’s rare that I post real content. I post goofy stuff around the office just so that people can see that we’re human that we like to have fun. This is marketing. This is fun. So I think that’s a lot of what doesn’t get seen. But it really comes down to having somebody whose job it is to run the community. And she sits on the product team. You know, that’s product for us.

Andrew: So 10,000 people in the program at $50 a month. Am I right, $49 a month?

Ryan: The average what’s more than 10,000. It’s more than 10,000 less than 15,000. So that’s the range I’ll give you.

Andrew: So over half a million a month just coming in from this membership?

Ryan: Yeah, it’s a bit more than that. Our average member value because we have different levels is more like $80-ish.

Andrew: On average. So we’re talking about a million plus, over a million dollars a month coming in from membership.

Ryan: Yeah, you’re in the ballpark.

Andrew: Wow. Wow. And then on top of that those other products you’ve got the certification, that’s a different product than the membership? The certification courses?

Ryan: So the certifications you get as a level in the membership and we do also sell those à la carte. But again, buy one of our certifications à la carte. On the next page it’s, “Do you realize if you’re a Lab Plus member, you get access to all of them,” right? We don’t deviate. We’re not that smart, right? If something works, we just got to keep doing it.

Andrew: And it’s cheaper then. Like if I’ve got, if I’m looking at some of these, I think it’s 500 bucks to get the Search Marketing Mastery. That would be part of the program, right? I could get that as part of one of your membership for cheaper than for . . . one month would be cheaper than that whole product. Am I right?

Ryan: No. If you buy it à la carte, then you have it, right? I mean, it’s you have access to it.

Andrew: No matter what.

Ryan: If you join as a member and you cancel your membership, then your access is taken away. But if you’re a member, then you always get the free updates as well. So that’s kind of the value proposition and we’ve had people say, “You know, I just, I want to own them out, right?” And we’ve had people come and say, “You know, I see you’ve got these 10, here is $5,000 for all 10.” It’s like, “You realize you could be a member of Lab Plus for four, five years at that?” “No, I just want it.” “Okay.” So that’s how the value prop work.

Andrew: From what I understand, another part for you guys get traffic or where you get customers is your content. Like I actually talked to someone who used to work for you said, “Look, one of the things that we did recently was just pare down all the content. It used to be a lot of content on the site. We used to pride ourselves on having more, but now we got rid of stuff that doesn’t work,” which is what a lot of people in SEO have realized. Just get rid of stuff that’s not exciting anymore that you put up because it made sense for some reason in the past. And beef up the really good stuff by bringing in the writers to update. Am I right?

Ryan: Yeah. So now, organic represents more than . . . I want to say, again, it goes back to the 60/40 we talked about before. But I think I have to double check this but the 60% of our subscribers and free accounts actually come from organic now as opposed to paid. And that’s fairly new just of the last two years is when that really kind of came on strong. We decided to make that commitment to it. And so again, we’ve got somebody who all they do is focus on the search side. And we have an editorial team that is producing content.

So I’m glad that this came out because I didn’t want anybody to think that I believe that the search and organic doesn’t matter, that it shouldn’t be emphasized, because it absolutely should. I just like the idea of starting with paid because you can just get a result so quickly. But at some point, yeah, you got to get off the drug that is paid advertising and it needs to create that snowball. And that’s only going to happen if people are sharing your content, if Google is liking your content, if it’s getting passed around. That’s what’s going to bring new folks in. I think you’re muted, Andrew.

Andrew: [inaudible 00:39:59] some offers according to SimilarWeb for you guys, PushCrew. I’ve heard that you guys will talk. You talked about it as far back as 2016. You were telling people PushCrew is where you come to a site. It says, “Can we send you alerts?” You press a button saying, “Yes.” And then your browser will send you alerts saying that there’s another post, right?

Ryan: Yeah. And what we love about that is it’s just another channel to communicate content. Now, in the beginning, we first started using PushCrew and push notifications. We primarily use it for promotional reasons. And it’s okay. We will still do it every now and then if it’s a really special case. If it’s, you know, when Traffic & Conversion Summit, for example, tickets are about to sell out. We’ll use PushCrew to say like, “This thing is selling out.” Because it’s like, “This is your last chance.” But in general, we don’t send a lot of promotions through PushCrew. What we want to do is we want to leverage that to get people back to our content, because once somebody goes and visits our content, each piece of content is categorized by a particular topic. So piece of content might be categorized around, you know, Facebook advertising, or Google advertising, email marketing, social.

All the different categories of content that we have, they all align to a specific à la carte training. So if we can get you to come and visit a piece of content, we can now re-topically retarget you about a relevant lead magnet for example, or a relevant execution plan, or relevant certification. And we know that you’re at least somewhat interested in that, because you went over to consume content about it. So now, our advertising follow-up through retargeting can be far more effective. And people just like it better. It’s so much better experience.

You know, you went to read a blog posts that had a bunch of Facebook ad templates and now there’s a Facebook training falling you around from us. It doesn’t feel weird. And so that’s why we want to get people to go to content, not just to deliver value in advance, but also because it’s how we keep our custom audiences fresh.

Andrew: And then how much of your content is written by people who are internal to you versus people who are who are experts because they run agencies, for example, and they want to get in front of your audience?

Ryan: Probably 90% is outside of our office.

Andrew: With your people helping to guide the content. Yeah.

Ryan: Correct. They’re editing it. So we have our . . . we have faculty. We have people that we know that they have great stuff. And one of the things . . . one of the challenges that we had as a company is it used to be, “Okay, we do this. We’re going to teach it all internally.” But then we only can learn from our own direct experiences. And so what we would tout as our big advantage as things began to change and get more complex, it actually became a disadvantage. And so I would much rather go to the person who I feel like they’ve got better stuff on, you know, YouTube advertising, for example, than we do.

So if I really want to serve our member, then let’s just go to them and acknowledge that they do, but bring them in and shepherd them through our process. Because we now have a really good solid process, and you said that like, “I want to be on your podcast because I wanted to see your process.” I also have done classes for CreativeLive and we’ve done work with Nathan learning, because I want to see other content companies processes so we can learn from them. And now we can . . . we have a team of shepherds, thought leaders, and subject matter experts through that process to really distill, you know, what they know into something that’s a product.

Andrew: Yeah. I’m looking at this. So I read an article. I said, “Let me see who wrote this.” It’s a woman named Supriya Gupta. She is the Head of Marketing at RetargetLinks and ad-tech startup that invented the technology of link targeting. And again, she’s getting all her links in there. She observes all the marketing activities and media partnerships as part of her role at RetargetLinks. This is one of the writers and she’s a practitioner who happens to write and she has . . . you’ve got a process now for getting her to turn what she does into blog posts and for other people what they do into courses. What’s your process for that? What’s magical about yours? I can tell you what works well for us, but I’m curious about you.

Ryan: Yeah, well, I definitely want to hear yours as well and . . . So this is what I believe it to be because it’s what it used to be, but they’re always iterating and improving. I should probably, you know, get our Head of Product on who can really explain the process, but in general, it’s going to start with an interview with somebody so we’re going to talk to them. And we’re just going to find out can somebody just explain what’s going on? And then we always want to get really clear on what was the result? We don’t like publishing theory on the DigitalMarketer blog. We’re never going to break marketing news. We just want to say, “If you want to get this result, here’s somebody who got it and here’s the step-by-step of what they did.”

So it’s a conversation. “What was the result? Okay, now how did you get there?” And it’s just breaking it down. Then what did you? Then what? Then what? Then what? And it’s almost better if the people in our team. At this point, they’ve all got to be pretty smart when it comes to marketing. You have to train like you have to. You got to redummify yourself. You know, you got to go back there and just be curious and say, “But how would anybody understand that?”

There’s a really great exercise called . . . I don’t know if you’ve ever read it on how do you make peanut butter and jelly sandwich, right? Where you’d like have to explain the concept of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to somebody who doesn’t know what any of these things are. Like, “Okay, we get a slice of bread, what’s bread? What do you mean a slice?” And you really can break it down into that.

So they’ll work with them to create the outline. And they’ll send them back to actually draft it. And then there’s times where people send us things and we’re like, this isn’t even close. If it’s 80% of the way there, our team will work with them. And in some cases go through and, you know, rewrite and edit to get it to where it needs to be. We want them to really shine, and we want to deliver good value for our readers. If it’s not even closer, we’ll push it back to them and say, “I’m sorry, this isn’t close. You need to change this and this and this.” You’d be surprised how many people just say, “No, I’m out.” So actually we have to have a lot of folks that are in your content pipeline to get this going. Because I bet at least half of the people that start to write a post for us never finish.

Andrew: And what’s the result that you got that our audience wants to duplicate? And then what’s the first step you took and be explicit? What’s the second step? And so on.

Ryan: Yeah, very process. What are the examples? So if somebody’s a faculty member, then if they’re going to come out and they’re going to produce a course for us. They’re going come out and they’re going to teach you a one-day workshop. From that one-day workshop, we are then going to produce all the derivative work. So somebody on our team will basically take a chunk of their standalone atomic unit of knowledge. They’ll hunk that out and turn that into a blog post. And they’ll basically write it and then work with the faculty member to prove it and make sure that it’s in their voice so that we only ask for like a day of their time. And then you just make sure you’re eating the whole animal.

Andrew: I guess, well, Brad Martineau seems to be one of your faculty members. Am I right?

Ryan: Correct.

Andrew: He’s the guy who owns SixthDivision. What he does is he teaches that whole funnel part of the business. And so you’ve got a course with him that costs a few hundred bucks, but it’s also part of the membership and then there’s someone on your team who turns what he said into this blog post and I’m looking in front of me I’m imagining. Okay.

Ryan: Yeah. That was like, I mean, maybe Brad wrote that one. Some of them were like, “No, they love to write and so they’ll write it.” I don’t want to pretend. I don’t want to mischaracterize that Brad is doesn’t write anything, but I’d say there’s a better than 80% chance that our team produced that piece of content.

Andrew: It seems like also with his he wanted to record it himself. He has like a real pride of recording. I wouldn’t be surprised if he said, “My office has got the equipment. Can we record and send it to you?”

Ryan: When it came to the product, he came out to our offices, because we don’t have to be . . . he came to our offices and yeah. And, you know, our model is we’ll fly you out here and we’ll put you up in a not totally sucky hotel. We’ll take you out to a nice dinner and we’ll pay you a daily rate, so you don’t feel like it was just a total waste of time. And for that, we’ll produce this content. We’ll share you with our audience. They also get first right of refusal for speaking at T&C.

Andrew: And so then they get to promote that. I mean, they then you get to promote it. Any sale that you make, you keep the money from it, but the upside for them is that they get the credibility and eventually some people who see Brad Martineau teach and they’re going to say, “You know what? Let’s just have Brad Martineau do it for me.” And I did that. I hired him.

All right. I’ll talk about my second sponsor real quick and then we’ll come back into this. The second sponsor is a company, Ryan, you should know these guys Toptal for hiring developers. Do you know them or do you want me to tell you?

Ryan: Yeah. I’m, you know, I’m definitely familiar with Toptal. I agree.

Andrew: Oh, great. Okay, then anyone who wants to go sign up should go to toptal.com/mixergy. When you do, you’re going to get to have 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours, in addition to a no risk trial period. They’re phenomenal because their people are just the best of the best. So if you’re looking to hire a developer part time, full time, whatever, toptal.com/mixergy.

I’ve got a few questions here from the audience here who’ve been listening. Owen Schrock is saying . . . Owen you’re saying, “How do you reimburse people?” We talked about that. Who was it? Someone asked and I’ll give them credit in a moment. He said, “If you were starting today, what would you do? If you still wanted to create this membership site today, what would you do?”

Ryan: Start with a . . . there’s got to be one big framework that you can really get behind. I think a lot of people think too small. And they want to just produce a blog post. They want to produce a training. And there’s nothing particularly unique or interesting about it. And so one of the best things that I did, I mean, fact if you look over my shoulder right back there, I can’t see it. There’s like a framed napkin over there.

Andrew: Yes.

Ryan: Yes. I mean, people who’ve been around my world for a while know that have heard the story of the million dollar napkin, how I wrote out kind of my first business model and funnel on a napkin. And then that became essentially customer value optimization, which is now the customer value journey. And so we have an overarching framework that is this kind of it’s like an artifact, right? Think about it like the 10 . . . you know, almost very few people have read the Bible from beginning to end. But most people know about the 10 commandments. Most of your big kind of idea based thought leaders out there, you could sum up everything that they teach into a one page document.

Dave Ramsey who teaches financial independence and getting out of debt. He’s got the seven baby steps. So I think the first thing to do is to come up with what is your model? What is your framework? What are your baby steps? What’s your napkin? What’s your 10 commandments? Start from that. Start from this conceptual thing that people can like literally grab a hold of and ideally pass along. And begin to popularize this concept. And then build out all of the other content around that that somebody would need either before or after. And that can be the basis but you need to start with something, that tangible artifact that distills everything down into one hook.

Andrew: And, Ryan, you’re saying if you have that framework, even if you have other people teach different aspects of it, it’s still part of your framework. And very bit that you’re having other people teach fits into your framework. Am I right?

Ryan: Yep. Exactly. And that’s why somebody can come and they can teach their particular magic. But we always make sure as an aspect of the process that it’s aligned to our framework. So we’re not going to have somebody teach something that is misaligned from our overarching framework. And we make sure that they reference the framework as a part of what they’re teaching.

Andrew: Okay. I see. And that was Brandon Burkemeyer. And earlier, Chris Luck, was asking, “Are you guys still doing content splintering? Is that still how people come in?”

Ryan: Yeah. It’s one of the main ways that people come in. So people come in through a lot of different channels now. We have people, thankfully, the brand’s gotten to the point where people just come in and sign up without . . . because they heard through somebody. And you get there eventually. It’s just not where you can really start. So, yeah, we absolutely do still do content splintering. We now have a free level of DigitalMarketers. So we kind of did the freemium route where we’re splintering off almost a section of content going more of a SaaS type model.

So primarily we’re bringing people in to some type of lead magnet, some type of content. And then we’ll do follow ups and promotions around, you know, get this other piece of content to the folks who are on our list. And we’re not generating significant revenue, you know, selling training 7, 27, even $95 on time but it drives a lot of folks into our trials. About 50%, 60% of those folks roll over into paying members.

Andrew: I see. So for example, right now, I’m on your site there’s something called Digital Agency Growth Funnel that’s free online training. If I sign up for that you might recognize that I want to build a digital agency, am I right? And then I get follow-up messages for that?

Ryan: Yeah. So that particular one is about another program that we have. So there’s really three main avatars that we serve at DigitalMarketer. And each one has its own flagship product. So we’re talking to marketing professionals, startup founders, somebody who’s an actual marketing practitioner, somebody who’s doing the marketing, then Lab is the best thing for them, there’s content, there’s community. If somebody is more of a marketing executive and they want training for their team but they don’t have to do it. We have HQ, that’s another avatar. And then the third big avatar that we have, the big persona, our digital agencies. And so we have our certified partner program that is for agencies who want to align and be a part of our community.

One of the biggest questions that we get asked is, “Can you just do this for me?” And the answer is, “No, we’re not a services-based business. But we’ve got an agency directory and we’ll refer folks into that.” So that’s another big tip that I would say know your personas, especially those high value segments, and develop dedicated products for each one of them.

Andrew: So I read a blog post earlier this year, I think it was, you guys sold Traffic & Conversion. Why did you sell it?

Ryan: So we weren’t looking to sell Traffic & Conversion Summit. We didn’t list it with anybody. There was another event in our space, Affiliate Summit, that I saw sold. And the founders in that event, yeah, I know, Shawn and Missy, they’re friends of mine. And so I actually reached out to Shawn to congratulate him on the sale like, “Hey, man, that’s great. Congratulations.” And he said, “Thanks. By the way, this company is looking to acquire other events in the marketing space. Do you want an introduction?” And I’ve never raised capital. We haven’t taken any outside funding or anything like that. Haven’t needed to.

But I’ll always have the conversation. And so when I had the conversation I didn’t think it would go anywhere. And really in talking with him though, specifically, about Traffic & Conversion Summit. What I liked is they were primarily only interested in the event. So the company that acquired us, Clarion Events, they’re the second, I think, largest event management company in the world. They are owned backed by Blackstone. Which is if you don’t know one of the largest private equity, public kind of private equity companies in the world, and what they like to do, their model is they like to acquire events that are profitable that are doing well that are one of the leaders in a particular category. And they want to help and expand into other locations.

And we’ve always wanted to take Traffic & Conversion Summit outside of the states. I’m a firm believer in going where your customers are. A part of the reason we took Traffic & Conversion Summit out of Austin, Texas and into California is because that’s where the bulk of our customers were. And so we moved San Diego, but there’s a lot of folks in the East Coast who don’t necessarily want to make that trip. We have hundreds of people that come from Brazil every single year. I want to do try to Traffic & Conversion Summit in [Lotam 00:55:37]. We’ve got folks coming over from Europe and Asia. So I’ve always wanted to expand that event but, God, it’s expensive and risky.

And we just didn’t know how to do it. And where we were at digital marketing we had to make a choice. Because DigitalMarketer was an eLearning company and a subscription kind of training company. We also had software products that were in our portfolio and we had this event. We kind of had to decided, “What are we going to double down on? And what do we feel like we’re especially great at?” And while we’re really good at the event side when it comes to scaling an event internationally, we didn’t really know how to do that and didn’t really want to, you know, raise the capital to go and do just that. Certainly didn’t want to give up equity in DigitalMarketer to raise capital to expand Traffic & Conversion Summit.

So the only way that we would sell T&C, kind of our terms were obviously it had to be a really good deal. The economics had to make sense. The deal terms itself, the valuation all that had to be good and it was. There was no issues there.

But we also wanted to make sure that we retained control over the content. So we wanted to maintain production rights. And we want a DigitalMarketer to be aligned with the event as a presenting sponsor. So it’s always been Traffic & Convert . . . well, not always. Since year four it’s been Traffic & Conversion Summit presented by DigitalMarketer because, remember, they were separate brands. Where they shared a P&L after year four, you know, they were separate brands. We wanted that to continue because we wanted DigitalMarketer to benefit from the expansion of Traffic & Conversion Summit.

We already watched T&C birth DigitalMarketer. As Traffic & Conversion Summit expands across the globe we wanted to make sure that DigitalMarketer was the beneficiary of that. And fortunately for us we didn’t have to argue for that. They came out of the gate saying the clear different . . . because they had come to T&C, they had polled attendees. And they said, “The clear differentiator of your event is the content. People come, they love the content. So if you do this event then we want you to be producing the event for at least the next five years.” I’m thinking the only way I would do this is if we can produce the event for at least the next five years. So there’s really great alignment there that, you know, made sense.

Andrew: How else do they promoted if they don’t have the site? Do they have another promotional channel?

Ryan: You know they’re not dumb. They know how to advertise and they know how to work with partners and things like that. And, I think, had they not had us as a marketing partner they would have wanted to have acquired the media property as well. But, again, we were happy to sign a marketing partnership agreement with them too.

Andrew: Because, I think, with Affiliate Summit they were a content site in addition to, not as popular obviously as DigitalMarketer, but that is how people stayed in touch between conferences.

Ryan: Correct . . . Sorry.

Andrew: Did you just lose your AirPods.

Ryan: I did. Yeah. Sorry.

Andrew: It’s okay. I just lost both of my . . . I never lose any of my stuff. I’m not the type of person who even worried about buying AirPods and losing them. But this weekend I took my kids to this train something or other and then a playground and I came home and I realized my AirPods were gone. And I’m so addicted to them that I had to borrow my wife’s just to sleep that night because I sleep with them in. And the very next morning I went back to Apple and I bought it.

Ryan: Yeah. It was just the worst. It’s actually. Can hear me okay now?

Andrew: I can. You are coming in clearly.

Ryan: Okay.

Andrew: Okay. So for now the best way for anyone to connect with you if they . . . what would you sell for? You’re not going to tell me? This is like what one of the things that people want me to do, like, “Tell me how much?” You’re not going to say how much you sold it for. Will you say if you sold it for more than 50 million?

Ryan: I can’t. Like legally I can’t. And I’ll tell you the reason that I can’t is because what we sold for is the highest multiple that Clarion had ever paid for an event.

Andrew: Really?

Ryan: So very obvious reasons, yes. It was a great sale. It really was. I can’t reveal. If anybody wants to go and do more, if anybody wants to go and do research on what multiples in the event space typically sell for, I mean, that’s publicly available. It’s normally six to eight. We did better than that. But I can’t because they don’t want it known. They don’t want to establish a new high watermark. I can’t blame them.

It was a great event. But I’ll tell you they’re going to do phenomenally on this deal. We well outpaced at the most recent T&C our projections. So they were smart to get it when they did. Because had they waited another year it would have been more expensive. So I can’t reveal.

Andrew: You guys, it costs how much, 2,500 bucks? Is that what I paid to go that to the event? Is it 2,500 bucks to get a ticket?

Ryan: It depends on when you buy. So I think early bird tickets start around $700, $800 then it goes up in different times. So we have, I think, there’s a super early bird and early bird standard and then kind of at the door type price that kicks in. But, you know, in the past few years it’s sold out. We’ve maxed out space.

Andrew: There was like 6,000 people, right? That’s how many you have. Average ticket price would be what? $2,000, $1,500 I’m guessing, right?

Ryan: It’s closer to $1,500 than $2,000.

Andrew: Okay.

Ryan: But just keep in mind some groups will buy up bulk tickets. So we’ll have a company that will come in and say I want to send 50, 80 people to this event. That’s another big change. Again, at T&C number one is all entrepreneurs and founders. They’re the only ones who wanted to know how to do this stuff. Now you’ve got marketing teams that want to know how to do this stuff from very large companies that will send whole teams of people out to Traffic & Conversion Summit. So that’s another reason why it’s growing. So you might see, yes, 6,000, you know . . .

Andrew: Say $9 million in ticket sales and that’s now 60% of revenue, I think, you said. I could be wrong in the percentage.

Ryan: Yeah. It’s not quite. It’s not that high. Ticket . . . yeah, ticket sales.

Andrew: Ticket sales less than that.

Ryan: I wish it were $9 million. It’s not quite that high.

Andrew: It’s more like what, 7 million?

Ryan: Like, yeah, I know. I appreciate the back and [inaudible 01:01:35].

Andrew: Wow. You know what the thing is? I actually remembered. It just occurred to me the first time you and I met was actually when I was living in D.C. I was at Yannick Silver’s event just because I happened to be in D.C. and because I like Yannick. And I remember asking you why you came. For some reason every time I go to conferences I want to know why do people come. Why would you fly all the way out there? And what you said was, “This is like something like where all of our old friends meet.” Yannick had that. Why do you think Yannick didn’t get as big as Traffic & Conversion?

Ryan: I mean, we had a DigitalMarketer, we had a we had a community. Again, I don’t want to mischaracterize like Yannick’s different business goals and things like that. I know he was really, really passionate about Maverick. And a lot of his energy and focus went towards building this experiential entrepreneurship group.

Andrew: He does love that, yes.

Ryan: Yeah. And so, you know, I think, a lot of it has to do with where does your focus go? I wanted to build . . . I don’t want say I. You know, I’ve got a phenomenal team. But our mission, our goal was to build the place for professional digital marketers and demand generation professionals. And so I think we wanted to do that.

We also because we weren’t a sales driven event, people kept coming back again, and again, and again, and again, again. And I think, you know, with a lot of those events they turned into a bit more of a pitch fest. And so if people feel like they’re coming to buying a ticket just to get sold to they’re going to come back and certainly not going to tell their friends. So I think us pulling that flag and saying, “We’re going to make sure people leave saying this is the best event they’ve ever been to,” that helped tremendously.

Andrew: All right. I better go back to Traffic & Conversion this coming year. I made a mistake by saying I’m traveling the world, I can’t go. And then everybody said, “That’s the place where we should meet.” And the last time that I went I thought it was really fascinating. I didn’t see a lot of the presentations. I did go to my friends. If they were there, I wanted to go and just watch what they were doing and support them. If there was someone who was interesting, I wanted to go like get a sense of how they promote.

But the biggest value for me was getting to meet with people in private in whatever. Like there’s an area of the hotel where you can go if you’re a member. A lot of people were [Marriott 01:03:34] members. So we got to go in there or in the suites. It was that type of thing that I really liked. It was a good place to meet everybody all at once. All right. And if anyone wants to . . .

Ryan: Next year it will be the convention center. So there’ll be lots of room. We’ll actually have dedicated meeting spaces for networking.

Andrew: I’m so curious about how that will work out. Will that feel more like a conference and less like being in a hotel? Will the fact that there’s more space be helpful? The truth is for me I do like that there’s a lot of space but what I love is that you’re in San Diego. I could very easily say to somebody let’s go across the street and sit outside in the sun, right? That feels really exciting. It just brings an optimism and excitement about the trip.

Ryan: And the convention center is literally right next door to the hotel we were at. So it’s not like . . .

Andrew: Right, right. I’m always getting right at one of the hotels within short walking distance too. All right. So that’s Traffic & Conversion. I hope to see you guys there. And digitalmarketer.com if you want to go see this product that we’ve been talking about a lot. I want to thank my two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first is going to do your books right but they won’t even sell it to you on their website even though their button says like, “Sign up.” They will first look at your finances and give you feedback. And the second will help you . . . so wait, that one is Toptal. I should say toptal.com. Wait, I’m getting a little mixy. This is like four hours . . .

Ryan: And that was Pilot. That was Pilot. Yeah, you need to start with Pilot.

Andrew: Yeah. They spent so much money buying that domain pilot.com and I just screwed it up. Pilot.com/mixergy. Have them really look over your books and give you feedback on what you should be doing or think through what you’re doing, if you’re going to do it from scratch, and Toptal, yes, is the place where you can go hire developers. Check them out at toptal.com/mixergy. All right. Ryan, thanks so much for doing this.

Ryan: Yeah, brother. Thanks for having me. Keep up the good work. I always . . . my favorite podcast still. This is gold. So thank you for doing this. For all these years, man, all these years you’ve been serving this community. Thank you.

Andrew: I appreciate that. Wow. That means a lot. Somebody’s better clip that and put it up on the site. Thanks and bye.

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