Beyond the basics of content marketing

This interview is going to be appealing to people who are not developers, not coders. People who watch, frankly, all these coders get funded with millions of dollars.

If that’s you, you’re going to really appreciate how today’s guest is not one of those people. This interview is also meant for people like me who have been publishing and writing content online for a long time, and have been following the work of today’s guest for years.

Brian Clark is the founder of Copyblogger and Rainmaker Digital, which creates tools and training for online marketers and publishers.

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

Rainmaker

Brian Clark is the founder of Copyblogger and Rainmaker Digital, which creates tools and training for online marketers and publishers.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey, there, Freedom Fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. I think this interview is going to be appealing to a handful of people, largely to people who are not developers, not coders and code nonstop, and watch, frankly, all these coders get funded with millions of dollars.

If that’s you, you’re going to really appreciate how today’s guest is not one of those people. It’s also meant for people like me who have been publishing and writing content online for a long time, and have been reading today’s guest, and his work, for years, and following along with him.

Let me introduce him. He’s Brian Clark, and when I first heard about him, I was reading him pretty much everyday. He ran Copyblogger where he taught me, and so many others, how to write headlines, how to engage people, how to build a mailing list, really he was my instructor. I would have my site up on one tab and his site on another to try to figure out how to write.

But lately, when I look at the forums here on Mixergy, I see that people aren’t so much talking about the blogging that he’s teaching them to do, but the platform that he created, that they are publishing their content on. I wanted to invite him on here, again, for a second time, to find out how he’s built his business into a software company that so many people in the Mixergy community are now talking about and using.

So as I said, my guest is Brian Clark. He is the founder of Copyblogger, out of which evolved Rainmaker Digital, which creates tools and training for online marketers and publishers.

And this interview is sponsored by ConvertKit. Later on I’ll tell you why, if you want to grow your mailing list and get some action engagement out of them, you’ve got to hear about and try ConvertKit. And it’s sponsored by Toptal. Later I’ll tell you why if you need a developer, you got to check out Toptal. But first, welcome, Brian.

Brian: Thank you, it’s good to be here again.

Andrew: I was actually going on your website, onto Copyblogger.com, to see what the articles look like, and it was harder to find the articles than ever before. The software was front and center. Is that the way the business is right now, software front and center, the content is kind of supporting it?

Brian: Well, I think so. Our story is such that we started with content and audience, and then figured out what people wanted to buy. Then, progressively, year after year after year, we added new lines of business, and they all worked out because we were really in tune with our audience. We actually changed the home page away from the blog many years ago. At the time that was a big deal, and now I think it’s not so much.

I think if you are in the business of selling products and services, that you do have to make people aware of what you do, but the content is just as important. So the home page is “Valuable Real Estate,” usually someone will come in through an article, looks over to the home page, and also, and they say, “Oh, these guys do WordPress hosting on something called the Rainmaker Platform. I wonder what that is,” even if they don’t investigate at that point.

This is to combat the years of people going, “How do you make money?” We’ve been making money since 2007, so it was always odd feeling when people didn’t understand what we did.

Andrew: Meanwhile, though, Brian, I’m on Rainmaker.fm, your podcast network, and there the content is front and center, right?

Brian: Right.

Andrew: How does that fit into your business?

Brian: The podcast network, to me, which we launched in March of 2015, is Copyblogger 2006. You’re building a different kind of audience. And for us, audio is really an audience extender for us. I mean, obviously we catered heavily to writers who tend to be readers. We got into podcasting back in 2010, and it was fun, and we had a small devoted little audience. But, at that time, and from the relative perspective of how well the text articles did, even the infographics did, we were like, “Should we really be spending time on this?”

In hindsight, we should have kept going full steam ahead. Since 2010, you look at Pat Flynn and others who started out that time and just stuck with it, and they have amazing audiences. So what we decided to do after getting back into podcasting, 2014, was really to try to leverage the talent we had in the company as on-air celebrity, if you will, or at least content provider, and then leverage that out and create a bunch of different shows, and next thing you know we’re like, “We should just create a network.”

That’s been a lot of fun because it’s just like the early days of Copyblogger, you see what works, you see what doesn’t, you see what the audience values. It’s incredibly amazing. So yeah, you’re right, at Rainmaker FM, content front and center, comments enabled to get feedback, all of that good stuff that Copyblogger evolved a little bit beyond.

Andrew: I was trying to read your face, as I said in my intro, that you are not a developer. And I couldn’t tell if you . . . you’re not a developer, right? I usually would check with you before the interview starts, but you’re not, right?

Brian: I can code some HTML badly, and that’s only because I started publishing online in ’98, when you had to a little bit. But, no, not a bit. And probably what you were seeing a little bit reflect in my face is the story I always tell people about.

In 2005 before I started Copyblogger, how much I admired 37signals, which was a design shop that evolved into a software company, and I’m like, “Oh, man, these guys are just so cool.” And they were very audience and content-heavy, very similar to what I believed in and subscribed to. And I just said, “It’s too bad. I could never do that.” And that’s exactly what happened.

But, from my perspective, I was unqualified not only to code but to be a developer. But what I found out is that being a “normal person” who’s very in tune with our customers, our users, I am our ideal customer. I’m a content creator, not that technical. So from our development standpoint, it’s always informed by, “That’s too hard. You’re thinking like a developer. It needs to be like this. You’ve got to think like a guy like me.” So it actually was a benefit, but at the time, I said, “No, there’s no way that could ever happen.”

Andrew: I’m curious about then a little more about how you figured out what the product should be, and how you guided developers and development of the software when you’re not a developer, and can’t give specific feedback the way developers would. But let’s go back to something you said earlier.

You said that this kind of evolved from your understanding of what users were telling you. You also told our producer that it also came from what you needed. You were unhappy a little bit with the platform you were hosting on, or you were using to host Copyblogger. What is some of the frustration you had there?

Brian: If we look back at 2007, our first product was something that I could create. It was online training. So as a writer and content producer, that was right up my alley. And then at that time, as you know from our last visit here, Chris Pearson and I worked together. From a design standpoint, we’ve built sites that we sold.

Eventually Chris came back from that sale that we had, and he said, “I’m going to stop giving away themes. We’re going to sell them.” And I’m like, “Ah.” And he’s like, “Brian Gardner is selling themes, and he’s making 30 grand a month.” And this is funny, and you know this, but Brian Gardner is now my partner and Chris is not. We covered all that.

Andrew: We covered it for [inaudible 00:07:43].

Brian: But here’s how you communicate with a developer when you’re mean, “Chris, this is too hard. It’s stupid. Normal people can’t do this. Fix it.” And that’s really how it worked, because I was frustrated when I had to go to him to insert something at the code level, or whatever, or doing alternate title tagging. And a lot of this stuff, in 2015, sounds primitive. But in 2007, 2008, just the beginning of when people were building premium plugins and themes for WordPress, those were real problems that needed to be solved.

Andrew: So you’re saying you guys started creating a theme together, you couldn’t tell him how to design the theme or how to code it up, you definitely couldn’t do a better job than he could because that’s him. What you could do is say, “That button is too small,” and that’s how you ended up with that big “FN” button on the themes backend. You could say . . .

Brian: I actually think that was Chris. But it was more about functionality, because Chris can code. So his mindset of what’s a problem or not, even to where, I would say, “I can’t cut and paste this for whatever reason.” He’s like, “Why don’t you type it?” I’m like, “That’s gibberish. I don’t want top type gibberish.” It was just one of those dynamics where . . .

Andrew: So it was a specific thing that you went back to him and said, “Here’s something that’s too tough. Can you simplify it so that the average user, someone even more basic than me could use?”

Brian: I think during the refinement process of Thesis, at the time, there was a lot of that back and forth. The initial idea for Thesis came from Chris looking at me as your average user, and the things I would go to him and ask him to do for me, and my level of frustration about not being able to do it, and I was his use case. And then of course, once he had the idea and headed out there, he was like, “I don’t want to do anything but code. Let’s partner up, you do marketing and sales,” and there you go. It took off.

Andrew: And then the other product started to evolve in a similar way, you saw opportunities, and you saw needs, and you started adding them in, right?

Brian: Yeah. Again, the next level, 2007, it was Tony Clark and I creating online training. 2008, it was Thesis with Chris. Then in 2009, a guy named Sean Jackson comes along, and he says, “I’ve got this SEO copywriting software that’s inspired by your philosophies of how SEO should work.” So again, inspiration created inspiration. In fact, on the patent applications for Scribe, I’m a creator, but they were nice to me.

Really, they were inspired by my principles, and they turned that into software forms, something I could never do. But if you can code and you can architect software, you can take a set of principles, and then develop them. And so Scribe started out really simple SEO copywriting software that evolved. And this is really where my input came in into full-fledged content marketing software. I’m like, “Okay, this is fine, but what we really need is this.”

Andrew: What is this content?

Brian: So beyond, with the old school SEO copywriting of placement of keywords, and frequency intensity to the extent any of that stuff mattered in the algorithm, keyword research, all of those were bedrock SEO things. By 2008, we had adopted the term “content marketing.” We thought it might go somewhere.

Turns out it did, and I said, “Look, there’s a bigger picture here,” because what Google’s looking for in terms of signals or links sharing, etc. comes, first and foremost, from having this content that people actively vote for by sharing or linking to. That was a broader set of analysis that was needed for content production.

Andrew: And that thinking was part of your contribution to the software?

Brian: Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew: So that software worked . . .?

Brian: They were inspired by me at the beginning without . . . I hadn’t even met the guy yet. And then once we became partners, it became more of a direct, “Can we do this?” “We can.” “Okay, good. We should do that.”

Andrew: It’s one of the things I always admired about you, you’re so good at partnering with people. You don’t just say, “This works. Now I’m going to sell it.” Or, “I’m going to copy it and hire somebody to run it for me,” it’s just a partnership a lot of times. And we talked a little bit about that before, but I’m just constantly amazed by how well you partner with people who are so good at what they do.

But for this, the software that we’ve talked about so far, worked on WordPress. At some point you said, “I don’t like WordPress as a platform, as it is. I want to change it. I don’t like going in and writing into WordPress. I don’t like the way that you add plugins.” What was it that made you say, “I’ve got to create my own publishing platform,” and it became Rainmaker?

Brian: Well, I wouldn’t say that we didn’t like WordPress. I would say that a company, by the time we got to 2010 and we merged all the companies together to form what is now Rainmaker Digital, it was with a goal to build an all-in-one solution. Now, instead of going proprietary, we wanted to start with WordPress. We don’t have a problem with WordPress.

What I learned early on, though, with Thesis, is that business people in the WordPress community are two very unique subcultures, if you will, or cultures. And a lot of people we’re building for the WordPress community, which is a level of sophistication that I think, people forget, that normal business people . . . like my test became, “Okay, I get frustrated by this. Let’s build something around it.”

My true test was, “Bring my wife, put her in front of WordPress and say, ‘What would you do with that?'” And that’s when you get some insight into how people look at it, and they’re like, “I don’t know what to do with this.”

Andrew: And it feels like an invisible problem. I know that there’s some challenges with using WordPress, but I’ve learned to adjust to them, and I forget. And when someone has trouble using WordPress, they don’t blame the software, they blame themselves. They think, “I’m not good at computers. I’m not good at this blogging thing. I’m not good at publishing.” How did you notice that this was an issue, especially considering the community of smart people you were working with?

Brian: I just, I still see you as a different type of person than . . .

Andrew: Completely.

Brian: . . . the average business person. You’re much more willing, obviously. Look what you started and grown. Again, the average person wouldn’t have done that on their own initiative. In 2015, people were more and more going, “I have to attract audience with content. I have to do this stuff.” It’s almost begrudgingly.

So a lot of people are not coming to WordPress or online publishing through their own volition. And that was really the key insight, that this will continue to go mainstream, “You’re either going to create content or you’re going to be invisible, so how do we take the tech out of the way?”

So my main point here is that no one at our level, you, us, any big publisher uses WordPress off the shelf. We’ve effectively got a custom version of WordPress that we paid developers. I mean, our developers were in-house. Other people hired to get the right plugins, custom post-types, all of this type of stuff.

No one is just running normal WordPress. And yet WordPress advocates try to . . . in addition to saying, “Oh, it’s really easy to just add this plugin and do this, and maintain it, and not get hacked, and all that stuff,” that’s not true.

So the reality is, “Can you build a custom version of WordPress as a SaaS that brings all that power to people without the development expense, and then also maintain it, update it, and keep it secure for them?”

Andrew: What I’m curious, though, Brian, is, how did you even know that that was a problem? When you’re surrounded by everyone like me who can deal with this software, how do you recognize if there are people outside of this world who can’t deal with it?

Brian: Our customer support for StudioPress, which is our Genesis theme framework and the designs, is very enlightening about what the actual person can do. So we, I guess to some degree, we had a window into the user problems that may not be apparent on the surface. Beyond that, I think I’ve gotten very good at determining that I am not a normal person beyond some shared characteristics.

The people I talk to, most often, are not normal people. And so I think I work really hard to try to understand “Okay, how would a person who’s not within this circle think about it?” And sometimes it’s difficult, because you have to step outside yourself, but if you can, you’d get a better picture, I think.

Andrew: And the whole thing was built still on WordPress. Why not do what Squarespace did and just start afresh?

Brian: Well, we didn’t have 100 million things, like Squarespace had, and those were venture dollars. And we really weren’t interested in that. I mean, I have a strange entrepreneur mindset in that it’s not necessarily about some grand universal goals, some end result IPO acquisition. It’s just, “I want to do this, can we do it? Let’s do it.”

And then now, five years later, we’re at 12 million revenue, Rainmaker has proved our hypothesis correct in that thousands of people are using it and want us to continue to make it better. Then you start thinking about, “Okay, what’s the move now,” as far as, “Do you take money?” At this level it’s private equity instead of VC.

Andrew: I heard you’ve been having conversations with private equity people.

Brian: You have? That’s very astute.

Andrew: How’s that been going?

Brian: For me, it’s painful.

Andrew: Really, why?

Brian: Again, if you go back to why I do what I do, it’s always about freedom and creativity in the face of limitations that excites me. On the other hand I’m also skeptical, and I’ve seen, you’ve seen it, tons of company get a war chest of money and they burn through it, and nothing happens because they stopped thinking critically enough to realize that spending money isn’t always the right decision, and yet money is meant to be spent.

So for me, I think the drive of the conversations became, “All right, I really am a limitation here where I may actually throw my baby under the bus to preserve my own freedom, or whatever the case may be.” But it’s still very difficult for me to go and explain to a money person how I see the market, how I understand the things that you’ve been asking me about.

All of this stuff is so intuitive and I guess, just from living in it. And then they’ll ask me a question and I’ll answer it, and they’ll be like, “Well, how do you know that?” And that’s where I run into frustration.

Andrew: What’s one thing you believe that you can’t prove to them?

Brian: I think it’s all provable. That’s the interesting thing, going through the process and actually forcing me and our team to document with data and market analysis, what we know as a [inaudible 00:18:58] . . .

Andrew: What do you know?

Brian: Here’s an interesting thing. We saw, initially in 2010, it’s, “Make a better WordPress, a custom WordPress that’s easier to use.” Then we saw what was happening in marketing automation at the enterprise level and the mid level. HubSpot went upstream away from the small business market because it’s just a hard market. At the same time, small businesses were not making investment in new CMS’s and marketing automation advance features.

That started to change in 2013. And by the time this year came around, you’ve got Forrester releasing entire reports about the very small business to the larger SMBs, basically reinvesting in marketing automation technology. That was the main focus going forward.

So we were right in line with our own bootstrap slowness with where the market was going. That is something we saw, but not in a quantifiable way, the way Forrester goes and puts numbers to it, and presents that to their very expensive clients.

Andrew: So you saw that small and medium-sized businesses are going to need marketing automation, and that they’re going to be willing to have new content managing systems to do that for them, but there wasn’t enough evidence yet. Forrester hadn’t agreed with you yet, and so it was harder to prove, and today it’s easier. That’s what you’re saying?

Brian: It is.

Andrew: So that seems like it would then be easier to have conversations with private equity people. You can say, “Look, all these things that we’ve said, that we believe and we banked our business on are now true. Here are the numbers.” What’s the challenge then with private equity?

Brian: It was the conversations that got me to go find the evidence.

Andrew: I see.

Brian: I hope it doesn’t come across badly, but sometimes you can feel being in tune with the market, what’s going on, and yet not have the level of empirical evidence that’s going to convince a person with millions of dollars that they may or may not want to give you. So I think that was a growing up process for me.

I think I have done a very good job of being part of my market, being intuitive about where things are going and what we need, being very good at living in the trends. But that’s not the same as seeing the trend from the outside. And that’s how you have to talk.

Andrew: How close are you to taking money?

Brian: It could go either way still. But we’ve been pretty serious about the conversations.

Andrew: And would you take any money off the table for your own security?

Brian: With private equity, I think you always do.

Andrew: Let me do a quick sponsorship message for ConvertKit, and then we’ll come back and I’ll ask you more about the development of the business, and one big problem that happened recently, and I think you know what we’re talking about.

But first, ConvertKit. One of the things that I love about ConvertKit is that it makes automating emails super easy. Yes, there are tons of other software that will make it easy for you . . . not easy, that will allow you to say, “If somebody bought, don’t email them more messages trying to get them to buy. If somebody clicks the links and they are interested in one of your courses, or one of your software, then do send them more than the average person.”

There are software out there that will do it, but they make it so freaking hard, so tough that you either don’t end up using their feature, or you end up using it and then there are mistakes and people get way too many messages.

And so what ConvertKit does is it makes it super easy. It says, “Here’s a dead simple form where you can tell us when someone does this, what do you want to email them? When someone does that, what do you want to email them then? When someone joins, what are the first messages you want them to see?” You don’t want them to just see any message you happened to send out last week. You want to welcome them with a series of emails.

And the whole thing was built with that ease in mind, kind of like Rainmaker. And it plugs in with many of the big software, much of the big software that you’re going to be using, including Rainmaker. What’s the integration that you guys have, Brian, with ConvertKit?

Brian: First of all, Nathan Barry is a great guy. ConvertKit is a great product. Rainmaker works with AWeber, MailChimp, and other providers. We’re not forcing people to use our built-in email which is brand new. So ConvertKit is another integration partner that . . . we’re talking about the same thing that you mentioned, adaptive content or marketing automation, a personalized experience for the site visitor.

And this is, again, what we’re seeing, which is, remember when we had brochure sites, and then we moved to content-rich sites? Well, I think, as big and profound a shift as that is going from content-rich to adaptive content or automated functionality, and it’s all powered by email. So Nathan saw the same thing, and he’s doing pretty . . .

Andrew: So I know we can create landing pages using Rainmaker. When someone comes to one of our landing pages and gives us an email address, can that go into ConvertKit?

Brian: Yes.

Andrew: Ah, okay. Beautiful. And then what ConvertKit can do is send a sequence of emails that the user decided to, or that the owner of the ConvertKit account decides to create. And if they click on a link saying, “I’m more interested in X,” you could send more emails on X. If they click on a link to buy, you can stop trying to get them to buy that product. And it integrates with you, it also integrates with LeadPages. It integrates with Gumroad.

It integrates with WishList Member, with WordPress, with Zappy, which means it gives you tons of integrations, with Shopify, which means if you have an online store with them, you can use it, with OptinMonster, if you’re collecting email addresses with that, you can use ConvertKit. Just plugs in with everything and it makes it really easy for you to email your audience.

If you don’t yet know about ConvertKit, do yourself a favor and at least look into them. I believe that if you look into them and you’re brand new, it’s a no brainer to sign up with them compared to their competition. If you look into them and you’re already using someone else, I think you’re going to wonder why your carrier, why your email service provider didn’t offer you all these features. And you should try switching.

And frankly, if you switch by going to ConvertKit.com/Mixergy, and you buy the $49-a-month package, Nathan’s people will actually migrate for you. So you don’t have to do anything. You just have to say, “Here’s my dumb old email system. I want to use your smart system. Just move me. Make it happen for me like I was a Rockefeller. Get me the concierge service,” and they’ll take care of it for you. That’s ConvertKit.com/Mixergy.

So you kept building up, and by the way, for me, the number one page on your site that shows how well you thought it through, is the page for creating content. It just shows me all the different kinds of content I could create, a blog post, a podcast episode, media, redirection link which I use a special plugin for on my site, a landing page, forums, all that stuff. I just click a link, I see them all in front of me, and then I click the “New” for any of those, and I create whatever I want, whether it’s a landing page or a redirect.

The thing that I wonder is, how do you know where to stop, what to add on there, and what is just going to be too much? Like, you don’t have popups on there, you don’t have other media types. How do you know what to add on to your site without overwhelming people?

Brian: That’s a great question. Because we build technology, first and foremost, based on our needs, the core functionality will always . . . if we absolutely used it pre-Rainmaker in our own development environment, then it has to be in Rainmaker. And from the marketing automation standpoint, and things like that, the LMS, the learning management system, that’s more of a best of breed feature set that has to be in there, and then we weigh between user request and feedback, and things like that, as far as it goes.

For example, the automation in ConvertKit is about 20% of what Infusionsoft has, but it’s the most important 20%. We take that same philosophy with our internal automation. So it’s really guided by, to a certain degree, our own 17 years, in my case, of online publishing. You come to have certain very strong convictions about what’s important and what’s not.

Now, that said, the next level, like popups, for example, we don’t use them, but other people do. So we integrate with SumoMe, and you’ve got that entire field of features, if you so wish, but it doesn’t have to be jammed into the platform making it into some really unwieldy thing.

I get your point about feature creep, and it’s heavily on our mind because, at some point, you take something that was supposed to be simple and beautiful, and becomes just impossible. And we don’t want to end up there.

Andrew: So what you’re saying is, “I do it based on my experience of over 17 years.” How does that square with what you said earlier which is, “I am not the typical user. I know more than the typical user. The typical user would be overwhelmed by all the things that I do.” How can a maker who knows more than his customers figure out what to give the customers without overwhelming them?

Brian: That’s, again, what got us here in the first place, content marketing and education, and training. For example, people think of a membership site as a certain type of beast, and we don’t think about it that way. We think about it from a term of a, from a visitor experience, to an access functionality that is good for lead generation. So we’re taking concepts that have been around for 17 years, and yet we’re seeing how the web has evolved.

Anyone you deal with at the big level, Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, all social media, you register to get access to an experience that you don’t get if you don’t register. That’s what I’m talking about there, having the long-term perspective allows me to understand how things have evolved. But people today don’t need to know why it came from here. What they need to do is just say, “Look, how do I use this feature in a very innovative way that is a better experience for my customers, but also makes me more money?”

Andrew: Are you saying that it’s based on not just your experience, but also by writing about different topics, you gauge people’s feedback and you know, “Is this something that they want? Like membership sites, you see the excitement in it. Or maybe they’re not excited, and we should leave it out and let third parties handle it.” Is that the way you do it?

Brian: Well, let me put it this way. When we shifted from a newsletter concept on Copyblogger to a content library that required registration to access the library, our email subscription rate went up 400%. So when we learn things like that and we test them on other platforms as well, then we’re going to start teaching that. But the fact is Rainmaker already had those features because pre-Rainmaker, they were being used on Copyblogger.com.

So I’m saying that our experience informs our core development principles. But if someone wants to do something else, for example, there’s a point . . . the gist of what I got from your question was, what’s the core platform, and then what’s this [inaudible 00:30:18] type concept of integration?

Andrew: How do you know it? And if it’s based on what you need, you’re a special unique person. I mean, you’re at the top of the content creation world.

Brian: Yeah, but these are fundamental things. If one email address collection procedure is 400% more effective than another one, that’s not special to me. That’s a natural teachable strategy.

Andrew: Fair enough, all right. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that you guys are really good at doing customer service. I talked to some of your customers, they said the same thing that you will . . . where is that note. Dillon Jones, he is a customer who I spoke to earlier today.

I asked him, “Why are you using Rainmaker instead of Squarespace?” He said he saw something on Squarespace’s website and he asked them, “How do I do it on my site?” And they said, “Well, you can’t.” And he said, “Well, if you guys do it, can you just send me the code?” And they said, “No, we will not mess with code. We’re just going to let you use the software as it is.”

Meanwhile, he did something similar with you and he asked you guys, “How do you do this thing?” And one of your guys just sent him the code and let him put it on. My guess is, as an outsider watching what you guys do, you watch and see, “How many people are asking for a specific feature? How many times are we sending to them individually? If we’re doing it a lot, then maybe it’s something we should be adding.”

Brian: Yeah, and that’s an excellent point, and I think that’s fairly well internalized because it can be frustrating for everyone involved when one person has a pet feature and they are very insistent that it should be in Rainmaker, even though we know no one else cares. And we, in our experience, don’t feel that it’s essential. And you want to please everyone, but you can’t. And that’s where you have to draw the line.

So that’s what I like about the fact that we still, despite wanting to build into the platform everything that matters, we can still do smart integrations and give people choice to actually make it work for them the way they want. Your example of sending someone a code, that doesn’t surprise me, at all.

Andrew: You do that a lot.

Brian: Our support people are amazing, and that really grew out from when it was three people. It was me, Tony Clark and his wife, Kim. And Kim saw Tony and I try to deal with customers, and she quickly took it away from us because it’s not our skillset. But philosophically and fundamentally, customer service is what we’re in business for. Think about it this way, we were selling GPL software for WordPress. What you’re really selling is support.

Andrew: Because you can’t sell the software. Anyone could copy it, and share it, and sell it.

Brian: Yeah, theoretically. I mean, we have distribution, which helps. But, yeah, you’re right. You’re really selling someone support and peace of mind. And when they have to take you up on that offer of support, they need to be as happy as can be. Now a lot of times, people aren’t happy when they contact support, and I always that our people are doing the Lord’s work because they can turn someone around in ways that I don’t think, personally, I could do it.

Andrew: How? What do you see them do that your [inaudible 00:33:30]?

Brian: They’re just so calm, and they say the right thing, and they read the person’s frustration. They know it’s not about them, their anger, it’s about the situation. And if you can appease anger by fixing a situation, while also keeping that digital smile on your face, people just react better. Now, are we perfect? No one’s perfect. Not at all.

Andrew: How do you get support people who can actually send code, who know what they’re doing?

Brian: Well, that’s going to be a back office collaboration. If you have a front line support person who a request is made of that, number one, we have a code repository, but they’ll probably consult quickly over Skype or whatever with someone from development, make sure they’re sending the right thing, and then they send it back over.

Andrew: I see. Same thing happened with Chris Ducker. I asked him why he’s using you guys, and he said that he was willing to sign up in the early days, and as a result, you guys gave him a ton of support, including even design help.

Brian: Yeah, we did. Rafal had a break in his schedule and Ducker was like, “What do I have to do to get Rafal to do my site? Can I hire Rafal?” And I’m like, “Let me ask him if he wants to do it,” because Ducker has a . . .

Andrew: Rafal is your designer?

Brian: Yeah, Rafal Tomal is our lead designer. All the designs of the sites that people always “Oh and ah” all about, that’s Rafal. And Rafal is a guy I work with one-on-one. I’ve always been that way. Back when it was Chris and I, it was always, “Brian and a very talented designer.” For a while there, that was Tony. And then Rafal came along with Brian Gardner, and that’s been a great working relationship for the last five years.

Andrew: I do see similarities between some of his site and your site. Just clean, everything flows straight up and down, no random navigation. The thing that I mentioned earlier that was a problem that happened recently, is the outage. I saw some of your posts on your status page. I felt the pain in that. Do you remember when you first found out that the site . . . that you guys had an outage?

Brian: Yeah. Just to bring to context here, we started having problems with the DNS for Rainmaker site. There was an isolated incident with our provider in mid-November. That was related to an attack on CloudFlare, so that was causing some problems. We got some support request from customers. We looked into it, and it got fixed fairly quickly, and we were like, “No big deal.”

Then the Monday after Thanksgiving . . . the night before, I took my 10-year-old to his first NFL game, Broncos – Patriots. If you remember that game, the Broncos won in overtime. It was thrilling. He’s ruined for live sports forever. So it was this ecstatic moment, got home late, wake up early to a really bad DNS problem.

Now, when you have a DNS provider, you have to rely on them, because they are a vendor, to fix these problems. So we woke up, a lot of unhappy people were reporting on Twitter through support, obviously. We immediately got on it, and I wrote an email to the customer base saying, “Here’s what’s happening, and here’s how we’re going to fix it.”

Now, that time, we had no idea that Zerigo would not fix it by the next day, at the latest. We had never had a problem with them, this was not expected at all. Turns out they didn’t figure out what the problem was until Friday. Monday, Friday, tough week.

And the problems really weren’t corrected even over that weekend. We worked all that weekend. We had already decided that we were just going to move. Nothing against Zerigo, because I said we never had a problem with them before. But when someone can’t help you out, as a vendor, in five days, and you’re taking the heat of it, and you’re sitting there feeling completely helpless. We tried several creative things to isolate the issue. Some of them worked, some of them didn’t. But ultimately, they had to fix it.

And so we moved to Amazon Web Services, and we moved the entire collection of Rainmaker live sites in less than a week. And that was tough, because in a SaaS environment, the DNS is all baked into the onboarding and everything. So no, that was not fun, Andrew. But our support people, I think, saved us. Not only did they work . . . I mean, our dev ops people, they worked night and day, and I couldn’t . . .

Andrew: Literally? I know you guys don’t work out of an office. So they were online all the time?

Brian: Matt Lawrence is our Head of Server Operations, and that guy is so conscientious, but he also tends to work himself to death. I’ve told him that I’m glad he has a girlfriend and a dog now, because they’re the only ones who make him come home when there’s a problem. But he works really hard, and I was just . . .

Andrew: What’s someone motivation to work that hard, that it’s almost like you’re their girlfriend and their dog, until they get those two relationships in their lives?

Brian: We have a lot of people like that. I think they see it from the top-down. I work weekends when there’s a problem. I work weekends when there’s not a problem. When we’ve got a launch, I’m up there with everyone until it happens. But I don’t think it’s me, I think it’s them.

I think we provide a culture and a framework where it’s not so much management as it is collaboration, and therefore, they’re professionals.

But here’s another thing, to the process of talking to PE people, and whatnot, I also had the opportunity to talk to CEOs of portfolio companies of those private equity guys, and they were also very traditional in their practices, as far as they’re like, “You’re a virtual company was 62 people all over the world, how do you manage them? Do you make them log into some software? How do you monitor them?” I’m like, “I don’t. I hire the right person and I trust them to do their job.” With a couple of small exceptions, that worked out for us fabulously.

Now, let me share this with you, though. If we had to scale up fast, I would be worried, because we have a very organic attraction policy for people we hire. They all come from the audience. We’ve never posted a help wanted anything. We’ve never done a blog posting, “We need a . . . ”

Andrew: How do they come to you?

Brian: Through relationships. But generally it’s through the audience community that we have, whether it be one of our conferences, or speaking to people at some other conference, or just . . .

Andrew: Give me an example. Take one person who’s working with you, say, maybe a customer service person. Just help me understand how they connected with you, and how that led to a job.

Brian: A lot of those people came from the StudioPress community. I think that was the initial draw.

Andrew: Because StudioPress does a lot of customer service, and did they have a forum at StudioPress?

Brian: They did.

Andrew: They did, okay. StudioPress is the theme, and so it’s more than just a theme. It’s like a . . .

Brian: Well, that’s Genesis, and StudioPress is the overall collection of designs that work with it. But a lot of our support people come from the WordPress community because they’re fans. Like, if you look at the hashtag #GenesisWP on Twitter, there’s an active group of people who develop on the framework, and whatnot. And there’s been more . . .

Andrew: Then what do you do? You reach out to them and say, “We’re looking to hire someone. Are you interested?”

Brian: Usually they reach out to us.

Andrew: They do? They say, “I’m in a new position,” or, “I’m looking for a new position. It’s time to stop working on my own. I’m looking for a company. Are you guys hiring?” That kind of thing.

Brian: Yeah, a lot of times they are freelance designers, or people who are working in a technical role with WordPress. They’re savvy enough about WordPress but not a developer, obviously.

But let me give you another example, Chris Garrett was an early blogger. Chris Garrett was blogging at a site called Performancing in 2005, before I started Copyblogger in early 2006. He was one of my first guest writers over at Copyblogger. He was a very successful entrepreneur with his own sites and everything.

There’s no reason why Chris Garrett, in my mind, should work for us, but he did because he wanted to be a part of what we were doing, and he is indispensable now. That happens over and over again.

Andrew: What do you mean? When we say, “A part of what we’re doing,” what is it that they want to be a part of? Is it the movement if creating content marketers? Is it something else?

Brian: Well, until WP Engine grew so quickly, we were the second largest WordPress company, other than Automattic, and yet we were doing it our own way. And again, at the same time, we’re partly in the WordPress community, and then we are a big part of the content marketing movement. So there’s this overlap, and I think that was appealing to Chris to get involved with.

But it’s not just him, it’s other people. And here’s what I want to be fully frank about. This is not some voodoo CEO skill. I’m just amazed at anyone, at the quality of people that come work for us. But I certainly appreciate it.

Andrew: Speaking of work for you, let me do a quick sponsorship message for Toptal, and ask you a question about how you hire. Toptal is a network of developers. If you need to hire someone to, say, do custom WordPress work for you, you just go to them, and they will find the right person, make the match, if you want to hire them, you can work with them.

So Brian, the question that I had for you, that I was going to ask you in the interview, I might, as well, ask you in the ad, is, if you are a non-developer, and you are trying to hire a developer, how do you do it? What advice do you have for people who are non-developers hiring developers, whether it’s through Toptal or someone else?

Brian: That’s interesting, and I certainly can feel that apprehension about . . . again, this goes to the fact that I said I could never do that. And I think that’s why I personally have been drawn to partnering in collaboration, especially with someone like Tony, who used to develop nuclear software. That’s heavy level stuff. So I think I’ve been blessed to find people that are really good at what they do while they look to me to be good at what I do.

Other than that, I think, if you’re going to work with an outside developer, you need, I think, the recommendation and the experience of someone you can trust, first and foremost, because that person can give you guidance on, “Here’s where we got stuck. Here’s where we needed more clarity,” that kind of thing.

Andrew: That makes sense.

Brian: I think, a very clear sense of what you’re trying to build, even if you don’t understand how it works at a software level. User experience, right? If you can understand what the user experience is supposed to be, I think good developers actually appreciate that.

Andrew: That’s a really good point. So if you are calling Toptal, you get that, someone who’s your consultant, who’s going to understand your business, and then help you hire a developer based on their understanding of software.

But frankly, I’ve seen other entrepreneurs here in San Francisco pull over a friend and say, “Can you help me do some of these interviews so that I can make sure that I’ve found the right person? I can’t hire you, because you’re CTO level somewhere else, but I need your help to help me find the right person.” And so, if you need that help, you can do that whether you’re hiring developers through Toptal or anywhere else.

In addition, if you go through Toptal, you have a consultant in there who will help understand what you’re trying to build, and at the same time, understand what a developer needs to know, and which is the right developer to help build that for you. I keep saying WordPress, and frankly, I was shocked that you can get WordPress developers. But you can get all kinds of developers there. I’m looking here at Gmail developers they have, Evernote developers that they can find for you, SMS developers, Ruby on Rails developers, Hadoop developers, so many others.

If you want the full list, go to Toptal.com/Mixergy. When you go there, they’re going to give you 80 free developer hours when you pay for 80. In addition, they’re going to give you a two-week 100% guaranteed, basically a trial period there, where, if you’re not happy, they will not bill you, but they will still pay the developer because it’s the right thing to do. So go to Toptal.com/Mixergy.

You mentioned that you had a bad hire once. Can you talk about that? Without saying the person’s name, of course.

Brian: There have been really, I guess, throughout the entire time, I guess, from 2010, there’ve only been three people that didn’t work out, and there’s been couple others who left for other opportunities, obviously we’re very happy for them. And the people who don’t work out are not bad in any way, but they can’t work in our environment.

So to me, it feels as natural as can be that, if you’re an internet company, that you can collaborate whether the person is in Boulder or they are in Brazil. And we’ve always taken that as just the way it works, because we are very hardcore online people. But again, we’re not normal people. We keep coming back to that recurring theme.

I have to hire people who can understand what they’re supposed to do, take guidance as needed, and execute. And some people need more handholding on that, other people, it could be an ego thing. But it’s been so rare, that’s why I’m reticent to talk about it, that I don’t see it as a big deal in our culture.

Again, if we have to scale it fast, I think my concern over, “How do you make right choices?” Which is ironic, because that’s a more traditional way to hire than what we do. And yet I think it’s fraught with danger compared to the way it’s come to us.

Andrew: What are you going to use the money for, if you take private equity money?

Brian: All sorts of stuff. We’d like to accelerate development, and we have an amazing group of developers. They’re output astounds me, and yet there’s always . . . the list of to-do grows faster than the list of features. So we’ve got a lot of ambitious plans that we’d like to accelerate there. With the growth of the customer base, you always have to hire a head for support.

My worst nightmare is going through something like that DNS problem and being understaffed, because that just compounds the problem. So we have not forgotten that we are in the business of selling support, and we are already testing advertising strategies. We made it to 12 million without advertising, but we figure it’s time to accelerate on that front, too. We’ve got some pretty good strategies, both social and search.

Andrew: What has worked for you so far?

Brian: It’s, when you test, and I know you’ve guests on that that have explained this, and these are some of the people like Noah Kagan and others who I’ve learned from. But it really is a very disciplined, small dollar testing environment, until you find something that works. Then you scale it, and then six weeks later, Facebook is going to kill that strategy. You know what I’m saying?

So it’s an adaptive thing, but I will tell you this, the more I got into developing our advertising strategy, the more I realize it is exactly like the content marketing strategy that got us here, except that distribution is paid. So it’s really about having the discipline to advertise content, to get an opt-in, to make an offer, and to follow up, which is what we’ve done all along.

Andrew: And so it’s ads to content, not ads to a landing page that asks for an email and then the content?

Brian: Right. Now, if you think about how we got here, the early days of Copyblogger, I would write these thousand-word high value post, they would get distribution on their own in social media, remember the good old days before Facebook made you pay. It’s the same thing except that because you are pouring dollar buyer on that piece of content, you’re just very, very strategic about, “How is this going to appeal to people and provide initial value, and still actually provide business value back to us?”

Now, that’s always been my mentality. But in the old days, I’d throw up a grammar post just to watch it go viral. It didn’t really have a huge amount of business value. So that’s the difference, I think.

Andrew: I just heard Gary Vaynerchuck’s “Thank You Economy.” And he says that online businesses need to have an offline component, need to find a way to get people together, but he doesn’t explain why. And I know that a lot of online businesses do it, and I don’t understand why go through the trouble of putting together a live event with all the moving parts that go into it, and all the risks. And you do it, you have authority, the event that you had in May of 2015, most recently. Why do you do a live event? Why do you do it?

Brian: I think a lot of people in the company ask me that question because in 2014 and 2015, an inordinate amount of my time went into those events because I choose all the speakers by hand. We don’t have submissions, and I work with them individually for the topics. It’s a single track two-day thing, so it’s got to be completely integrated. And I love doing that, but it’s a ton of work. It really is.

And then Jessica Frick who actually produces the event . . . don’t even get me started because she works much harder on that than I do, and they come out great. I just think they are important. We don’t make money off of our events, we don’t even try to. I mean, we could, but that would even be another layer of getting enough sponsorship revenue, and all of that kind of thing.

But it’s very important to have that live interaction. I get what Gary is saying, and I think he didn’t explain because he just assumes that you get that the in-person experience and being able to talk with people, and listen and see business relationships form between us and our audience and audience members with each other.

Andrew: You’re a guy who measures everything. Can you see any measurable results from doing an event like this?

Brian: It’s funny because you’re absolutely correct, and it is very intangible. We get a lot of wonderful feedback, we get a lot of wonderful testimonials that we’re able to use in our other marketing. We get a lot of great feedback about product development, we get new product ideas. So it’s squishy. I’ll tell you what? What’s the value of a pep rally before the game, then no one wants to go play the game without the pep rally?

Andrew: Speaking of numbers, I’m using SimilarWeb to see where you’re getting your traffic. And according to SimilarWeb, the number one source of traffic for you is ShareASale. Number two is Copyblogger, and number three is Rainmaker.fm. Does that sound right?

Brian: Yeah, and I found that out not too long ago, that our affiliates were really doing a great job for us, because we don’t have a public affiliate program. It’s, you have to be a Rainmaker owner to be in it. And really there’s a handful of people that really generate that traffic and those affiliate sales.

Andrew: And ShareASale is your affiliate platform?

Brian: ShareASale is our affiliate platform, yes.

Andrew: I see. And then number four is DigitalCommerce.com. Number five, Business Insider. What are you guys doing with Business Insider to get you so much traffic?

Brian: I have no idea. Honestly, we don’t publish there.

Andrew: Yeah, I know. I can’t find anything over there. Brian Gardner’s website is still sending you some traffic. Neil Patel is sending you a little bit of traffic. Anything that’s worked especially well in 2015?

Brian: We launched Rainmaker Platform in 2014. We launched the pro features in, I think it was the April of 2015. And now, as we exit 2015, there’s only one version of Rainmaker, which, we used to have pro and standard. Now, pro is Rainmaker because that’s what has the email and marketing automation, the advanced lead generation stuff.

So there was always a vision that there would be one thing that was also a complete solution, not just a website builder or a better way to build a powerful WordPress site. It was really supposed to be the entire package, and we finally just got there.

So 2015 was a good growth year for us. We grew about 20% of the revenue. Nothing earth shattering, but not that bad either. But I really viewed it as a transitional year which, as we’ve come full circle around, was why 2015 was when we took a very serious look at whether or not we were going to raise money or not, because 2016 is where we just take the gloves off.

Andrew: How does having 20% growth make it the transitional year for you, or transformative year?

Brian: Not transformative, transition.

Andrew: Transition from what to what? From being a smaller operation that you could bootstrap yourself from being a giant company?

Brian: Well, I don’t know about giant, but accelerated revenue growth, at least putting ourselves in a position to be able to achieve that. So in 2014, we grew by 35%. That was a great year, but it was because we launched Rainmaker and the launch went well.

Andrew: I see. So you’re saying what you did in 2015 is going to help grow 2016. We just don’t see the growth yet.

Brian: I came into 2015 . . . and that extra 2 million in revenue is all Rainmaker, so it’s our fastest growing line of business, not only currently, but ever. So again, the hypothesis was correct. Now you’re in a position with, “Okay, let’s not screw this up. What is the proper growth strategy for us?” We have a completely mapped out strategy if we don’t get a dime.

We did more modeling and more variable analysis of what 2016 should look like than we’ve ever done before. So I think we truly are moving from intuitive marketing, that kind of squishy, “I feel the market,” to hardcore, “This is data, and this is how you execute on it.”

Andrew: I didn’t ask a follow-up question on ShareASale. I should have. The affiliates are the big source of traffic for you. What are you doing to help them grow your traffic, and help them grow your customer base?

Brian: It’s interesting, because, again, there’s the handful of top affiliates who make the sales. And you’ll find that that’s generally the case with any affiliate program. So we’re able to communicate with them pretty much one-on-one. If they need something, we’re able to help them out. But they are fairly autonomous group.

One of our concepts for going into 2016 is a more hands-on recruitment, and facilitation for partners of all stripes. But it wouldn’t be like a low level affiliate program. We’re talking more at the Biz Dev joint venture-type level.

Andrew: But right now, when . . . I signed up just to see what the process is like to be a Rainmaker user. I wasn’t asked to be an affiliate. I don’t remember seeing it offered, at all. How would . . .

Brian: There’s an email that goes out as soon as you buy. You didn’t buy. You just did the trial, right?

Andrew: Yeah, I see. So after I buy, that’s when I get an email.

Brian: You have to be a paying Rainmaker customer to become an affiliate.

Andrew: And it’s the first 14 days, I think, that are trial days?

Brian: Yes.

Andrew: Right, okay. What did I miss in this conversation? I feel like I’ve missed something, this time. Last time I felt so complete, like I got everything. What did I miss?

Brian: Last time was our most inspire . . . your own show inspired the next episode, right? We want go into that. I don’t know that you’re missing anything. I think I’m in a position right now where I’ve done an incredible amount of preparation for the future, and yet I have no idea which thing is going to work, or which collection of things. And I don’t think I’ve ever finished up a year with this level of ambiguity.

But it’s very optimistic. It’s not, “Is this going to tank or not?” It’s more like, “Which one of these things that we’re going to execute on is the catalyst that we’re really looking for in 2016? And, to what that extent does that catalyst fuel growth?”

Andrew: You told our producer that you’re now . . . he asked you what’s your low point? And you said, “Right now I’m feeling discomfort about what the right path is, where should I go next with this?” What does that discomfort feel? I guess what you have is as simple as, “Do I raise money, or not?” Or, is there more that you are unsure of?

Brian: I think it’s a broader thing.

Andrew: What is it?

Brian: Typically, as a I go into a new year, I know what we have to do that year. I expect growth, but I don’t fixate on it. I think the issues that you have to come to terms with, if you do partner with an investor, and really, that’s what is. All of a sudden, you don’t have the luxury of not thinking about how many dollars are added.

And again, coming back to the description of what motivates me, it’s never been that type of thing, which I think is why we’ve bootstrapped for so long. It’s, I’m never one of these guys going, “Oh, man, if we don’t raise money, we’re not going to grow fast in this or at the other.”

We’re really at a point where it’s like we have a viable thing here. We tested it with no one’s help, we built it with no one’s help. What is the right thing to do with regard to our customer base, to the company as a whole, to people who work here, and I guess, even to myself?

Is it time for me to grow as the CEO to the next level? Are you afraid of what that means? I’m very self-aware, and I’m also not afraid to say there are next levels for me to achieve, but I always take a step back and go, “Do you want to?” And that’s part of the . . .

Andrew: What makes you uncomfortable about the next level of being a CEO?

Brian: Because, I’ve been a very non-traditional, very hands-on CEO. I still write all the copy for all our sites. That’s not a normal thing to do. And I’ve gotten much better at delegating. I finally have a team that allows me to truly be strategic and focused on extrapolating out into the future and seeing what gets you there. But a typical CEO has to be focused on building a sales organization, investor relations, in addition to being the public face that I’ve been.

But I think anyone who knows me knows I’m a fairly irreverent person. I try not to take myself too seriously. I almost feel like I have to become this person that’s a little more serious than Brian might like to portray to people. People who know me know I’m intensely serious. I just laugh it off as a way of dealing with it. But, yeah, I think there’s the potential to play a role that is not as fun for me.

But I will say this, as well, and I’ve been very upfront with this with anyone we’ve been talking to at the investor level. If a couple of years goes by and it turns out, in my own estimation, that I’m not the right guy to be CEO, I don’t have any ego with that, because ultimately . . .

Andrew: Are you afraid of being CEO of that business? You’re almost telling them, “I’m so afraid. I want to make sure that I give myself an out right now.” Are you?

Brian: No, and honestly, it’s not fear. I’m very much driven by what I want to do instead of what I should do. But it’s still a struggle, because I was born with a great sense of obligation not to take my eye off the ball, and all that. And I think that’s a testament to where we’ve gotten to. And I do want to try that next level of CEO. All I’m saying is, if I’m miserable, I will be the first one that raise my hand and say, “Let’s go get someone else,” and I’ll be Guy Kawasaki for the company.

Andrew: I see. And what does being Guy Kawasaki mean to you?

Brian: Chief evangelist.

Andrew: For the company?

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: I see. That makes sense. Because you don’t want to give up your freedom. You want to be able to be creative and decide that some text goes on the site, even if there’s no marketing to support it. You don’t want to be told that your team has to, or sales team anyway has to be internal. You want to decide for yourself how you feel should they virtual or internal, right? Do I have that right?

Brian: I think it’s an open question, and I’m probably being a little more transparent than most people in my position would be. I’m looking for the next challenge. I’m just very aware that I’m not going . . . my daughter begins ninth grade next year. My son will be in sixth grade. I am not going to spend the next five years being miserable and missing out on my kids growing up, if that’s what it turns out to be. So far it hasn’t been a problem.

I’m just very aware that we get one shot at this thing called life, and you have to make sure that you’re very in-tune with what a good life means to you. I am not a person who ever said, “I’ve got to get the IPO. I’ve got to get the 100 million acquisition.” I love all that stuff, great. But it won’t drive me to the point to where it will make me miserable, because that’s beside the point.

Andrew: When we say private equity, how is private equity different from a big venture capital firm like, say, NEA?

Brian: Venture capital is basically earlier stage, riskier, almost, you’re taking an idea and/or an early stage concept, and you’re making a bet on it. Private equity generally goes after companies like ourselves that have demonstrated not only track record of revenue, but also profit. Most venture capital companies, you don’t want to make a profit ever because that kills your evaluation.

So it is a weird world because private equity people deal with what we might call real businesses, ones that make revenue and profit, and have a history of growth that’s trackable and projectable into the future. And yet, when you deal with private equity people compared to when you see a company with no revenue get bought for a billion dollars, it can really piss you off. It’s almost like, “I need to start over and just…”

Andrew: Is it too late? Can you start spending more of your own money so that you’re reinvesting more in the business and going after a bigger venture capital firm, one that writes bigger checks? Or you’re beyond that?

Brian: Well, I’ve heard different things on that. Some people say we could still go VC. We could spin off Rainmaker into its own company, because that’s the SaaS. That’s the sexy thing.

I think if we were three years ago, we might actually consider that. I think you’re seeing the markets tightening up a bit. The frothiness is going down. And that’s okay with me because, again, I’ve always wanted to build a real solid profitable company. So I don’t play the game, and therefore, I may have missed out on some things. But it’s just not what motivates me.

Andrew: I get it. It is a company that we feel better about being . . . feel prouder of, to have watched you build it, to have watched you build largely and public, and with fans, and to have made a profit, is inspiring for the rest of us. It’s cool to see you here talking openly about some of the challenges or some of the questions you have about the future. And I hope we’ll get to do an interview where we talk about what you did, maybe next year.

Brian: Yeah. Every two years I’ll give you an update.

Andrew: I’d love it. Last year actually, it was . . . no, it was 2014 you did the interview right at the beginning of the year, and you said that you had $7 million in sales. And I was so sure that we made a mistake that I kept hunting through the transcript several times to make sure that that number was right because it just seemed too fast too much…not too much, but too fast. Did we get the number wrong?

And I know even in the headline we made a mistake. We wrote “$7,” the word “dollar” again, and then the word “million.” And it just drove me nuts because I wasn’t paying attention to that. I was just paying attention, “Did we get our numbers right?” Instead of the word. But you did it, and now you’ve grown even further.

Brian: So that was at the beginning in . . . then we got to 10 million by the end of the year. But the interesting thing about it, we’re a five-year-old company, but when we merged together in 2010, I had five years of Copyblogger to get that momentum. So to a certain degree, it was an unfair starting advantage, but I like it that way.

Andrew: And look at this. I happen to actually be reading Joe Pulizzi’s book “Content Inc.” And you wrote the foreword, and there is this two-sentence paragraph that stood out for me, that I highlighted. You said, “What I was actually setting to do was start a business.” And this is before Copyblogger.

Then you said, “And yet I’d never taken a business class, never read a marketing book, never once thought of myself as an entrepreneur. But I wanted to build an audience.” And you did, and now you’ve built a customer base. Thanks for being on here and talking about it.

Brian: Well, thank you for having me. Good time.

Andrew: Cool. Thank you, all, for being a part of Mixergy. The two sponsors that I told you about were Toptal. If you need a developer go to Toptal.com, and ConvertKit. If you need to send out emails that address what your customers have told you about themselves, and where they are in their relationship with you, if you need to send out emails that actually convert, go to ConvertKit.com/Mixergy.

And, of course, if you haven’t subscribed to the podcast, you’ve got to. Every single episode will come directly to your phone and you get to watch or listen to, I should say, all my interviews. Just go to Mixergy.com/podcast. Brian, thanks for being on here.

Brian: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me.

Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of it. Go check out RainmakerPlatform.com. Bye, everyone.


  • Jim Saling

    I’m just getting around to listening to this interview. It’s very good, as always. While listening, I went over to copyblogger and checked out the About page (among others). Something struck me about the team photo at the top of the About page. Women. A quick count (may not be accurate) shows 17 out of the 40 people are women (~43%). I mention this because since having two daughters, I’ve really noticed the lack of women at small/startup type tech-related companies. It’s a shame that it took having two daughters for me to notice. It is unfortunate that many of these companies are missing the voice of women in their product and corporate environment. I’ve gotten into the habit of looking at the leadership teams of companies when I visit their websites and I’m amazed at how male-dominated it is. I mean, I’m not some head in the sand kind of guy, i know that there is gender inequality at the top of companies. But I’m shocked at the degree of that inequality.

    I don’t know if it was intentional but kudos to Copyblogger. The next thing to take a look at is the mix of ethnicity of the people in that photo (39/40).

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