Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs for an audience of entrepreneurs. Joining me is a long-time listener. I’m excited to have him on here. David Tintner has created a product that I don’t know.
We could communicate clearly enough. I think you’ve got to see it to just. Be blown away by how amazing it is. I know that’s what happened to me. Company name is thought leaders and frankly, David, when I first heard it was thought leaders, I said, Oh no, this is like this social media influencer thought leader thing.
It’s I dismissed it. Is that fair to say, am I the first person to say that?
David: Well, you bring up something really interesting and that’s. The term influencer, and that’s actually a term that I totally get. Why, why you dismissed it in the term that we kind of, like, we try to walk the line with w where we don’t consider ourselves as doing influencer marketing. We want to do is support high quality long form content.
And, um, and I think exactly the connotation that you have about influencer marketing or influencers, or that exactly what you said. I get it. I get it. It makes sense.
Andrew: here’s where I was blown away. I did a demo with someone on your team. This was months ago and they said, well, why don’t we just search here? I said, search for what I said, we could do a search for anything. We scrape other podcasters. Um, we have the transcripts in our database. You could search for say one of your sponsors.
So I did a search for one of my sponsors, HostGator, which is sponsoring this interview. I could see who else they’re sponsoring and how they’re doing an ad for them. I could then see. Which other podcasts are similar to mine and see who’s sponsoring them. And what I didn’t realize until my conversation with you today is you’ll even give me their contact information so that I can go and pitch them and say, Hey, you sponsored, uh, Jason, Calacanis his podcast.
If it did well for you, can we talk about how you could sponsor my podcast? Because I’ve got a similar audience and you could see how well we’ve done for others. That’s the whole idea, right? Behind thought leaders.
David: Absolutely. Um, I mean, on the creator side, it’s, it’s exactly that, um, see where brands are repeating because we all know that means it’s working. No brand is continuing to spend money on stuff that isn’t working. I’m sure you feel that with your brand clients as well. Uh, so if it’s working for them, find those places.
That are similar to yours. And then when you do outreach, because outreach is so flooded today, um, people are getting so many cold emails. So when you’re doing that outreach, it’s carefully targeted it’s to the exact brand exact person you should be speaking to. And you’re telling them, look, I have a podcast that’s really similar to the podcast that I see you’ve run in, you know, 89 times or whatever it’s clearly working for you.
You should give me a chance because I have very similar audience to them. And I do similar style content.
Andrew: you know what? I was thinking that with their few of the therapist, uh, apps that are out there, one of my past guests said, Andrew, you’d be perfect for it because all you do is like, you’re like a therapist for your guests. And I thought, you know, that’s absolutely right. I don’t have a friend who has an in with any of these therapy apps.
How do I even find the buyer there? And what you’re saying is I can go to thought leaders.io type in one of those company names, see where they’re at sponsoring, reach out to them and say, look, all I do is talk about like the inner workings of entrepreneurship. Talk about therapy. Would, can we get on a call and talk about how you can sponsor me?
Because you’ve obviously been sponsoring these similar podcasts. That’s the whole idea behind thought leaders, right?
David: totally. I would take it one step further. I would say I would go look at the different ones and I would look for the ones that are repeating with entrepreneurial podcast or interview style podcasts, and then be able to go to them specifically instead of just blasting it across, you know, every, every possible one.
Andrew: I had no idea that you guys were able to even connect me with, uh, with those, uh, the ad buyers. All right. That’s the whole idea. We’re going to find out how this business was started, what he did to get money to bootstrap and why? Apparently it horrified some of his friends on horrify me. We can do it all.
Thanks to too well. To one phenomenal sponsor. This whole interview is sponsored by HostGator. They bought ads with me for the whole freaking year. And I’m so excited to tell you if you’re listening to me, why you should be hosted on HostGator, the way that my site is, David you’ve listened long enough that, you know, the first question is going to be what’s your revenue.
And I want to get a sense of how big the business
David: Yeah. Uh, this year we want to do $7 million in revenue and we’re very, I think that’s going to happen
Andrew: last year, how much did you do? 2020.
David: last year. We finished with just over four.
Andrew: And what did the idea come from? I know that you and you’re, well, you sold your company to similar where a similar web before, which I’ve used a lot to understand where traffic, uh, to my guest sites work is coming from. But how did you go from that analytics company to starting thought leaders?
David: Yeah. So, so it’s really funny story. I actually. We had tapped dog. Um, top dog was a competitive intelligence startup, um, really early for its time, I think. Um, and in a lot of ways it’s doing some things that that thought leaders is doing today, trying to attract brands, trying to attract companies. But with that dog, we started using, um, connecting all sorts of different sources and we connected with similar web a lot and got to know the people at similar web.
And realized, I mean, they had a crazy source of data and it was super complimentary to what we’re doing and also for where we were at in our lives at the time. I mean, it was a great decision to sell to them and to join them. And, uh, the entire team moved over to work at web where I worked in R and D there and learned a ton about.
How the internet works. Um, we, we saw basically where traffic is moving, why it’s moving, um, and, and sort of what are the traffic patterns and the interesting insights that are happening on the internet on a daily basis through a crazy, crazy big that operation. While I was there, I also started a blog, um, and that blog was called hacking UI a blog, a newsletter, a podcast.
And. I want it to monetize it. It was totally a side project. I did it with, uh, one of the top dog co-founders Siggy, who was a designer and I was a developer.
Andrew: w why did you guys create this? Why, why were you doing this side project? It just seems so random for me.
David: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we, so Siggy had a blog in Hebrew about design and it was a really, really high quality blog. And I was constantly telling him, you’ve got to do it in English. You gotta do it in English. Like this can be huge. And, um, We decided to start a project together, doing a blog about how designers and developers are working together.
I was a development side. He was a design side and we do it in English. Um, we worked on it for the better part of four or five years and, um, and even took an entrepreneurial angle as well, a side project angle. Um, but the whole thing about it was we wanted to monetize it and.
Andrew: that that’s, that’s the pivotal moment, but I still can’t figure out why people who have created this big data company who’ve been at similar web. Another big data company would be bloggers on the side. W was it a passion project? Did you see that as potentially being your next big business where you’re trying to learn?
I am trying to figure out why the two of you decided to go into that.
David: So I would say there’s two main things. Uh, definitely a passion project that we wanted to give back. I mean, developers and designers are all the time reading blog posts. I mean, that’s how you learn about development for the most part. Um, other people have decided to write down the stuff that they’ve experienced and share, and we wanted to do the same.
We were doing cool stuff, really cool stuff, and we wanted to share about it. Um, the other thing was that we really liked. The idea of side projects, making passive income or finding a way to, to, um, to kind of support ourselves and live the life that we wanted to live. It w I don’t think that we thought that it was going to turn into like a billion dollar company, but we definitely saw traction and the possibility of turning it into like a really nice lifestyle business that can support us and allow us to choose what we wanted to work on.
Andrew: okay. All right. And so now you were saying you had this audience, you switched to English, which grew the audience even more. And now you’re trying to figure out how to get some money through advertising. What happened.
David: Yeah. Um, so I started looking into options and we realized that for it started with a B2B blogger B2B community that really respects the blogger, um, sharing their opinion about different products to use and stuff like that. It’s really hard to get. Paid top dollar for ads. You’re kind of stuck in using things that are, are incentivizing kind of clicks.
And they’re not valuing that this click might be from, you know, the, the head of design and Microsoft who, if they agree to buy your product is bringing this tool into Microsoft, you know, for however many thousands of designers or, um, you know, you’re suggesting some dev ops tool for. I’m the CTO at a giant company.
And those are the kinds of people that we were able to access in our audience. And we weren’t any way to use any sort of programmatic ad solution in order to get paid properly for it. So what we started doing was selling directly to the brands, the products that we were using selves, um, which I think this is something that you came across yourself and you’ve done know, let me find the products that I like and reach out to them and our case to them.
Andrew: if I work with big, if I work with these big ad sales agencies, that pitch me a lot, they want these low CPMs, which totally makes sense. It makes sense for a mattress company. It makes sense for a, um, I don’t know what, um, like an athletic screen type of thing where you. It sells for what, 50 bucks per order.
But if you’re thinking about top towel, which is reaching a head of a company, that’s hiring developers, that’s like a 20, 50, $70,000 a year engagement is, is typical. Right? And so for them higher CPM total makes sense. And the only way they know that buying an ad on Mixergy will get them. The CEO that will make the decision for that is if I called them up directly, I totally understand what you’re talking about and I could see how you would have had that issue too.
David: Case in point, I listened to your show a lot and we’re going to spend probably four or five. Times that number that you just said on top of health this year. From, you know, from listening to your show and basically hearing it. Yeah. So, um, I mean, that’s exactly it, right? Like if top tile was measuring that and saying, um, well, I got, you know, 12 clicks this time and I’m willing to pay $1 a click or whatever.
Then then, you know, they might do a single ad with you and they might not feel the results, but, um, you can bring them someone who’s going to spend 200, 300, $400,000 a year, if not more. Right. And then tell all their friends about it and we’re going to do it too.
Andrew: And so you started going directly to these companies to make your pitch why hacking UI would be a good spot for them?
David: Exactly. The whole thing, though, thing that we were pitching to them was that we actually like your product. We have an audience that would like your product. We believe in it, and we’re willing to stand, not just willing. We want to stand in front of our audience. We want to endorse it. It’s not something that’s going to run on the side.
It’s not going to be like. You know, let’s pause for a second. And then here’s this random company that pops up and we have no, nothing about no, we’re going to stand in front of our audience. We’re going to put our good name on the line and we’re going to tell them that we believe they should buy your products.
Andrew: Yeah. And that endorsement carries beyond the actual placement. So how did ad sales go for you guys?
David: Um, Pretty quickly started to go really well. Uh, keep in mind, this is a side project and we started to do really targeted outreach. Um, you know, with didn’t really know what that meant. We didn’t know about STRs or, or kind of, you know, building these types of funnels. Um, we just looked up products that we liked and tried to find the people who work there and in marketing or ad buying or whatever, and, um, and then reach out to them and, and make our case.
Um, and it started going well enough that we said we should put some time into, um, making this a real, you know, thinking about this process and optimizing it a bit. So one of the things that we did really quickly, it was, we said, let’s look at all of the content that’s similar to us, but similar to, how can you, I, and let’s see which brands are sponsoring there, especially the ones that are coming up over and over.
And the ones that we like right from that list of Brenda’s, it’s find the ones that we like and let’s reach out to them. And we think we’re gonna have a good chance of getting them to buy.
Andrew: okay. And so you put that together. This is super smart. How tough was it for you to put that together?
David: Um, so the initial thing that we did was we signed up to the ton of email newsletters. We just had a Gmail account. Um, and we would, we would, um, basically just go pour through the inbox over and over and try to find the sponsors, um, that. Combined with the fact that, you know, he’s a designer as developer and we wanted to do some cool stuff, um, led to some ideas of like, maybe we can make this better.
Maybe we can build a product. Um,
Andrew: And so when you were doing this for yourself, you told our producer, at some point you hit a ceiling even still on what you could charge. And was it because I guess at some point you’ve hit whatever the price point is that your audience is worth to the sponsor and you don’t have a bigger audience. And I’m imagining at that point, the next thought was, how can we, if we’re making a sale, also sell the sponsor on buying ads on sites that are similar to ours.
Is that right?
David: Yeah. I mean, we could definitely charge much more than any programmatic ad solution could pay us per click or whatever, because these were effective ads, but there still is a ceiling, right. There still is a maximum audience size. And what we started doing was reaching out to kind of friends in the space who had similar design blogs, developer, blogs, and saying, look, we already have the connection with Adobe in design.
Now these companies that are not that easy to get in touch with, we have been successful in selling them advertisements and. We think that we can go and sell them and add in your content as well. And, um, for many of these people, that was huge because, you know, first of all, a lot of them want to just create content and like, they didn’t enjoy this part of the business.
Um, funny enough, I actually really enjoyed this part of their business. I didn’t expect that going in, but a lot of them are like, look, I wanna, I wanna create content. And I don’t want to be chasing people with emails and doing the sales. Um, But we, we basically went at the beginning to similar contents and friends that we had, and it kind of grew from there organically into a little ad network for the design and development space.
Andrew: What did you like about doing it?
David: Yeah. Um, there’s definitely a rush in sales that, um, You to get, to get a deal on this fund. Um, you know, there, then there’s all the subtleties of, okay, I need to be successful and get the renewal. Right. And that’s also fun too. I mean, I think that when, you know, you’re selling something and people are willing to pay you good money for, and it’s working for them and it’s valuable.
That’s a really good feeling.
Andrew: It is and it’s, and it’s thousands of dollars as opposed to what we’re used to with SAS, which is a few dollars at a time. And so it’s exciting. Every time you close a sale, I get it where you also process-oriented and had a good system that kept it organized.
David: So pretty soon. Um, I, we, we joined forces with, uh, Dan Kahn. Who’s my co-founder now in top dog and, uh, in thought leaders. And he came from some of the web and built some of the really awesome sales processes that they had. They’re expanding it to Japan. And, um, he came and kind of. Took the whole thing and got the processes and everything set up that, uh, that I had, I have no idea how to
Andrew: What was your process? What did he create?
David: um, outreach system, a proper CRM, um, ways of measuring, uh, sales and optimizing deals over time, looking into things like, um, the, uh, how long deals were taking and optimizing that, um, optimizing for renewals, when to do renewals.
Um, and also how to grow. Right. Always looking at how do we get the average deal size up and, and, and continue to grow the business.
Andrew: You know what? I wonder if they’re, I guess they must be, um, consultants who help businesses set that up. I remember the founder of SendGrid was a long time fan of Mixergy and I had him on and then suddenly he was replaced. And when I asked why, why was he replaced? Um, The, the big answer was we’ve been doing sales well, but not in an organized way.
And if we could get organized, we could actually grow sales of this service so much more SendGrid sends, uh, helps companies send out email. Uh, all right. I got, um, I got where you were with this, so now you’re good at sales. You’ve got an agency and you’re saying, uh, to our producer that some people look down on you for having an agency.
And I, I know Gary Vaynerchuk told me that the same thing happened to him. What was it? Um, what was the feedback you were getting and why’d you decide to stick with this?
David: Well, for us, there was something really important, um, in this business and thought leaders and we wanted to bootstrap the business. Um, I really wanted to make a business that was profitable. That people are willing to pay money for and, um, and would return because we were delivering a service that had a lot of value to them.
Now, what we always wanted to do though, was turned that into a product and technology and, um, an agency was amazing way to do that because from an agency you can make money from day one. Right. Um, you have to be good at it, but you essentially, without technology, you can make money. And then when we started doing was adding tech all along the way, only internally at first, but for our agency.
And that became the secret sauce of our agency. And once that tech got good enough that we were able to, um, make it self service, we started selling the tech itself to other people.
Andrew: what’s the tech, uh, that internally that you built, I’m imagining it’s more CRM related, but it’s also about analyzing content, right?
David: Yeah, so we call it a sponsorship intelligence platform. We’re scraping tons and tons of contents on YouTube, on podcasts, email newsletters, blogs, um, in probably two months or so three months in, in Q2, we’re adding Twitch as well. Um, and what we’re doing inside of that content is we’re looking for where brands are appearing inside of the actual native content itself.
And what we’re able to do is analyze that and understand where, um, brands are repeating and thus, where they’re succeeding inside of that content. And you can take that and layer on top of it all sorts of different analysis. So you can look into other podcasters and see, um, in the cases that they have brands repeating, what kind of ads are they doing?
What kind of call to actions do they have? Different ad formats are working, which are.
Andrew: So, for example, I noticed Skillshare on a lot of educational podcasts that last 10 minutes and the ads are at the end. And so if masterclass were to follow along and say, that’s working for them, they might look for other educational content, maybe even the exact same ones and put their ads on in the end.
David: Totally. So it gets even more, um, uh, cutthroat than that. If you will, they can look within it. They can see which ones Skillshare is repeating when right. They can see that, um, these are the educational podcasters that were working for them. These are the ones that weren’t, they can understand the similarities between them.
And then if masterclass, for example, it said they were starting their marketing budget for the first time ever today, rather than go. Th the way it normally works is a company starts a marketing budget. They know they’re going to spend and essentially waste a bunch of money at the beginning, testing stuff out.
But with thought leaders where they can do is they can basically see where their competition has already tested stuff and failed and not make the sense mistakes.
Andrew: That makes sense. And you know what, and maybe masterclass is a bad example because they like to show their Polish videos. And so they prefer to buy directly, but a you to me might in a competing marketplace to them. Oh, you know who it is. A curiosity stream could do that right. Where they’re targeting the same type of customer.
But this is essentially what you built when you were just running the agency. See.
David: Yeah. I mean, we’ve been building this, um, in pieces for the past three years or so. Um, and um, I mean, we always wanted to get it to the point where we can sell it and it could stand alone as a SAS, but, um, it wasn’t that we had this exact vision of what we have today from day one, you know, weren’t quite that good.
Andrew: All right. You mentioned that, uh, you didn’t want to raise money and you brought up your previous company, tapped dog a couple of times. I think we’ll come back from the sponsorship break. And I want to ask you about what happened at tap dog. And why did you decide that you didn’t want to raise money for this business?
But my first and only sponsor is HostGator. What is it that you like about my sponsor ads or in general? What do you, what do you like about sponsor reads my house?
David: Yeah. So I was telling you before this, I mean, I think you are the case study of how podcasts shouldn’t be doing sponsorships is that you’re willing to stand in front of your audience and endorse that brand. Right. I mean, you’ve been doing HostGator as sponsored for forever. Right. And you’re doing that because it’s working for them for sure.
And because you’re willing to use it yourself. Right. You’re talking about how you’re using it yourself and, um, you have the exact understanding of how your audience should be using it. And I think there’s no better at that. I mean, I’m listening to your show because I respect you, I believe in you and what you’re doing.
And then you tell me to try this product. Of course, I’m going to try it.
Andrew: I’ve got to tell you that there’s one period there where HostGator was not sponsoring. And I hope that I know that they’re okay with this because they they’ve heard me say this before we got feedback from the audience that HostGator was not responding to customer service issues. We said, okay, we’re going to pause these ads.
We can’t, we can’t actually search it at the time was running the ads and he just canceled them. He said, we can’t work with you. They said, well, why not? This is working out. Well. He said, it’s working out well for us at Mixergy for you at HostGator. But we have some customers who are not getting customer service responded to fast enough.
They said, tell us who. We sent them a list of every single person they went in and created a response for us to how they handled every single, every single one of the risks. The complaints that we had, and it was all about not enough, not enough, a response from HostGator at a fast enough time, because they were going through some transition and they fixed it for every one of our customers.
We brought them back. And not only have they been on it since then, but you might’ve heard that there was a. Big storm in Austin, Texas. Well, they have a lot of people in Austin, Texas. A lot of their infrastructure is dependent on Austin, Texas. There was not a single hip hiccup for me and I didn’t hear a single complaint.
And so we, yes, we brought them back and yes, we’ve been following along to make sure that it’s working and yes, we absolutely by movie. I mean, not just me, but everyone on our team just says, is this a good product? Are we getting customer service complaints or compliments? And if we’re getting complaints, we don’t need to work with them.
If it’s compliments, we do. Alright. I don’t think I need to say anymore. If you’re listening to me, go to hostgator.com/mixergy, you’ll get the lowest price they have available, great service that I use, and yes, it will scale with you. That is the lowest price they have, but they’ll give you all the features and growth that you need.
I know that we’ve been growing with them and I’m happy that they’re hosting with us. hostgator.com/mixergy. They did for a tap dog that, uh, goes back to when, where was the original idea?
David: Yeah. Um, so the original idea was we, we had a company called Malta, which was a crowdfunding for, for dares or challenges and, um, We, we realized that we had a really awesome team, an amazing team, uh, and we were really good at watching what all of our competition was doing. And we were staying up on that, trying to see what, uh, Kickstarter was doing.
This was back like 2012. Um, and you go, go. And, you know, all the other crowd starting platforms were watching them like crazy. Uh, but what we weren’t really good at it all was, um, it was B to C no, we had no idea how to get people to do challenges and to really blow up an audience for it. So, so what happened was we got accepted into a startup accelerator program, an amazing program, uh, up West labs in San Francisco.
And we got to the accelerator and we’re just like trying this, trying that we pivoted a ton with Melissa and, um, said like, look like we kind of got like a big shot here. We’re in this accelerator program, we got some money left, um, not a whole lot. So we’ve got to make the best use of it really quickly, but maybe we should just go after this competitive intelligence thing that we’re actually, we’re all really good at.
And we spoke to the investors and therefore they said, go with it, run with it.
Andrew: Because they believed in you and the team. And they said, even though you’ve got this idea, Multa your co-founder Noam Schwartz called it. Kickstarter meets jackass, essentially. What are people willing to do for money? What’s some of the craziest things that were on mortar. What do you remember?
David: Oh, we had funny stuff. Um, uh, people getting, uh, slapped in the face with like a giant fish and like, um, um, like a St Margaret and stuff like that. Um, but actually we it’s, we took a twist with it. One of the pivots we did was to try to turn into something, uh, crowdfunding for challenges, more than dearest.
So it was like for charities. So it was people running a marathon or doing, um, the ice bucket challenge was big back then there was a lot of these.
Andrew: And so if they were willing to dump a bucket of ice on their heads, then the crowd would give them good. Give their favorite charity something. Got it. Right. All right. That’s one of the pivots. Um, and so the trends, the next big pivot after you got accepted into accelerator was to say, look, This isn’t really working, but we’re good at getting data.
We are so up on what Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing sites are doing, that could be a business and a service that we offer other businesses. What would, what’s the data that you were thinking of selling when you pivoted.
David: So we were looking into all sorts of stuff. Like, um, what positions were they filling on? LinkedIn? We thought that maybe that could tell you if, if they’re hiring, you know, a certain person with a certain expertise, then they’re trying to build a product that, you know, isn’t public yet. Uh, we were looking into all sorts of things related to their web traffic, to social accounts followers.
Um, really just trying to stitch it all together and, and derive value from that. What’s that.
Andrew: What could you do with all that? It’s still just a whole lot of data. How do you make sense of it? And then what kind of action can you take based on that?
David: Totally. So this was one of the things that we were really trying to solve for. Um, was it a consulting tool that say like kind of an automatic, um, uh, BCG kind of tool or was it something that was more actionable for like a day-to-day marketer? Um, and we really struggled with, with kind of with defining that and figuring out exactly where it was.
Was it these big, like high-level decisions for C-level or something that someone could say I’m going to run this type of marketing campaign or do this to grow users?
Andrew: What’d you end up deciding on.
David: Um, to be honest, I think we kind of, we kind of straddled both, but what really, um, got us to similar web was leaning more towards, okay, this needs to be actionable. Like we knew that it was going to be tough, um, especially for a small startup starting out to sell to, you know, Basically the C level on the promise that like we have some long-term insight for you to shape your business as opposed to going here’s some day-to-day action you can take.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s, that’s always a challenge. I will find that because I’m so into research people with new companies that are research-based will, will hit me up and say, Andrew, we can put research together for you on your guests. And they do a great job, but it’s way too much research and I don’t even know what to do with it.
And I love going into research, you know what I mean? And
David: Yeah, I’ve actually heard you say before that you have to set timers for yourself to stop, uh, your research rabbit holes.
Andrew: Because I will, I’ll spend so long going down those rabbit holes, but as much as I love it, I often can’t make sense of these big PDFs that people send me and they say, Andrew, do you think this is worth $25? It’s definitely $25, more than $25 worth of work. But I don’t know what to do with it at the end.
And when I have too much data and I don’t know what to do with it, it creates even more anxiety. You guys, um, eventually sold to similar web largely because they like the team, right? They said you can put together research. You can, you can. Organized data. Right? We want you on, it’s not like they wanted to keep the tap dog product, right?
David: No totally. I mean, it was an actual hire. I mean, we got it. Everyone got a nice bonus, um, you know, good jobs. Uh, but I mean, it was all about the team. Um, what, with the caveat that we were doing something similar. So they also knew that we, we knew the space really well. Um, but, um, but yeah, I mean, they that’s.
Andrew: Okay. And so then what is it about that experience that made you say, I don’t want funding. It seems like you benefited from funding. You got credibility, you got into an accelerator, you got introductions.
David: Yeah. Um, I wanted to not chase investors and be able to build the product that people would pay for that I can go directly to the customer and they would pay for it from, from day one. Uh, what I didn’t like so much was kind of selling people on this dream where. Yeah, you have to, I think running any business, you have to have a long-term vision and you have to, you have to have a dream and maybe even that dream can be a little irrational.
Maybe it should be a little rational. Right. Um, but I like having something it’s also grounded in the fact that we’re delivering real value, not just kind of pumping, um, of this investment with another investment and another investment without actually getting to the end user and saying we’ve delivered something to you that you’re willing to pay for.
Andrew: Okay. And so now you’re starting to get into software. When I go to hacking UI Siggi’s names at the top, not yours, it seems like he ended up running that business and you ended up running thought leaders. Am I right?
David: Yeah. So we, we split in 2016. Um, so you really liked the content side of it. And, uh, like I told you, I didn’t know, I would have a special for it, but I really like the sales and the business side of it. So, um, I took that, uh, Dan Kahn joined me and, um, how seller, who we worked with at SimilarWeb as well on R and D they’re joined as well.
And the three of us built out thought leaders, um, with the intention of doing something really cool with content and sponsorship intelligence, we started it. All from the spinning out of hacking UI as a media agency, that from day one, we can sell, we can buy and sell advertising.
Andrew: the first version of the product that you are able to sell. How long into, into, uh, the business was that the service, the software, not the service.
David: Yeah. So we technically what we are. So what we did was we, at the beginning, we just had an agency, nothing that a client could see no tech that a client could see. And then when we started doing was we would sell budgets, media budgets to clients, but we would give them access to the software. So in some ways you could say we were technically selling the software there.
I mean, it, from their point of view, it was definitely a reason that they were joining the agency. It wasn’t yet. Good enough for them to say, I’m willing just to pay you cash for this software. Like, I need you to run some media and handle this stuff, these service for me as well. Um, but in June of last year, we did a really soft kind of like a beta launch.
If you will. Um, a soft launch of the SAS as a standalone product. And that was only two, um, past clients, current clients, um, people in our network creators that we had worked with or were working with. And then in January of this year, we, that was our official SAS launch and, you know, open the doors. Let’s go, let’s sell this thing.
Andrew: How much is it I’m looking on your pricing page and I don’t see any prices. I see. Basic pro enterprise. What’s the basic plan cost.
David: The basic plan is right now. And we’re constantly raising the price by the way. But, um, right now the basic is going for 2,500 a year. Um, pro is going for, I want to say 7,500 a year and the enterprise around, uh, 15,000 a year. It depends exactly what the enterprise has inside of it.
Andrew: Have you started to reach out to people beyond your current customer list?
David: Yeah, totally. So, I mean, January 1st was our let’s blow the doors off this thing. Let’s sell it and let’s go, um, we have, um, a sales team and outreach team and they’re, you know, reaching out to everyone and they’re using our platform to do it. Can you say that again
Andrew: How do you, how do you get customers, David?
David: So we use our own platform. Um, so what they’re doing is they’re looking through both the creator side and the brand side.
They’re looking for brands that are sponsoring, and they’re saying we have some real insights for you if you’re already doing a sponsorship program, and this is how we can make you better. We know that you did.
Andrew: yeah, we know that you’ve been buying all these ads at these places. We want to show you how you could do better and you’re giving them free data in order to like a sample. Am I right?
David: Yeah. Um, so it depends on the brand. I mean, it’s really, really custom outreach, so it could be, um, you know, you’re doing this, but your competitors doing that. And if you, you know, copied or looked into what the, your competitor is doing, you know, you can make some improvements here. It could be that, um, Um, you’re, you’re a creator and we see that your, um, fill rate for your show for sponsorships is, you know, 10%, but similar creators are coming in.
These similar creators that have similar content is, um, you know, 50%. These are the brands that they’re getting, and this is how you can get.
Andrew: and you’re specifically targeting the people who are doing a lot of ads, both eat, both running ads or, uh, or taking ads.
David: So it depends what you mean by a lot. Right? We definitely have a sweet spot. Um, we’re looking for companies that have for, and who have a budget for optimizing their program, but at the same time where we found is that. There’s crazy benefits to a company, starting to use something like thought leaders early on in the marketing spend.
And the reason for that is because when companies find creators that work for them, when a brand says this thing has been successful for me. They’re able to stick with that creator for a long, long time and build a partnership like, you know, that you’ve done with many of your clients, that’s really successful for them and predictable.
And that’s the thing that brands are looking for. They want predictable marketing spend that they know is going to be ROI positive. So if you do it early on, then let’s say, um, a brand does 10 tests at the beginning, 10 different critters. I try out. W if we can help a brand be successful on six of those tests instead of just five or four that they might’ve done in their own, those extra one or two that they were successful on early on turn into thousands and thousands of predictable marketing dollars throughout the lifetime of their program.
Andrew: You know what I’d love to see and maybe you’re doing it. And I don’t know it, but. Like top charts. Who’s the top newsletter, uh, subscribe. Oh, where’s the top of the newsletter sponsor. Who’s the top podcast sponsor. You know what I mean? Even by categories, those types of things are just so interesting to read.
David: Yeah. Yeah, totally. So actually on our site, we have, um, some really rudimentary leaderboards for the different, uh, formats for newsletter, for podcasts, for YouTube. Um, and then within our paid platform, you can filter it by, you know, whatever you want. You can go month by month, you can go, um, within, um, certain, uh, categories, locations, languages.
Andrew: What I, what I mean is we could do that. Remember when SimilarWeb started putting out these press releases to say, here are the top sites. Here’s what here’s, what’s interesting in the world. Here’s how even porn sites compared to social media, social media is now more popular than pore. Right? All those little insights that people wouldn’t have thought to go look.
For made for such interesting reading. And then finally, um, I think that the awareness of similar, where web caught up with how powerful it was for generating that kind of thing.
David: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the things, um, you know, that happened at some of the liberal and I was there going to, to your point of the awareness kind of catching up with the power, um, was they had a really cheap, um, um, basic level plan and got rid of that because, I mean, it was, it was way too powerful.
Um, so yeah, I mean, similar web, the free version was, was amazing, uh, and definitely built, you know, the company into the powerhouse. It is today. But over time it became like, all right, this is really good information. We should charge a lot more for it.
Andrew: I know when I first got it, it was like, it’s. Uh, frankly, just using the free one was so mind blowing the guests at the end of an interview would say, how did you know where my traffic was coming from? And I’d say, similar weapon. They say what? And I’d have to say it’s like Alexa, which back then was a thing before it became a speaker was a analytics company.
Right? But it’s more detailed. And then I do like these screen shares to show them because they couldn’t believe how powerful it was. I feel like that’s where you guys are now with thought leaders, but maybe that’s because the software is still in its infancy. We’re talking about a two month and three-day old software, right.
As far as it’s standing on its own.
David: Yeah. I mean, that’s our official SAS launch was really only exactly like you said, a couple months ago.
Andrew: When you were working at an agency, the way that you got more customers was by just seeing, what can you walk me through where you found your customers and what your sales process was since you guys were so good at it? Maybe there’s some insight that we can.
David: Um, yeah, I mean, well, we were looking for was people that were already doing advertising for the agency. The best customers are people that have an existing program for the SAS. We’re looking for people that are maybe just starting out right now, not exclusively, but that’s one, one area that we can really help.
Um, but with agents that we want people with an existing budget and. Well, we can do is we can see, okay, let’s track, um, these YouTube channels or these newsletters or these podcasts, uh, podcasts that we know, um, brands are repeating it over and over, and let’s find those brands and let’s reach out to them with some sort of insight about things that they’re not doing
Andrew: And this was for SAS, but when you were working at the agency, you said
David: The agency as well.
Andrew: same thing. So it’s always, who’s buying the most ads. And then can we start off by saying we’ve got some insights because our software has been scraping and analyzing, uh, the types of content that you’re sponsoring.
David: Yeah. Yeah, totally. I mean, to be, to be clear that the process for outreach and agencies is really similar to the SAS and that’s one of the reasons why it’s been successful for us really quickly. Also some of our SAS clients are agencies that want to do the same exact thing.
Andrew: How, uh, how many SDRs do you guys have? We’re drumming a business like this.
David: Two full-time SDRs. Um, and then we also have a sales team, which is about to be five people now, five account executives, and they’re doing, um, outreach as well, not exclusively, but they’re doing some outreach.
Andrew: You and American how’d you end up in Israel.
David: Wow. Good question. Um, after I graduated from college, I wanted to. Kind of travel a little bit, but not, um, I guess digital nomad, if you will, this is like 2012 and I didn’t really know that it was what I wanted to do. Um, so I wanted to go around the world, live somewhere for a little while and then maybe move on if I didn’t like it.
And, um, I went to Tel Aviv. Uh, and just fell in love with it and I didn’t go on anywhere else. And ever since then, uh, I met great people. I joined, um, Malta and then tap dog, you know, met my best friends here. I met my wife here, um, and it really just kind of snowballed after, you know, six months, a year, nine years.
I did not plan it.
Andrew: Somehow at some point become like one of the international cities to be in, if you are in tech. And I don’t know when that happened, because I think for a while there was Haifa. That was the place where all the tech companies were. Right. But nobody gets excited about living in, in. Well, living in, uh, in those types of, I don’t know, high foot also, I can’t say it, but it feels like it’s more like the, the big corporations that are there.
Right. And that’s not the exciting place that you leave your family and go live in.
David: Yeah. I’ve had some really nice, a really good universities. So there’s a lot of, um, a lot of hardware there. Um, and like exactly what you said. A lot of the larger companies are they Intel, Microsoft. Um, but Tel Aviv, I mean, has just exploded. Even since I’ve been here. I got here in 2012 and I mean, it definitely had a startup scene, a really solid one when I got here.
But I mean, what it has now is crazy. I think I saw a post on LinkedIn yesterday. I want to say that there’s something like 55. They’ll call me on the exact number, but something in this range is really founded unicorns right now, keeping in mind that there was like several IPO’s of the past few years. So those unicorns kind of went off the list because now they’re public companies.
Andrew: Who, um, who should we know about that we may not know about? That’s one of these unicorns.
David: Um, who you don’t know about as a good question. Um,
Andrew: similar web of now for a long time? People didn’t realize how big they were.
David: So there’s a lot of stuff happening in FinTech, which is, which is blowing up here. Um, T palsy is I think a two and a half billion dollar company, Israeli company. I’m not sure they do, uh, payments were actually a client.
Andrew: automation meets global mass payments.
David: yeah. Yeah. And we’re a client really good product, really solid service. Um, and yeah, I think that two and a half billion dollar valuation,
Andrew: I’m assuming that’s how you pay your creators, right? So you don’t have to do it yourselves. Yeah. That is a headache to do.
David: well, th they handle the compliance, they handle the payouts and they give the creators all sorts of options of like, um, currency conversions. They want different payment methods.
Andrew: Yeah, no, that’s one of those things that you just don’t realize is an issue until you start paying more than a hundred people, and then you say this is terrible. This is terrible, especially
David: gets bad before a hundred. Trust me.
Andrew: Oh, is that right?
David: Yeah. Once you start doing a couple different countries and different currencies and different payment methods, I mean it’s bad. And even, even a handful is like, you need a solution.
Andrew: I know my previous company, we had a bunch of affiliates and we insisted on doing everything ourselves. And I remember these random issues would pop up. Like we’d S we’d send out checks as one person who decided that they were going to erase the numbers off the checks and then add. Uh, their own numbers to it.
And somehow the bank caught that and I don’t know how they would’ve caught it, but they said this just doesn’t make sense. And they kicked it out, which was phenomenal for us, but kind of scary too. Yeah.
David: It’s like catch me if you can stuff.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It was so freaking clever. It wasn’t like they said a million dollars in a million dollars would have triggered some alert.
It was, it was enough to be reasonable, but not right. Wow. We, um, all right, let me close out with this. You’re a guy who started out as a kid. Um, you wanted to be a journalist, but there was so much entrepreneurial entrepreneurial energy in you. You told our producer that you wanted it, or your parents brought, bought you the expensive sat prep course.
And then what did you do when you took that course? I feel like it gives us an insight into you and the possibilities that you see in the world.
David: It’s funny. Um, yeah, so I didn’t take the course that seriously myself. I got, you know, all the home study kit and all the books and all of that. Um, but what I did the following summer with a good friend is we started the business using those materials that my parents paid for, for me to take the sat, teaching sat prep to other people.
So what we would do is around, um, my living room at home on the ping pong table. We kind of put like a tablecloth on it. We would host sat, study sessions where parents would drop their kids over at my house and pass. Um, I remember exactly how much it was, but it was like really good money for, for us that, I mean, I think, I think we were getting like, I want to say like 50, 75 bucks for an hour or two session, you know, for multiple kids and,
Andrew: paying that. Yeah.
David: And, you know, w I was, I was like 16 years old with my, my partner doing this.
And, um, yeah, it turned into a really nice business.
Andrew: What were your sat scores?
David: I think. I don’t remember exactly. I think it was like maybe 14, something, 1480, something like that.
Andrew: right. Were you a smart kid? You were.
David: Uh, I would like to think so
Andrew: I thought so too, but I
David: let’s put it this way. I did well in school. I did, I did well in school growing up. Um, yeah, but, um, I always like to push the line, like what I found, what I really considered a good achievement was if I did just well enough to get like an, a, like a 90% on a test was my goal.
It was like, why there’s no reason to get a 94 don’t study. You know, why, why would it those extra four points don’t do anything for me. So I always wanted to get just enough to be, uh, to get the passing grade there.
Andrew: I want to get as much as I could, but I also felt like it was so irrelevant now that I’ve got kids and you’ve got like six months old now. Right. You’re going to start to think about this. I don’t want to give them all the, all the things that I hated as it, as a kid, I feel like we don’t have to do. And Olivia and I are thinking about going to Austin, which is then opening up all these other schools for us.
And there’ve been some really innovative approaches to education and I’m all in for it. I want that for my kids. I want something that fits them better than my school fit for me.
David: Are there any specific ones that you’ve been, that you’ve been thinking about?
Andrew: Okay. One, um, Goggin, Biani, uh, the creator of, um, a bunch of companies Sprig and you, to me, he messaged me a connection to his friend who created alpha. What alpha does is they say, look, every kid needs to learn at their own pace and is interested in their own things. What we’re going to do is we’re going to hand them, and this sounds shocking.
We’re going to hand them a computer. For two hours with apps that are customized to their reading level, their math skills, their interests, et cetera, so that they could learn from that. And the guide watches how they do and keeps adjusting that. And then. So that way they get everything customized to them.
So why should two kids be in the same exact math class, learning from the same exact, uh, the textbook, when they each have different approaches, right? And then they have teachers who they call gods, who will run experiments with them. We’ll give them space to try things out. And then they also get entrepreneurial with them where they give kids something called alpha bucks.
So if you do well, if you. If you progress while you get these bucks, which you can then go and buy stuff from their store. So there’s all these innovations around it. There’s no desks. The way that we think about them, kids can sit in whatever environment they want to. Um, I don’t think I’m doing them justice, but you can see how they’re breaking free of the box in some ways, a little bit shocking.
Like I said, the iPad is, is a bit of a turnoff for us, but I’m still, I’m still into it.
David: Yeah, that’s cool. We actually just signed up, um, our, uh, my son to a Montessori preschool. So, I mean, you know, definitely the six month version of this is different for them. I’m sure. The older kids, but, um, it sounds like similar kind of methodology that each kid, you know, does things at their own pace.
Andrew: And I want them to love to learn and to also in many ways, be accommodated if they have interests or if they have frustrations. And yes, I do think that they should be accommodated. And I think when we were in school, they would have said, come on, Andrew, who are you so special that we should teach you what you want?
But I was interested, what are stocks? Tell me that, teach me that stuff. Don’t teach me the stuff I don’t care about. Sorry. Finally bottom line. Now, if I’d want to go and find sponsors like a better health, so I’m going to type in better health. I’m going to see where better health sponsors and then I’m going to reach out to them through you.
Let me see better it. No, it’s better. Help. Better help. I think better helps you be a sponsor. There it is. Look at this they’ve 718 thought leaders
David: going to go check on HostGator. If that domain’s available now, better health, right?
Andrew: Okay. All right. Thanks so much for doing this. And the website for everyone who is interested is thought leaders.io. I think what you should do is just start typing and brands that you like, and that you want to see if you could work with and type in creators that you might want to advertise on. I keep looking down cause it’s so fricking captivating to see, like, I don’t know who this optimal living daily is, but they’re, they’re doing a bunch of ads with them.
All right. Your site is so captivating. I feel like once people start getting into it, they’re going to love digging into the data, typing people in, seeing where they advertise and just spying on people in some ways. Thanks so much for being on here. And thank you HostGator for sponsoring. If you’re interested in getting good hosting, do what I did.
I went to HostGator. Go sign up at hostgator.com/mixergy. They’ll take great care of you. Thanks. Bye David.