Oli Gardner, Co-Founder, Unbounce
Ryan Deiss, Founder, DigitalMarketer.com
Most of Foundr’s podcast episodes are one-on-one chats, usually focusing on a particular foundr or their business. This time around, we were fortunate enough to sit down, in person, with two startup icons, and explore some of the most important facets of running a business.
Oli Gardner and Ryan Deiss are both digital marketing pioneers who have grown their online businesses to millions in revenue. Gardner, the instructor of our Landing Page Formula course, co-founded landing page builder Unbounce in 2009. Deiss, a serial entrepreneur, founded DigitalMarketer in 2011.
Not surprisingly, this turned out to be a fascinating conversation, in which Gardner and Deiss share both similar and differing opinions on everything from branding to hiring.
For example, both founders insist that creating core values is an important business practice that will inform your branding and your decisions. “I have had more businesses come close to failure because of too much opportunity,” says Deiss, who adds that having a mission makes it easier to know when to say no.
In addition, as both Unbounce and DigitalMarketer grow, Gardner and Deiss have each honed their strategies for hiring top talent. The details might surprise you, as one of the two companies doesn’t even allow candidates to submit a resume (it’ll get thrown out).
Listen in as Gardner and Deiss join Foundr for this lively chat in Barcelona, where they share their hard-learned lessons from growing online businesses and the sacrifices they’ve made along the way.
- How to build a great brand
- The one thing that keeps your customers coming back again and again
- Why creating core values for your company isn’t just a nice thing to do, but a necessity
- The latest interaction and design trends—and which ones you should steer clear of
- Why community is the new brand and how to build a community that boosts your business
- The biggest opportunity in ecommerce right now
- How to stay relevant in a changing content marketing landscape
- Sure-fire tactics for hiring and vetting top talent
- The big sacrifices they’ve had to make as founders
Full Transcript of Podcast with Oli Gardner and Ryan Deiss
Nathan: Let’s kick this off. I guess Oli. How did you get your job? Can you share with everyone just to kind of 30 seconds, minute, like what do you do? How did you start doing the work that you do today?
Oli: How did I get my job? That’s an inch. Just saying, I’m looking at it. First of all, I’m not a CEO, Co founder. We have six of them. We started back in 2009. We worked on and off with each other, different jobs just prior to unbalanced for you’re working for a really sketchy online casino and Costa Rica and decided let’s do something a little nicer. No more kneecapping, people don’t pay. So we just decided, someone had it. The CEO had an idea, he had two ideas. The first one was garbage. We picked the second, and I became a marketer of the day we started.
Nathan: Awesome. And Ryan, how’d you get your job?
Ryan: How far back can I go? So in 1999 I need to make some extra money, and I decided I was going to be a Web Designer even though I didn’t know how to do Web Design, but I figured I could learn in a weekend if I got a client, the only person that would hire me was a lactation consultant and you know what that is. So let’s just say when you’re 19 and you’re building a website for a lactation consultant, your friends think you’re into some like weird stuff. And now I have four kids so I’m hit. But at the time it was less cool. But that was where I got my start. She actually wasn’t able to pay me, but I was working with her to produce this book on how to make your own baby food and that was … She was really smart.
She said that I know at some point my clients aren’t going to need me, so I want to have this thing that I can offer them when they’re done, when they’re done nursing. And so she wanted to then sell them this books. We worked together on the butch said, “Look, I want you to keep the book as payment,” like what am I going to do with a book on how to make your own baby food. But I needed to make some extra money. So I built a simple website through some, optimised it for no joke, Alta vista and Dog pile and all. Back in the day before Google and was my first kind of entrée into selling online. And that one website became 50, became 100, began talking about stuff, teaching these things as well. And here we are today.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow, that’s crazy. So that’s kind of probably brings me to my first question. One thing that I think both of you guys have done tremendously well with Unbounce. And you’re leading the marketing. And then also Ryan, with your 40 plus companies, even just digital marketer. You guys are very, very strong at creating really great brands, which is something that I think, especially in this world. A lot of affiliate marketers, they might be drop shipping. They might be transitioning to building a brand. Like would you like to start Ryan? Like what, what are some things that you think people should be doing when it comes to creating a great brand?
Ryan: Yeah, I mean, so first of all we think about the difference between branding and selling. To me, and there’s a lot of definitions, but I see selling anytime you’re selling and making an offer, what you’re doing is essentially making a withdrawal of relational equity. So we think about all of our companies, we have a certain amount of relational equity packed within these customers, and we sell them something. We’re trading some of that equity for some dollars. And when we’re branding, we’re making deposits of relational equity. Now, if you’re a good enough Marketer, you can, in the context of sales copy. In content marketing is all about making deposits. That’s what I consider really great content marketing to be. Unbounce one of the best in the world that I know I learned a tonne from watching them, like, “Oh, we should be doing that,” but that’s making deposits.
So to me, that’s branding. I am making a strategic business decision that we’re going to make deposits of relational equity. Now, once you have adequate deposits on file, it’s appropriate to make withdraw. That’s how it works. And so that’s the way that I see branding, and really then take us to the next level. It’s about infusing those values within the company itself. So that’s kind of that next level. It’s not about the product, it’s not about the offer, it’s really about this is what we value, this is the value that we deliver and this is why you want to do business with us.
Oli: Yeah. I mean, for us being a single software company, it’s all about our customer success team. Some of our first hires, a Ryan [Engly 00:08:22] who led that for years. That’s why we’re perceived as being a strong, powerful, good brand because our customer success team are incredible. They just treat people so well that our competitors can’t compete with that. We have people leaving, we do the exit interview kind of, “Why you cancelling,” and people got to see the competition and then they come right back and they tell us why they came back and it’s because of the support and it’s because of the community. And you’re talking about values. It’s our values, we have our core value system, six core values. And people actually really live by them. And it just makes a big difference. I’m just hiring wonderful people.
That’s how we started it. And soon as you hire, you get one Bozo. And can poisoned things and things change. But as long as you make your employees happy, that you look after the employees, they’ll look after the customers and the customers will look after the investor as it goes around like that. So employee first is how we’ve always kind of succeeded that way.
Nathan: So you guys talk about values. Is this something that you guys think the audience should kind of focus on if before they even start to develop a brand? Like –
Ryan: I think branding is. Sorry if marketing is the articulation of your value. I think branding is the articulation of your values. So I absolutely think that you should. And I’m coming from the camp of I … There was a time when, if you’d asked me that question, I would just said “That’s horse crap.” It’s some hippie dippie like kumbaya, whatever. Like that’s big companies can I guess afford to do that. Maybe they have to do it. I never saw a business case for it. My thing was I like to eat food and I like shelter and those things cost money. So I need to go and make money so I can have food and shelter and that’s the only thing that I was focused on for probably the first decade of my career. And I remember the very first time of really valuable member of our team came to me and be like, “Why are we doing this?”
And I knew at the time that saying, “We’re doing this so that I can make money was not a good answer.” I at least had enough kind of thought enough empathy to be like, “That’s not a good answer.” And I said to her, “Honestly, I don’t know and I know that’s bad. So let me think about that”. And we really had to think long and hard about, what do we value? What is our mission? Why are we her? why do we serve this group? And I saw the biggest surge in our business. That was when Digital Marketer became a thing. It wasn’t just the website, it wasn’t just me, selling products. It became a thing. It became a brand when we planted a flag and said, “This is what we’re about.”
And so I think doing it pre-revenue before you really knew anything is a bit cart before the horse. You don’t really know until you start working right away. I think if you do it too soon, you got play business. Look at how organised my file drawer is, and I got like all the labels and they’re colour coded. Let’s play in business. But I think if you don’t do it, I think what you’ve got 10 customers, it’s time to start thinking about it.
Oli: Yeah. We waited a few years and actually we’re good friends with Myles, with Rand, with Spark Toro, was anymore. And so we learned from them. They are in Seattle, we’re in Vancouver, so they’ve always kind of done a lot of exchange between what we’ve learned, what they’ve learned. So we learned from them their core values. When we actually came up with them. We went to Seattle and spend the day just kind of travelling through the city, trying to figure this stuff out. A group of people from the company and it was … You do you feel like that little bit. You see all these words, these stickies on the wall and you’re like, that’s pretentious bullshit. Now let’s take that one away. I started this company so it wouldn’t have to put up with that crap. You are that thing like we become the man. But it becomes when you finally figured out it becomes really strong and you do get people aligning and people who don’t really fit into that, they’ll self select their way out of the company, which is a good thing.
Or if you have cause to fire someone, if they don’t live up to your core values, that’s a reason for doing it. You’re not firing because I don’t like you or I think you did a shitty job. It’s you are not living by the rules that we live by, so you have to change or leave kind of thing. So that’s an extreme example, but there are lots of cases where you can use them as a barometer or a way for just guiding how you operate.
Nathan: Yeah, It’s a really interesting thing because I’m the exact same as you guys. Like there’s only a couple of years ago at Foundr, we started to like really push. And come up with our core values and one thing that I was taught is it’s kind of a reflection of the way you see the world, and the things that are important to you. And I highly doubt a lot of the people in the audience would probably be thinking this is the thing they have to worry about. And one thing that I’ve found as well from my experience, once you really get your mission down pat and you really work out what your company is trying to achieve. You can really use that as a powerful tool to attract great talent and also retain great talent.
And it becomes less about the salary and the benefits and actually around what you’re actually building. So I’m curious like, what are your guys’ take on that around the mission and using that as a tool, and then also developing that. Like I know a lot of people in the audience, they might not have a mission, like you said, Ryan, they might just want to get paid
Oli: It’s a hard thing to do. And we’ve had ours now for six years or so, and we just went through an exercise a few months ago to update them or change them. And as soon as employees start to hear the word that we’re going to maybe change the values, they’re like, “No, no, leave them as they are, they’re great. They work.” So we went through a complete exercise to rediscover what they should be. We ended up with four of the six being exactly the same. We wanted to take the other two out and everyone said, “No.” So he just ended up where we were because the truth was that’s who we are. One thing I’ve always believed is, we have six values. But we have an unofficial seventh one which is gas, which is not giving a shit. Because if you give a shit about things, it underpins all of your other values.
It’s just an accelerant to make everything else better. And that’s the main thing I look for in people I can, I can tell by looking at someone, I’m like, “He’s got gas.” She’s got gas not in that way. That’s the thing, I mean, you can learn skills. People said this before, you can learn the skills, but you can’t learn how to be a good person or to how … That kind of thing. So it’s just a deeper level. And if you get it right, it’s really cool.
Ryan: So I’m going to recommend a book. The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni has a really great framework coming up with values. And he distinguishes between core values, which are main compass the essence of who you are. They’re there kind of whether you like it or not, aspirational values because a lot of times you’re coming up with this and you feel like a hypocrite when you’re doing it.
Like we’re not that, but I want to be. And then just permission to play values and the permission to play ones of the ones like honesty, integrity, the ones like you feel like you have to put on there because if you don’t, you’re not that. So I would recommend that book, but just the big thing I will tell you when it comes to values and same with mission. Set times to reevaluate and let your team know that these do represent who we are, but we’re going to change. Just like a child is going to grow into an adolescent and eventually into an adult. Like there’s going to be phases of the company where changes occur and that’s not a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing for a child to grow up and leave the home. It might be sad as a parent.
I mean I have four kids. That will make me sad, but it’s not a bad thing that’s happening. It’s just the evolution. So you need to have those conversations early. The biggest benefit I will tell you of having clear, coherent, written down, documented values and mission. It is, it gives you a mechanism to say ‘no’ because I’ll tell you, I’ve yet to have a business that has suffered from a lack of opportunity. I have had more businesses come close to failure because of have too much opportunity. I forget who said it. I think it’s a VC, but companies. Companies tend to die, good companies tend to die more often from indigestion than from starvation. And so when you have a mission, that gives you a mechanism to say no, which most of us founders entrepreneurs especially, we hate the word ‘no.’ So having that, that mechanism is very, very helpful.
Nathan: Yeah, I love that. So let’s switch gears and talk about kind of trends and opportunities in the marketplace right now. I guess on marketing and growth. Like, would you whoever wants to go first kind of share kind of some trends or any blue oceans that you guys are seeing out there to grow your companies?
Oli: I focus a lot on kind of interaction and design trends mainly because they come around every year. There’s new visual design techniques, there’s new ways of interaction models for websites. And the biggest problem with that is that nobody validates it. They just go, “this is cool.” I am going to ruin 20 years of interaction design and I’m going to try and use some Java Script to change how the scroll bar works. Just because I can and, and it’s called Scroll Jacking, that particular thing. It is the worst thing that’s ever happened.
Nathan: You’ll know when you’re on that.
Oli: Scroll Jack site because you try and scroll and it, it just runs away from me. You try and catch it, and it just your arm down.
Ryan: It’s the worst thing that has ever happened. I was judging a Landing Page Design competition. We were working with theme forest to come up with new landing page templates for from banks and there were 200 submissions and I went through them and 75 of them had Scroll Jacking on it. I just deleted them immediately. They weren’t part of the conversation because it is that bad. Theme designers are to blame in many ways.
It’s not their fault. They have good intentions, but they’re salespeople. So they put every single possible feature into their themes because that this big long list and they want to get the $19. But then the person, the new entrepreneur who puts us once on WordPress site theme. They don’t know any better, so they put it up and it’s got all this stuff that destroys the experience, bad for conversion and they don’t know. You can turn off some of that in the back end usually, but people don’t know. So that’s a problem. But there are better trends. A lot of conversational UI was coming out last year. There’s a great experiment I was running as a company called Space 10 in Denmark. And they have this script where you just dump it on your page and it will turn a form, a Lead Gen form into a conversational chat element and it’s really cool.
It kind of humanises it or bought it. I know it’s hard to tell. So I did a lot of experimentation to see what would happen. Whether it would convert as well. And conversion wise it was kind of similar, but you have to look deeper than that. What I noticed, and it’s probably because people don’t know what’s on the other side of this thing, the quality of email addresses and fake information was way up, because people didn’t trust it. “What’s your email address? I don’t know what’s going to happen.” So I’ll just put junk in and things like that. And you don’t know how long the conversation is going to last? Is this a person? Reform, you can see the four fields with this, it’s a little different. So without validating trans like that, it’s really dangerous. You put it in people’s hands who don’t know any better, and you can kill their conversion rates.
Oli: Now, it wasn’t their fault, it was someone else’s fault. So validating trends is the most important thing I think for, when it comes to conversion.
Ryan: From a conversion design perspective, what cracks me up is, I remember the very first website I built was a single column website. That I created in a pirated version of Microsoft FrontPage emails. Remember FrontPage? So that was all I knew how to do. I didn’t know how to do all the swirly flashed up that real designers are doing at the time and that’s where things come back to. So simple is still the name of the game. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I’m from getting on the brand thing as well. I think community is the new brand, the biggest blue ocean that for most people that I see is truly investing in community. You still have to be great at Facebook. You still have to be great at Google. You have to have great content. That’s just table stakes. You just have to be great and all that stuff.
You don’t have to have a lot of great content, you have to have a handful of really amazingly great pieces of content, that you need to build awareness to those pieces through advertising. But it used to be, okay, we’re going to advertise, that’s going to come into content, I’m going to get him on my email list and we’re going to follow up and the conversation is going to kind of take place via commenting on the blog and email.
Well, nobody really comments on blogs anymore, email engagement overall is down the numbers of that mean. It’s kind of flattened out a little bit, but generally down. Um, That conversation though is still needs to happen and we’re seeing it happen now is in Facebook groups. I think if you can create the defacto Facebook group in your audience, digital marketer, did that on accident, with the page group or with a paid group. Had we not done that? I don’t think. Again, it would be here today and I didn’t want to. That was something the team wanted to do, but that engage group is the reason that, like I said, the brand is there. It’s the reason that people stick around, so community is big. Whether it’s in Facebook and conversation.
There are different bots like Drifts and other bots that have this ability to converse. I agree. Putting it on the front too, and just deleting all of the forms that we haven’t seen much success with that, but having it on the page immediately after somebody would opt in. It gives people the chance to accelerate through the funnel because there’s always those people who they’re ready to buy now, but it’s like, “no, no, no. You got to buy this low price,” and then I’m going to say something after that. Then you’re going to get an email and going to get our follow up series. And really I’m not going to make this offer for like seven days.
Because we tested it in seven days, was about how long the average person needed to be in, but we’re always forgetting about the outliers. What about those handful of people that are ready to buy right now, give them a mechanism to raise their hand and to skip the line. I’m happy to pay. How do I do it? That’s what chat is for and I truly believe that the companies who went in the future, the companies who are willing to invest in one to one conversations. Those are going to be the ones that win and yeah, it’s tough. The investment that they’ve made in customer success, that’s what it’s going to be about. Customer success is going to be the new marketing. You’re going to win because you have the most successful people. Markets are consolidating. Every software category is consolidating.
You’re seeing brand consolidation like crazy. Amazon’s eating retail. We’re seeing all of this happening. When consolidation occurs, the rich get richer. You want to make sure that you’re the rich or you’re going to be the poor. There’s not going to be a middle and that’s where attendant. I believe that the ones that get the edge are the ones that invest in those conversations.
Nathan: When you talk about community and fostering the community. Obviously, there’s a great community here that I see the guys are doing really well. What are the things that you guys are doing to foster that community? Being both of your companies or I know you have many different companies. Ryan, eCommerce companies. Like do you have groups for each one of those or like.
Ryan: Yeah, we have Facebook groups for our major consumer brands, in the BDB space. It’s making sure that we always have a presence at the major events, so you don’t have to put on your own events to build community. You can have a presence and an event like this, if your market is there, if your people are there. Be a vendor, pay for a booth, throw a party, begin to build, begin to build that community there. I saw a shoe store … There’s a shoe store in Austin, Texas. They sell kid’s shoes. Children’s shoes, is primarily what they do. Shoe stores all over the place are going bye bye, because of Zappo. Any number of companies that are selling shoes online, this shoe store is crushing it because during the week they have authors, they have children’s book authors come in and read books in the shoe store.
What a books have to do with the shoe store. Nothing except for the fact that it’s perfectly aligned to the market and the audience. So build communities around the market, around the audience. Then the medium doesn’t matter as much. It could be a Facebook group, it could be a forum, it could be live, it could be meetups, but just having some commitment towards that is I think going to be essential that those are going to be the ones that win.
So we invest heavily in them by giving them our time and our attention and, and our ears. Not like cutting them off and put on a bucket and given the people.
Ryan: Very vaguely
Oli: But that huge for us. It makes a big difference.
Ryan: Can I give you another, because I know we’ve got a lot of eCommerce people in the room. Let me give you an eCommerce example of that. So a friend of mine, he had a golf site and they started off selling golf training. And then they shifted to having golf products and then they shifted to doing deals with manufacturers in the golf space to give their members the best possible deals. What do you essentially created was a verticalized Amazon prime. He created an Amazon prime just for the golf space. I firmly believe that in the eCommerce that is the biggest opportunity.
Nathan: This Revolution Golf?
Ryan: Yeah. Revolution Golf. And he was acquired. He wouldn’t tell me the number, but when I asked him, he was acquired by NBC Universal Golf Channel. And when I asked him a number, he just giggled. So I’m guessing it was a pretty good number. But I’m seeing this done. We’re working on it in the sewing space and in some other markets. It really is, I think that is the biggest opportunity where you combine products that you sell, but also just giving people the best possible deal for the things in their market and building a community around it so they can recommend, yeah, this is a great product. I love this. You go to the manufacturer, forget the margins. The margins and drop shipping often times are terrible anyway. Give up the margins, take the money, the membership fees and pass the margins along.
There’s a big company in the States called Costco that that was their entire thing to begin. They made almost all their money off of membership fees and then only later down the road they negotiate margins back into the thing. Priceline, same way, Priceline, the travel site, when they first launched, they made no margins. They passed all of them. Be willing to give up some of those margins that frankly are terrible anyway. Flip the model, have a membership model, build the community and then you can bring it back in later. Or maybe you just get bought out by NBC universal for a lot of money. That’s not a bad exit either.
Nathan: Yeah, they go. You guys talked around content and also community, for the guys in the audience, sometimes they might be thinking, I was actually asked this question today because, with Foundr, our whole business is content and we pump out so much stuff. How do you measure the return? What are you guys doing? How do you measure and justify the investment in staff, the investment in time when there’s so many other things that you can do?
Oli: Content marketing as a complete waste of time and money.I’ll be talking about that tomorrow. I’m discussing that because it’s a common question. It’s very different than it was when we started. We were in the early stage, content marketing nine years ago. It was a new thing kind of. And it was easy if you were good at it to get noticed, but now because everybody does it ever, people don’t comment on blogs, nobody shows up at webinars. It’s very different. It’s not just about, “Oh, we need a new channel.” No, you have to rethink how we create content and we’re two things we’re doing. What I’m going to call it tomorrow is kind of a more of an interactive content model, I’ll save that for tomorrow. But one of the things that we’re doing at Unbounce is we’re just going right back to basics. Because you tend to forget, I’ve written 300 blog posts about landing pages.
And you forget that there’s a new person born every day, there’s a new idiots born every day. Who don’t have the first clue about what you do or the thing you are always teaching people, and you tend to forget that. So we’re trying to do new content or something more advanced or this or that, but you can’t forget the reason you exist is because of this fundamental, simple explanation of this basic marketing theory. So we’re refocusing on just bringing back some of that content and focusing on what actually really matters to a new customer or someone, a new potential customer who doesn’t know the way it should be done.
Ryan: I think you have to be clear on what type of business you’re in as well. So you’re with Foundr, you’re a publishing company. And you produce, like you said, content is your product, and so in the same way that a software company would have a lot of developers or engineers as a function of their product. You need people who are writers and editors and designers and whereas if you’re an eCommerce company. You maybe don’t need that much. We found the same thing to be true by the way. We kept cranking out more and more and more and more and more and we really found there was tremendous diminishing returns.
Oli: Oh really.
Ryan: It is absolutely, things are shifting back to a quality over quantity. And I firmly believe most businesses, 10 amazing pieces of content. If you can put out 10 truly, astoundingly amazing pieces of content that ideally answer the 10 most frequently asked questions that your people will ask. If you don’t know what that is, there’s a website, Answerthepublic.Com. You can go in there, you can type in your market. It’ll say here’s all the questions on this like beautiful wheel that people are asking, pick the 10 that seemed like they make sense because a lot of them won’t. And then Quora, go to Quora and look at what people are asking.
Jason Lemkin, who’s behind the SaaStr. Jason Lump that into their entire business is just answering questions. He got started just answering questions on Quora and then he posted them as blog posts. And now he’s reading them as videos. But everybody asks the same question and I don’t care there. I saw a guy, he sold above ground pools and that was his own model. I’m just going to answer the top 10 questions about above ground pools business.
Oli: What’s above ground pool?
Ryan: It’s a pool that’s above the ground. You don’t dig a hole. You need more than rednecks. Where you are? There is no rednecks here. We need more rednecks. You don’t even worry. You at least need redneck friends because they’ll tell you when you’ve gone in a bad direction. They have rednecks in Europe, you got rednecks industry.
Oli: There is no sign in the UK.
Ryan: I truly believe, I think it’s 10 amazing pieces of content and we get so much more bang for our buck when we go back and update a legacy piece of content, will change out the images. We’ll, swap out some of the examples. We’ll extend it and we’ll just put at the top. This is an update to this original posts on here. Updated the date, gets changed. Google just eats that up. Our highest rank stuff that still gets the most traffic is four and five years old. We just can’t beat it. And so I think if you commit to producing 10 amazing pieces of content, do some print, do some video. If it works in print, do a video version of it. Our best Webinar is also our best blog posts or you’re recycling the same kind of stuff. But I truly believe for most companies, what you need is one managing editor. One. I think your entire content team can be one managing editor who is leveraging outside experts outside thought leaders, bringing that content under your roof. Because at the end they, nobody cares who wrote it.
Nobody cares. Nobody even looks at it. They don’t care that I wrote it, that Ali wrote something. What site to that. “Okay, thank you.” That’s what matters. So I think we’ve invested heavily, and I’m not saying it isn’t worth it, I just don’t think you need to. And I think especially if your eCon, if you’re not publishing company. You can absolutely overinvest in see dramatic diminishing returns.
Nathan: And when it comes to like producing like next level of content, how do you define that? Like what is good? How do you know what is good?
Ryan: It’s always in the context of what else is out there. Whenever marketing a vacuum, there’s this idea of I’m going around right now, which is I don’t worry about my competition, I don’t care about my competition. I care about my competition because my customers care about my competition. I mean that’s just called a relationship. Like there’s lots of crap that I don’t care about, but my wife cares about it. So guess what? I care about it. And in business it’s the same way. We are being evaluated against everything else in the space. So I think when you think about next level content in one market is going to be very different than next level content in another. If you are marketing to marketers about marketing stuff. Next level content is I honestly have no idea, because it is so overdone. I mean you almost have to fly to their house and like scribble something on their own whiteboard and give it to them and sign it. It’s hard in the survival and preparedness space. Pretty easy in the sewing and knitting space, different animal.
In some of the BDB software spaces that aren’t marketing related that we’re in, it’s different. So I think it just, I think you have to be honest about what’s out there and just make sure that if somebody goes to look, they find you. And it’s amazing. What amazing is relative.
Nathan: Yeah. Brian Dean, he talks about a Skyscraper strategy. So you find the best piece and just make it 10 times better and really expand on it. How about you all guys, you guys have basic content marketing, like how do you evaluate what is good and what you should ship?
Oli: I think you know, when you’re writing or if it’s any good or not. For me, I tend to just try and be absurd. Like I tell people I’m going to do some big grand experiment or a just be over the top. I remember when we were starting out, the Moz blog was awesome because they had two, you had Moz blog and the Imos blog. Anyone, like when you were a guest posting you have to go through editorial most places, and it’s a big pain. But there anyone could write a post and if it was good enough they got put on the main blog, and then it would blow up. Because the community was so big back then. It’s not as big now. So I wrote a post on there called the New Guide to Online Marketing, which was a self referential kind of story about my journey because I just started being a marketer and it was 15,000 words.
I had a $50 million Pixel infographic and it took me months, part time and had another other things to do in my job. And then I put it on their blog and before they published it, Ryan said, “what are you doing lot? Why are you giving that to us? And like, because our blogs tiny right now, we just started and if I put it nobody will see it.” And it blew up and it broke every record on their blog for years, because when it comes to some of our core values, generosity is one. Courage is one. It’s scary and hard to put that much time and effort into something and then give it to someone else. But the return, that was one of the two reasons we gained exposure early on as a brand.
One was our 10th Oakland Integration with Mailchimp and the other one was that post. It was just translated into 12 languages, downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. It was just being a little bit extra ridiculous. I find that’s the only how to do it.
Nathan: Ridiculous generous.
Oli: Yeah, I think is what I heard from them, not just like ridiculous. It’s me in a gorilla suit talking about marketing.
Nathan: We talked about as well kind of creating values and attracting the right people to your company. Some of the people in the room right now, it’d be going through a scaling phase where they’re looking to hire great talent. I’d love to hear your guys’ strategies because really the level of success your company has fundamentally comes back to the people and the team. So what are some things that you guys are both doing to hire and retain and attract great talent.
Ryan: We’ve had one way of doing it since we started the company. It was Carter, our President now. His idea basically if you want to apply for it, if you send us your CV, your resume, we will delete it. If you give it to us, we’ll tear it up. We won’t look at it. You have to go to Unbounce, sign for free account and build a landing page to tell us why we should hire you. And why you want to work for us, because that will take out 99 percent of the people who aren’t good enough or unwilling to go through that friction. Because a lot of people will just, they’ll email the same thing to every tech company in town or every whatever thing you’re in and this gets rid of all the people who aren’t actually serious.
So that is like a self filtering mechanism that we don’t have to work at. And we only get amazing people coming through that apart. There was, I got one and one of the last things we ask people to do, we say, “do all this.” And then we say tell us rockstar name. So people go, “Oh, they google, what’s my rockstar?” And it’s one of those generator things. So I got a this landing page. There was this a lady applying for job and I saw her landing page and says at the top this whole thing about I love zombies and bacon. Al right. I’m terrible at interviewing people. I’m too nice. I can’t ask hard questions. So we sit down this coffee shop and I’ve got my opening lines is going to be great.
Okay. So tell me about zombies and bacon. She just went blank. And I was like, “Oh God, I the hard question again.” And she’s, “What do you mean like zombies and Bacon?” That was the opening paragraph of your landing pages. Oh, I found the rockstar name generator, but I also found like a resume generator. I just put it in a few things and it spat that out. But none of that’s real. She didn’t get the job. Generally speaking, it works very well.
And that one sec. So I’m good at selling stuff. I’ve gotten better at hiring. I will tell you that’s the single most difficult thing that we do. And because of the structure of our company we have a holding group and then most of the companies are run by either GMs or Presidents and I tell all of them, you have two main jobs. Hire, train, retain great talent, don’t run out money. I think those are the biggies. Hire, train, retain great talent, don’t run out of money. Account is going to help you a number two, honestly. Good luck on number one because that’s really tough. Again, I’ll give a book recommendation again. Patrick Lencioni, The Ideal Team Player is a very, very helpful book. And the methodology and some of the questions that are in there, and it’s not very long. But what I will simply suggest is if you’re hiring somebody to do a particular task, have them do that task in some way shape or form even if you need to pay them.
So we’ll tell people as part of the interview, if we’re hiring somebody for a marketing role or copywriting. We’re going to ask them to do the work, and we pay them to do it. Here’s $250 to go and do this. You learn a lot there and then at the end, the last phase of the interview that’s done with an executive, they make it through. If they show they have the basic core competencies to do it, then what we’re looking for is, are they humble, are they hungry and are they smart. And smart doesn’t mean emotionally, smart means emotional intelligence. Can they work with a group? So humble, hungry, smart comes from the ideal team player and there are good questions in that book to ask to kind of suss that out and we grade them. We found that to be a phenomenal final filter and that has prevented a number of bad hires.
Nathan: Test projects, very key and paying that person for their time you do that too.
Ryan: Test projects and Patrick Lencioni’s model for humble, hungry, smart. The things that I’ve done that have made me suck less.
Nathan: Awesome. Well look guys, we have to work towards wrapping up a final question for you both. You both had tremendous amounts of success with your businesses. I’d just love to know just from each of you, what have you had to sacrifice to get where you are today? What have you had to give up?
Ryan: It’s a deep question, I’m glad you’re going for it.
Oli: I don’t know if it’s sacrificing necessarily. I mean it’s easier now but at the beginning is very hard, but that’s okay. You’re working 16 hour days. You don’t make any money. I had to declare bankruptcy but something similar. So my credit was ruined for seven years. We ran out of money. We’ve raised very little money, but one point we ran out of money and we came to the conclusion that one of the founders will have to step aside, because we couldn’t pay ourselves. It was decided collectively that it would have to be Marketing, which was me. So we came really close to me leaving the company. It’s funny, I blanked this out of my memory for years. You came back to me like a year ago and someone was interviewing me.
I’d forgotten about it because it was really horrible, but I went home and I did some math and I did some creative accounting. I’m not sure what I did actually because I don’t remember. And then I came back and explain to the team, “Hey, what if we do it this way, what if we change this? What if we do that?” And it was, “Oh yeah, actually that’ll work.” So I stayed on and because you couldn’t start building the product, there was no way we could do that, but if that had happened, we would not be around today. If marketing had not been a thing, we’d be nowhere. And that wasn’t a sacrifice. It was just scary as shit.
Ryan: Yeah. Thinking back on it, yeah, I mean there’s were sports games and some recitals that I missed. My oldest daughter, I don’t really remember the first couple of years of her life because I was working so hard and I regret that, anybody like, “Oh, I have no regrets.” It’s horse crap. You got revisionist history going, you could do some stuff, you can have screwed some things up, you’re going to make some mistakes, you’re going to have some regrets. So there’s definitely that. I think I’ve had to sacrifice my large chunks of my dignity more than once. Just when stuff that was supposed to work and that you were banking on working didn’t work out, and it was public. I don’t know if anybody else has had to do this, but I’ve had to walk in a room of a couple dozen people, and tell them that unfortunately they can’t work here anymore, not because they aren’t great people, not because I don’t like them, not because they didn’t do a good job because I failed and the company was failing and we had to lay them all off and shut it down.
That sucks. And those are the kinds of things when you decide that you’re going to start a company, that’s what people don’t talk about, but that’s a very real reality. And you need to kind of be emotionally aware that that can happen. But you’ll never really be emotionally prepared for it. There’s no way of preparing yourself for that moment. When it comes right down, I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, but it’s more common than it isn’t even for the people that ultimately achieved some degree of success. And so I think you got to go into this being very clear on your identity, and who you really are. And please, for the love of God, you guys do not base any aspect of your identity around your business. Because boy, that’s a losing, losing deals.
Nathan: Awesome. Well look, thank you so much guys. This is incredible conversation. Let’s give these guys around of applause, Ryan Dice and Oli Gardner.
- Follow Oli Gardner on Twitter
- Follow Ryan Deiss on Twitter
- For a framework to create your company values, Deiss recommends reading The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni.
- To find out the most frequently asked questions in your market, Deiss recommends searching on AnswerThePublic.com.
- If you’re looking to improve your hiring process, Deiss says The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni is a helpful resource.