Find out How Anne Ward Built a Successful Startup Without Any Venture Capital

Posted by Anant January 9, 2023

Anne is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Circle Click, a marketing agency. She is also the creator of the MobileFOMO blog, which chronicles mobile marketing news and techniques.


→ Her background as Managing Director of Circle Click

→ Her creator of the MobileFOMO blog

→ What is Circle Click

→ How did she create lead-generation machines

→ How is the company being integrated

→ How does she secure that kind of buys for her clients

→ Her biggest wins she had

→ How accurately measures mobile marketing activity and reports

→ And a whole lot more


Circle Click




Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have an award with us. And thanks so much for coming on the program.

Anne: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Bronson: Absolutely. Now and you are the co-founder and managing director at Circle Click. So tell our audience what is Circle Click.

Anne: Well, Circle Clark is a digital agency based in San Francisco. We provide all things web to our clients from website development, all the way to promotion and helping build what we call league machines, helping clients in order to scale their businesses with leads.

Bronson: Yeah. So let’s talk about those lead machines a little bit because that’s instantly of interest, I’m sure. I noticed on the Web site, it says a few times that you’re in the lead generation business. What’s the difference in just buying traffic and really generating high quality leads? How do you create lead generation machines?

Anne: Well, that’s a great question. So it’s different from forever. And every business has its own set of challenges. And to some company is a lead is considered a newsletter sign up and it’s a lead is an actual L they want to see actual sign up for SAS. They want to see, you know, user signups, user adoption. So when we’re sending traffic and sending the right traffic and return, which converts a huge part of it is the measurement of watch your way so that you can repeat what works and avoid what doesn’t.

Bronson: Now on your site, it also mentions that you buy ads for your clients on a lot of the different social platforms. But you also say that you try to buy ads that make sense for that client. So talk to us about maybe some the different platforms that you buy ads on and what kinds of businesses should really be considering those channels as opposed to the other ones.

Anne: Yeah. So I think it’s, you know, some things are kind of logical by nature to understand we work with a lot of B2B clients. That’s my specialty. And so putting those B to B clients on Facebook doesn’t make sense. Twitter, LinkedIn are major services that make a lot of sense for us. But more recently, we’ve stumbled into something that’s really hard now called native advertising. And native advertising is a good fit for companies that have a lot of good content and want to be recognized for that rather than ads. Because, you know, certain segments don’t necessarily trust traditional paint. Search like a developer tends to not click on a Google pay per click ad. It will, however, click on a Twitter ad.

Bronson: Okay.

Anne: I don’t know why, but yeah, but so native advertising is a whole new trend in the industry where basically your are producing content and pushing it out it in that manner versus just running straight up ads. A good example of that is BuzzFeed. I think everybody loves and knows BuzzFeed and lists.

Bronson: I’m ashamed to say I follow them on Twitter and I click on their links more than I want to admit it.

Anne: But they’re they’re definitely the poster child for native advertising because you’re never going to see a banner or skyscraper ad on that site because they’ve determined that that’s not how their users want to be fat content. So they work with brands, but they don’t necessarily have what’s called a banner or a traditional clickable item. What they do is they create and sculpt traffic based on the content that they provide. It’s a little more subversive, but it’s very effective.

Bronson: So how is the company being integrated? Are they writing post about that company and just not telling you that it’s an ad or what what is the native ad on BuzzFeed? Because I’m not even aware of it, to be honest.

Anne: Well, so I think the other term for it would be advertorial. Mm hmm. So you don’t see the presence of big brands, but they won’t necessarily they might just be pictured. They may not necessarily be the man specifically have anything clickable. It’s a branding play, traffic play, but it’s really you know, I think names have been used quite heavily in that regard. You know, a brand will put up a meme about themselves around the Internet with the hope of, hey, you’re going to talk about us in social media. So it’s a definitely a marketing play, but it’s been for many a successful one.

Bronson: Yeah. Now it doesn’t seem like or maybe I don’t know that there’s a market place to go and buy native advertising. Is it more just business development? You have to go out and find places that are willing to accept native advertisers. Or is there some kind of platform where you can go and look? Here’s a list of all the publishers that are open to this kind of arrangement. How do you actually, you know, secure those kind of buys for your clients?

Anne: There are definitely platforms that only provide native advertising. If you search for it, you’ll find them. There are tons of them out there now and they’re running through bigger networks, but they’re doing it with a slightly different approach. So it’s easy to find someone to broker that for you if you don’t have the resources to do it yourself.

Bronson: Gotcha. Is there any, like, clear kind of industry winners right now? Like this is a platform where all the big brands play there? You know?

Anne: Well, I’ll tell you my personal favorite, a thought leader, an arts leader. Without that, he does a great job. They’ve done great things for Virgin America and some other great big brands. And I definitely recommend checking them out and just kind of studying what they’re doing because it’s really fascinating.

Bronson: Do you have to be a huge brand with a lot of budget to go to a thought leader or is there in the rooms of what you think you have to be all right?

Anne: Yeah, they’re the Cadillac. They’re they’re definitely the big the big player. There are a lot of smaller ones. They’re the only ones I feel like are going to be leaders in the industry.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. So let me have a chance to brag a little bit on circle. What are some of the biggest wins that you guys have had? And even more so, you know, what did you do to kind of achieve those so we can kind of peek inside your playbook for a moment?

Anne: Well, thank you. I think biggest success would be this year. I hired my fifth employee and we’re going to be four years in business, which is to me a big success because, you know, so many startups don’t make it past six months or a year. And we actually late last year opened Circle Klick Labs, and I’m happy to say we actually have 2 to 4 mobile apps in development, and I’m really proud of that because we’re doing this. Lately bootstrapped. There’s no venture. No venture capital, and I don’t plan on taking it. I may change my mind, but for right now it’s more important to me to have creative control over what I’m doing versus taking the money. But watch me my words in six months.

Bronson: Nothing knows, right?

Anne: But very proud to say that we’re expanding rapidly and clients are staying with us. And it’s a great situation to be in.

Bronson: Yeah. What are some of the things that you’re doing explicitly for your clients that have really helped them? Do you have any kind of case studies of like, we did this for this client and, you know, here’s what happened, anything like that?

Anne: Oh, sure. Um, I think a great example would be Ink Magazine. As one of our clients, we did the social media promotion for them for the INC 505,000, and I continue to be a consultant to them and their social media. So and we.

Bronson: Typically do do for them, you know, you say social media handling their Twitter or, you know, where are you actually doing?

Anne: We don’t control the actual accounts. But what we have done in years past is we have promoted the 505,000 contest, which is really their biggest promotion of the year, with very targeted traffic in various social media channels. So we were negotiating ad placement for them, working with big, bigger companies to negotiate, getting the best deals for traffic, and then measuring that traffic and making sure that it directly related to people filling out the application.

Bronson: Gotcha. Now, you mentioned you have two apps that have come out now from social club. I hear that, right. In development. In development. Okay. Can you do all of those yet or are they behind closed doors still?

Anne: The the one I feel okay talking about because it’s I think something a lot of people are trying to do and it’s really a race is trying to come up with an app that measures that that accurately measures mobile marketing activity and reports better information to people and to small businesses and allows them to make better decisions on where their marketing dollars are going on mobile. I think there’s a definite deficit right now in companies being able to know where their marketing dollars are going. It’s kind of a shot in the dark for a lot of them. I mean, mobile analytics or Google has just recently come out and there are a lot of gaps and using, you know, certain data that’s available to us by the phone, we’re developing our own proprietary analytics that should hopefully plug into the bigger platforms.

Bronson: Yeah. Do you have a name for it so that people in the future watching this can know what to search for in the app stores or.

Anne: You know, I actually I don’t. And as a marketer, you’d think I would. But I went down that road before with my first app and I spent all my energy at I we released an app about two years ago called Funnel Approach, and it was the landing page builder. And we had a huge party and, you know, invited all kinds of press and then never got out of data. I mean, I probably blew tens of thousands on the first thing. And the lesson I took away from that was that that is the fun stuff you get to do.

Bronson: After that, you go to the party to orgasm to party about.

Anne: Yes, exactly. Save all the fun in the marketing until you know you have something ready to go.

Bronson: Yeah. No, that’s smart. So there’s no name to it, but hopefully there’s something good happening that we don’t have a brand for yet. Now, before that. What’s that?

Anne: Circle Click Labs.

Bronson: That’s right. Yeah. So we’ll go to find it from there. No matter what it’s called before Circle Click. When I was looking at your stuff online, it seemed like you focused a lot on SEO kind of, and maybe in a previous life. And then I also notice when I was browsing around that circle, Cliff has put out a number of press releases. So just, you know, I was wondering, is the press releases that you guys put out a part of an SEO strategy there or do you just, you know, like to put out press releases?

Anne: Well, if that was just something thing to do to pass the time, I think I could find things that were maybe more fun. Right. But my background’s actually originally web development, and that’s how I got into SEO. And I’m a serial tinkerer, so I like to tinker and press releases for a while seem to be a good strategy as part of SEO, but I’m finding over the years it’s becoming less and less because I think a lot of other people kind of figured the same thing. And in addition to that, press releases, just for the sake of it, aren’t going to get you anywhere because they don’t create credible backlinks.

Bronson: I gotcha.

Anne: You know, some some instances you may be better off going with a blog post or something more informal.

Bronson: Okay. Yeah. No, it’s great. And. I was wondering because, you know, I haven’t really seen anybody execute, you know, a press release strategy really well and then come on here and champion it. So it’s good to hear you even saying, well, I might do some other stuff now, just going to where everything’s at. Now, you’re also the editor in chief of Mobile FOMO. So explain the name to it to us and then tell us what that is.

Anne: So Mobile FOMO is an online marketing mobile marketing blog, and FOMO stands for Fear of Missing Out. We noticed that YOLO was a huge trend. The kids are saying online, you know, you only live once, right? FOMO is starting to rise. And I’ve found and just my own experience with clients that there’s a hesitation towards mobile. You know, we want to do it. It’s that checkbox. But a lot of companies seem to think just, you know, turning on mobile ads in their Google console means they have a mobile strategy when really it’s a lot more complicated than that. So our goal was to provide mobile marketing leadership for small, medium businesses. That wasn’t intimidating. It took the fear out of it and just gave practical knowledge.

Bronson: Now that’s great. You recently wrote an article about mobile analytics, and now I see why you’re actually developing your own analytics out. But right now, how do you track mobile until your app comes out? I mean, are there any, you know, places you go? I mean, do you have to use Google Analytics? Is that kind of the best right now or, you know, what do you use to do it as of today?

Anne: Today, I’m using mainly Google Analytics and they’re getting better about giving us more data, but it’s really very crude, to be quite honest. I mean, we can tell what kind of devices people are using. We can tell, you know, we can view for ourselves, obviously, how it looks on mobile platforms. But it’s interesting when I see companies not taking the time to mobile optimize their sites that their statistics are always bad. So we can tell kind of rough shot things like how people got there, how long they were there. But we don’t really have a good insight into what they’re clicking on and why just yeah.

Bronson: Now it makes sense. You also published an article recently about the real demographics of mobile usage and it was really interesting, kind of broke down who’s using mobile and kind of how it shakes out? Male, female, but then, you know, a lot deeper than that. Did anything about that surprise you? Because, you know, you work in the industry where you’re dealing with mobile all the time. You kind of know what you expected the data to say. Did it say anything you weren’t expecting?

Anne: I guess I didn’t expect it to be so heavily policed, social. I mean, I guess I should have for my own use. But here in Silicon Valley, I mean, we’re all talking out of one side of our mouth and, you know, texting, texting on the other side. Right. And tweeting and doing all these things. So I kind of thought we were in a bubble. And what the Pew Research showed was that we’re not. The use case for people with mobile is absolutely social. And I think the big brands have taken notice of that. I didn’t put the statistic in there, but I think are not statistics but the research in there. But I think big brands like Purina has something like 12 apps right now. Well, mobile apps in hopes that you’ll be sharing through Instagram and Path and all these other sources. So it really amazed me that this is something that’s got across appeal, across race, across income, you know, parts of the country. Social is the best the best possible use right now for mobile, for marketers.

Bronson: Yeah. What were the action items from that study? You know, I look at the statistics, but then it’s kind of like, okay, what now? What do I do with that? What advice would you give to companies kind of after they see all those statistics that you put on your blog there?

Anne: Well, as much as everybody should get on mobile or wants to get on mobile, I don’t think it’s necessarily a have to have if in building an app or something, you know, meant to run on the phone unless you feel like the phone’s functionality is important to your business. So if your business has nothing to do with local search or you’re using the geolocation tools of the phone or functionality like the camera, you may just stick with the web and just optimize for mobile. You know, I wouldn’t rush towards building an app unless you’re going to be using some future functionality of the phone itself, because otherwise your users really won’t stick with you.

Bronson: Gotcha. There’s no need. There’s no anchor point for why they have to be on it. And that experience, it makes sense.

Anne: Right. Stop it.

Bronson: No. Use it. Yeah. Let me ask you about Twitter cards. You know, because, you know, it seems like they’ve recently expanded kind of the functionality of Twitter cards. Is that a big thing in marketing or do people use just not here?

Anne: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, down in the valley, it’s huge because it really helps attach a media experience to your tweets. You know, I have to do is add some HTML to your pages. You know, you tweet out the link and people get a more media rich experience. Similar to Facebook. I mean, this was really the only advantage in my mind that Facebook had over Twitter for content sharing. And with that removed, it’s going to be a field day for marketers because they’ll be able to collect better data. They’ll be able to you know, there are a couple different types of Twitter cards or I think there’s six, actually. And so it’ll be interesting to see how these different types take off and you know, which ones are most popular, which ones are most annoying, because I think there will definitely be winners and there’s a reason they they have six versus one or two.

Bronson: Yeah. You know, what’s interesting is, I mean, it almost makes me think that Twitter now is a lot like Tumblr in a sense, only with a way larger audience, you know, in a way more people using it. Because now when I see a Twitter stream with, you know, these cards and them and then I look at a Tumblr stream without comments on it, I think, wow, these look very similar now, you know? So, yeah, I think it’s good for Twitter because I’ve always, you know, like that experience there. How do you think smart marketers are going to use Twitter cards? I mean, you know, when someone really knows what they’re doing, how do you think they’re going to try to utilize that technology?

Anne: Well, I definitely think this is going to be a field day for ecommerce. I think I think because the the gallery and app cards are going to allow for deep linking and deep sharing of content. I mean, we’ve seen what Pinterest has done for e-com. And so this is is like Pinterest on steroids because it’s taking advantage of a gigantic user base. We’re going to be able to capture more data. And therefore, I think more money is going to get spent. And I think, you know, when companies feel like they can measure what’s going on, which they’ll be able to with Twitter cards, I think that the hesitation to go mobile is going to be removed.

Bronson: Mm hmm. Absolutely. Is there anything else happening in Mobile that shouldn’t be ignored right now? Is there anything else on the horizon or they’re hearing about or that’s already been released that you feel like is going to be big and people need to take notice of it?

Anne: Absolutely. There are many things, but I think the biggest one that is on my mind right now is augmented reality. Really augmented reality. And, you know, the combination, I think a company that would develop something that combines proximity with interest is just going to be minting their own money. I think, you know, there are statistics now on mobile use of ads when people are sitting still versus when they’re walking, when it’s dry outside versus raining. So things that sort of take from reality and augment that experience with convenience, like, oh, you’re it’s raining, you’re in New York. Well, here’s $5 off umbrellas. Well, you know, I think that the company that gets that right is going to be very successful. And there are plenty of players out there that do it for certain segments. But I think, like I said earlier, taking that information available to us with GPUs and camera, you know, are not necessarily camera for this, but taking advantage of those features is going to be huge.

Bronson: Yeah, now it makes a lot of sense now. As I was reading online, I came across something really interesting. It seems like you have a flair for marketing stuff. So tell me about the recent South by Southwest marketing ploy that you pulled off. What will happen there?

Anne: Yeah, that was that was a fun one, I have to say. So I own a house in Austin. I’m originally from there and renters were just not working out for me and I didn’t renew their lease and I knew their lease was up March 1st and South by Southwest starts March eight. So here, you know, I was feeling sorry for myself that here I had this bad situation. I had to turn around the house and rent it for stuff. And then I was like, Wait a minute. I have housing available to me before the biggest event of the year for the city. You know, I should really rent it out. And that was my initial thought. And then I thought, Wait a minute, I have eight days. You know, I’m not going to completely renovate and furnish a house in eight days and then charge people. And then I would be running A, B and B. No, I get people in there. But how can I get people in there? But how can I make it benefit me? And then I came up with the contest. Pitch. Pitch my house dot com. Uh huh. And it was huge. It’s really I mean, I think it’s probably the most successful contest we’ve ever done because we got hundreds and hundreds of entries, we got tons of press mentions, and the contest was very simple. Pitch me on what you can do to help me promote mobile phone during South by Southwest and stay at my house for free up to seven days. Because I knew if I was giving away free housing, I wouldn’t get complaints about the fact they’re sleeping on air mattresses and can’t complain now. It was great. So the winners of the contest were the editorial staff from Funny or Die.

Bronson: Okay. How did you pick them to win? Because you knew they had reach and an audience or did they actually give you the best idea of how to how to pitch? Mobile phone. No.

Anne: They gave me. I think it’s both, right. I think that act that they’re willing to pitch me to their followers, which they did. They’re willing to cover me and my house. Throughout the whole festival. And they did. They tweeted about us. They followed our accounts. We gained tons of followers from them. I actually closed the deal at South by Southwest. We got numerous press mentions and VentureBeat, The Verge, Mashable. We really definitely benefited from it, and we had a great time. We had a great time. As you can imagine, the Funny or Die people were amazing and hilarious and really fun to stay with.

Bronson: So you mentioned that this is probably the best contest that you had, so that means you’ve had other contests in the past. Do you recommend contests as a strategy for people trying to get bars and trying to get exposure?

Anne: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because I think we’re a nation of dreamers. And I think we all believe secretly that when we enter a contest that we’re going to be the winner. And it captures part of your fantasy and your imagination. To be a part of something like this and I’ve done other contests in the past for clients, but other contests I’ve done. When we first started Circle Clark, you remember Cash for Clunkers program in the US car. So we did Web Cash for Clunkers and gave away a free website to the winner, and we were thinking that would result in tons of web leads, but no results. It resulted in tons of people who wanted a free site. Yeah.

Bronson: So so let me ask you then, what are the ingredients to a good contest? You ran a few of them. You’ve kind of seen what blew up and didn’t work and what actually did work. Are there any ingredients, commonalities that really make something kind of work for your benefit?

Anne: The absolute biggest, biggest, biggest is demand.

Bronson: Okay. What do you mean by that?

Anne: Demand. There needs to be demand for what you’re offering. Big companies go to a trade show and they say put a put a business card in for an iPad or iPod Nano. Anybody who wants one has one at this point that there’s no demand for that. Maybe people want free stuff. And I’ve actually seen people who win these things just sell it. So you’re essentially just saying, here, take something. There needs to be demand. Like was pitched my house. I knew housing was in demand because every year I get asked by tons of people here, Where do I stay? You’re from Austin. So I do. The demand was there. I knew it was in short supply. So if the demand is there for what your contest gives away, it’s an easy sell. But if you take something people already have are not interested in, you know it’s not going to work. And then also time sensitive people tend to put things off as long as they can. That’s why I had interest up until the day that the festival started.

Bronson: Yeah.

Anne: Some people showed up with nowhere to stay and just figured they’d win it. But time, sensitivity and demand are the two. If you get those two right, it’ll really, really take off.

Bronson: You mean time sensitivity as in having a deadline or. Yes. Gotcha. Perfect. Yeah. How did you initially? Go ahead.

Anne: So I was like somebody, you know, a CPA or somebody saying, I’ll do free taxes for you. Well, it’s that contest runs, you know, in mid-June. Who’s going to care? But if that ran in early April, I think they’d have more links than they knew. What to do with.

Bronson: Was a great idea, actually. Yeah, that’s great. How did you initially publish the contest? Because it gained a lot of momentum, like you said, with The Verge and Mashable. But then my guess is, you know, you didn’t go to them initially. They didn’t. Or did you? I don’t know. How did you initially put it out there for people to learn about?

Anne: Well, I relied a lot upon my own my own social network, my own network of trust, the friends and my staff here at Circle Clark. We we placed we placed it everywhere we could think of where people would be looking for housing, not like Craigslist, but more like Reddit. Yeah, you know, Digg. Reddit, actually. How funny or die found us. Reddit. And then other people found us through Twitter ads. So when people were tweeting about stuff by hashtag, there’s a chance in certain cities that they would do that. So. So using some smart advertising, I spent less than $300 total.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. And look at all the press you got from it.

Anne: Yeah, well, the stars aligned for people that try a bunch of stuff because eventually they’re going to align, you know?

Bronson: Yeah, well, the stars aligned for people that try a bunch of stuff because eventually they’re going to align, you know?

Anne: Exactly.

Bronson: If you never try anything, they’re probably not going to like the one time you actually do something, so.

Anne: Exactly.

Bronson: Well, and this has been a great interview. Let me ask you one last question to kind of wrap it up. What’s the best advice that you can give to any startup is trying to grow? They might have a limited budget. They may not have a lot of resources. You’ve been in that position before, even though you’ve grown. Out of it. What’s the best advice you have for a growing startup?

Anne: I think the first is to be aware of your assets and focus on what you have going for you. And remember that your time is an asset. I think a lot of startup founders, myself included, don’t want to spend them on a bookkeeper. You don’t want to spend money on having someone answer the phone. You don’t want to spend the money on assistant or whatever. But your focus needs to be working on the business. That’s not in the business. So offloading those things that take up time in your head and space in your hand, you have an obligation to get rid of and work towards what your assets are. The other thing is, I think there’s nothing wrong with trying a few things and then being honest with yourself about what’s working and what fails. I think failure can be a good thing because it tells you to change directions. And so being honest with that feedback to yourself and okay, this isn’t working, I’m ready to pivot. That’s in our business because I think when businesses really fail, it’s when they’re not fluid and they don’t keep up with demand and not facing the fact that something’s not working. Denial is got no voice.

Bronson: Yeah. You gotta be honest with others and honest with yourself about where things are actually at. And if there’s a lot of transparency, a lot of honesty, you have a fighting chance of winning. So I totally agree. And this has been great. It’s been exciting to kind of learn about some of the things you’ve done and even more so how you did them. And thanks to you so much for taking time out of your schedule to do this.

Anne: Great. Thank you so much for having me.

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