Brian is the Growth Marketer over at Scott’s Cheap Flights. My co-founder Mike raves about the service and noticed how fast it was gaining popularity. In this episode Brian share’s the inside story about how a simple newsletter service exploded in to a high growth business.
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Bryan Kidwell with us. Bryan, thanks for coming on the program.
Brian: Thanks for having me.
Bronson: Absolutely, man. I’m excited about this one because you’ve done something that is very, very difficult to do. You have grown an email list to over 250,000 subscribers. So we’ll get to that in a minute. We’ll get, you know, talk about how you did that. But I think all the twists and turns about the story is going to be super exciting to this audience specifically. But also, like a lot of the other things about your story, about how you actually work with your partner. And we’ll all get into all that. There’s some fun stuff here. So first, let’s talk about the product, right? What is the product that you’ve been hustling over the last year or so? What’s it called?
Brian: It’s called Scott’s Cheap Cheapflights. And it’s very, very simple. We send out cheap flight deals and it’s a subscription freemium model. So most of our subscribers that they sign up, they get free deals. And then if they want more than some extra features, they pay us a quarterly or semiannual or annual fee. And it’s very reasonably priced. And yeah, people are people are pretty happy about it.
Bronson: So yeah.
Brian: It’s a fun thing to work on.
Bronson: It is. It’s one of those things where it seems like you guys really have hit a nerve in a sense. So one of my co-founders. His name is Mike Harden, Brooke. And he actually forwarded me emails from Scott’s Cheapflights. And he’s he’s a digital nomad. He’s in Spain right now. He’s been there for the last couple of months. So who knows where he’s going to be next? He’s kind of all over the globe, that kind of guy. And he bought me this email and it’s just straight into the point. It’s not a lot of spin, not a lot of fluff, not a lot of extras. It’s, hey, here’s cheap flights all over the world and there’s not even a lot of rhyme or reason to it. Like, I didn’t tell you, I was looking to go to Tokyo. He just told me, Hey, if you do want to go to Tokyo, there’s a cheap flight here right then.
Brian: Yeah. And I think that’s what’s kind of exciting about it. I mean, somebody has told us it’s like opening gifts on Christmas morning when they get one of these because it’s like, Oh, I never thought about going to Tokyo, but hey, it’s only 400 bucks. Why not? You know, it’s usually $1,000.
Bronson: That’s the exact experience I had not thought about Nur Iles book hooked. And it’s that it’s getting rewards, but not in a consistent way. You don’t know when the reward is going to come. That makes it exciting. And it’s another thing where, like, I don’t know, to do me a city I want to go to, but there might be. So every time you get the email, there’s this like possible dopamine hit to be like, I never thought about Tokyo. All right, let’s you know, let me let me look at the schedule here. This is interesting. Yeah. So you guys have hit something. I think that’s like psychological. I think you also hit a nerve with a certain group, which is these people that love travel, and it’s really a part of their core identity and they have the flexibility and freedom to really travel. So so that’s awesome. So Scott’s Cheapflights I love the name. It’s just, you know, it’s straightforward. So you’re Brian. No, you’re not Scott. So who is Scott?
Brian: So, yeah, Scott’s the Scott’s the brains behind it. He started it a while back. He found, I mean, some ridiculously cheap flight to Italy one time. And his his friends were like, How did you do that so easily? You know what? I’m just going to start a MailChimp account. And every time, you know, rather than emailing out everybody individually, I’m just going to send my friends an email. And then he took this like round the world trip all for free using points, and it was all like first class. It was something crazy, right? And I think it was Business Insider. They got a hold of the story and he didn’t promoted or anything. But next thing you know, it was his free MailChimp account, got over 2000 subscribers. He’s like, Well, I’m not going to pay money so I can send people deals. So I had to figure out a way to monetize this. So he just started charging his friends and everybody like two bucks a month and then a few months after that that he saw the potential. And we had been chatting for a little bit and we hopped on. We both had other jobs and other stuff going on at the time that turned in from a part time project to a full time thing. And we have three employees now, so it’s kind of been it’s been a fun ride.
Bronson: That’s awesome. And is it true that you’ve never actually met Scott?
Brian: Yeah, hopefully that’s changing soon. We’re planning a snowboard ski trip here shortly, but yeah, we met. I was starting another side at the time. I asked to interview him and we just kind of connected after that. And yeah, we have not met. None of our team has actually met. And we’re we’re spread out all over the globe. So he’s in Colorado. I’ve been doing the digital nomad thing like Mike as well. Yeah, traveling around Southeast Asia and right now I’m in Mexico, so that’s fun.
Bronson: Yeah. And I don’t think people realize, like, how real it is to have a remote team that’s never meant to be able to have freedom travel when you want to, to live a life that is not following the transcript that everybody else is following, not following the pattern. Speak to that for just a second. I mean, this is a thing now, right? This is some pipe dream, like a lot of people, if they choose to, could be digital nomads.
Brian: Yeah. I think one of the things that I got held up on previously when I heard the digital nomad term, I was like, Oh, these people are just starting lifestyle businesses. And for some reason I look down upon that. At that time. And it’s like I wanted to build something bigger, right? And there’s people building real businesses, doing it from wherever they want in the world. And it’s crazy. And once you are out there and you see what’s possible, you’re like, Holy crap, this is pretty cool. But at the same times there’s downsides. I mean, you know, the different time zones and connecting and scheduling five people to have a team call and you don’t you’re not all in an office. So it takes a little bit longer to make decisions, but you make it work.
Bronson: Absolutely. That’s awesome. All right. So let’s talk about how you guys have gotten to 250,000 subscribers. Okay. So you already mentioned the Business Insider piece. So is that 200 of the 250? Is that where they came from?
Brian: That was only 2000. All right. You got a couple of thousand? Oh, a couple thousand.
Bronson: Not a couple hundred. Okay, so you guys. All right, so that was just the tip of the iceberg, and you guys have figured out the rest. Okay, cool.
Brian: So that’s what made him realize that he.
Bronson: Knows something here.
Brian: You want it or something?
Bronson: I gotcha. And this hurt you, so? So you have 250,000 subscribers now. So walk us through. You know, you come on board, you guys say, okay, we have a couple of thousand in MailChimp due to this Business Insider thing. What’s the first move? What do you start doing? How do you start growing this list? Because like we’ve heard over and over, there’s money in the list. Do you have a list big enough you’re going to be able to send an email and get credit cards to buy something as long as there’s about right there. So 20,000. There’s a lot of money in the list that big. Tell me tell me the journey. What happened.
Brian: So, I mean, the first thing I did when I came onboard was build a new landing page. And I had some conversion optimization experience at that point, or at least I knew what should be in a landing page. And this was on this was a side page on a site for his books that he was selling on Amazon. And so it wasn’t it wasn’t Scott’s cheap flights yet, and it just had this random URL and we sent people there and I think I built in insta page and he’s like, You know what? You know, I’m going to. A few weeks after that, we had some subscribers coming in. He hopped on Reddit and was on the entrepreneur subreddit and just kind of asking for feedback. And next thing we know, we were getting a lot of people that were interested in it and signing up for the free version and just go on from there and we’re like, Well, you know, Reddit has some potential. This is pretty cool. But over time it started growing more. And then we, we got a piece on Conde Nast Traveler and that really skyrocketed the growth as well. And what we found is every time one of these PR pieces came out or every time we did something on Reddit and did a big push, the word of mouth spread. And I mean, it’s very, very difficult to track that. But when you have people searching for Scott’s cheapflights on Google now, you know, people are talking about it outside of the Internet, right? Yeah. And so that’s kind of been the process from there as we would improve the service, we’d go on Reddit, talk about where we’re at in the business and get some more feedback at some our customers. Somebody would discover it and write a piece about it. And what we did after that is we went to the Scott did a bigger AMA. So rather than an entrepreneur subreddit, we’re into the big one and a lot of people ask him for specific travel advice like, Hey, I’m looking for a flight from here to here on these dates. And we’ve reached a point that it’s just it’s not doable for him to find flights like that for every single person that was like we get hundreds of emails a week that are asking for that kind of stuff. It’s like, You know what? So we’ll just go on, hop on Reddit and be like, I’m here for 4 hours and we’re going to help you find flights. And that took off. And that’s when we saw the potential of Reddit. I think we got 20,000 something subscribers that first time we did it, but we were doing a giveaway at the same time, and so it got taken down, which wasn’t good. So you’re not supposed to do that. So there’s that piece and then there’s the viral giveaway piece. We would give away two free flights and people would enter their email address. And for every person they referred, we would give them five more entries. Right. So the benefit is there for them to hopefully win. This is two free flights. Yeah. And now the thing about viral giveaways is like people say, oh yeah, it’s viral and it’s going to spread and all this kind of stuff, but that’s not really true. Like, what we found is you might get a 30% bump in your subscribers, but in order for something to be viral, it’s got to be, you know, one person. And in addition to every single person that you bring on for it to actually have that viral effect, that does not happen. So don’t get your don’t get ahead of yourself of that, you know. Yeah, but it does work. Like, if you want to boost it, it works really well. And so we’ve done a couple of emails now and a couple of giveaways, and the media keeps asking for interviews as well. So we’ll do those. And those are the three big components of our growth. And then having a locked down landing page that we know converts and figuring out that process of what do we need to take people through and get them to go from free subscriber to premium subscriber.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. So I like the one of the things we laid out, which is this idea that you do something in terms of digital marketing going on, read it, but then it leads to word of mouth and you can’t track it. But you know what’s happening there and I see this in my data all the time. You know, I track all my URLs that have the right UTM tags and everything. I know where every trackable customer is coming from. Right. And then there’s like this large percentage just with nothing, no data. And I’m like, where do they come from? And so you start thinking, well, you know, I’m running Facebook ads, let’s say, and I can’t track all the people to Facebook ads, so I stop running them and then all of a sudden both groups die and I’m like, Wait a second, there’s all these uncharitable people buying in a direct correlation to the stuff I can track. So at some point I’ve just come to the decision that there’s a lot of uncrackable stuff that’s happening because of trackable stuff, and I just have to be okay with that correlation without seeing the data. Are you in the same place?
Brian: Yeah, it’s very frustrating. As a marketer, you’re like, Well, I want to know where these people are coming from so I can get more of them or at least figure out what the numbers are behind it and how it’s working. But you can’t.
Brian: It’s word of mouth and just take it as a good thing that people are talking about what you’re doing. And, you know, like you said with Facebook ads, maybe you’re spending money on Facebook ads and it’s, you know, on on Facebook, it doesn’t look profitable. But then you take in that other piece and maybe it is profitable. I’m not saying you should be running unprofitable Facebook ads, but it’s like it’s something to consider. You know.
Bronson: I think it’s actually an equation changer when you realize it’s happening. Like there’s been times where the campaign was not successful, but when I stopped running it, I realized it was I just wasn’t factoring in all the data because of the way I was viewing the equation. So it’s crazy how that could work. Another thing you mentioned that I want to drill down on a little bit is you really seem like you guys went all in on Reddit, right? You went there, you did the amaz, you did the post to get feedback. You did the viral stuff with them. You went on there and found flights for individuals, which is crazy, but it’s all around Reddit. You found something that was working and you didn’t say, Hey, Reddit working. I wonder if we should do Google ads. I wonder if we should also go into this other other site and see if we can tap into their community. It feels like you found something that was working and then exploited it, you know, I mean, in a good way. Like, you really just owned that channel. Is that the way you guys see it, that you found something that was working? It just went at it harder.
Brian: You know, I mean, we’ve tried Facebook ads, not extensively, but we’re like, oh, you know, let’s run Facebook ads and see how it works. And obviously that doesn’t work when you don’t put a lot of effort into it.
Bronson: It’s hard with freemium, too. It’s hard to get to.
Brian: And we have a very low price point. So it’s like, I don’t know if this is going to work, but with with Reddit, you know, it’s cool because you’re actually helping people. You’re getting that feedback. And if people like what you’re doing, they’re going to sign up. And it’s not scammy. It’s not like we’re here to market it, you know, obviously that’s a part of it, but we’re also here to help people and they know that, you know, and yeah, we really like Reddit and read. It seems to like us and I’m not sure how long that’s going to last, but it’s been it’s been good so far.
Bronson: Yeah. Do you feel like there’s a need to diversify or do you feel like you’re focused? You know what I mean? And I’m asking because I go through this all the time myself, like, all right, if I look at other channels, is that me being unfocused? And now I’m not going to you know, I’m going to dilute my energy and not get the most out of it. Or is it me safeguarding against the future and what may happen? How do you see that when really Reddit’s working and you’re still trying to figure out other channels?
Brian: Well, I think it’s easy to diversify when you have something like Reddit because you can take a day and do an AMA and that lasts for a while and then you can spend another time to realize things. But I’m kind of I’m kind of the one building the website stuff and doing the marketing. So right now the constraint is time. And we have a small team and we kind of like it that way. And so you.
Bronson: Have to be we’re not just, yeah, we’re.
Brian: Not looking to spend a ton of money on marketing and and yeah, that’s kind of why we haven’t pursued the other channels because Reddit works for us and it’s cheap. But I’m not going to say like we’re not going to do the other channels down the road. I think that I think that we might graduate to bigger partnerships or bigger things that can get us in front of new audiences. Like we have an affiliate program, you know, those kind of things. But yeah, I mean, we’re going to keep we’re going to keep helping people find flights on Reddit, doing those kind of things because they’re fun, you know? Yeah.
Bronson: So let me ask you about that. It seems like that you guys, you didn’t pick a demographic and then say, hey, let’s try to market to them. Even though we’re not a part of that demographic. You said we’re going to do things that would help people like us. Like it feels like an authentic brand. Like, you guys like to travel. You like to help people find flights. Like the fact that your marketing effort on Reddit is to actually help them. Like that’s so authentic in terms of a brand story. Do you think that’s a part of your success that this wasn’t like, let’s make a buck off some group? It was, let’s help our friends.
Brian: Yeah. Then that’s kind of that is the story. Writers like Scott wanted out as friends and he had to pay money because it was costing him money. And it’s grown from there, but it’s still to help people. I mean, like we’ve ran the numbers and I think $1.5 million is like what we’ve directly saved people and flights so far. Like we’re tracking this every time somebody blocks a flight, they email us and let us know they’re excited about it. And it’s it’s it’s a good it’s a good feeling, like when you’re doing good things for people and they’re excited about it. So they talk about it and it goes back to the word of mouth thing. I don’t know if that answer your question.
Bronson: Yeah, yeah, it totally does. And then also, you know, I think about like Eric Reece and, you know, Lean Startup, Build, Measure, Learn and his whole thing is, you know, not to spend a lot of effort, a lot of time and a lot of money. If you don’t know if it’s the right decision, if you haven’t done some kind of MVP, some kind of test, it feels like you guys very much you’re not you don’t get ahead of yourselves. Right. Like it wasn’t day one that it was like, let’s build an empire. It was let me get a flight for a buddy. And then it was, let’s have a landing page on not even our main site. Then it was, all right, let’s get the domain and actually make it its own thing. And then it was us going to read it and talk to people. And then it was, Oh, MailChimp is maxed out because of Business Insider when you find some freemium model. So it seems like instead of having a master plan top down, we’re going to build an empire. It was bottom up one step at a time. Let’s see what the market’s asking for. Yeah. Do you think that’s a part of your success to.
Brian: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to build something if you don’t know people want it. And when you have a bunch of subscribers, even a small amount of subscribers and you listen to what they’re asking for and kind of tailor what you’re doing towards that, it’s very easy to give people what they want. So, you know, a lot of people are asking us, hey, I don’t want to receive flights for an entire region. I want to pick a specific airport and get flights from there. So we’re building out a back end system now that allows people to pick individual airports. And it’s like we went we were not going to do that from the beginning because that costs money. It takes time and we don’t know if anybody wants it. But when you get enough people saying they want it, it’s like, hey, let’s let’s give the people what they want.
Bronson: That’s awesome. O’BRIEN It’s incredible to hear about Scott’s cheap flights and the growth you guys have had and just your transparency and how you talk about it. I think it’s the same transparency that, you know, makes you have fans on Reddit and other places. So a couple of final questions here. Always in the interviews with these questions, one is, what are you doing as soon as this interview is over? And it can be something super boring taking the dog for a walk, going surfin, doing some crazy, awesome meeting that’s going to change the world. What do you do when this thing’s over?
Brian: Probably going to grab some lunch, but I also have a call. My buddy is going to. He had a master plan for some stuff that worked really well for our company a few years back, and we’re going to try to pull out something similar.
Bronson: So I’m in the same boat, not the SEO part, but the lunch part. I am starving right now.
Brian: I’m looking forward to like.
Bronson: So. All right, next question. Final question. What is the best advice you have for any startup that’s trying to grow? Maybe something you already covered, maybe something new. The best advice you have for any startup trying to grow.
Brian: Just test different things. I mean, we don’t know which channels are going to work. And when you’re when you’re reading stuff and, you know, reading articles, watching interviews, podcasts, that kind of thing, there’s a lot of different ways that you can go and you’ve got to find which one works for you, because not all of them. Well, and it’s easy to get discouraged if like and Facebook ads aren’t working or SEO like our competitors or TripAdvisor, that’s not going to work, you know, how are we going to get an audience? So just try different things. And just because nobody else is doing it doesn’t mean you can’t.
Bronson: You know, I love that advice. I mean, I’ll just kind of riff on that for a second. I got an email a couple of weeks ago and I get these, you know, every few days they’re like, Hey, can you give us a quote for this article or this magazine and this book or whatever? And this one is for whatever reason, the idea in my head at that moment was use the resources you have, not the resources you wish you had because yeah, you have a certain number of employees, you have a certain skill set among those employees, you have a certain market, you have a certain product, you have certain competitors. Like you’re in a landscape that is unique to you. There is no other company on the face of the earth that is your company. Only your company is your company. So you cannot rip off someone else’s playbook. You can learn things from it, right? That’s why I do these podcasts. Like you can learn from it, but you can’t just go be Scott’s cheapflights just because you heard this, like you’re not positioned to be that. Maybe you have read it as an idea. Now if you’re listening to this or watching, but you’re not just going to go and dominate like you guys did just because the idea’s there, right? Yeah. And so I love the way you see that you have to really figure out your own path, let other people help you, but it’s your own path at the end of the day. So we’re going to end with that. Brian, it’s been awesome having you here. Thank you so much for coming on Growth TV.
Brian: Hey, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
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