How to Achieve Massive Growth With Dan McGaw from Code School

Posted by Anant January 5, 2023

Code School is experiencing massive growth and Dan is going to show you how they are doing it. This episode covers everything from contextual emails, to onboarding, to incentive programs, to storytelling.


→ Code School, an online platform for developers that teaches coding through immersive, instructor-led video courses

→ The growth of Code School, including increases in monthly recurring revenue, users, and lifetime value

→ Onboarding techniques, including methods for increasing the speed of email capture, conversion into users, and providing access to free content

→ A referral campaign that has been successful in increasing signups and revenue

→ The launch of a business accelerator and the growth hackers meetup in Orlando

→ The importance of having a clear, focused marketing message and the use of marketing automation tools.

→ and a whole lot more


Code School

Envy Labs



Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Dan McCall with us. Dan, thanks for coming on the show.

Dan: Hey, thanks for having me. Hi, everybody.

Bronson: Yeah, we’re glad to have you here. You are the VP of Growth at Coates You ran a growth. Hackers meet up there in Orlando where you’re at and you’re launching a business accelerator. So you don’t sleep an idea?

Dan: Not at all. I stay up all the time and never stop working.

Bronson: That’s right. Now, let’s start by talking about code school. Code school is a very interesting thing that you’re doing. Tell us about a little bit. What is it?

Dan: So Code School is an online platform for developers. We teach basically it learning in the browser. So you’re able to actually watch an instructor led video and immediately start coding in your browser and it gives you real time server feedback. All of our courses are completely immersive, so they’re all themed for the language. So for an example, Coffee’s script is in a coffee shop. So we really pay attention to detail and we take a little bit content and we spend a whole crap ton of money on it and we make it as bad ass as it can get.

Bronson: Yeah. Immersive learning is changing everything, isn’t it?

Dan: Yeah. No, I mean, you really want to put people in the environment. They’re going to be doing things and trying to make it as fun and themed as possible, too. So having that immersion helps.

Bronson: Yeah. Now, what level are you helping people with? Is this beginners coming in intermediates advance? Who’s coming to code school right now?

Dan: So our overall target market would be more intermediate to advanced developers. We focus on more high end cutting edge technology. So like Node.js, copy script, backbone, ember and rectangles. So we don’t do a lot of beginner content. We did just release our first JavaScript beginner course, but you still need a little bit of understanding to really take advantage of the course.

Bronson: Gotcha. So a lot of people, they may already have a background in computer science. They may be working somewhere low level, kind of, you know, getting their chops up to date and you’re given the tools to really grow in the industry.

Dan: Yeah, of course. We have actually a lot of people that are professional developers who’ve been doing it for five or ten years. It’s just we focus on all the new technologies coming out. We make it a lot easier for them to get up to speed on crazy things like Ember and Backbone.

Bronson: Yeah, because that’s the thing. You graduate with your bachelors in CS, but you know, in a year there’s all these new things coming out and what, you know is becoming obsolete and you know, it’s a ticking time bomb on it. So you kind of, you know, fill that gap, right?

Dan: Yeah, yeah. We fill that gap perfectly, so it makes it really good. So if you get a computer science degree, we make sure that you can keep that degree basically for the rest of your life.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s awesome. Now, how long have you guys been around? It’s relatively new, right?

Dan: Yeah, we started about three years ago. It was four. It was sort of haphazard. We never intended to build this company the way that it is. It was a few courses because we really, really like education. And then all of a sudden we were like, Hey, we got to make a company out of this. So we really did it. We turned it into code school and it’s grown wildly, wildly out of control ever since.

Bronson: Yeah, let’s talk about that a little bit, because when something that you do accidentally takes off like wildfire, you got to unpack that a little bit for us. So where do you said you did a couple of courses. Did you put them on just an existing website that you guys had? Like was it, you know, on some other platform? Where were those courses originally that gave you guys kind of feedback that people are loving this.

Dan: And B Labs, which is our parent company, they basically created Coatesville, has always been very active in conferences, online tutorials and things, but we felt there was a better way. So what happened was, is that Eric Allen and great pilot came together and said, Hey, let’s create the most amazing rails for stories. And they launched Rails for Zombies dot org. Now, if you ask many Rails developers out there if they’ve heard of it, they probably will say yes because it was one of the first of their kind. So all the original courses were on their own domain. So rails or zombies dot org j query eircom and everything was kind of segmented and separated, but you can still find them all interchangeably through the different courses. So they were all their own little things and they sold them for $55 apiece. And then now they had enough content they decided put them all together and just charges subscription service to have access to everything.

Bronson: Yeah. Do you think that’s smart to do it that way, that maybe other people can imitate where you take one piece of the big product and say, look, if we can’t sell this one piece, which is the cornerstone, there is no sense in developing the whole team out of it and making a business out of it.

Dan: Yeah. No, I mean, it definitely gave validation to the company and I recommend that to as many startups as I can is you have to get validation or you’re just going to wind up spinning your wheels and spending a bunch of money and time and you can get money back, but you can’t get your time back. So you really want to make sure you validate the product as quickly as possible.

Bronson: Yeah, I like that. You can get your money back when that’s your time. Now, let’s talk about the growth of code school because you email me some numbers and these are big numbers. You guys have grown a lot. And you said you didn’t mind me asking about these specifics. So I’m going to so talk to me about monthly recurring revenue, kind of where it was and where it is and the growth of that.

Dan: So when I joined the company was about 15 months ago and the monthly revenue was in between 65 to $85000 a month. And it kind of hovered because we did not. Understand how to control our subscribers. We didn’t know how to keep them around or how to upsell them or prevent them from canceling. So over the past 12 months, we really focused on was the key metrics that help us get better at it. So why are people canceling? Why are people subscribing? What are they doing while they’re subscribed? What’s the last action they took before they left? So since we’ve really focused in on that and our onboarding process, we’ve been able to increase our monthly revenue to about $350,000 right now. Well, we also get additional revenue on top of that, that we don’t walk into monthly revenue because we do sell our subscriptions in bulk. So you can do a three month, a six month or year package and it doesn’t come through monthly recurring. So our revenue can go above that. That’s just what’s on our subscription base.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s awesome. And we’re going to get into some of the things you touched on, the onboarding and you know why they’re leaving. We’ll talk with that and more in a minute. Also, you had a big increase in users. Where was the user base at, you know, when you came in to now?

Dan: So a lot of our users came from sites like Rails or Zombies dot org, the Jake Warriors. But we really hadn’t spent a lot of time focusing on push marketing and trying to get our name into different or different like marketing messages. So we focused a lot of energy on how do we get the person’s email faster? How do we convert them into a user? And we also focused on where can we give people free content so they come back and have to sign up to get access to that content. So we really changed how people sign up on the website and as well as how they got saved into our system. And we’re able to double signups in a matter of three months simply by making the process easier.

Bronson: Gotcha. And that’s part of the onboarding we’ll talk about again. Yeah. And then also the lifetime value increased. And now it’s one thing to increase the monthly recurring and, you know, the users overall, but you’re actually getting more value out of each user. So tell me about the increase in LTV.

Dan: Yes. When we first really looked at everything, people were coming to our platform because they wanted to learn a specific vertical of knowledge and we didn’t really give them that vertical. We said, Hey, here’s a rails course, take it. We never really told them, Hey, go take this course afterwards or go take these three courses afterwards. So we really focused on how we could connect the dots and we rolled out, which now everybody knows is code school paths to be able to help show them, hey, you start here and you go there. And that’s really helped our users and really has increased our lifetime value.

Bronson: So it’s really taking the idea of onboarding and just putting it into the entire product. The entire thing is onboarding. You’re always being led by the hand to the next, you know, step. That makes sense.

Dan: Yeah, of course. Yeah. We definitely do a lot of hand-holding and we want to make sure that they’re not missing out on anything. So we definitely make sure to share all the cool features and all the different add ons that we do.

Bronson: Yeah. All right. So now let’s unpack some of the tactics that we’ve alluded to here, how you actually got to those numbers. So one of the things that I know you’ve done there is you focus a lot on a referral campaign. So tell me about the nuts and bolts of it, how you put the pieces together. Who’s referring who and why and why it works? Tell me all that stuff.

Dan: So we really had a very, very great user base and they were very good at sharing us on social networks. They told everybody on Twitter who we were. So when somebody is in the middle of a course, what they do is they share on Twitter that they have accomplished something. So we wanted to find a way to make it so that they can earn something for sharing automatically. So we came up with what’s known as the Hall Pass campaign, and I like to nickname it the Dropbox effect. So what we looked at is how do you incentivize somebody to share or give their friends something? So what happens is as you visit our site, you sign up. If you don’t subscribe in a certain period of time, we then email you and say, Hey, we want to give you two days free on our platform. Just try the content and we know you’ll love it if you don’t like it. Hey, you didn’t pay anything anyways, so that’s all done through automation with email. Now when they sign up and actually decide to take advantage of that whole pass, that also prompted, Hey you, we know you have friends that are developers. Why don’t you give them two days free to if you can get them to sign up, we’ll give you an additional two days. Well, if you’re in the middle of a course, you don’t want to stop there and you run out of time. The first thing you’re going to do is, hey, I want to tell 50 of my friends, get three people to sign up. So that way I can get six more days to finish this course. So what happens is, is you can get up to 30 days free and you, of course, give it to your friends. They go to the same process. So you wind up getting this free trial. But you’ve been able to incentivize the user to tell their friends than their friends. Tell their friends and their friends tell their friends. And at the end of the day, by the time they reach the 30 day limit and they get cut off, they’re typically so far into multiple courses that they then say, you know, I want to finish this course, I’ll give you 25 bucks, and then they subscribe. And it really has helped their company grow.

Bronson: Yeah. So let me ask you a couple of things about that. Do you think there’s something about them investing that makes them want to stay around? So the more they promote you, the more they kind of buy into you and the more they’re just going to be there eventually no matter what.

Dan: Yeah. So one of the things that we like to call is the locking factor. You get some of. Locked into your service so that they don’t want to leave. So that was something that we definitely took into consideration is, hey, if we give them two days, they’ll get just far enough, but not everybody is going to complete the course. So there’s a lot of evaluation on how much time do we give them so we know how far they’re getting into courses. And in not in a bad way, we know that they’re going to they’re typically going to two days is just enough to get halfway through. So we really paid attention to the time span. So that way we can get them locked in.

Bronson: See, that’s a really good point you just brought up, is that when you give away something you have to be thinking about. I don’t want to give away so much. They never feel pain. If they don’t feel pain, you don’t get a credit card, right?

Dan: Yeah, I feel a little bit of pain. At the end of the day. There’s got to be a little give em all. But at the end of it, there’s got to be something like, Man, I really need to finish this. Like, there’s got to be something there. And if you don’t provide that, then at the end of the day, you’re not going to convert as many users.

Bronson: Yeah, it’s almost like you can’t air on either side of the equation if you don’t give them enough incentive. They never tweeted out, they never share it, and they just don’t care if it’s like, Hey, we’ll give you 2 hours for 8 hours. Like, what is that going to do, you know? So for a couple of days it’s a real incentive, but you haven’t given them so much that they can just live off of this referral without actually putting on a credit card.

Dan: Exactly. Now, and another thing that we definitely like to tell people about with the past, we’ve seen a lot of other referral campaigns and we’re very proud of ours. And the reason that we feel that we’ve been so successful is we’ve made it so frictionless that it works. So when you’re in the program, you’re going to get a warning the day before it and saying, Hey, it’s about to go away in the email. It already has the Facebook share set up. It already has the Twitter share set up. All you got to do is click the button and it happens. So a lot of referral campaigns, it’s like, Hey, visit the site, then click this button and then you get the share price. We made it so that it’s just two clicks and it’s all done.

Bronson: So you treat your email like it is the landing page that can do what they need to do from there.

Dan: Exactly. If you put any more steps in the funnel, you lose people. So you want to make as little amount of steps as possible so that nobody drops off and.

Bronson: They only have a certain amount of time to use this whole pass. Is that right? So there’s a time limit on how often they can share it or how much they can share it.

Dan: Yeah, so the time does run out, so they get the first email. They have 14 days to take advantage of it. If they don’t, it goes away. They’ll never get it again. Yeah. And then if they don’t, they take advantage of it. They only have 30 days to get that additional time. So there’s always time sensitive stuff in it. So we’ve trained our users to act now. Not, Well, I can do this on Thursday. It’s more like, do this now or you’re going to lose out.

Bronson: How important is time sensitivity? I think it’s huge. But I want to hear from you. Like, how important, like, what do you think would happen if you didn’t put a time limit on there? What would the result be?

Dan: A half, if not a third of the people would have would have stayed. The time is very, very important. So when we look at almost all of our marketing, we look at the time it takes for somebody to not only complete something, but how long it takes for them to actually come back. So timing is everything.

Bronson: Yeah. No, that’s great. Now, one of the other things you guys have done besides build this incredible referral system is you put a lot of effort into email and we’ve already touched on a little bit where it kind of becomes the landing page to tweet the referral and those kind of things. Talk me through email, kind of high level. What have you done? What does it look like? Who’s getting emails about what and why is it work?

Dan: Yeah. So we when I started at the company, we didn’t have any email, we didn’t send a welcome email, we didn’t send anything. The only email that was sent was your billing email kind of.

Bronson: Ranges, right?

Dan: Yeah. And even the building email was kind of atrocious. So we really took a step back and looked at, what are we trying to accomplish in these messages? What do the customers need to learn and what is going to help sell our services? So our welcome emails, there’s three different versions of it. You get one when you sign up. If you subscribe within 2 minutes, it doesn’t send the first email. It sends a totally different email that has things that you should know as a sign up and a subscriber. Then there’s a subscription. Welcome email. So if you subscribe two days after you sign up, you get the subscription email and the message, and each of them are, You should know about this. You should also check out this. You should also go here. You can get a discount if you visit this place right now on our site. So we make sure that everything has a goal and we have something to measure that. And it’s constant testing. We switch things out all the time.

Dan: Yeah. And even the building email was kind of atrocious. So we really took a step back and looked at, what are we trying to accomplish in these messages? What do the customers need to learn and what is going to help sell our services? So our welcome emails, there’s three different versions of it. You get one when you sign up. If you subscribe within 2 minutes, it doesn’t send the first email. It sends a totally different email that has things that you should know as a sign up and a subscriber. Then there’s a subscription. Welcome email. So if you subscribe two days after you sign up, you get the subscription email and the message, and each of them are, You should know about this. You should also check out this. You should also go here. You can get a discount if you visit this place right now on our site. So we make sure that everything has a goal and we have something to measure that. And it’s constant testing. We switch things out all the time.

Bronson: So you guys have come multiple paths. If you do this, this happens. If you do that, that happens. Where are you guys managing that logic in house? Are you using a third party to manage the logic of who gets what? Tell me about the nuts and bolts of it a little bit.

Dan: Yeah. So very fortunately, since we are code school, we have a lot of developers. It’s very fortunate we don’t have a lack of engineers. So some of it is internal. But one of the things that in the industry that people don’t take into consideration when you do our AI report, developers are expensive, so we try to make it so that our system is automated as much as possible, but we also cram as much information as we can into MailChimp. So MailChimp, great solution. We love those guys do a fantastic job, but we should have so much information into the user profile. So at any time I can go directly into MailChimp and create an order responded to. On when they signed in what path are they interested in, what courses they completed? So we set up automation on the fly and all of our newsletters are custom segmented so that one newsletter can have 15 different variations. It just depends on what you care about.

Bronson: Gotcha. And then are you guys are the engineers using Mandrill at all to then trigger certain templates within MailChimp? Is that what they’re doing?

Dan: Yeah. So we do use Mandrill in tandem with a lot of our campaigns. So man manages an awesome transactional service, so there is a ton of logic that goes into that one as well. And we really like the fact that Mandrill is also putting the information of sense into MailChimp now. So I can say if this user received this email yesterday, don’t send them one today because we don’t want to hover over email people. Yeah. So one of the cool things that we really did in Mandrill was our invoice email. And I think for people in education and also in any other company, they make a big mistake on how they tell people they charge them. So at code school you’re completing something every single time you’re completing a course. So when we sent our invoices, he charged you 25 bucks. Well, that’s great that that causes cancelations because you’re telling people. So what we did is we turned it into our report card. So every month you get a monthly report card that tells you all the things you did. And if you didn’t do anything, it says, Hey, why don’t you do these courses? We know that you’re interested in these topics. You should go there and tells you all this stuff that you accomplished. Then at the bottom it says, Hey, we charge you 25 bucks. So it’s not even like we’re trying to tell you we build you, but it’s actually slowed down, cancels because we’re telling people you got value for what you’re paying instead of just saying you got you paid for this.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s that’s awesome advice right there. Now, let’s think about email, big picture for a second. You’ve talked us through kind of the way you think about it, the amount of resources you put into it, you’re putting engineers on it. You’re also dumping a lot of data into MailChimp. You got Mandrill hooked in there. You’re obviously resources are going toward email. Some people listening may think, wow, like that’s a lot to throw at email. Is email worth that many resources? I mean, how integral is email to the business of code school, I guess is the question.

Dan: So since you have to look at your target market, since we work with developers, some other channels don’t work really well for us and email is very, very successful and we get a lot of return from it. Developers will open emails, they won’t look at display ads. So we need to focus on the channels that work and email has worked successfully for us, but we’ve also made email extremely efficient. So we have amazing templates which are made that can be editable by anybody on the team. So one template can be touched by anybody and especially not by an engineer to make it even better.

Bronson: Gotcha. Now, it’s great advice because that’s one thing I see is when we finally start doing emails, do the same thing with Growth Hacker, you know, day one, all we have is the most basic. Hey, you create a new account. Thanks. That’s it, you know? And then as time goes on, we’ve made it more kind of nuanced. We’ve developed it out more. And every time we work on email, we make money. I mean, there’s just no other way to say it. When we put time and resources into email, we make it back so many more times, you know, in just bottom line. And so I would encourage people focus on email.

Dan: Email, emails. I remember a few years back, everybody said email is dead and social media is the way to go. And being an email, I was like, Really? You really think email is going to die because of social media? And email has prevailed and it’s one of our most profitable channels and we focus a lot on it. Some really big quick tips though, like with email that people forget about, email is still meant to be personal. So our emails in the beginning were from the team at code school. Hmm. Well, that’s good. So we decided we’re going to do a bunch of AB testing. Now the emails are Dan at code school. We just opened rates by nearly 1.5% across the board. When you’re talking about 400,000 emails, that’s a pretty big increase. With subject lines, you really have to always be testing. But the funniest thing is, is if you add a simple smiley face to the end of the subject line, it can increase your open rates by nearly 10% on some messages. Yeah, like that was mind boggling to me. Like we put a smiley face on your welcome email and then we put an unsmiling face on your cancelation. And it actually increased the open rates because people were like, well, they’re sad. Let me I want to read this message. Yeah. So you really have to think about the psychology behind it as well as how do I make it so that this person is connected?

Bronson: Yeah. No, that’s great. And even little things like if you put an arrow, a little ASCII right arrow on a tweet, then the link after the arrow will get clicked way more. Just because people are just like they’re just forced to compel. They can’t not click it. Same thing with a smiley face in a subject line. Where are you going to delete it without looking somebody smiling at you? You’re going to open the emails. You know what’s going on, you know.

Dan: That’s awesome.

Bronson: So you mentioned you have, you know, hundreds of thousand emails I think is at 400,000 just now, is that right?

Dan: We have more than that. So more.

Bronson: Than that. So you have tons of emails. How are you collecting emails? Because there’s a science even in that. I mean, that’s something we’ve had to learn with Growth Hacker and other projects we’ve done is the right time to ask for an email and how to get it efficiently. So how are you guys actually? Capturing the emails.

Dan: So really we focus a lot on our sign up. We get a lot of our emails through that, but we strategically put our sign up pages at a point of where you want to go somewhere. So it’s like when you come to the site, there’s a sign up button like everybody else, but we really don’t push it. We actually put our sign up right before you enter a course because you already know you want to get in there. That really helps our sign ups. But another thing that we did is we started working with other companies like we would love to do with Growth Hacker is we offer all of the people a free course. To get access to that free course, you have to give us an email, but when you look at the value of that free course, so if you were going to look at the Node.js course, I mean, you can pick up no J.S. by taking this free course, I’m going to give my email, I turn it over. So by offering something as an incentive, something for free that will empower the person we’ll give them to get your email. So very similar to an inbound marketing strategy.

Bronson: Yeah, no, that stuff works. I mean, we do it here as well. Like, hey, here’s this free thing we’ve made just for an email. Simple, it’ll email big value.

Dan: Now I will add one of the things that helped increase the number of emails that we had was is that we took out a lot of things in the form. So a lot of times companies will say, Hey, I want your first name. And then it’s a separate thing for I want your last name. Why don’t you give me your phone number too? That’s going to deter people or sign up is give me your email, set your password. I’m here and you’re done. Yeah. So we try to make it so that just an email box and that’s all you got to do.

Bronson: No, same thing here. We just grab emails because with an email I can sell you. But if you don’t give me your email because I’ve also asked for a first name, I can’t do anything with it. So I need the email. Everything else is optional.

Dan: Yeah. I don’t care what your first name is. Sometimes I want to get it eventually, but in the beginning it’s your emails identifiable enough.

Bronson: Yeah. Now one of the things you also mentioned in this massive increase in numbers you guys have had in the last year and a half or so is the onboarding experience. And we talked a little bit about the past, but tell me more about the onboarding when they first come there. What did you guys do? Maybe would you change how you really get them in the flow? Because you mentioned early on you got them sign up quicker and then you got them. You look at the last thing they did before they canceled and really learn from that. So you could grow that way as well. So talk to me about onboarding a little bit.

Dan: So with the onboarding process, it’s almost like training your users to actually use your platform. So we really focused on what are some of the pain points that we have and what are some of the features we should be bragging about which we haven’t done a great job at. So everything from the welcome email to your five day email to the hall passes all the way up to your cancelation. Email is driving the consumer through some sort of story. So that way we’re saying, Hey, you’re doing a great job at learning how to code. We really would like for you to check out our new team feature and be able to show them and train them about new things in a very, very small pattern. And another thing that we did is what we’ve noticed is companies will focus on the first time you log in, they’ll give you a video or like six things. We try to spread that out over a couple of weeks. So that way it’s not like we’re being intrusive with a ton of material. We’re just saying, hey, check out this whole thing off to the right.

Bronson: Yeah, you mentioned a word story. A story isn’t a word you think of much when you think about onboarding a user. So do you mean that? Is it like the story of them where you are and where you’re progressing as a user of code school? Is that the story you’re telling them?

Dan: Yeah, we’re telling them what they’ve accomplished is where they should be going and then helping them compose the entire story for at the end of the day, their career. Yeah, because we would try to shove them in the direction like, hey, you now have this awesome report card you should be showing to other people. Let’s get people to understand that you’ve learned a lot of different things. Yeah. So we really try to show them that there is a story to the process that’s going to turn you into a better developer. So we really focus on their experience through the whole the whole time.

Bronson: See, I think that’s a big insight right there because you think about stories. I mean, since the, you know, creation of man, we’ve been telling stories, we’ve been talking about things in story form because it’s a way to remember things. It’s a way to get excited about things. Stories get shared in a way that other kinds of information don’t. We don’t remember Excel spreadsheets. We remember stories, right? And so if you can build complicated things into a story form, I mean, it’s made for humans. It’s the greatest psychological hack is put it in story form, right?

Dan: Yeah. I mean and we really tried to make sure that we connected with each person. I mean, our company name is code school. So you also notice a lot of our branding is going back to that school type of form. I mean, we had a trial campaign, we called it the hall pass. I mean, we wanted to make sure that it felt very similar to something that you were used to doing. So in middle school. What did I want? I wanted a hall pass. Yeah. When I got my my stuff at the end of the month, I got a report card. So we try to make sure that you’re still going along with that, that story of being in school.

Bronson: Yeah, it makes me think about dribble a little bit. You know, they just picked kind of a random story around basketball and yet they carried it through and they made it a theme of what they’re doing. I think with you guys, it’s even better because it’s not just a random theme. You really are a school. Yeah, but even if it’s a little bit random, it’s still a story. It’s still better than the site where I go and put up designs sometimes, like at least there’s some kind of idea in my head or out a story. About dribbling things out. You know.

Dan: It actually brings up an interesting point. We missed one step of the story when somebody cancels, shouldn’t call to cancel. We should tell them they’re dropping out.

Bronson: There you go. What about like this? And, you know, it’s good psychologic because nobody wants to be a dropout. Exactly.

Dan: Interesting. Thanks for that. Was good to talk.

Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. Now, what else have you guys done that we haven’t talked about? Because as a marketer, there’s always so many things that are trying. And I only know to ask about so many of them. What’s the other thing where it’s like, if my audience could hear it, they’d be really excited to know about it.

Dan: Yeah. So, I mean, some of the biggest things that we really looked at is retargeting. So retargeting is extremely effective for us because we get a lot of direct traffic to our site. We have a lot of free content already out there, so drive traffic to us. So instead of focusing on, Hey, how do we get more AdWords, how do we do more PPC somewhere else? We really have said, Hey, we know these people have an interest. Let’s make sure that we’re focusing on kind of showing it around the web. So our retargeting does not start in a home page. It starts after you visit a path. So that way we know what you’re interested in. So if you visit code school and visit the Ruby Path, the ads that you’re going to see around the Web are going to be you want to learn Ruby or different things like that. But what we’ve also really paid attention to is, okay, the customer is going to convert within 14 days with this, and if they don’t convert within 14 days, maybe let’s sweeten the pot a little bit and try something else. Now, one of the things that we learn is we offer a $9 first month in our retargeting. That’s increased conversions for us. Now with other organizations, you’ll notice they give you that promotion like day to day three. There’s a missed opportunity for additional revenue. If you’re too urgent about getting somebody to convert is with education. Luckily, we can extend that period of time a little bit more. So retargeting has really helped us by segmenting the users, focusing on the correct timing to be able to get people to convert, but also kind of extracting the right amount of revenue from each customer.

Bronson: Yeah, now there’s so many great insights there. I love the idea that it’s not just retargeting in general because that’s what a lot of companies, they hear about retargeting, so they put the tracking pixels on their site and there’s just one tracking pixel. It’s everywhere. Anybody that’s ever been anything, it’s that one tracking pixel. And then they get shown as well. You’re actually segmented out based on their interest because of the page they were on. So now the ads are see, you’re so much more targeted and they’re going to click through to something probably about the thing that was targeting them. So that’s just going to have such higher ROI there. And then I like what you said too about timing. You know, we talked about timing earlier, just knowing, you know, there’s a time limit on things, but this is a little different than a time limit. It’s don’t give away the big discounts on day two because then you don’t have anything to give away to retarget them with. So you dole out the discounts, you know, with time in mind. So you have a big gun left to pull them back in eventually, right?

Dan: Yeah. No, we definitely want to make sure that we can use the resources at the right time.

Bronson: Yeah, because you can only give away so much. I mean. I mean, you can’t give away a year for free. You can’t give away lifetime membership forever just because we want you here. So at some point, every company can only give away so much. Be very careful about when you give away what? So that you can pull them back in and make as much money as possible.

Dan: Exactly. And it’s definitely helped. And we’ve been very, very fortunate to cross-promote and partner with some other brands, which is really, really helped us in our retargeting because we’re able to offer something for free that’s not even ours, just simply because we have an awesome community of developers. So the cross-promotion on retargeting has definitely helped. Being able to help other brands grow at the same time is a benefit for everybody.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. Now, let me ask you this. Is there anything that you thought would work? You put some time into it, you put some resources into it, and nothing, just crickets. Can’t get clicks, can’t get traffic, can’t get conversions. I mean, we all have these stories that don’t feel bad.

Dan: Yeah. So, I mean, we all l, I mean, it’s inevitable.

Bronson: Marketing is failure most of the time, early failure.

Dan: So we have, we have fallen on our face and a few campaigns. The most recent one would probably be the code school local. So we did, we started as a Facebook campaign where you could submit your your meetup or your group to to have one of us be a guest speaker. And we would do it over Skype or a Google Hangout. And we didn’t really take into consideration the logistics of it or the limiting of it. And we’ve done a lot of different things and it just took so much time. We really fell flat on our face and it came back to haunt us because then it’s now six months after we started the campaign, we’re now finally finishing up some of these meet ups because we’re scheduling peoples meet their talks and try to find their meet ups. But one of the original things was, is we’re going to send you could school local shirts we didn’t take into consideration when you send shirts internationally they go to customs. Customs that puts a tax on it. So we had people that had to pay $200 to simply get the shirts out of customs. So that put a bad taste in your mouth. Then we do the meet ups and they’re international, have people that don’t even speak English. So it was just like, All right, we’re never do again. It’s all over again. Like, it seemed like a great idea. We’re hoping to get brand. Because we care about the community. I mean, we really love these developers. I mean, we care about their futures and their education. But it just didn’t we didn’t think about the entire scope of the project. We didn’t think from A to Z. We saw it from like a2d, and then we’re like, This would be a great idea. And then we finally did it. We’re like, That was a bummer. Didn’t work out.

Bronson: Now. Well, thank you so much for being that transparent because I mean, if you’re trying something often, which we should now, I think you have to always be trying something. We’re going to fall on our face a lot. And that’s what people don’t realize is it’s not about the things that didn’t work. If you find one that does work, all of a sudden you’re a successful marketer with a lot in recurring revenue, right? Yeah. I mean, you just have to find the things that do work.

Dan: Yes, you do. And one of the things that I tell a lot to the people that I work with is that you have to track what failed. Most people are all about tracking what succeeded, but we track a lot of like, Hey, this totally didn’t work and put it on a sheet. And then when we go to do the redo campaigns, we look at all the things that didn’t work. So we don’t add any of those to our new campaign because you’re going to fail a lot more than you succeed and you’re going to forget some of those failures. So make sure you’re tracking what you fail at so you can’t repeat it again.

Bronson: That’s great right there. I know. Let me ask you this. What’s on the horizon, maybe things that you’re for sure going to try or maybe just ideas that you might try, but how are you thinking three months, six months out? What are some things on your maybe to do list for marketing?

Dan: So yeah, we’re going to be moving into PPC a little bit more, but we’re doing a Google AdWords and a little bit more more push marketing. But one of the things that we really are starting to focus on is how do we dynamically change the site to better suit somebody? How do we make it so the homepage is dynamic based upon the country that you came from. How do we change the course based upon your learning experience? So we’re really looking at behavioral tracking and as well as making things as dynamic as possible. For an example, if you live in Russia, you get the hall pass right away. You don’t have to wait the two days or hopefully that the program still going, you get it right away. So if you’re in Russia and you’re listening to this go to school, so you get two days free just because we’ve learned that we convert users better that way and we’re very fortunate that we have optimized, we set up and if anybody out there is not using optimize and that program is totally awesome, we dynamically change pages all the time and test over and over and over again. And that’s really what we’re focusing on for probably the next 3 to 6 months is how do we convert more people by making the content dynamic for them.

Bronson: Yeah, and it’s kind of the same idea with the emails. It’s dynamic emails based on what they’re doing now. We’re seeing the theme emerge again with the website itself, dynamic content in the web itself. I think it was the CMO of HubSpot and he said the future of marketing is context, that the future of where everything’s going is who are they, where are they, and what context and information make sense for them in that moment. And it seems like you guys are carrying that through before other companies are really catching on to it, I think.

Dan: Yeah, and I’m very fortunate to work with a great team of developers and engineers that really get it and they’re able to build these wildly complex, dynamic pages with us. And it’s just the possibilities are so exciting and it’s really becoming like so fascinating to know that we’ll be able to predict what a consumer is going to do based upon the context that we have.

Bronson: Yeah. And it shows you too how integral engineers are to the marketing now. I mean, all the stuff we talked about, how much of it is really possible without talented engineers?

Dan: Not much. Not much. You have to have engineers. There’s some cool services that are coming out that are helping. But at the end of the day, if you have a rockstar engineer who understands it, keep keep that guy as long as you can.

Bronson: Yeah. And that’s actually a good maybe insight into something I have you know, I do a lot with marketing and just understanding marketing, design, that kind of stuff. My brother is our engineer, so me and him come together and I’m able to say, Look, we need to do this. And then he pushes back and we come to figure out something, and together we can really build these awesome campaigns that are dynamic and, you know, doing these cool things. But I alone couldn’t do them. And honestly, him alone couldn’t do them. But when we come together, man, that’s a good team. So people watching this, they probably heard a lot of things. If they’re on the design marketing side of things, maybe they’re thinking, All right, I don’t know how to do any of the stuff. If they’re an engineer, they’re thinking, All right, I don’t know how to do any of this stuff. Find an engineer to come together with somebody else, and all of a sudden you can really run fast. I think.

Dan: Yeah, engineers are definitely integral and I mean, if you’re a marketer, go start learning how to code. I mean that’s go learn how to use GitHub because at the end of the day, it’s going to make you more successful and you’re going to get a better understanding of how things work. Because we wouldn’t have been we wouldn’t have been able to get as far as we could if I didn’t understand how the code actually works and what was possible in a short period of time.

Bronson: Now, absolutely. Even if you’re on the marketing side of that equation, you have to understand how code works. I mean, at a base level, you have to know the moving pieces, what’s fantasy, what’s reality, what’s possible. Because if you ask a developer to do things, there’s not it makes sense. Like they’re going to laugh at you. Like you don’t even understand the. Basic components of what’s possible on the Web right now.

Dan: Yeah, no. And I have been like that when I didn’t know any better.

Bronson: That’s right. Now, you also run a growth. Hackers meet up in Orlando. How did you get started doing that? Tell me about that a little bit.

Dan: So we really were we’re passionate about helping people grow their startups. So we’re really, really passionate about helping the community overall here. So we did really look at what did the community here need the most? And we saw big lack in growth hackers, marketers who understood both this is how things work on the back end and this is how it happens on the front. So we decided to get together. We created this meet up and we have multiple speakers who come in and talk about specific verticals, but we also then try to moderate it and make sure like, hey, you can use this SEO tastic tactic with this PPC tactic. And then if you attach email to it, you’re really going to be able to make it so that it’s growing compared to, Oh, you got somebody to your site our way. So it’s been an awesome experience. And so we’re helping the Orlando marketing community take it to the next level and what they can really develop.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s awesome. And, you know, growth hacking, it’s still new. Do you find people at local level that they’re drawn to it or is it still like, I don’t know what it is, I don’t care? What’s been your experience kind of at the ground floor there?

Dan: So people are very, very interested because the terms are becoming more and more popular. So people definitely show up and like, hey, I want to know more about this. I want to know how this works. I want to know what it really is. Yeah. So it definitely has helped. But I mean, at the end of the day, a growth hacker is just a really kick ass marketer.

Bronson: Yeah, exactly. What are the themes there where the people come to these meetups and over and over they’re like, Please teach me X, please show me X. What is X all about? Is there any themes like that?

Dan: Yeah. I mean, one of the biggest things that we get asked about a referral campaign is because they can be really successful if done right. But the problem with referral campaigns is you’ve got to use multiple tools all mixed together. You really have to control that story and you have to make sure that the whole flow is thought out. So we do get asked a lot about like, how do I make it so that my users talk about me more? How do I how do we remove the friction from this process? And it’s a great learning experience because the more you teach, the more you actually learn. So it’s not only good for everybody else, but it’s really good for me and my other co organizers.

Bronson: Yeah. No, I mean, even what you’ve told me today about referral programs, it’s going to help me because we’re going to roll out one pretty soon here. But I honestly did not think about putting the referral links in the email and letting you kind of register from there. I mean, that’s a game changer. Just hearing that one insight from you. I have no doubt it’s going to increase our referral program right there. So that’s awesome.

Dan: Yeah, keep it. Keep it easy. Don’t add steps to the funnel. Get rid of all the steps and make it as fast as possible.

Bronson: You know, and you mentioned earlier frictionless. And that’s a that’s an important word. The CEO of Bump came on here, and that was one of the things he said is just get rid of friction. He calls it cognitive overhead. Anything that makes you think when you shouldn’t be thinking about it right now, just get rid of all that stuff and you can really grease the wheels for them to do what you want them to do, which helps you anyway.

Dan: Yeah, I know. You definitely have to get rid of friction. I mean, I’ll be honest, one of the best tools that I have in my toolkit is my eight year old son. And I’ll put him in front of a campaign and be like, What is it? What are you supposed to do? And it will I don’t know. I want to be like, I’m going to change it. What about I do this and I know what to do now? So, I mean, I really have to get rid of all friction. I mean, people on the Internet are moving fast, so you can’t complicate things. Make it simple as possible.

Bronson: No, that’s great. I have a four year old and if we download a new app and he doesn’t know where the next button is or the play button or whatever the main call to action is. If he can’t find it without me telling him, even though he can’t spell, it’s bad UI. Good good UI. He always hits the right button to go the next screen and it’s like, well, you know, there you go.

Dan: I love they make marketing so much better.

Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. Now you also are starting an accelerator. Yes. So give me the cliff notes on that. Use it to, you know, pitch for a second if you’re looking for people to join it. Tell us about your accelerator.

Dan: So, yeah, we came together last year and decided that we wanted to do something good for Orlando. So we came up with Starter Studio and Starter Studios, a place for people to go start things and then to be able to launch into the next level. So we really we take people into a three month program. They work out of our facility for free. We’re a little different because we’re community focused, so there’s no cash to them. We take no equity. It’s entirely volunteer work for us and we help get a bunch of companies to cover the cost of having the facility. But we really focus on how do we de-risk these companies and get them to their next major milestone. And it’s not all about, hey, how do we get your company prepared for investment? We look at how do we get your company revenue positive? How do we turn this actually into a business? Where do we need to get validation? And our companies are doing fantastic right now. We’re doing another class in April. Applications will open in January, but it’s an awesome opportunity to work with a bunch of smart people.

Bronson: Yeah. And they just go to starters to dotcom, I’m assuming.

Dan: Yeah. Starter studio icon.

Bronson: All right. It’d be great to look into if anybody listening. This is interesting or interested. Nathan This has been awesome. Interviews impact with transparency, with tactics, with everything else. So I thank you for that. One last question. What’s the best advice do you have for any startup that’s trying to grow? Obviously, it’s a high level question. You don’t know the specifics of their situation. But at a high level, what do you tell them?

Dan: Analytics and measurement. You need to learn how to use analytics and also start looking at great services like KISSmetrics and Mixpanel and start to narrow in on your users. Because if you don’t measure at the end of the day, you don’t have your driving blind. So and that’s the biggest thing that startups forget about is they add analytics. Nine months in analytics are embedded in all of my platforms. I have a startup right now called Fuels. Go download our iPhone app. Just you didn’t bring that up. Whatever. That’s all right. We engrained analytics from the get go and we’ve learned so much about our product in the first few months that we were able to make pivotal changes to how we develop. So analytics are key to marketing now and I see too many start ups. Forget about it.

Bronson: Yeah. And even with analytics, put them on there on day one, even if you’re not ready to do something about it. Because then a few months in you have the data that’s been collected to make decisions against even if you are ready on day one to make those decisions. Right.

Dan: Yeah, totally agree. And it’s all about context and you need that. You if you don’t know the question to ask, make sure you’re tracking the answer. So when you finally do ask the question, it’s there for it.

Bronson: Better said than the way I did it. Thank you. Well, Dan, thank you so much for coming on growth of TV. This has been awesome.

Dan: Well, thank you so much for having me. And I’ll still soon.


























Ready To Grow Your Startup?TVicon

Get the strategies, motivation, and in-depth interview with all the details every week!


Popular Blog Posts

26 Simple Websites that Prove Innovation Doesn’t Have...
Legendary Hacks: The Early Days of AirBnB 🏡🏆
The Art of Generating Viral Buzz: Learn How...
Email Trinity: Using drip, event, and solo emails
How to Succeed in Venture Capital: Lessons from...

Share On

Are you an
who is trying
to grow a

Get the strategies, motivation, and in-depth interview with all the details every week!