Jeff is the CMO of 99designs, the world’s largest online graphic design marketplace. They connect passionate designers from around the globe with customers seeking quality, affordable design services.
→ His background as CMO of 99designs
→ His thoughts on Zoosk
→ What kind of growth did he experience
→ How many of those were under the VP of Marketing
→ What are the customer acquisition strategies
→ What kind of things are learning from the data
→ How does the partnership and how work
→ How the drives traffic
→ What are the PR Campaigns
→ How they control PR Campaigns
→ And a whole lot more
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Jeff Tillotson with us. Jeff, thank you so much for coming on the program.
Jeff: Sure. No problem.
Bronson: I think people are going to be excited to hear all the things you’ve been involved with. You’re currently the CMO of 99 Designs, a company that most people watching this are probably familiar with. And I want to get into your role there in just a moment. But first, I want to talk about some of your previous positions, because there were also high profile kind of exciting companies before 99 designs. You were the CMO at Zoosk, is that correct?
Jeff: A VP of marketing, actually.
Bronson: Okay. Sorry, are you marketing? So tell us real quick, what is Zoosk?
Jeff: So Aziz, when I joined, was known as the largest dating application on Facebook. This was when Facebook’s platform was hugely viral and companies like Zynga were going insane. Zoosk has involved a lot. In the time I was there, we evolved a lot and is now a much broader dating company that offers has more than 100 million users who can date across a variety of different applications. They have some of the largest mobile apps. They have their Facebook dating application, which is still a very large part of their business website, etc.. So it’s dating from any platform now.
Bronson: Interesting story, how it started with Facebook. And I want to talk about that in a minute. Yeah. What kind of growth did you experience while you were there? I’m sure you can’t share exact numbers, but, you know, maybe you can. I don’t know.
Jeff: Yeah. Well, so the last number that the company publicly released when I was there was that the had reached a $90 million run rate and that was after previously announcing $20 million and a couple of years before. So it grew a lot. It grew very, very quickly. And I was there for a couple of years in the time I was there. Our staffing just to accommodate that growth went from I think I was employee 25 to we were well over 100 by the time I left. Wow. And part of that was that diversification. You know, you go from being this really cool dating app on Facebook, which was really an idea started by to I call them mad scientist. They’re really cool guys. The two co-founders to a a product offered across all these different platforms in 25 different languages all over the world, you know, running major TV campaigns and then a variety of other campaigns, just like it’s a it’s a huge machine. One of the biggest dating sites in the world.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s cool. You said you went from 25 to 100. How many of those were under the VP of Marketing?
Jeff: In a pretty big marketing team. I mean, so the company was, you know, heavily product focused, of course, a lot of engineers because we had all those different platforms and you know, our founders were tech guys, but we had 25 people in the marketing team. Dating is an incredibly competitive industry. We all know that. So there’s the the big players like from the old days, you know, Match.com, eHarmony, etc. Then there’s the free players like OkCupid and plenty of fish. And so there are the good news about dating is there are a lot of customers.
Jeff: There are almost.
Jeff: Almost everyone who’s not married and is over the age of 18 is looking to find someone. And it’s a core life thing, right? It’s, you know, food, shelter, finding someone to be with charity. Yeah. That were challenging thing as a marketer in the dating industry is there are a lot of choices and so you need to rise above the noise and get people to your site and help them understand why they should be on your site instead of other sites or in addition to other sites. Because in the dating industry, people tend to have multiple profiles.
Bronson: Yeah. So what were your customer acquisition strategies? You know, where did most of the people come from? I know you mentioned Facebook. So what happened on Facebook with the growth there? And you know, basically where were you guys getting your users?
Jeff: Yeah. So we were, we were a marketing machine and acquisition machine. So there were two ways that we got users. So I’ll start with the marketing side of the house, which was paid acquisition across a variety of channels. So we had experts in every channel. We have Facebook experts who bought just Facebook media, we had CRM experts, ACM, the really big thing, the dating industry. We had mobile experts who focused on iPhone and Android and an iPad, obviously. And then we actually cross-referenced that with all different language experts. So we had people who focused on France who were real kind of French native language experts, and we had that for all of our different countries. So that was a pretty big team. We then supplemented that we had an offline team and we focused, we focused on TV and there’s a reason we did TV. We’re not crazy. So one of the big challenges in dating is getting women to trust the site. There’s a lot of dating sites out there that are have a very heavy number of male users and not enough female users. And it’s it while I wouldn’t describe it as a two sided marketplace like 99 designs, to a certain extent it is a two sided marketplace, right? Men and women, different.
Bronson: Animals, two different creatures.
Jeff: Looking for each other. But we really need to have a good balance there. And the best way we found to get a lot of women to both come to the site and join and also trust in building trust was really important was through TV because TV as much as it’s a very expensive medium and sort of a dying medium or an evolving medium, it’ll probably move online eventually entirely. It is a medium that still people look at a TV ad and they say, Oh, that’s a real company I can trust who maximizes it. We did, yeah. And you know, coming from the startup world where I did, we hired people who had expertize in this and we did a lot of brand awareness and brand recommendation surveys and really found that TV was a big driver of people sharing, sharing and trusting the site and then sharing that trust with their friends. And so that was really helpful kind of to build our brand awareness. Our brand awareness grew dramatically in that time. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend TV for every brand you know, you need to have cash, you need to be able to afford that. You need a bigger consumer. Brand is probably the best way to use TV work because it’s a challenging medium. You can’t necessarily do micro-targeting that easily on TV, but you can do broad reach of like, I want to hit women 25 to 45. You can do that relatively cost effectively. But a lot of our spend was on was online work that companies own for their TV because we did some really fun TV commercials that went viral. But we also had a great deal of expertize in online media, so that was one side of the house was really spending. We had an amazing buy system. One of our founders, Cheyenne, was a former buy engineer from Microsoft, which I highly recommend. You have a CEO who’s a former bioengineer.
Bronson: Explained by to me, What is that?
Jeff: It’s in business intelligence. So we built an amazing business intelligence system. We had a senior engineer who was devoted full time to this, and this system allowed us to really slice and dice our data and really build our ROI curves so that we could tell within seven days how a campaign was going to track by day 168 hour media buying much more efficient. And it’s something that I’ve really brought here. I learned there at Zoosk, which was a really amazing learning experience for me. And I’ve really tried to bring that to 99 designs. And we’ve, we’ve implemented some similar stuff here, which I can talk about that has been incredibly eye opening and really helpful and helps a marketer do their job much more effectively. So I think the data side of marketing, we know that’s of course, you know, your ranked growth hacker TV, right? This is all about data. I’m a big believer in brand building, but I really think that marketing has to center around data. And so Zoosk had this data set that we could literally tell exactly, you know, the demographics. We could slice and dice, we could look at refund rates, we could look at everything and understand just how profitable this campaign was, that we could do a lot of micro analysis on the other side of the house with product. Zoosk also was a very viral product, which is extremely rare in the dating industry, and that’s just people don’t share that they’re on dating sites. And so we were supplemented a lot by a lot of the. Product side of the house. Early days, the virality was huge because Facebook really basically kept the wall open and any dating apps could share or any app. You remember this, right? So the wall used to be a wall of Farmville shares and things, and Zoosk was right in there. And so we got a lot of stickers and a lot of kind of viral loops working in our favor that got closed off. But there’s still enough there that that continued to really benefit the brand and helped it grow quite a lot in a way that probably would not have been possible in a crowded dating market at that late date with unless you’d had that benefit of Facebook really pushing that.
Bronson: Yeah. I want to ask you a little bit more about buy business intelligence. Is that is it a methodology? Is an accreditation, is it just a way of viewing the world? I mean, tell me kind of at a high level, because it’s something that people haven’t talked about on this program yet, so.
Jeff: Okay. Yeah. So the business intelligence system we build, we actually use Microsoft’s tools. They have a business intelligence kind of product that they offer.
Bronson: With the name comes from is their product or is it is it the name of is anybody doing this?
Jeff: Yeah. The business intelligence system is really a broader term. A lot of bigger companies use these and big brands. You know, proctors of the world are the startup world, of course, is always so busy just building products. They tend to be a little bit later. But essentially what it is, is it takes your data and it puts it into a data warehouse so you’re no longer squaring off of your live production system. And then you build a set of tools on top of that. And they can either be web based, they can be. In our case, we were doing pivot tables in Excel, and that allows you to you know, every morning that data refreshes and you can pull that data into a variety of reports and slice and dice that data to death. Okay. And so we built standard reports for country, etc.. And this is something, you know, Zoosk is amazing and again, that we’re doing here as well and that all companies should be doing, frankly. But, you know, it’s hard. You have to invest in it. It’s it’s a lot of work to invest in this kind of system. You have to make sure it’s something you identify as a must do, but it makes your marketers be much more effective.
Bronson: Yeah, those pivot tables, are you guys creating those from scratch or is that something Microsoft is kind of building into their product? How much how much engineering does it take to Dubai at the level you guys were doing it? Or was it just kind of a ready made turnkey application for Microsoft? You know what I mean?
Jeff: It was not ready. Me turnkey. It was we did a lot of engineering work and our head of online marketing, Roman Galassi, did a lot of work. He’s a statistician and did a lot of work to implement that and come out and make sure it was right. And it’s something they should definitely be really proud of because it it’s a core strength that there is. I think that here at 99 designs, if you don’t mind me pivoting to talk about this.
Bronson: Yeah, please.
Jeff: So in 99, what we’ve built is a source attribution system. And what that means is when I’m not sure how familiar are with this, but essentially what we’re looking at is we want to know where our users are coming from, obviously. And more importantly, where our paying users are coming from is like every small company, you know, every startup. We want to understand what’s what’s driving the actual adoption of our product. A lot of startups start with Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a last click system primarily. And so when you’re looking at a product that might have a longer time to purchase or a B2B product, it’s going to not be something people are necessarily going to show up and purchase their logo the same day. You’re going to lose a lot of that source attribution. So a lot of people fall into your direct sources and so you want to be able to really understand what your first click attribution is. Where are people initially finding out about you? Then what are those assisting clicks that help them get there? And then what’s the last click that sends them over the edge? Excuse me? There are tools that you can purchase that will help you do this. We chose to build it ourselves. Yeah. Yeah. We have an amazing engineer named Lars who has really spearheaded this and partnered with myself in our online marketing lead. And we’ve built this system that really helps us to say, okay, from the first click all the way down to the end when they buy, where are they coming from? And I got to say, it’s really eye opening because it completely changes the way you do business. Yeah, I knew this would happen because of all the work I did at Zoosk and all the all the learnings we got there. But for, I think for every business, getting a handle on your data early is key. There are products you can buy, as I said, that can help you if you can’t do this yourself. I haven’t actually used any them because we built our own internet job. Yeah, but I think about building internally as you get to control the data. But but one, you know, there’s a couple of products that I’ve heard recommended. I’ve heard good data is a good product. So I’ve heard some people use that as a good starting point. And then I think another one we used initially was RJ Metrics, which allows you to basically take your data from your database and then they pop it into a web interface. And both of those are useful products. But in the end, I think you really want to get to the point where you understand the initial sources of traffic, because that’s really key to understanding your ROI on your spend or the the success of things like PR efforts, which are very hard to track because you’re you’re not hitting someone in the purchase cycle, you’re hitting someone who’s reading about you, is interested about you. But they made a purchase for five months. You want to attribute back that, wow, it is worth it that we’re doing a ton of PR and reaching out because that actually does drive sales for us.
Bronson: Yeah. Tell me about that kind of in-house product he has built a little bit. I know the engineering behind it is probably really complex, but what is the screen you’re actually looking at? Like when you wake up and you’re trying to make good decisions, are you looking at three metrics? Are you looking at this mass of numbers and you have to like decipher them? Like how simple or how complex is that screen? You’re actually looking at.
Jeff: It right now. So it’s evolving and we are actually building a series of reports that will be accessible by by all the teams via web interfaces. So the end goal is that all people across the organization, at whatever level, can access these tools. Yeah, we’re not quite there. Yeah, we’re currently we run SQL queries ourselves for this data and then we build our own pivot tables depending on how simple that query is, is how much data you’re going to have. It can be as complex as you want it to be. It built some standard reports off of those. You’re pulling that data and you might want to look at the source cross-referenced against your gross profit, how long it’s taking them, what’s the lag from time to time paid, etc., etc.. It’s just there is a ton of data, as much.
Bronson: Data make it as complex as you want.
Jeff: Exactly. But the end goal is, you know, you don’t want every junior marketer in every country to have to run sequel queries because it’s a bad use of your time. You want the data to be actionable. So our big focus right now is to take that data and make it something that’s easy to access by everyone. We’re we’re about three quarters of the way there, and that will be that’s already really helpful. But the next step is to make it you push a button, it refreshes for you, you know how you’re doing and take action based on that. That’s probably a few more months.
Bronson: Yeah. So you’ve mentioned the word actionable and taking action a few times here. What kind of things are you learning from the data right now? Maybe what’s surprising about the data or what’s exactly what you expected? What do you take away from the data you know, right now in your control there?
Jeff: What’s been really helpful for us is, first of all, in the paid media side of things, you know. One of the great things about 99 designs that has really strong word of mouth. You’ve probably heard this or known in the tech industry. A lot of our growth has come from people in the startup community really helping spread the word about us because we really help them source graphic design. But you know, as we’ve grown, we are doing more paid media. And the great thing about this attribution system is it really allows us to get beyond sort of the unfortunate tools provided by some of the larger not unfortunate, but the limitations of the tools provided by Google and other providers. So I’ll give you just an example. Is Google AdWords is there’s a couple of issues there. So it’s a 30 day cookie. And so a lot of people are not buying before 30 days. You lose that attribution. They’re now trying to extend that. But it’s not perfect. It’s not cohort based. So by cohort, I mean, you know, we bought this much media in the month of September. How are those people doing over time? Well, with Google, you sort of lose them. And so you don’t really know. What we’ve really been able to determine is build our Y curves and say, well, now we know by day ten, if we’ve recovered this much of our money we spend by day ten, we’ve got enough curves from every month that we’ve been running to say, oh, by day 100, we’re going to recover all our money or by day 200 or we’re going to recover a lot more of our money. So allows us to spend much more smartly. And so that’s one area that has been really helpful. The other area is just with all of our efforts around that are harder to track. So we do a lot of business partnerships. We do a lot of kind of smaller affiliate deals. We do a lot of PR. We’re kind of a PR machine. You might see us I hope I hope you bring it right.
Bronson: So tell me about those two things. Tell me about the partnerships and how that works and how that drives traffic. And then tell me about the PR, because the people watching this, they want to know like, okay, I want to build partnerships. How do I be like, Jeff?
Jeff: Okay. Yeah. I mean, for partnerships, you really get partnerships are challenging and I think it’s you need your partners to be in line with you. So first of all, I think setting expectations with partnerships is really key that I’ve been doing this a long time. And oftentimes you come into these partnerships and companies are saying, Oh my goodness, we’re going to get 10% of your users to converge and it’s going to be so great and we’re all going to be ready. And it’s really not the reality of that. But what you can do is partner with people who are in a complementary business to yours, and you can cross-promote and do offerings to each other’s audiences. And it’s a nice way to get the word out and it’s a nice way to build brand awareness and it’s a nice way to get some sales. But I think you set that kind of expectation every once in a while. You might get that huge partnership. I’ve seen it at other companies, you know, you get that huge partnership that drives everything. But the realities are that it’s really more about it’s a nice supplement to your business. It’s not necessarily going to be a game changer. Now, that’s not true of all companies. I’ve definitely seen companies that, you know, a partnership has been like the game changer for them. They end up in, you know, integrated into something within Microsoft, you know. So but and that that really helps. Those are really hard partnerships to do. Big companies move incredibly slowly. Yeah. Yeah. You know, oftentimes if they change the person, your contact at these large companies changes five times in the year and a half when you’re trying to do it. So we put effort into those, but and we do have partnerships with some larger companies like Intuit, which are great, but we do not. Yeah, but you just have to set expectations for yourself no greater.
Bronson: You mentioned you mentioned cross-promotion in there with those partnerships. Is that the main thing you’re doing with them is just, look, we’re going to push some of your stuff to our audience. You’re going to push some of our stuff to your audience. And then we just kind of see what happens is at the bottom line of it, or.
Jeff: I think most of the time in all the places I’ve worked, that’s been a lot of the partnership opportunities and is we’re helping provide an extra service to your users that they wouldn’t get. So sometimes it’s one sided because there’s really no cross back. Other times it’s so, other times it is more integrated and it’s really back and forth and we’re helping kind of grow these audiences together.
Bronson: Now, tell me about the PR thing as well. What are you guys doing to control PR there?
Jeff: What we’re in the lucky situation that we have really cool content. I mean, for me, I think I think that PR is all about sharing stories. I started my career as a journalist, and so I always want to keep up the I keep that in the back of my mind. PR You have to be telling a story to a journalist that would be useful to their users, right? And so I don’t want to do stories that are sort of be asked and we all try them and they don’t work. The realities are, you want to say what is? Useful to their users. So first of all, when we look at PR campaigns, what we want to look at is where do we want to be? So we want to be in publications where people who want to use our services are. And that’s a variety of publications. So we do things like we take our content. We have amazing content because it’s so visual, it’s so beautiful. We can do awesome contests, we can showcase contests and we can have people cover those contests. We had a great contest, I can tell you about. So I have, you know, Bonnie Bear, I don’t know if you’re a music person.
Bronson: I don’t. But you can explain it to me.
Jeff: So I didn’t either. So don’t feel bad about the bunny. There is a well-known singer with a very large female audience. He’s been on SNL. He’s done a total you know, he’s very big if, you know, dedicated following. He ran a tattoo design contest on our website for a new tattoo he wanted to get he’s got and. What we did is we contacted him. We said, Hey, this is really cool. Like, your users would want to participate in this, right? I mean, your fans, you know, these these musicians have rabid fan bases. And so we pitched out to the music publications and we got literally a ton of coverage all over the world. So we got coverage and spin pitch for Goldstone because it was cool, right? I mean, it’s something that’s kind of a fun story. That’s cool. Mm hmm. And that was really helpful. We got, you know, we were able to track both the visits, the sales and everything was also really great for the designer. The winning designer was this really amazing artist from Italy. And he became we pitched in Italy as well. We have a Italian country manager and he got tons of press and became like a mini celebrity for a little while there, which was really cool. I mean, you know, our big goal is to build the connections between our designers and client. That’s our mission. And it’s always really nice when we get a designer and really make their make their day, make their world. So that was that’s an example of a broader consumer thing. We also do things I mean, we’re an amazing tool for startups and small businesses. So we have been in every small business entrepreneurial pop out there. Our found for Matt Nicky was as an amazing speaker and has been in a lot. Our CEO Patrick Whelan is constantly around the world so we make sure spaces and technology hubs as well.
Bronson: Yeah, you mentioned kind of being in Pitchfork and being in sauce and all these different things. Is that the biggest kind of non repeatable thing you guys have done to drive growth there? Is there any other things that have actually driven more growth that you couldn’t really repeat?
Jeff: Ha ha. Yeah. I mean, I saw that question. Yeah. So essentially, I mean, that’s a good example of something that’s non repeatable. And it’s interesting because I, I tend not to like non repeatable things.
Bronson: Yeah, most marketers don’t. Yeah.
Jeff: So because I when looking back at news, one of the things that was sort of a mantra there was scalable and repeatable and scalable and repeatable and that’s something that I’ve seen at everywhere I’ve worked when we’ve done things successfully. And so I tend to like things that can be repeated because one offs are expensive in terms of human resource as you know, time technology involvement and challenging. And it’s a bit of a recipe book, you know work. Yeah. So that Bonnie there is something that we did very well and it is to a certain extent repeatable because we can find other content that we can patch. Yeah. That, that that’s cool.
Bronson: Absolutely. So what are some things that you guys are going to be trying maybe in the near future? You’ve told us some of the things you’ve been doing with PR and some of the paid marketing. What’s on the on the horizon for you guys?
Jeff: Yeah. So right now we are in the middle of a major international expansion and that’s something that’s really exciting for any company. I think. You know, we started in Australia, this brand started in Australia, it’s spun out of a site called Site Point, then it moved to the US. We still have a large Australian company and since then we opened a third office. We bought a company called 12 Designer in Berlin and we had a that was last year. And since then we’ve been rolling out 99 designs in different languages to help better service our customers and our designers. So we rolled out in German, French, Italian. We’re in Spanish now as of a couple of weeks ago, and that’s been really exciting and we have really seen a lot of growth there. And what we’re trying to do there is replicate a lot of the learnings we’ve had in our English language markets, but also learn how those markets are very different. It’s a challenge for a two sided marketplace to be offered in different languages. So we’ve always been in English, and English is the international language of business, right? So when you have a brief that a customer is writing and then you have a designer service that for a lot of people in the world speak English, even if it’s a second language for them, that works pretty well. When you suddenly have someone in a language that isn’t spoken as much like Italian, that becomes a little bit more challenging. So we have to build the marketplace of designers up in those markets. So far, so good. We have, you know, we have a lot of designers. We have over 200,000 designers, 250,000 designers, I think, at this point. Wow. So we have enough to service everywhere, but we also want to grow there as well in terms of other things. So we’re really broadening our product offering to our goal here is, you know, we want to be. We want to help small businesses, startups, people who need graphic design source, amazing, great graphic design in a whole variety of ways. And I’m not going to tell you exactly what we’re doing. So I’m not allowed or we don’t. But we are working on some products that will really help that, and that’s really exciting for us. Help you source graphic design and help you connect with our amazing graphic design community.
Bronson: Yeah, well, you guys are doing a lot of logos now, so I’m assuming you’re doing websites in the near future here, so that’s cool.
Jeff: Well, we do offer everything already, so we offer the design. I mean, we’re known write logos. We are the best place to get your logo and you’re a startup and that’s great. We have a lot of marketing collateral sort of our business and advertising is really fast growing category for us and we’re seeing a lot of agencies, marketing agency that agencies that are using us to source this kind of collateral for their clients, app banners, landing pages, email designs, infographics, etc. And that’s something that we’re building a lot of tools to support them as well. Yeah, because there are different kind of clients and then a startup client, and so we want to be able to help them do a better job. You know, it’s a lot of collaboration and kind of work, work tools, workflow tools, excuse me, to help them do their job efficiently and help get the designers. A lot of great freelance work.
Bronson: No, that’s great. Well, thanks for telling us so much about kind of 19 designs and the growth of it and what you guys are doing there. You know, when I was browsing around online, I noticed there was a place where you offered a call to people if they were wanting to consult with you and you would show them how to set up structure and optimize a successful marketing program. And so I know you’re not going to go to all the details of that right now. They can you know, they can schedule the call. They want that. But what are some of the fundamentals of a successful marketing campaign? I’m sure will be some of what you’ve already told us, but in a really high level kind of philosophically, what are the fundamentals of a successful marketing campaign in what you teach in that call?
Jeff: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So that’s a company called Maestro Market. It’s I’m doing that for charity. All money goes to charity if anyone wants to call me. Perfect. And, yeah, that essentially at a top, as you said, I’m not going to go into like super detail here, but I can talk about what we think about when we structure any marketing campaign. Really at the top level. We want to understand who are user is. I know that sounds ridiculously simple, but you’d be shocked at how many marketers just sort of missed the point on that. So we want to say, who is this audience we’re trying to reach? What is our unique selling proposition for them? What is the value to this user? You see a lot of marketing campaigns where people lead with product feature sets and we’ve all done it. We’ve all made those mistakes. I certainly have. I throw myself on the sword of the mistakes I’ve made doing the same thing. But what you really wanna answer is like, why do they care? I mean, I know that’s pretty basic, but again, start with that. If you don’t if you can’t answer that question, you don’t have a marketing campaign. So you want to know who that user is. Let’s say it’s, you know, ad agencies. What are we solve for them? Oh, I’m solving their need to source freelance designers quickly and efficiently, solve a variety of pain points. Then we run a campaign. Then we say, How do we reach those users cost effectively? Right. Because what you can do is a really expensive media buy. But, you know, we’re like many companies, we’re very bottom line focused, we’re very ROI focused. The dollars we spend have to be returned. So we look and we say, where are the places we can reach those users, both prepared media and non-paid media, and then we build campaigns around that. So we’re going to say, okay, well, with paid media, we can reach them through these channels. These are they’re going to be the most cost effective channels with PR. We love PR, right? Because it’s free to a certain extent if you can get it. So we say, what are these? What are the publications these users are reading? How can we tell a story that they’re the the journalist or the editor or whoever we’re pitching is going to get excited about? Usually those journalists are trying to think about the audience. It’s a journal that shares the audience you’re trying to reach at. They think like those people because that to their audience is and they’re often former people from those audiences. So you get a story that tells them how you’re solving that. Yeah. Is this I don’t know if this is great.
Bronson: I mean, it’s it’s great because it’s simple. I mean, we’re basically we’re answering some very fundamental question who is the audience? Why do they care? And then just letting those inform what you do next that informs your ad, buys it, informs your PR, that informs, you know, whatever you do from that point. And that will change your language, that’ll change your channels, that’ll change everything about whatever campaign you pick. But you’re so right, though, if you’re if you’re off even one degree in the earliest, you know, a point of the campaign, then you’re off 100 degrees by the time it’s move forward. So you have to really nail down who the audience is and why they care.
Jeff: I think I think a big deal to I think a thing that particularly in the age of Internet, you know, with huge numbers of traffic and people saying, hey, I did this viral campaign, I got X billion users to come to my site. What marketers sort of learn over the long term is that quality is much more important than quantity in almost every business.
Bronson: Tell me about that. What do you mean when you say that?
Jeff: Well, because not all traffic sources are created equal. In fact, they’re created very unequal. So a lot of the viral strategies that you saw, like in the early days of social networking, where people were doing email invites, where they sort of trick you into inviting your entire audience for your from your Gmail account if you actually analyze the data on those, there are a lot of negatives to some of those kind of campaigns because you’re getting the wrong audience. First of all, you’re annoying people. You’re not answering any of those questions. You’re sort of trying to trick people into coming to your site. It’s very low quality. Similar thing with a lot of the kind of viral apps that that were on Facebook. You know, these all these cutesy quiz apps that the traffic quality from those apps is really often very low because it’s just random people. And random people don’t mean purchasing people. Right. So what you really want to understand is who are the people who are going to buy my service, right? Who are going to find value for my service? And I think that can be a needle in a haystack for first, depending on the business you’re in, it can be broader. Right. And how how valuable are those people to me over time? So the more data you can look at and say when you’re doing a campaign, if you have data where you can look at your current audience, not always available for start ups. Right. But you can look at your current audience and you can say, well, wow, I know this type of audience, this sub segment of my audience is much more valuable to me than this other subsection. So I can really pour more money and pour more effort and more time into reaching these kind of people because they have a higher lifetime value. To me, they churn less, they and more, all of those things. So really understanding that audience, the quality of that audience is, is key. I see so many people get really excited about things like. I got 4000 retweets. You know, and again, nothing wrong with that I value. I’m not a huge Twitter user. I have to admit I got too much going on.
Bronson: But same here.
Jeff: I think, you know, there is value in that kind of social sharing, but it’s not as quantifiable and value. And those users you’re reaching, you’re reaching a broad audience who’s not necessarily in the market for what you want.
Bronson: No, I think it’s a great point. You know, at the high level that all traffic is not created equal. And then even using Twitter as an example that I’ve done enough campaigns that tracked that I know that are a lie. And somebody could tweet about me with millions of followers and I’ll get five sign ups, and then someone else with 5000 followers tweets about me. And I get 30 sign ups. Like I’ve literally seen those two things happen. And I’m like, What is going on is because the guy with 5000 followers, they were the right followers. He was in my market. He was really you know, the people following him would have also liked to have known what I was about. And so it’s just amazing how you would assume one of those is the big win. And it was the other one, you know, for whatever reason.
Jeff: Exactly, I think. And you’ll see this like in I don’t know, the. If a lot of affiliates will drive a lot of really poor quality traffic and you really have to watch that and learn if you do a lot of affiliate marketing, which is sort of the dark gray underbelly of the marketing world. Yeah, you have to really understand these traffic sources and really understand what what kind of quality you’re getting because they can actually almost have a negative impact on your brand. Yeah. To be getting a lot of junk traffic, whereas other affiliates might drive you it. Same thing. You know, they drive you 100 clicks a month and ten of them purchase because they’re literally the perfect audience. They’re people in the market for you. They almost perform like an ad campaign, which is amazing. So, yeah, quality over quantity always.
Bronson: Absolutely. Now, I have to ask you about this. One of the other companies worked out simply because our audience is very much, you know, in the know of lean methodology and those kind of things. You were actually at IMVU and IMVU for people I don’t know is one of the famous case studies of Erik Reese’s, you know, lean methodology, lean startups. He was the founder or co-founder of IMVU. Did Eric begin to teach his views there or was he just floundering, drowning like everyone else? And then kind of looking back, it makes sense. What was it like when you’re actually with him there?
Jeff: So Eric was on the board when I was there. He had already transitioned out of a full time role, but was still heavily involved. And Steve Blank was also Steve Madden, who sort of also famous in this world, was on the well, I would say their methodology was sort of inherent to interviews culture. This is a very engineering driven company. No surprise, their current CEO is their former VP of engineering, Brett Durant. And this company was heavily focused on product and engineering because it was founded by Eric and the other guy. So it wasn’t so formal. But I mean, Eric is really involved that methodology and made a big business and a big educational series out of that. We love Eric. We’re friends with him here at 99 Designs, but you see that in the work that you did. So we did continual deployment. I mean, their deployments were constant. It was a very experimental culture. It was test, learn, evolve, test, learn, evolve, continuously. Get that minimum viable product up, out, go and done. So all of that was really an exciting thing to see because this was a bunch of years back and when I was there, you know, a lot of a lot of companies were just starting to do this kind of work and a lot still doing kind of waterfall development where they do this huge bill and then roll it out and say, oh, no, we just after eight months of development time. India was the opposite of that. And I think because of that, they had really talented engineering staff, which is always key to your success, right. If you don’t have great engineers. We have great engineers here. And I know design. If you don’t have great engineers, you’re in serious trouble. And my view was very strong engineering.
Bronson: Yeah, well, we’re maybe the one or two takeaways from IMVU in terms of marketing. Was there just like one thing really? Like, you know what, I learned this from being around Steve Blank entries about marketing that I’ve kind of rolled into everything I’ve done.
Jeff: The big thing for me was that if you had a challenge in that, you know, it’s a it’s a 3D virtual world, which is a niche. I mean, frankly, I mean, to a certain extent. But it’s also there’s a big opportunity there, which is the people who used IMVU were heavily, heavily engaged. So we learned to leverage those engaged users in a way they really spread the word, because when you’re in a market like that, as opposed to a big broad dating market like Zoosk, where, you know, there’s a lot everywhere, as I mentioned, everyone kind of needs dating who’s not in a relationship. And these are very kind of specialized kind of user. It’s somebody who wants to participate in an alternative reality. Right. And so reaching those people could be somewhat challenging, but leveraging the people who are in that community to spread the word was was useful. Also, we had people in that community who are worth just an absolute fortune to the company. So really, again, it gets back to something that I really learned a lot about this quantity over quality excuse me, quality over quantity there because we had users there who were spending tens of thousands of dollars versus, you know, you could get a teenage user who’s doing nothing. So so that was a big thing. The other thing was just again, the testing methodology was great to see in action. And I think it’s now ubiquitous. I think now every successful startup uses that methodology. There’s lots of tools around now that weren’t around then, you know, that allow you to do really great testing very quickly. But to see that kind of in action for as a marketer, you know, to be able to split test things, get things out the door, learn what’s working, what’s not, and then move forward with it.
Bronson: That’s awesome. Yeah. This has been a great interview, Jeff. Let me ask you one last kind of final high level question, and you can take it in any direction you want. You know, you’ve been in this business for a little while now knowing everything. You know, how would you spend your days if you were a startup trying to acquire new users and maybe you didn’t have a large budget for paid? You might have a small budget paid, you know, how would you be spend your days, you wake up, you put your coffee, you say your computer. What do you do next? Yeah. The million dollar question.
Jeff: You get to work now. I mean, that is the hardest. I mean, I think when you look at companies, it’s really important to know that it’s the first thousand, 10,000 users that are the hardest to acquire. Right. Because you’re sitting there and you have no one to talk about what you’re doing. So first of all, I would say it really depends on the business that you’re in. So if you what you want to do is find people who will love your service and get the word out to them and leverage them to your advantage because, as I said, scalable and repeatable. So if you’re in B2B, what you can do and what people in 99 did, you know, they didn’t have any budgets to start. They got out there and they literally worked the streets. They worked the meet up, they worked the accelerator groups, they worked the conferences, and they wasn’t essentially selling door to door, but it was building awareness with a community of influencers who could then spread the word for them. So I think that that’s kind of the key to what I’m trying to say, is no matter what, get the people who can influence, get them excited about your product and then get them to do it. Now you can do that with the kind of good old fashioned word of mouth. They tell people at a party about your service, I’ve seen this in 99 designs. You know, we do tradeshows and conferences all the time now, and I literally see people standing outside of our booth showing the design they got on their iPad to another person. It’s really exciting to see that. Right. And it’s literally word of mouth in action in the early days. You know, this is before I was here. They did this. You know, they were on every single possible little PR thing they could do. They were out there just again every night at every event. If you’re in consumer, I think you might be a little bit luckier. I think consumer has potential for more online sharing just because it’s broader. And so I would say experiment with sharing and social referral. I like referral programs. Again, it’s quantity over quality. And so I’m sorry I said that backwards. My CEO peaked in and lost my train of thought that this.
Jeff: Over quantity. So but again, you don’t want people just spamming out to your stop because that actually just annoys people. What you want is to do an offer that gets people excited to share your product, makes them feel good about sharing your product, and gets them to share that product with the right people. I would say like a good example of this using somewhere I haven’t worked, but where I’m actually personally kind of a little obsessed with is guilt. I’m a I’m a discount. I like, I like high end brands, but I don’t like to pay for them. So with guilt, guilt did a lot of really great work in the early days of essentially having this closed community idea and they got invites going and they incented people to invite their friends. I don’t know if you’ve ever used guilt, but essentially.
Bronson: I would read their book actually as well. The invitation by invitation, I think it’s called or something like that.
Jeff: Yeah, exactly. And experiment with these kind of thing. So yeah. So what Gilt did was it was like a closed community. You could only get in by in, but you could only get there by being invited, which was scarcity model, right? People get excited. They want to be part of it because they can’t be part of it. But then what they’re really doing is they’re incenting people to invite their friends by giving them credits or discounts if they do. And so what I would say is when I got invited to guilt was a friend of mine and I was curious why he was so excited to give me an invite. I didn’t realize he was getting 25 bucks or whatever it was, right? I thought I was just being a really nice guy and I got the invite and then I was in and then you realize how that whole mechanism works. And that was a huge growth strategy for guilt. All of those kind of referral systems, you know, you have to test them and you have to not give up because they are there. There are subtle changes you can make that can kind of make or break the referral program. I would argue that one of guild success points there was the the scarcity model of having a closed up front and that was maybe a risk because there might be a lot of markers. You say like we’ll just have it open. It’s exciting. You know, more and more people join, more people join, but I am sure they tell you read the book. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen with referral systems getting those users who are kind of early adopters to share that there’s subtle things you can do, like is email a better sharing mechanism or Facebook? You know, if you have to test, then if you learn that email is well, then you should push them to do email more because they’re more likely to get people who are going to come to your site. It might be the opposite for your brand. Every brand is different, right? So you go in, you go out with your hypothesis, you put up that referral system and then you say, Oh, that’s not working at all. Like failure is part of every marketer’s daily life. And then you say, Well, let me tweak it. Oh, I tweak. And all of a sudden they’re all sharing and I’m getting more, etc., etc. down the line. So that’s a good way to do it for free.
Bronson: No, absolutely. That’s awesome. Well, Jeff, this has been an incredible interview. We’ve covered so many different topics and you’ve given us such actionable advice on so many these things. I know you’re a busy guy in nine, Nine Designs. It’s a company that’s growing fast and and they’re lucky to have somebody like you heading up the marketing. So thanks again for coming on the program.
Jeff: Thanks so much. I appreciate it.
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