If you’ve worked in the marketing world, you’ve probably heard Single Grain. They’re one of the leading marketing agencies in the country, running a lot of the paid traffic, SEO, and content campaigns for startups that you know and love such as Uber, Salesforce, and Lever!
Eric Siu is the founder of Single Grain as well as a SaaS company called Clickflow which helps companies grow organic traffic and revenue.
In this interview, we have an in-depth discussion on content marketing. We’ll learn about SEO strategies, proven formulas, driving traffic, link building, content creation, podcast creation, and paid ads. This episode is full of simple, practical information that you can apply to your startup… today!
In This Episode You’ll Learn:
3:28 What’s working in SaaS right now
5:39 The strategies Eric is using to drive traffic and get trials for Clickflow
6:20 When is a SaaS company ready to spend money on paid traffic?
8:29 SEO? Content? Learn about what you should be doing.
9:59 What’s the formula for SEO?
20:02 Should startups be investing in podcasts?
30:08 Eric’s growth strategy for ClickFlow
34:35 Salty Six
DR: Today I’ve got a friend of a couple years, Eric Siu. He runs an agency called Single Grain which you may have heard of — or maybe not.
But they’re powering a lot of the paid traffic SEO, content campaigns for start-ups that you know and love. Uber, Lyft, Salesforce, Lever, a bunch of other ones that we’ll talk about here. He runs two really big podcasts, I think combined they get over a million downloads a month, which is huge.
We’re just getting into the podcast game, so we’re gonna talk about that, and also a year and a half ago launched a new SaaS yourself, called ClickHail?
DR: Dang it!
ES: Close enough.
DR: And we’re gonna talk about that, as you kinda take in everything that you’ve learned from helping other companies, and like launching your own SaaS. So, Eric thanks for coming on.
ES: Yeah, thanks for having me.
DR: Good to have you here. So you do all of these different things.
But in your own words, what are you working on primarily right now? Where does the time go?
ES: Yeah, so honestly I’ve done like a time audit, right?
So 80% of my time does go towards the agency right now, but we are hiring a CEO so that should free up my time. And then after that, I’m just gonna focus on growing the SaaS company, which we just released a new version.
I gotta go all-in on that because that’s the thing that actually powers the agency too. It’s actually a side effect of having that SaaS company is it actually drives agency, some multi-six-figure contracts, and some of these clients stay the longest.
So it’s much easier to start a conversation when you lead with a product, versus saying, hey come buy my agency services. Because nobody really likes talking to agencies, I’m sorry it’s just how it is.
DR: I don’t really like it. I like talking to you but.
ES: Thank you. Yeah, I appreciate that.
DR: So you seem as being really synergetic, if the SaaS takes off will you keep doing the agency?
ES: I will keep it because I’ve had a lot of people on my podcast where, you know, they go from agency to SaaS company. And I’m like, why do you need to throw away the agency?
Because the agencies a great maximizer in the back, and you know, people talk about funnels all the time, why can’t you just keep the agency? You have a really good CEO that has agency experience run it, they can continue to grow it, and then you’d get to work with the best clients you want.
And it’s not like I’m in the day-to-day. Like I will continue to market, I will continue to drive leads, and I will continue to either buy products or, you know, grow products, and that’s it.
DR: Are you seeing that the companies that are using your software, that are also agency clients, stay longer and are happier?
ES: They do, yeah.
And OpenView Ventures, or Partners, they’re a venture firm in Boston, they talk about product-led growth all the time, and I’m just like, why aren’t more companies doing this?
Maybe it’s because they’ve kinda capped themselves, and boxed themselves into this agency persona, but I’m just like, why can’t you do this?
Why can’t you do this? Right?
The key thing here is you know, what you’re kind of alluding to in the beginning is what are you spending your time on? You have to be able to focus, because when you try to do too many things it’s all gonna grow slowly, and that might take too long, you might die.
DR: Scale or Die baby, that’s the name of the show.
Okay, so I wanna talk about what you’re doing with the agency, and kinda what’s working there, I wanna talk about the podcast, and I wanna talk about launching the new SaaS.
So what companies have you worked with at the agency? What are you doing for them? And just in general, what do you see that is working for SaaS right now?
ES: Yeah so agency side you mentioned a couple of clients, so the big ones would be like Uber, Amazon (and it’s Amazon Alexa which is their SaaS product which is not their voice product — it’s their SEO tool which they bought, most people don’t know that).
Eric’s client Lever is one of the leading recruitment software providers.
So we help them. Lever, Recurly, Crunchbase, those are clients, right? They all drive without going into too many details, but they drive, try to drive people to an e-book, to a download, and they try to get their sales team on it, right?
I think that model, at least if I had control of their marketing team, I think it is a little flawed because people are inundated with content.
There are over four million blog posts being produced every single day, there are new podcasts all the time, by the way, this podcast is really good so make sure you tell your friends about it.
But the problem is everyone’s doing the same thing, how can you zag where other people are zigging, right?
Why can’t you just, for us at least when we drive people to something we drive them to a webinar or even a live video? Live videos work really well right now and it gets our engagement up, our YouTube grows faster, our Instagram grows faster.
Why can’t you just do that and then re-target people to the video and then build goodwill that way, drive them to an offer? You can do it all day long or you can do a webinar, but the thing is webinars are becoming saturated themselves too.
DR: Interesting so you’re still driving people always to some form of content, just maybe not the same kind of content that they’re used to before.
Something I’ve heard and we’ve seen tested out is driving people to our free trial. Like the free trial is the lead magnet, you know?
It’s a simple opt-in, give your email, you can actually use our software for a certain amount of time. Is that something that you’ve seen or played around with and what are your thoughts there?
ES: Yeah so we do do that for clients too. And then you might see a certain percentage like it might be 5%, 10% or so will actually end up buying.
Now the problem is the more expensive your product is, the more education required. Like if you’re smaller that’s fine. If you’re going down market, that’s completely fine, you can probably do that.
But if it requires a lot of onboarding, a lot of education, it’s probably not gonna work that well. You probably need to have them request a demo, so it just depends on what kind of product you’re doing.
So for ClickFlow, we’re going mid-market to enterprise so it does require a lot of education.
DR: How are you guys driving traffic and getting trials for ClickFlow, or getting demos?
ES: Yeah so that one is strictly we’re doing outbound right now or we’re using my relationship, so it’s kind of like trying to make it relatable for people.
When I think about it, I would still, if I was starting from scratch right now, I would do the live stuff that I’m talking about because the advertising platforms — what are they incentivized to do?
They wanna keep you on their platform, right? So YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, it doesn’t matter who it is — they want you on the platform.
What works for us, it’s taken a lot of time to build the podcast up, to build our SEO traffic up, it’s all made everything way cheaper. Everything’s become our advertising costs, it’s like because we’re re-targeting people, because we have a large audience, because we can make these lookalikes, it’s become easier for us.
DR: When is a SaaS company ready to spend money on paid traffic and when are they ready or should they be like really trying to do SEO and start ranking there?
ES: Good traffic, good question.
I’ll answer the first part, I might forget the second part. The first part is they always say oh you gotta reach product-market fit, right, but what does that mean exactly?
So for me, it’s getting actual like when we see good engagement on the products, so we might be looking at Amplitude, whatever analytics tool you’re using, and we’re looking at people. For us, it’s like looking at how many people are coming into their products starting a test?
That’s like where, our thing is engagement is people that run tests on our product and seeing if they, what percent actually come back the next month.
If it’s over a certain percentage, let’s say 30, 40, 50% or so, and then we’re actually doing that and it’s repeating, then it’s time to scale.
Once you have a formula then you’re ready to scale. It’s like an Excel formula. If it works then you scale it. But I see too many people saying we’re ready for paid ads when your product isn’t even ready to go yet. So it’s like you gotta understand, there’s a feeling but also the numbers show that you’re ready to scale.
DR: Okay so that’s paid ads. And what kind of numbers are you looking for with paid ads? Do you have like a to lifetime value formula you think about?
ES: They always say like in the valley it’s like three to four to one, but I would even be more conservative and say five to six to one, and it’s maybe you wanna do it on like a net, net of all your costs. And then that way you’re getting-
DR: Gross profit.
ES: Yeah gross profit instead of just saying oh it’s like this gross number.
DR: That’s kinda something we were doing. We were doing 1/3, but then I forgot about like the gross profit, I’m like, we’re really not making a lot of money in here because I calculated the actual labor it took to drive that, like all the marketing costs. I stepped back and I was like I think like four to one, five to one. It’s like so hard to get the exact right number, four or five to one seems a lot safer.
ES: For my thing, for me, I’d rather be safer, because I tend, this is why I like to charge more money because it allows me to make more mistakes. So the same thing here too. You wanna be a little more conservative so you can make more mistakes.
So that’s paid traffic, what about SEO? What about content? What should people be doing early on there?
ES: I think a lot of SaaS companies, especially the ones that come to us, they see SEO as like this mythical unicorn.
It’s really not that hard, right? It’s you, I’m oversimplifying it but, you okay. What are you doing? You’re basically creating content at the end of the day.
And people forget about links, it’s the two things that matter the most with Google. It’s content and links, at least in the United States or anybody that uses Google, content and links.
People will try content in the beginning, it’s like oh yeah we’re doing 800 words per blog post, we’re doing it once a week, and then they give up. They give up after three to six months. But if you’re comparing with other people, again four million blog posts every single day. If you look at our blog it’s like every three to four times a week, it’s like two to 3,000-word posts.
How are you gonna compete with that if you’re not even matching them at that level? And if you wanna beat them you gotta go even beyond that and you gotta think about links too. So I would say if you do have the resources — maybe 20% of your marketing budget goes toward SEO and content, with the understanding that it’s not gonna give you a return for quite a while because when I first came into Single Grain, and you guys had Sujan on the podcast too, founder of Single Grain.
When I first came in six years ago, we’re only getting 4,000 visits a month to our blog. Now we’re approaching about 240,000-
DR: How long ago was that?
ES: That was six years ago but it just took a long time. And I can talk about the podcast stuff too, but it just takes a long time. We were in an Uber on the way here and it’s just like, I was like Dave it’s not like we’re amazing, and I kept going.
DR: On wood, keep pounding the pavement.
ES: Keep sawing wood, I like that.
DR: Okay and then so what’s the formula on SEO?
So write good content, a couple times a week ideally, long-form kinda 2 to 3,000 words. That’s where you’re kinda seeing, is that working better than after like a couple years ago I heard everyone just like yeah just get 500-word pieces out there, do you think long’s better?
ES: For sure because if you look at Demand Media (now Leaf Group), and some of these companies like eHow, I think eHow’s part of Demand Media, but they went public and their whole entire business model was hiring people from third world countries and paying them pennies on the dollar to write 500 word articles, and they’re just going for scale.
Google’s algorithms got smarter like if you keep gaming it eventually they’re gonna get to it. It’s not hard to like figure that out, right?
Here’s the thing, if you write a longer-form post, if you check a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush, you’re gonna find that a post ranks were not only a couple hundred keywords, but it can rank for a couple thousand keywords.
And we’ve even started to take it like diversify our revenue now, where we’re like renting pages out on our site. We rank number one for podcast advertising and we rented it out for a couple thousand dollars a month. So there are other creative things you can do once you hit that scale. You have the audience you can use them to collect emails, and then you can re-target them, so many things you can do.
DR: The debate we’ve kinda had internally is we’ve launched, we’ve kinda started working on our blog, maybe eight months ago, is do we write posts that we think will rank well but aren’t that interesting to read?
Let’s say we’re trying to write for personalization tools, we had a post that was like 30 personalization tools that you should be looking at. And it’s just kind of a list of the top 30 we found and it’s like I don’t really wanna read this. I might browse it to just look really quickly but it’s not interesting as opposed to like the step by step guide about how to personalize your site. That’s truly interesting to me.
What’s the balance there? Because we’ve struggled with that to say okay what are we trying to do, trying to get rank or we trying to get readership? And I guess Google wants those to be the same thing, but they’re still not right?
ES: This is huge actually, it’s good that we’re at this conference because one of our mutual friends that was at the dinner last night, Syed, who runs OptinMonster, he’s actually having a talk today I believe on success gaps.
And success gaps, if you think about HubSpot, they get millions of visits a month. They rank for millions of keywords. And it’s like well why do they write about bitcoin? Does that make any sense?
ES: It does?
DR: No it doesn’t make sense that they’re, HubSpot’s, writing about bitcoin.
ES: Yeah HubSpot’s a CRM, why are they writing about bitcoin? So what Syed said was like it’s the same thing for what they’re doing at OptinMonster, it’s no longer about just writing about personalization. Like if I just sold plungers online, I can’t just write about plungers, I have to go a level higher, right? What do I need to be successful with a plunger? Well, let’s see, maybe that’s not a good example. Let’s go with Syed’s email tool. He’s like okay guys what does it take to be successful with OptinMonster?
They collect emails. So they’re like, his team was like, oh if my, if the user signs up and starts paying for the tool, that is considered success, he’s like no that’s product activation.
What success, what do they need to be successful? They need a website, they need a fast website, they might need some SEO too, they might need what are they using for hosting?
And that starts to give them ideas around other content and also channel partners too, and then you can go a level higher. Then you’re not pigeon-holed into just writing about personalization. Then the sky’s the limit for the amount of content you can create. So that’s one piece of it. And I think on our way up here we were talking about repurposing too, so I’m happy to talk about that.
DR: Do you think people should start with the keywords that are really close like if you’re looking for personalization, you’re about to buy. Should you start there then kind of like as you get that, work your way up? Or the opposite?
ES: That’s debatable. I think one thing is if you create a lot of top of funnel, content people are like content marketing doesn’t work.
But here’s what happens, you gotta start attracting links to a lot of those pieces of content because they’re gonna start to rank. And then that gives you more domain authority across your entire site and then that that’s gonna allow your bottom of the funnel pages — personalization, comparison reviews, use proof alternatives, whatever, that’s gonna allow you to rank for those pages.
Because we rank for like New York City SEO, San Francisco SEO right now, all this stuff.
DR: Interesting, okay so then how do we build links? So we’ve written the post, good post, long-form, got all sorts of stuff, how do you build links?
ES: The easy way, I’ll give you the easy way right now. It’s actually finding agencies, and I’m not even just tooting my horn here, but actually finding agencies that have, that do SEO, exhaust their link profile, move onto the next one.
It’s like cheating almost. But they have the inventory already, they’ve been doing this for years. You don’t really wanna build a sales team that’s dedicated just for links because all they have to show at the end of the day are links. I don’t think that’s a good use of resources. I think they already have the process, you do that, maybe you can hire those people eventually bring them in house, you’re good to go.
DR: What do you mean? So using agencies link profile, so but they have 100 companies that they kind of always link to?
ES: They have a link inventory already. They’ve like nailed this down, right? So you’re leveraging that and then you don’t need to build anything on your own.
DR: What’s a link inventory?
ES: It’s like the, like what you were saying, they might have 100 publishers they go to all the time.
DR: They work with HubSpot all the time and every time they get a new client they can talk to the person at HubSpot-
ES: But after three or four months it starts to repeat the same links. Time to goodbye. It sounds cutthroat but it’s practical.
DR: Interesting, okay very cool. Anything else that you guys are doing that you see is working really well as far as like content and growing that way?
ES: Yeah so the content repurposing thing we were talking about, we’re calling this a content sprouting technique.
Actually, Dave was like yeah now where it’s like how do we repurpose one blog post into other pieces?
And for us, it’s like this video can easily become five separate blog posts, long-form. So you seed with this video, that’s the seed. And then you sprout into different types of blog posts, and different types of videos perhaps. You can chop this up as well.
You can make it into like 15 different social media posts and then you just have like 40, 50 pieces of content from one piece. And so you seed, then you sprout, you pollinate to promote it. And then the last thing you said was.
DR: Harvest, baby.
ES: You harvest it, you monetize it.
DR: Bring the combine in. So you’re saying you can do all that with just one single grain?
ES: One single grain.
DR: Of content.
ES: There you go.
DR: There it is.
ES: Bringing it all back together.
DR: One single grain. Yeah, I noticed we’ve started producing more content, you think of a really great idea, and we have like a really great interview like this. We can do so much with this, I don’t have to go track down the next person tomorrow like this could fill us up for a month of new content everywhere and it’s so much easier.
ES: I’ll tell you one thing we do too, we added this new meeting called content church, it’s not like I’m religious. On Wednesdays we do this meeting where we just come up with new ideas and then we basically vote on them. And we use these things called Fibonacci cards and then you might come up with different ideas.
DR: One, three, five.
ES: Yeah one, three, five, eight or whatever and we flip it over, it’s really fun. It’s engaging too because you’ll get different perspectives.
Like you might say I might say one thing’s a 21 (really hard to do) and one guy might say it’s like 1 (like it’s really easy).
So there’s a discrepancy and we can debate about it. Then it’s not like, there’s a little more thought versus “oh I got this gut feeling.”
DR: Yeah totally, yeah we use that for called planning poker, we use it for software points. Okay very cool, so let’s shift into talking about podcasts, we’re talking about content.
What are the two shows that you run, what kind of stats are you seeing there and what are they?
ES: Growth Everywhere is the first one that’s the weekly entrepreneurial interviews and I’ve also taken my YouTube lives and put those in from Tuesdays through Friday.
That one, again, been doing it for five years. It’s been a struggle and we could talk about that in the beginning, it’s always a struggle for content, which is why I’m okay dealing with all the YouTube’s slowly growing.
Marketing School has been two and a half years and then Growth Everywhere’s right now about a 100,000 a month and then Marketing School is about, we just broke a million downloads in a 30 day period. Combined I think we are at 22 million downloads overall.
DR: That’s amazing, 22 million downloads. So yeah let’s talk about the first one, why do you say it was a struggle and you were just grinding away?
ES: This struggle actually applies to any type of content like if you ever think you need a create a brand and it’s just, you are gonna go through this struggle. Maybe it’s not as hard, but you just gotta learn how to persist through it.
So hopefully this experience share helps. After the first year, okay so I was spending six hours a week on it, so I was interviewing the people, I was doing the show notes, I was publishing it.
I was reaching out to people while I was trying to save Single Grain. So this is when I first joined Single Grain too, so there’s an entire story behind that. Probably should’ve given up after the first year I was only getting nine downloads per day.
So the average podcast nowadays gets probably about 190 downloads, so I was slightly above average at the time. And after the second year, doing the same thing again, I was only getting 30 downloads a day. So the numbers told me if I had any stakeholders at all, any partners, it would’ve been give up. If I had like a wife or any, give up what are you doing you, idiot.
DR: You were just so ignorant that you could make it work.
ES: Ignorant, naive, be naive, be ignorant as long as you feel like you’re doing the right thing, as long as you feel like you’re learning, maybe keep going.
DR: Okay so you’re grinding away at that, like what actually clicked that actually made it start to grow? Or was there anything or was it just six years is a long time-
ES: I’ll tell you one thing that worked for us. Everyone’s always looking for a silver bullet, but Product Hunt came out with a podcast section and then we were just posting to it every day and we just kept getting up-voted to the top.
Growth Everywhere on Product Hunt
And we were getting better at getting our guests to promote, so they were like sharing it through their socials, email, whatever, that was helpful.
And then more and more people started talking about it because like in the first year people were like I don’t know why you’re not getting more downloads, this is like amazing. And so once people start saying that, it’s not even like the qualitative, it’s not the quantitative feedback, because the numbers were bad, it’s the qualitative feedback because if people keep saying like this is good, this is good, and you feel it’s good, maybe that’s the signal to keep going.
DR: I feel like not many startups are doing podcasts. It seems like the industry and the channel’s growing a ton, but then you see Drift who’s doing a cool podcast. Segment just came out with one, we decided to launch one.
Should startups be getting involved in this channel?
ES: I think so because when I speak at conferences sometimes at the end during Q and A people are like I listen to you in the shower or like, actually I’ve got that from a guy and a girl, listen to you in the shower.
Or like the sales cycles are a lot shorter for us, like one guy said I just listened to 60 of your episodes over the weekend. I’m just like why don’t I just reach out to this guy?
Or like last week at SaaStr, I was telling you this, this guy pointed at me and said podcast guy and that lead to a deal that’s worth like five to $600,000 now.
It just builds so much goodwill and it’s easy because even at TNC, the conference that we’re at right now, people are like oh thank you so much for the podcast and everything. So I think it’s worth it because the level of attention that your people are giving you is worth so much more because they have to be fully engaged, whether they’re like working out or cleaning the house or whatever, they’re engaged on you, to you.
Versus like if I’m watching Netflix I might just take out my phone and start watching YouTube. My attention’s split.
DR: I feel like the results we’ve gotten have been almost anecdotal like every day I meet someone who’s heard of Scale Or Die.
We’ve got 10,000 downloads in the first month which is cool for us. But it’s not even that many but it’s like I’ve met so many of these different people that are just saying hey I listen to the thing, cool show I love it. I would love to chat sometime. I’m assuming that’s gonna pay off, even though I don’t have the hard data right now to prove that out.
ES: Long term it will pay off, yup.
DR: Okay so then you’ve got Marketing School, what is Marketing School and why is that one hotter than Growth Everywhere?
ES: Marketing School I do it with another well known, not another, a well-known marketer, I’m not well known.
His name’s Neil Patel and we, that one started off really strong because we started doing it every single day. Every single day, everyone’s doing like these weekly ones, and we’re like 30 days a week, 30 days a month, and then we have not skipped one, even when I’m sick we do it, even when he’s sick we do it, we meet up we do it no matter what, we’re relentless.
And the first month I think we broke like 100,000 downloads quickly. It’s also because we both hit our email lists. I had more of an audience at the time, he already had an audience established, that definitely helps if you have an email list, any type of audience at all, it is gonna give you a big head start.
But the fact that you’re doing it every single day. Also, you’re showing up on the feed every single day. And some people even come up to me with this thing sometimes and they’re like I had to unsubscribe because it was just too much content, too much value.
DR: Do you guys get together and record a bunch, how do you do that?
ES: So we record about 15 to 20 each time, actually Wednesday, tomorrow, he’s coming to my office, we’re gonna record. And we spend like two hours, probably like four to five hours a month recording. And that will, we’re usually ahead by 30 days.
DR: How long are the episodes?
ES: Five to 10 minutes.
DR: And how do you come up with the topics?
ES: On the spot.
DR: Just whatever you wanna talk about? So you’ll just sit down tomorrow and just say what’s interesting, what’s exciting.
ES: Yeah and we just riff because he has so much knowledge and different perspective and I have different perspectives too. And there have been times where like we disagree with each other and then it’s funny because later he’ll say something and I’ll disagree and it’s like he’ll prove me wrong or I’ll prove him wrong later, so it’s good. It’s like validation because we’re always getting proven wrong.
DR: And how do you hear from your audience?
That’s something I’ve been trying to think about it’s like the feedback loop in podcasting is hard. The fact there’s this gap, you know the Apple platform just creates this gap, tell people to come back to our site and fill out our survey or give some feedback.
I think I heard you do that on one of yours. How do you actually hear from your audience about what they wanna hear?
ES: Yeah so actually have a topic suggestion like if you go to marketingschool.io I think there’s a suggest a topic and it actually, they fill out a form and the topics come to us. And we’ll put the suggestions in there, but most of the time Neil doesn’t like the suggestions.
DR: But he won’t do it even though they’re saying here’s what we wanna hear.
ES: A lot of times it’s like if we, it’s like he might feel good about it or I might feel good about it or sometimes, we did have this one guy that was such a super fan that we was giving us like 20 ideas a week and then he kinda like fell off.
DR: 20 ideas a week. So you hear from that, any other ways that you’re actually like hearing?
ES: The reviews help a lot, but to your point, there’s definitely a delay.
What we did was like singlegrain.com/survey so we made like a pretty link, like a cloaked link, you can definitely do that too. And you just keep, maybe you do it for like a week or so, or two weeks or so, or maybe 14 episodes and then you should be able to get that feedback.
DR: Any other tips you’d give for growing a podcast?
ES: Yeah. What’s been helpful for us is that we’ve had a show notes person, meaning like every single episode we have, we will have the notes, they’ll write like 300 words or so. And what we’ll do is we’re actually having content writers expand that into like 1500 words or so, and if it does really well, maybe 60 to 90 days into it, we’ll expand that piece into like two to 3,000 words. So we’re constantly like we’re seeding it again. We’ll sprout it or maybe we’ll water this one and then we’ll harvest it after.
DR: How do you know it’s working well, what measures are you looking at?
ES: We’re looking at the traffic to that page in Google Analytics-
DR: Traffic, just ranking.
ES: If it’s starting to rank for keywords, use it’s like oh wow it’s starting to rank for some good stuff, let’s sprout it or pollinate it, that’s pollinate.
DR: Pollinate it, all sorts of good metaphors there. All right if you could only be on video or audio for the next decade, you know YouTube whatever versus audio, which do you choose?
ES: Are we starting from scratch?
DR: Or just even you right now. Yeah, maybe both of those.
ES: I would do audio because I can just do it without having to get ready, I could do it in my boxers. And then plus it’s, again, the whole attention thing, you literally if you have something in, your earbuds or your headphones, you can’t really do something else. So I think that’s more valuable. Videos always could get better and better, but yeah I would go with audio.
DR: Video’s still a lot harder. You gotta have the cameras here. I just filmed or recorded our Founder Friday episode just 11 o’clock at my house, kid was down, I had a microphone on a little ice cream stand which is like our little kid’s toy, and I’m just like this is so ghetto but nobody knows, it creates great content.
ES: As long as the content’s good.
DR: Yeah totally, the studio is like such a pain.
ES: Yeah right here we gotta get this view too.
DR: By the way, this is a sweet view. If you’re listening to this you’re not watching, get on YouTube, check this thing out, we’re on the 45th floor.
DR: Yeah and subscribe. It’s a sweet view, okay cool. Let’s kinda move into talking about your SaaS.
You’re helping all these SaaS companies. Talking about this a ton. Why did you wanna launch your own?
ES: This is again one of those things that just happened. I was at the Collision Conference in New Orleans and I saw this guy make a post on Facebook in one of the groups that I never check. He’s like I’m a technical guy, had this CRM, had this e-commerce, and I’m like looking to do my next thing.
I’m like this is too good to be true like this is a CTO just like there in the wild, it’s like a Pokemon. We hit it off like 13 people reached out to them, and thankfully his wife was like you gotta work with this Asian dude. I was like thank you.
ES: Because it looked like I was legit. And so we talk and I’m like okay why don’t we do this? You have your ideas, I have my ideas, but I’m gonna survey my audience with all the ideas and let’s see what happens.
And this idea stuck out from the rest. So we could’ve made some sales tools, but we settled on Click Flow because there’s nothing out there that’s SEO A/B testing software, right? There are some competitors in this space right now but man, like we have the audience and then when you have the audience you can plug whatever you want into it, it just makes sense.
Your question was around why start it, right? So it was we had the idea, we validated it with our audience already, and then we decided like we’re committed to it, let’s give it a go and we got started.
DR: Very cool, and so what does Click Flow do and what was the audience saying that they wanted so you knew that it was actually validated?
ES: They wanted to be able to grow their organic traffic without building more content or links. So if you have a couple hundred thousand visits a month, this is targeted towards mid-market to enterprise, if you just change your title on your meta-description, you’re gonna get a higher click-through rate, which means you’re gonna get more traffic. So if you’re like doing $100 million a year, making these changes could make like a seven-figure impact on your business, so it justifies paying a six-figure price point for a simple tool like this.
DR: Going through and it’s testing different headlines or different, and then that goes through the Google, it actually swaps out and then that could rank.
Does it rank differently or it’s just the click-throughs different?
ES: The click-through actually Google has specified like in really light terms that click-through rate does affect rankings. And it does make sense that it’s a ranking signal, right? And a lot of people have been doing this but like so many people that use it right now, they’ve been doing this through Excel, like manually, and that just becomes too unruly. Our tool makes it a lot more reportings better, it’s a lot more organized, it’s just easier to run these tests.
DR: Those have been easy or hard to launch?
ES: It’s been like what I expected. In the first year of business we did about $108,000, we didn’t raise any money at all. Thankfully it’s because we had an audience, like what you’re building right now with this audience, it becomes way easier. Again it’s like cheating. And so I would say it was, there’s a lot of learnings. You hear about all these things all the time, you listen to podcasts, but like you don’t really know until you go through it, I’m sure you’ve gone through the same thing with Proof.
But like, we went through the struggle of like we got this new 1.0 version out and then we realized that, sorry you can beep that out, crap.
DR: You can say it, we’re gonna have to put the little explicit box next to it.
ES: The beep. But it’s like damn I think we’re gonna need to rebuild it to build it for scale, make it a lot more stable. And so my CTO co-founder, he’s been head down the last couple months just coding and the new version just came out and thankfully we’re just going to this conference and then like all these companies are so interested in it, the stars are aligning right now. And it aligns perfectly because I’m hiring a CEO for Single Grain so I can step outta the day-to-day.
DR: You’re gonna shift from 80% in the agency to 80%-
ES: Yeah and then the 20% is like audience building.
DR: Gotcha, very cool. What’s kinda the growth strategy for Click Flow then?
ES: We already have a lot of connections, the one thing I’m sure you’ve probably talked about on this podcast, but the customer advisory board. We got that from, we have-
DR: I don’t think we ever really talked about that, so explain your thoughts on that.
ES: Yeah so a customer advisory board is like having people, we were talking to some really good SEOs, we’re like we wanted to get more feedback on the software.
And thankfully again, the audience makes it easier to connect with these people. One guy from Vodafone we connected with him, he’s like have you done a customer advisory board?
We’re like what’s that? He’s like well you have people from companies like Vodafone, like other enterprise companies maybe like Atlassian or whatever, and people that are really good at SEO that are influencers that speak on it, they can evangelize your software and they can also give you feedback on it, and you can just give them the software for free or whatever.
And then also at the same time, they will maybe you can throw an event each year and get everyone together. That is so valuable, I’ll do it all day. That’s why we have G2 Crowd, Vodafone, Atlassian, on our customer advisory board and it’s been super helpful. And they’ll make introductions, they’ll speak about your tool to the right people. You’re gonna get so much value from it.
DR: How’d you set up that relationship? Are you asking like hey will you formally be on our customer advisory board?
ES: Yeah he sent me, I was like so tell me about yours. He’s like oh yeah so there’s this and that. I was like can you just send me it a template? He’s like yes.
DR: Can you send me that template?
ES: Absolutely just email me to remind me after.
DR: We’ll post a link to that maybe on the show notes there. Okay so you ask these people and that’s kind of been like, I guess, the initial testing incubator?
ES: He started giving feedback, he’s like you gotta focus on not just making this an SEO tool, but like thinking about business intelligence too. Meaning that SEO budgets are hard, it’s a much smaller budget.
But you go to business intelligence, they have much higher budgets. We’re like didn’t think about that. So there are so many insights that this guy’s got that we just don’t know what we don’t know. I don’t even know if I answered your question.
DR: That’s awesome. And when do you kinda think you’ll start to do paid traffic and start to scale that? Like what are you looking for in the company to be true before you start to-
ES: I think we’re gonna build a sales team and just do outreach with it. And here’s the thing, I don’t know, you should definitely have the guys from Seg- you had Segment on this podcast, right?
DR: Yeah we’ve got, talking with Holly from Segment, who’s the head of marketing there.
ES: Segment and even hold.io.
DR: We’ve got Ed coming on here in a couple episodes.
ES: Ed is the, so I met up with Ed at SaaStr, the guy’s super smart. The amount of traffic that we’re getting, so you got the 240 a month to our site. That’s so many data points already, you can just enrich all the data and then give all that data, like the most qualified people that are using the right software, the right size, the right Alexa rank, all that, and just reach out to those people.
Then what happens is it becomes a lot easier. You don’t need to do cold outreach to everyone, these people have actually visited your site. So we’re gonna do that for all the sites we have, whether it’s Growth Everywhere, Marketing School, Single Grain, and Click Flow.
DR: Building a machine, man, this is awesome. It’s like it’s all coming together. But you’ve been doing it for so long, it’s not this overnight success, it’s the opposite.
ES: This is what I was saying earlier like, if I were to do it again, I would just focus on one thing and just grow it faster. I’ve been doing this thing where I’ve been split, attention’s been split, it’s all been rising, and now its finally starting to work, it’s been like a six-year journey to get here.
DR: Yeah people ask about Proof, like how did we grow so fast outta the gate? It’s like we have been solving the conversion rate optimization problem for customers for five years. Started as an agency and then selling courses and training, and then software, but it’s like we built up the knowledge, we built up the customer base, like we’ve been working on it. It wasn’t this overnight success even though it kinda looks like that.
ES: They say like with most SaaS products, it doesn’t really count until you get product-market fit. So it might take you like two, three, four, five years to get the product-market fit, but that’s when the clocks really starts ticking. That’s when it starts to be like oh it might take you seven years to get to 100 million or whatever, which I’m sure you talk about, Y Combinator.
DR: Yeah might be a long ramp-up until that inflection point for things to take off. Let’s wrap it up here, this has been amazing, I can’t wait to kinda go take nap and debrief on this stuff for later. We finish up with the salty six. Six rapid-fire questions. I know you’ve never had a salty six before.
The Salty Six
ES: No I don’t, I guess I’m gonna have a salty six.
DR: You’re about to have your first salty six, it’s a great experience. Okay, so these are six rapid-fire questions for us to just get to know you better, hear a bit more about your life and just kind of taking all the different answers from all the different guests and compare them all here and kind of share that later with the audience here.
Okay so question number one, what do you do for fun?
ES: What I do for fun, wow. Well here’s the thing, like there are so many projects I have that I consider them all fun. I can always switch when I get bored, that’s why I like working on multiple things.
DR: What project do you enjoy the most right now?
ES: I think it’s, I do think it’s the agency because everyone talks about great culture, but I just love the team so much. Sujan’s been on the podcast before, like when I first took over, it was his team that I inherited, and now I failed so much that I dropped down to one employee, then I was able to rebuild the team, basically a team that I put together, so I do feel a lot of affinity towards them.
DR: How many people?
ES: 34 total.
DR: Very cool. All right, do you have a morning routine and if so, what is it?
ES: Yeah so usually I’m up at 5, 5:30 or so. I try to break this bad habit, but I’ll look at the phone for like 30 minutes. Like read the news and everything, and I’ll go back to sleep for like an hour and I’ll get back up.
But sometimes I’m good about it where I do actually get up at 5, 5:30, and then I actually go through the routine I wanna go through. So it is a meditation for five to 10 minutes, which everybody talks about. I do write in my morning journal, the five-minute journal, which I love. I think I’ve been paying for it for like four, five years, so they’ve been making a lot-
The Five Minute Journal
DR: It’s kinda like a gym membership, it’s like even if I’m not writing in it, I can’t cancel it, like I just gotta have it there.
ES: 100%. I do look at my, I was an Oura Ring, so I look at my sleep score from the last night. And then I’ll go train in the morning, which usually just means like 20, 30 minutes of running and then on the weekends it’s lifting at the gym. That’s the morning routine. I don’t eat breakfast.
DR: How come you’re not wearing Oura Ring right now?
The Oura ring
DR: I got mine on.
ES: I don’t like wearing stuff. So I’ll wear it to sleep, it’s still annoying, sometimes I punch myself too.
DR: Okay so it’s just, you just use it for sleep tracking. Okay very cool. How do you focus well during the day? You got a lot of stuff coming at you, how do you work?
ES: Yeah so the night before, I’ll set like maybe like a top one, and then there are maybe two things that fall below it, and then there’s like a laundry list of like STDs, Shit To-Dos.
DR: We’re already in the explicit zone it doesn’t matter at this point.
ES: Stuff todos.
What I actually did recently, there’s a guy I meet, Sam Ovens, you know who he is, I think you’ve gone through his thing because your video shows up. I watch his YouTube video, he has this thing called the War Map.
And I spent like, before the end of the year, I set the War Map for the entire year and just here’s my priorities for each and every month. And I thought that to be really useful. I think more people can adopt that. Then you’re much more focused, then you have distractions coming everywhere and I can say no to more things and it’s been pretty powerful.
DR: That’s awesome. Okay, what’s a book that has impacted you deeply in the last few years? Personal, could be business.
ES: I’ll give you the one that I read recently because I usually remember the most recent ones, Leadership and Self-Deception.
So that one is about, it’s from the Arbinger Institute, but like we’re doing an EO retreat, Entrepreneurs Organization, and I’m literally hiring one of those people to be like a speaker at our retreat. But man, it just tells you so much. It’s a good reminder of how you should be as a leader. And then just so many situations where I’m like man I totally screwed up and I highly recommend it.
DR: Trying to get out of the box?
ES: Trying to get out of the box.
DR: That’s the whole premise. I read that book about eight years ago and it was really a big shift. I’ve seen people talking about it more and more, I think I saw Justin Kan tweeting about it here.
ES: Stewart Butterfield from Slack.
DR: Very cool, yeah great book.
DR: Okay what’s the best purchase you’ve made recently under $150?
ES: I like how you gave it a $50 extra. You know what? I can’t remember anything I bought recently — it’s always books, right? Because I’m usually listening to podcasts and I’ll just auto-order, or not, I’ll order books when I’m like at the gym or whatever.
What I can say though is these Allbirds are, these slip-on are $99, so I’m gonna order a new pair, so I’m about to buy them.
DR: I saw you repping those things, those are fresh.
ES: I love them.
DR: And you’ve worn the ones with laces, too?
DR: And you like the slip-ons more? Gonna try that out.
ES: There ya go.
DR: All right, number six. What’s a trait or characteristic that you have that has lead to the success that you have today?
ES: I mean this is like the constant three, 400 interviews with Growth Everywhere, any type of success I see is just like it’s not that anybody’s like a genius or anything, it’s just like persistence.
Gotta work on the right things, right? But it’s persistence honestly. It’s the only reason that things have worked. And I’ve gotten that through poker like I talk about how poker’s been so important in my life. But like poker teaches you resilience and I think that’s a really good trait for people to have like, maybe go play poker for three to six months as an entrepreneur and then lose your shirt.
DR: Poker, did you play a lot of poker before this? Like a professional poker player or anything?
ES: I wasn’t professional, I was making like 70 grand a year-
DR: How do you make this at the casinos-
ES: I was playing a lot. I was playing online. I’ll go to the casinos too.
DR: Okay poker’s just what, persistent that you just kinda wait for the right hand and play that?
ES: Not that, it’s like you can bring your A-game every single day, but you can lose for months at a time and sometimes even up to like years, even though you’re bringing your A-game, even though you’re the best at the table.
You’re dealing with variants, the numbers, some thing’s just don’t go your way. And then you got people gunning for you at the table, people different attitudes, different egos. You just have to learn to deal with all of it. And then tilt is like when things aren’t going your way, how do you react to all the trouble? And that’s taught me to be calm, calmer in a lot of situations.
DR: Love it. Well sounds good, Eric, thanks so much for being on. People wanna find out more about you, check out the blog or podcast, where can they find you?
ES: They can email me firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow me on Instagram @ericosiu and yeah happy to help, happy to connect.
DR: All right love it, man. Thanks for watching guys, we’ll see you in the next episode of Scale Or Die.
This interview has been edited and condensed.