By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
We were so glad to get back to our live show after a short break of broadcasting some favorite replays. Sales Pipeline Radio is live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific. It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.
We’ve featured an impressive list of guests amd cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities.
Gillian has (and tells) a great story with themes of resilience and challenges. Among other things we talk about the intersection of work and family and the fact that was more of a work-life mixture than a work-life balance. She gives some great insights and background info about her time at Moz.
“I guess the short of it is the hottest tip is, again, trust your gut. You know whom you should get into business and which ones you have to pass up. Have a rudder in the water. Know what’s important to you in life and what you will prioritize and how that will change over time.”
Don’t miss this one!
I want to give a huge shout out to our sponsor, MailTag.io.
MailTag.io is a Chrome browser extension for your Gmail that allows you to track and schedule your emails.
It’s a super helpful tool if you’re in sales because you can receive real-time alerts, right on your desktop, as soon as your prospects open your emails or click links within your emails.
For more info, be sure to check out MailTag.io!
Matt Heinz: Thank you for joining Sales Pipeline Radio. We are here every week live at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. Thank you so much for those of you joining us live on the Funnel Media Radio Network live from work. For those of you listening to the podcast, thank you so much for subscribing. You can find us wherever fine podcasts are available: on Google Play, iTunes Store, Stitcher, and others. And for those of you that are listening to us from the On Demanded, it’s F1 Radio, our Past, Present, or Future episode. It’s available at salespipelineradio.com.
Every week we’re featuring some of the best and brightest minds. In B-to-B sales and marketing today is absolutely no different. I am really excited to have Gillian Muessig joining us today. She is a serial entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Moz. If you do anything relative to SEO and search engine management, you know Moz. She has become a start-up whisperer, a sought-after speaker and counselor for companies all over the world.
Gillian, I really appreciate you taking some time and join us.
Gillian: I’m delighted to do so. I enjoyed hearing the story of having family in all kinds of unopportune places or inopportune places. Certainly, I know something about a family business.
Matt Heinz: You do, and I want to touch a little bit on that as we get in. Your background, you’ve been running businesses for a very long. You spent years kind of running Outlines West as a marketing and advertising company before getting into Moz and some other ventures.
Talk a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey. Did you know you wanted to be a business owner from the beginning? Are you an accidental entrepreneur? How did that really get started?
Gillian: I’d make a very bad employee. I think people knew that when I was three or four. I don’t take direction well, and I don’t suffer fools easily. So that doesn’t make for real good middle management. But I fell into entrepreneurship, I guess, backassward and I did so because my husband was a Boeing employee. That’s not a culture where you sing kumbaya, you fail fast and fail often. It’s a very rigid corporate culture, and it must be.
I’ll share a little story about why. There was a very famous speech by the president of Boeing Commercial to the entire commercial portion of the company at an event that celebrated one of their anniversaries, I don’t know, 75th or 80th or something like that. He said, “If we aspire to the same level of perfection of performance as Federal Express, 99.97% perfection of delivery of our product, we will kill only one million people per year. Go make airplanes.” So fail, fail fast, fail often? Not going to happen. A rigid and militaristic society? Absolutely.
But that meant that one of us had to be loosey goosey and flip around, and the other one had to put one foot in front of the other and go do their thing. So I raised three children under my desk. I was glorified unemployed, but when you say, “Bye bye,” on the telephone, it’s time for you to talk to something over three years old. So I went to work, and that’s what I did.
I did carry my children in arms with me. They grew up literally under this desk. The youngest will tell you the color of the blanket he slept on under the desk. He still remembers. And I kept those.
So delightful. But, over time, they grew up, they went to school, and as they grew so did the company. I had a small regional marketing firm. It was not much of anything. So this was small entrepreneurship, lifestyle business in the highest sense of the word, literally designed to occupy rather than to bring in a serious paycheck while somebody else did that sort of thing.
So for a long time, that was the case. In 1994, I became involved with Marketlink International, and it was the first international commerce center on the World Wide Web. The web was about two weeks old, so I was the grand dame of internet marketing because I was there four seconds before the next guy. Really, we were so full of ourselves. We scanned business cards in full color and popped them on that fresh new web. But by the time we were finished we had real-time live translation between international traders, here in Seattle where I’m located and in Beijing or anywhere else in the world. There was no Babel Fish, there was no Google Translate, none of that. It was live translators. And I thought, “I was smitten.”
People who communicate, people who get to know and understand each other, you could see the expression on the face, you could hear the timber of the voice and understand what was being said, and you could trade. What an extraordinary thing. Right? We do not kill those with whom we trade, only those we don’t understand and those that we fear. Fear comes from the unknown. At the same time, my children were playing Sonic the Hedgehog and games like that when in Copenhagen and Singapore and in Seattle. And I thought, “This is the next best thing to world peace. This is what’s going to make it happen.” It will be a lot harder to put a gun in these young boys’ hands and say, “Go kill.” They’re going to say, “Are you crazy? I play games with him on Saturday night.”
So the communication was the thing that struck me and it still gets me up in the morning and puts me down at night. Rand joined the company. Rand is my eldest son for those of you who don’t know Moz. It’s Rand Fishkin and he is known as the Wizard of Moz. He joined the company in 1997 while he was still at the University of Washington. We built consultancy, and over time the consultancy altered and became much more associated with SEO than it was with the general online or digital marketing and, finally, into tools, which became known as Moz.
Matt Heinz: Love that story. And I love the intersection of work and family and the fact that it didn’t really sound like a work-life balance. It sounded really like a work-life mixture. What is your perspective? And I think about this myself a lot as a father of three who has three kids that are still in grade school and running a business and still spend time with family. You can’t compartmentalize those things from what I have learned. Do you have advice for anybody, even if they’re not entrepreneurs, just trying to manage a career and manage a family and find a right balance between the two?
Gillian: Yes. I spent a great deal of my adult life running that kind of business, only a really relatively small portion running scalable corporations, and in that lifestyle business, I would say the first thing is to figure out what your rudder in the water is. And I would say the same to a scalable corporation. So, for me, the rudder in the water was that I had elected to have children, and if I’m going to have them I might as well tend to them. Rather than farming them out often or a great deal – that doesn’t mean you never do because they should be socialized as well, and that’s good and you need time as well – I would do things like rent offices to the schools where I wanted them to attend. I drove quite a way to bring my children to schools. They were public schools and we had choices about where we could bring them, but I had to make the trip. There was no school bus or anything.
So, for us, it was about finding out what was optimal for the children I had elected to have, and then to be available to them at all times. One of the things that helped me greatly was that cell phones came along. I had one of the very first ones. It looked like the old phone that would hang on a wall, a large rectangle, but it was disembodied from the wall. It sat between the front seats of the bench seat of the station wagon, and you would click the side and a handle would come up. It looked just like those old telephones attached to the box and so on, and you would speak. So quite an extraordinary device. But the phone number is the same phone number that I have today. My children say that my cell phone is surgically implanted into my ear, and they know it and I know it and they can always reach me. And to this day, it doesn’t matter if I’m doing a billion dollar MNA deal, if my children call – who are now adults – if they call, they get through. And if you don’t like it, we don’t do business together.
So that was my stake in the sand. The rudder in the water is that my priority was going to be family, and when that was done, my priorities could change. All right? But having elected that, then I elected to be a consultant and I elected not to grow the company until the point where they were off and on their own. Not everybody has that leisure.
There are entrepreneurships of opportunity and entrepreneurships of necessity. I want to be mindful to those who are listening, those of you who are building entrepreneurship of necessity, my hats are off. It’s a much harder road to hoe.
Matt Heinz: Wow. Great comments. Love this conversation so far.
We’ve got Gillian Muessig who’s the CEO, co-founder of Outlines Venture. She also co-founder of SEOmoz, which most of you may know now as Moz. I mean, Gillian, right now it seems like a slam dunk. Moz is the system of record for search marketers worldwide. I have to imagine when you and Rand decided to start building Moz, it wasn’t necessarily much of a sure thing. What went into deciding how to go from doing what you described as sort of a regional marketing organization into creating a product out of that and what lessons does that imply for companies thinking about similar extensions or pivots in their own business?
Gillian: Okay, so most of the people talk about the successes and it always looks really cool. That hockey stick, you know you kind of putter along and suddenly, boom. Here’s the deal. That’s sort of the short end of the hockey stick that you’re looking at and the rest of it is hidden. If you go backwards and to the left, you’ll find there’s a really long hockey stick that goes that way and much of it is very bent and misshapen and falls into the ground and into the mud and into things that are worse than mud. Finally, it came up and then you got that little hockey stick. So, I’m just saying it’s a tougher road than people tend to talk about.
Rand is very open and honest about this and has written a number of things, including his book called “Lost and Founder,” the complaints of the founder. I have the same, obviously been very honest about it. There are a number of PowerPoint decks that people can find on SlideShare and so on that are testament to what we discussed.
It was a long and difficult road. At first, it was simply that he joined me as a marketing firm. “Buddy, want to buy a website? Buddy want to buy another one? We’ve got Flash now! Oh, Buddy want to buy another website?” Because it turns out, in 1997, that the pages of the web shall be organized by search engines, and the search engines don’t read Flash. So we went through the whole iteration, back and forth and up and down, all the games to play. But in ’97 it became evident, right? That’s when kind of the major search engines started to show up and the landscape began to define itself. Until then it wasn’t evident.
Beyond that, though, we worked through in kind of services industry. Rand was searching for what he would like to create in this brand new web, which was as he described, “a universe unfettered by the laws of math and time.” Quite extraordinary that we got to be alive and to populate it at that time.
So that was great, but then in 2001 nobody wanted to buy a website for a lot of money. So I went out to make the rainfall. Now, I had three or four employees, the kids were off at their schools, Rand was already an adult and could join the company and so on. He continued to go to school at that time. I went out to make the rainfall and I heard the same thing again and again. “We have no more capital expenditure. We’ll see you when this is over.” The dot-come bust was pretty tough. Right? And I saw dozens of me going down in flames. Some of them sold snake oil and deserved to, but some of them were honorable competitors. It was a very scary time.
Every now and then I would hear, “Well, I don’t have capital expenditure, but I have operating capital. You bring me a buck I’ll give you a corner off the dollar.” Well, I know what that is. That’s commission sales online. I didn’t even have the words “affiliate marketing” to wrap around it. But I’m a quick study so I figured it out, and in those days particularly, there were only four ways to make money in affiliate marketing: porn, pills, casinos, and ring tones. I’m sure there were a couple of others, and people who did it probably will correct me, but that was pretty much the landscape. And I thought, “Well, I can’t play that game.” It’s not, how should I say, an ethical decision, a moral decision. It’s a business decision. This is not a world that I occupy; I am not the person who races in where angels fear to tread, but these are industries, not just the business, but the industries that built the web. It wasn’t built by .gov and .org and .edu. It was built by porn, pills, and casinos. P-P-C. It stands for something else.
But, since it wasn’t my space, I thought, “Well, now I can use the model and I can bump it up and make a rev share project.” And we sent out about 30 requests or e-mails to companies where we thought they have very strong brick-and-mortar companies and they suck online – and that’s the technical term. We did that. We said, basically, that we would design and author and build and develop and market and maintain this website for nothing, and in the event that we bring them a dollar, that’s the negotiation we would take upon a quarter off that dollar. So we negotiated those deals. And when that happens, you have to pick your customers as carefully as porcupines mating, right? I had to get into their financial shorts and figure out what they were doing. Did they have good customer service policies? How were their return policies? Could they expand? Would they get enough capital to grow if we grew them? We could grow companies 600-, 800,000 times by expanding onto the web, and, of course, their eyes were as big as saucers. But you had to be sure that it was the right partner.
We did about three or four of those. One of them was disastrous at a time when I was deeply in debt already, because remember we were building all these websites now for nothing, but I was paying the bills still. So now I was deeply in debt and creditors knocking at the door. It was a terribly ugly time. At that point, I had to turn back one of those projects. I should have known and trusted my gut, so maybe that’s one of my hottest tips to listeners: Do trust your gut. The fact that we don’t know how it works does not mean that it doesn’t, and you will know when you should not be engaging with a customer. When that prickles, you will know just don’t. In this case, it was somebody who sold those miniature cameras and so on. They were spy cameras, if you will, and he had all kinds of good reasons why they would be in commercial structures and for general security. It was as ugly and awful as you think it was and he didn’t have good practices and he was BS-ing us and everybody else. Finally, we just gave the whole project to him and he took it away. Whether he made money with it, I don’t know.
It was a great loss. It was many of tens of thousands of dollars that had been spent to do this, and we had to cut loose.
Matt Heinz: Gillian, I’m going to cut you off. Speaking of cut loose, I want to hear the rest of this story, but we do have to take a quick break and recognize some of our sponsors. We’ve got a lot more. I am so excited. I feel like we’re getting a history lesson in the evolution of business, the way it actually works, as well as the evolution of the web. We’ll be back in a couple minutes with more of Gillian Muessig. You’re listening to Sales Pipeline Radio.
Paul: I hate to even intrude, it’s so interesting, but I do want to remind you that there are methods and ideas and companies out there that can help you. For example, if you’re tired of sending sales e-mails and wondering if they’re ever open. There’s an answer! You need MailTag. MailTag is a Chrome browser extension for your Gmail that allows you to track your e-mails in real time. You receive alerts right on your desktop as soon – right away – as your e-mails are opened. And, as a special thank you for anyone listening today to this show, we’ve teamed up with MailTag to provide you guys with a special discount. Just use the word HEINZ and you can get – drum roll – 50% off for life. Yeah, we said for life. Half off if you just enter the code HEINZ. Be sure to check out mailtag.io to start your completely free 14-day trial if you want to try it out first, and there’s no credit card required. The link will be in the show notes and we encourage you to check it out. What do you have to lose except your confusion as to what’s happening with your e-mails.
All right, back to Matt and his fascinating guest.
Matt Heinz: We need a much longer show, Paul.
Paul: I think so. I’m sitting here just in amazement. I’m just enthralled that she’s just spinning this yarn here and I’m thinking, “How are we going to sum this up in two or three minutes here?”
Matt Heinz: Well, we’re not. This is going to be the filibuster episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. But this is absolutely fascinating. Gillian, one of the thing I really appreciate about your story, and I know this is what Rand has done as well with “Lost and Founder.” I read that recently; super good book. Rand is kind of become famous for completes transparency of the process, and I think anyone who has run a business or tried to run a business knows that hockey stick feeling and some people never get to that short end that actually goes up. It’s a lot of chewing of glass along the way.
Apologies we had to cut you off on the story there. We do have a few more minutes here before we have to wrap up with Gillian Muessig. She is the co-founder of Moz, she is the co-founder CEO of Outlines Venture. When last we were talking you were talking about spy cams.
Gillian: Yes. So, I guess the short of it is the hottest tip is, again, trust your gut. You know whom you should get into business and which ones you have to pass up. Have a rudder in the water. Know what’s important to you in life and what you will prioritize and how that will change over time.
And then, finally, kind of the end of this story, we did well with some of these projects. One did extremely well and brought us out of debt bit by bit, and I began to breathe for the first time in five years. Then, it was time to make these websites found on the World Wide Web, because it was e-commerce. It meant that it had to be found by Grandma, by everybody. If not, you wouldn’t make any money. So I farmed with money I didn’t have. Again, I farmed out the project. We were literally weeks away from total disaster, and nothing was working and none of these either companies or individuals could get that SEO done. Finally, Rand said, “I guess I have to learn this.” I said, “Yeah, because I can’t hold it together anymore with shoelace and bubble gum.” So he did. And, with money I didn’t have again, I got one more credit card with a few bucks in it and I sent him to New Jersey to hang with his grandfather, my husband’s father, who is a world class mathematician. To this day, at the age of 91, he will still say, “I have no idea what the application was, but I was happy to explain the mathematics.”
What Rand did was to find pieces of the algorithm that had been published by Google in order to get their patents. He began to dig in to this hard, slogging work that said not, “Here’s an algorithm, how do I scan the system to be number one?” But rather, my company or my client, as if you will, I don’t know, the University of Washington.edu. Right? In other words, something where you’re not going to scan the system to be number one, black hat SEO, but rather you’re making it commercial. The quintessential white hat SEO. And that’s what Rand is known for today. It just meant that, again, it was the customer, the client. They had to be in that phone book for the next thousand years. So the business decision was made.
He went and he found out what was needed and then he came back and he said, “All right, I think I’ve got this. I know what needs to be done.” In those days, you could move the needle and turn the dial in just a few minutes. It was a simpler algorithm and a simpler time.
It was Thanksgiving Day in, let’s see, 2006 and I was pulling turkeys out of the oven and serving both family and all of the people who worked for us. Everybody was hanging around and the first sales came in for one of the companies, and it was shoestore.net. At that point, there was a whoop and a holler because the East Coast had finished their turkey dinners and they began to shop. So it was a very exciting day and we realized that we were beginning to move up in the search engines, the queries were being found, and found our website and so on, and things started to move. We survived, but truly by the skin of our teeth.
So, an extraordinary story and a great deal of luck, I get that. But, also, hard ingenuity. Just really difficult work, not just that Rand is a really bright guy – and he is, no question – but also that he showed up. During those very, very hard years, from 2003 through 2006, Rand wrote a blog called the SEOmoz.org blog. That’s what created that personal reputation that also moved to the corporation. We can create personal reputations much more quickly than we create corporate reputations.
So, if you’re doing this individually, think about that. How will you do that? And there is no shortcut way. It’s the hard work. Consider that Rand wrote this blog every single night with lots of research and great care and thoughtfulness. He didn’t just slap this stuff together and telephone it in. And he did it for more than the 1,001 nights of Scheherazade, as if his life depended on it.
That’s the hard work.
Matt Heinz: Well, I love the story of the hard work and the resilience and the challenges. It doesn’t always work for everybody, but it certainly worked well for you guys. I know Paul has used some of Rand’s work for podcasting SEO over the years. Rand’s certainly sort of used it to continue to build the businesses.
I love that the majority of the story you told today is about the struggle to get to a path, the beginning of that short hockey stick. It reminds me a little bit of Phil Knight’s book, “Shoe Dog,” which isn’t about the hockey stick. It’s about the path to get there, and a million times he almost ran out of money and his business partner was screwing him over. That’s the path. It’s never an overnight success.
Gillian: That’s the path. I agree.
Matt Heinz: Unfortunately, we’re out of time. We’re going to have to let Paul run on. We’ve got other shows in the funnel yet in the radio network here. This has been phenomenal conversation with Gillian Muessig. We are going to put links to her website, to Rand’s book “Lost and Founder,” in the notes. We’re also going to put an link in – I’m completely impressed with just the impact you had with your children as well. It was inspirational to me, not only what Rand has done, but your daughter. You posted a couple of days ago – I’m probably going to pronounce this wrong – but she is the Phantasmagorial Chef and doing an event. If you are in Seattle and you want to have great food and a very unique experience, we’ll put that in the link notes as well.
But we are unfortunately out of time. Gillian, thank you so much for your time, for your energy, for your stories. Appreciate it very much. You can find this episode, again, On Demand here in a couple of days on salespipelineradio.com. For my great producer Paul, this is Matt Heinz. You’ve been listening to Sales Pipeline Radio.