If you've ever wondered how to grow your business when nobody has an idea who you are, this episode is for you.
Here's the thing: I know what it's like to start a business and have to market yourself on a small budget.
What steps do you take when you don't have the money to spend on advertising and nobody cares about you yet? Ryan Kulp explains his strategy and more inside today's episode.
It's the antidote to marketing bullshit.
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Louis: Bonjour, bonjour. And welcome to another piece out of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com. The marketing podcast for marketers, founders, and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I'm your host, Louis Grenier.
In today's episode, you will learn how to grow your business steadily, without ads, and especially when nobody cares about you. So, my guest today is the founder of the social proof marketing company Fomo. They have 13 employees so far. They recently launched an ad network, actually, which just reached 1,000,000 impressions.
What's interesting about my guest today is that he has a very, very similar vision than this podcast. Which is, to give back marketing its good name. He's also an investor in bootstrap startups. And I'm not going to lie, today's guest is quite a character and not your typical Silicon Valley founder. He lives in New York City to start with.
He starts every single sentence with a lower case, which drives me absolutely insane. He does not reply to emails unless you donate to a charity. He doesn't use LinkedIn or Facebook. And finally, he openly shares his political views for everyone to see. Ryan Cope, thanks so much for being on the show. Let's hear what you've got.
Ryan: Thank you for having me Louis, appreciate it.
Louis: Do you like the intro? Was it okay?
Ryan: That was, wow, fantastic. I like knowing that it drives you crazy to write in lowercase. I think now I'm gonna try to write in small caps lowercase, to make it even worse.
Louis: Exactly what I was expecting of you. 'Cause I know you do it for a reason and I know many Grammar Nazi are probably like emailing you every day, so why the fuck are you doing this to me?".
Ryan: Yeah, they do. Well, people wanna understand: Why are you breaking these rules? These societal rules. They're actually all arbitrary rules. But people forget that qualifier about them and they say, "Well, how can you do this if you do that?" Right, how can you grow a startup if you don't pay for advertising?
"How can you hire team members if you don't raise venture funding? How can you get customers if you don't use shady influence tactics? How do you do that without this thing?" And they're failing to recognize that the premise is wrong. The premise is actually created by those industries, right?
So, the idea that a lot of us have ingrained in us as tech founders, that we have to raise money: If I only raise money I could do this. That idea didn't come with us when we came out of our mother's womb. That idea has been taught to us by Silicon Valley investors. Right? Similar to that idea that we should all buy a house and never rent apartments. That we're throwing away money if we rent.
Look, I'm open to buying houses. One day I will buy a house. But we have to acknowledge that the premise there is funded by billions and billions of dollars. Of banks getting together and saying, "Hey, we ought to convince the populace that people should own houses. Or else, they're throwing their money away."
So, this phrase we hear ourselves say out loud; and many of these phrases, they've just been kind of programmed into us. "Oh, you're not buying? You're throwing money away." Well, that sentence was given to us, was delegated to us, by a bank.
And we didn't realize it because they used shady marketing tactics to embed that sentence in us. But we do the same thing in tack. We do the same thing when we think about marketing maxims. We do the same thing when we think about how we construct sentences in our emails.
And so, one small point that I make daily with anyone that I speak with, as you've brought up, is I write in all lower case. I still use pronouns because I want to demonstrate respect for people, places, landmarks, ideas, whatever.
But I write everything else in lower case because it demonstrates that this premise of sentence case is something that was taught to us in elementary school. And it doesn't actually mean anything. It doesn't actually matter. People actually prefer to talk to other people. Which means we prefer being casual, which means we prefer things like lower case. If that's how we send text messages, why can't that be how we send contracts?
Louis: Right, I knew that behind this behavior was lying a very contrarian view of the world. I've read a lot of your articles and a lot of your tweets as well. To get a sense of who you are as a person. It's pretty clear that you like to challenge the status quo and all of that. And that's pretty cool because I'm the same. This is why the podcast started.
Before I ask you more about who you are, why are you such a contrarian person? What made you this way? Towards the end of this episode, let's drill down to the nitty-gritty. Let's read down to the actionable part that everyone wants to know. Because growing steadily your business, without using any ads, and especially when nobody gives a shit about who you are. And you in particular, how do you do that? And that's a problem that all people suffer from.
Let me describe a situation for you, alright? Ryan, you have all the knowledge that you have accumulated through the years and throughout the multiple projects you've started. And some of them sold, acquired other companies and all that. I have formal experience that you're ready right now.
But let's say, I challenge you to forget about not your knowledge, but to forget about you as a person and credibility. And starting from scratch when it comes to you. So, let's imagine that you have no credibility. That nobody knows you and nobody cares.
Let's also imagine that I give you six months to change you. To use the knowledge you have and to grow a business from zero to a business with a decent revenue. Something that we can define that together. What we mean by decent revenue. But trying within this six months time frame to grow this business without using your network. Without using your credibility. And starting really from scratch.
And to add to that, that last part of the challenge is: to do this $1,000 or less. Right? Now, that's a big premise. And maybe you'll say, "No, I can't do that at all." But let's see what you've got. So, if I give you this challenge - six months, $1,000, without using your name. How would you go about creating a business, without these ads, and starting to generate revenue? What would be step number one?
Ryan: Sure, well I actually kind of like when you say that there's a budget constraint. I think it starts there. Because I think, ultimately, when someone says you need to do this or you need to do that. Let's say, the show the Apprentice, or something. And you only have $100 to spend. What they're really saying is: You have no money to spend. Right? Because what's the difference between $100 and $1,000? What's the difference between zero and 1,000?
If you have six months, the largest resource you're putting forth there is your time, your know-how, your resourcefulness. Really, Google. Google spreadsheets and documents are going to be the output. And hopefully some users in revenue from six months of work.
Let's just say I don't even have $1,000 budget, right? So, that means I'm not gonna do any advertisements. My process? This is if I have to change my name and I had no network. And all the things you mentioned, those constraints. My process is very simple. It's who is your customer and where is your customer.
And the way I derive there is I look at the product I have that moment to sell. The product incorporates not only, let's say, it's a SaaS app. Not only the actual product, the thing you log into. But also, the level of service, the pricing, the expectations, the downtime, the uptime, the knowledge base. All of this support. All of the entire ecosystem surrounding that product.
You look at what you have today to sell. You figure out, not your ICP, which is your ideal customer profile. And that's a lie. Everyone's ICP is the same. Everyone's ICP is Google, right? Because Google has unlimited money. They pay on time. They book in advance. They never bother you. Everyone's ICP is the same. So, ICP's don't exist. What I instead think about is our RCP. The realistic customer profile. And that's the person, or the entity, or the business that I can sell to today, with my current product.
Not the company that might start a free trial next week, or next month, or after this one feature's done, or ready, or after we do a big pricing discount. Who would look at my product today and say, "This is a no-brainer"? That is my RCP. And my RCP can change every single day. That's fine. And so, once I've identified my RCP, that's who is my customer. I then ask where is my customer. Specifically, where do they hang out online?
So, if we're in the context of a tech business, where do they hang out online? If you'd have asked me, if the prompt was, "Hey, you walk into a struggling bakery in South Carolina. A small town with a population of 15,000 people. How do you help them grow in six months?" Well, then it would be where do my potential customers hang out physically in person. Are they at cafe's? Right? Something like that.
Right, supposing we're still in a tech context, it starts where figuring out where they hang out online. And then I go there. I go to those places. Maybe that's a forum. Maybe that's Reddit. Maybe they're reading blogs. Maybe they are actually clicking ads. Maybe they're on Facebook and Facebook Groups.
Wherever the customer is, I go there. I get to know them. I talk to them. An as Gary Vee says, "Add value, add value, add value. And then, ask for their business". I've done this for years. So, it doesn't matter if some people might know Ryan Cope. Or, my acknowledged FOMO. Or might've heard some of these things.
That process is the same. And as you grow your network and as you do these things, you actually just develop a gut feeling for who the customer is. You develop a gut feeling for where the customer is. But the process doesn't change. I think if I were to take everything I know now and throw it in the trash, what you ultimately then do, as a marketer, as an entrepreneur, you go full circle in that process.
When you're just getting started you say, "Look, I know nothing. I assume nothing. I know nothing". So, you read books by Eric Ries and you look at blog posts that say: test everything, lean startup, do customer development surveys, launch an MVP without any code, do a landing page, take money before you build a product.
These are all really common pieces of advice. But they only really are useful, they only are really necessary if you know nothing. Or if you're coming from the perspective that you want to know, or assume nothing. But then you start to get a gut feeling about things. Then you start to figure out, "Well, I can kinda look at this business. Spend ten minutes doing either keyboard research, or searching around for competitors, or whatever."
Suddenly, now, you can size up. "You know what? I don't think I'm gonna be able to grow this with ads. Because the PPC is 50 bucks." "You know what? I don't think I'm gonna be able to grow this content. Because I use XYZ tools. And all the top-ranking posts have a domain authority that would take me two years to achieve."
Right? You start to size things ups and figure things out. Then you get a head start. So, every venture gives you some lessons. So, that that next venture you can go from zero to something faster. But ultimately, what happens is, in this prompt we're going through now, where I have six months to grow something from scratch. And I don't get to use any of my tools. What I'd ultimately do is implement the ultimate wisdom. Which is, back to I know nothing. Right?
So, if I were, let's say, to one day exit FOMO. And these other projects I'm working on and start a brand new project. I would have the option then to either say, "Well, I've spent years developing my gut. And gut is sort of insight, but some people call it bias." I tweeted the other day. I'm trying to understand what's the difference between bias and insight. And nobody has an answer yet. So maybe, if someone wants to chime in, I'll probably retweet that.
But when you acknowledge that you have kind of an idea of what works and why; you can then decide consciously to reject that and start over from scratch. With customer development surveys, with landing pages, with pre-paid accounts before you build technology, with wireframes that you just send to people as attachments. Instead of even building a landing page. So, it all kind of comes full circle.
Who is the customer? I'd figure that out by understanding the product. If marketers don't understand the product then what are they marketing, right? Anyone can sell anything once. That's the other piece here. So, how would I grow something? Well, it depends the nature of the thing I'm growing, this business model. If it's an info product then I could use suave and charm, and influence tactics, and scarcity and urgency.
Because anyone can sell anything once. That's why there's a lot of really scummy marketers selling info products. It's not because info products are bad. It's because info products, by the nature of their business model, one-time very large ticket item sales; they attract people whose skills sets are suave, charm, scarcity and then they bounce. And then they disappear. They attract people who only want to work one day a week. They attract people who only want to work really hard for two weeks every quarter, right?
The business model attracts the scumminess. It's kind of like skateboarding, right? Skateboarding's great. But skateboarding has a culture of being a punk ass. Skateboarding has a culture of being anti-authoritarian, dropping out of high school, and getting tattoo's. And maybe cracking your head open. Those are separate, but they're sort of symptoms of part of the skateboarding culture.
There's something similar going on with business. And when you're in SaaS. To me, that's the most honest business model. On one hand, consumers could say they don't like paying every month. "I want to pay one-time." But, on the other hand, consumers can stop paying you if you stop delivering on the promise.
Marketing is all about following through on the promise of the product that you've shared with someone. And so, in SaaS, you don't get to just sell something once. If we sold Fomo to thousands of people every month, once, we wouldn't have a business.
It only works because we followed through on that promise. So, it keeps us honest. Business models, in a way, also dictate how you grow something. And what strategies you use. Without your network, without even looking at the product in detail. Just thinking about the business models makes an impact there. How would I go about doing it? Maybe more specifically, I think I might need a prompt for the type of business. Right?
Louis: Let me stop you there. Because you shared so many things that are very interesting. I feel the need to deconstruct it and go back. Let's say, exactly as you said, "Let's agree that we are not gonna talk about the making of the product today, together." Because that's not really the point of this episode.
But instead, let's assume that we do have some sort of a product that is in like version zero point one. Let's say it's a subscription business, right? Maybe we can come up with one right now. You mentioned network, you mentioned you did FOMO. What rough idea would you like to pick right now? Just so that we have an idea that we can start to say, "How do we sell this?".
Ryan: What about milk delivery? To your home.
Louis: Alright. So, milk delivery that you pay online though.
Louis: Alright. And it's kind of a tech company in the sense. 'Cause then you can, very much like SaaS, you pay every month. You get it delivered to your door every day.
Louis: And you need to keep delivering that, so that person keeps paying you, and gets its milk delivered every day.
Ryan: Totally. So, Instacart for milk. Instacart minus the vegetables.
Louis: Alright, let's start with that. So, now that you mentioned this ideal customer profile and this realistic customer profile. There's one thing that you mentioned. If I had to summarize, if I had to sell something that I think people would really like to get know, understand more; is this concept of guts.
I think, this challenge that I started with you, is not about forgetting what you know. It's just forgetting your name. In a sense that you can just seem to sell easily 'cause you already have a huge network. But, indeed, you can and you should use knowledge and those guts that you've developed through the years.
Maybe let's try to extract those pieces of wisdom that you have. That you naturally kind of go through every time you think of something using SaaS. Then maybe we can make them explicit for everybody else to know.
Ryan: Yeah, sure. We actually do this exercise a lot. On kind of this side of FOMO. I also buy small companies like you mentioned, through an entity or a fund we started, called Fork Equity. And when we're looking at companies to buy, we have all of these constraints going into it. So, before we look at the code. Before it's kind of our problem to grow it, we go, "Well, I only have a few hours a week I could dedicate to a new project". And that's the lens we now look at those projects with.
Is that the most ideal way to evaluate possible acquisitions? Maybe not, but it works for us, right? For example, if we come across a business, we figure out: how many sign-ups do you get per day? Where do those sign-ups come from? If the source of those sign-ups is one channel over another, that alone could be a deal breaker for whether we buy the company. Some of our businesses--and most of our side project businesses--we really on inbound traffic.
It's evergreen. It doesn't require daily maintenance. It actually kind of compounds over time. Whereas, there is a lot of marketing channels that have the opposite effect as compound interest. You actually have to work harder over time to get the same results. I think one good example of that would be something like Facebook Ads. Right? As you exhaust an audience, as you see in your Facebook Ad campaign portal, that your frequency is above three, or a seven, or whatever heuristic marketers are sticking to these days.
Now, suddenly, you need to cycle out a new audience. You have to redo your metrics. Now, you have to compare historicals. And say, "You know what? Should we just keep hitting our old audience? Or should we go after this new market?" If you change your audience too much, now you need to go to your website and change your messaging. Set the handshake for from those new ads to the new audience resonates with them. It's kind of a mess.
Whereas, you have an inbound kind of primary source of traffic. Or source of clients. Then, you could do things a lit bit differently. And maybe, you can focus on building the product, or outsourcing product development. And just focus on very high level, "Where do I show up?" And Google.
And so, the knowledge you have allows you to look on a per-channel basis. Compare that to your bandwidth, compare that to your interests, and your competence. And now you have this matrix, with a document. With a pen and pad.
You can kind of go through multiple scenarios before you buy a business. Before you join a company. Before you start a company. And you can kind of already model out how the growth may develop. And again, it's not 100% certain. But, I'll put it this way. You know a lot of marketers talk about "test everything, test everything". I don't know.
Ryan: It's cool. But, you could save a lot of time if you have a little bit of conviction.
Louis: Yeah, that's why I'm struggling to understand the concept of this book. That talks about all those channels that you need to test one-by-one. The Growth Hacking book talks about it. There's also this, I'm going to forget the name. But, there's this book that goes through, basically, 19 or 17 channels you can go through.
Louis: Traction, exactly. And I always followed with for the exact reason: first off, you have knowledge; it's doesn't sub channels and you don't have that in other channels. Also, as you said, the more experience you have, the more guts you can use.
To say, "You know what? These type of channels, for the type of company you are trying to create, it's not gonna work. We are here for the long-term. We are here for the long haul." And therefore, only focusing on ads and PPC. Social ads is not gonna create for us and all of that.
So, can you repeat for me, the matrix that you just started to mention? That you can kind of draft on a piece of paper?
Ryan: Sure. Well, I think the process is working backward from some goal. So, if you have a goal at a company to achieve some certain revenue. Well, the quick heuristic; and we talked about this before, with why are we told to write lower case? Why are told to raise venture capital? Is that you should get more users.
But if you pause, you realize: Well, what if I could just double the price of what my current users pay? And the things that you would need to do, the behaviors that stem from that decision, are gonna look very different than if you decide you need more users. If you're a marketer and you step into a product that has a thousand clients, and your boss says, "Your job is to double our revenue." And, you're evaluating the market and you're saying, "Okay, well, we're humming over here. We are capped out on our ad spend over there. We can't even hit our daily budgets. Our content team's already producing this new thing".
Go through the line. All the different channels and things that they're doing that got them to the thousand clients. You may decide that you just need a different product. You may decide that you need your product to charge more. You may decide you need to launch a new revenue's arm. And if that's the decision you come to, next thing you know, marketing isn't the thing that gets you to X revenue.
At Fomo, we've tried to practice that a lot. We didn't even have a business team until a few months ago. So, we were very much an engineering culture. And any, quote-unquote marketing we did, was very casual. Something like this. It was chatting with someone on a podcast. It was product marketing. It was sequential drip emails. Which were just driven by sequel queries, right? Not point-and-click in a marketing automation tool.
And we were able to grow without what we think of, in terms of marketing. We were able to grow without having a weekly KPI Dashboard standup. We didn't even have a KPI Dashboard until five weeks ago. It looks pretty. I don't know if anyone uses it. I don't know if it does anything. We kind of keep growing, or not growing, regardless. So, I'm trying to figure that out.
Louis: Right. So this matrix you have, you have all of those channels. Potential stuff you can do. And then you have what you're good at. And you also have this other limit, I feel, of what do you want to do? What is the vision for the company? Going back to this milk delivery service, do you want to get acquired by a massive company in the next five years? Do you want to actually rely on this business? To create a family around. And to see me here in maybe 30, 40, 50 years. Right? So, depending on the objective then, the type of things you're gonna do to get those people in might differ. Right?
Ryan: That's exactly right. I mean, look, I'm a tech entrepreneur. Whether I want to be, or not. So, if I decided I want to get into the milk delivery business. And the one constraint we've decided is that I must charge for the subscription online. I'm gonna build some sort of online experience. But, ultimately, the product is a physical product.
What I'm gonna realize very early on, just from having experienced doing stuff like this, is that the bulk of the business is gonna be localized logistics. It's not gonna be tech. I'm gonna try to apply technology to everything. So we're gonna have inventory management. Maybe that's really just spreadsheets for the first $1,000,000 in sales, whatever.
But, I'm gonna realize that growing it; or, at least maintaining it--day-to-day operations--is gonna come down to localized logistics. Therefore, as a marketer, as the founder responsible for growing it; I may actually invest more time in the business model itself to turn it into, let's say, a franchise.
Because I might realize: You know what? Do I really wanna be flying around the country to be opening up warehouses for local logistics? Do I really wanna be filing licenses for delivery trucks and getting permits? No. Right? That's not what I know.
And so, what I might then do, with the skills I do have as a tech founder; is figure out a way that I can franchise and containerize the businesses. Ways that I can figure out multi-tendencies. So that there's an online portal that a local franchisee logs into to order more milk. And now, ultimately, all I've built is an e-commerce store. That sells milk by the payload. That sells milk by the pallet. Instead of milk by the bottle.
And now I've worked this business into something that's in my wheelhouse. Which is just an online e-commerce store. Something I know a lot about. And I'm selling 500 bottles instead of one bottle. At the very end of that customer experience is a local delivery. But because that's not my competence, I've worked the business model to my favor. To figure out, to get other people who have that competence to run that aspect.
Louis: So, people struggle, I think, with this element. The simple element of understanding what your strengths are. You seem to have a good understanding of what you're good at, right? And what you enjoy doing. What you don't. What would you say then, to people listening, and who wonder what they're actually good at. What they should focus on. How do you find that out?
Ryan: Hmm. For me, I agree--I don't know who said this, maybe Mark Andreessen or someone--but it said: writing is thinking. And so that's why I try to write around once a week. I'm not nearly as prolific as a lot of people. But I try to write a blog post on my personal website, in a private Google Doc, on our company website. As a guest post. I try to just ship something every week or so. Because each time I write something, I've actually thought through something. It's really the benefit to me.
And there's side benefits of, I don't know, a new follower or something. But, as I started writing over the last few years, you can do a word cloud of your own content. Right? So, it's all kind of subconscious. But your subconscious doesn't lie to you because it doesn't know; it doesn't know that it's telling the truth.
And so, we can kind of look at our pieces that we've created. Whether it's a blog post or whether it is just the side projects that you've launched. And you can look for patterns between those projects. So, you can't just do it with one point, right? Each piece, each essay, each side project you ship, each networking event you go to; these are all individual data points.
But, I would have never come to that conclusion a couple of years ago. Two and half years ago we started Fomo. I just thought, "Oh, here's what the product does." But, then I looked back and now we own a cookie plugin and now we have these different products. And I've had to admit to myself, "Oh, I'm into B2B". For years, I thought I was more into consumer tech. For years, I thought I was more into consumer packaged goods.
And turns out, if I look backward connect the data points, I'm into B2B tech, low touch, right? Self-service onboarding, no demo call, lower price point, 50 to a couple hundred bucks a month. That's my interest. Once I stopped fighting that, now I'm able to double down on building, buying, delivering products that fit that framework.
Louis: Right, that makes sense. And that's an insight I've never thought of, this way. Doing a rough count of your content. And I agree with you, it's insane how writing thoughts on paper is really powerful. There's this 750words.com. Which is, this kind of morning pages concept where you write 750 words every morning. You put your thoughts on papers. And even though your thoughts are in your mind, and the sense of that on paper; the effect is very different.
'Cause it feels like, it feels as you say: You've thought through them. You've actually digested them and now you can move on to something else. So, I would agree. Definitely, something people need to do. If you're listening to this, start doing right now if you're not doing that.
Now, going back to the first challenge we mentioned. So, now, you have a fair amount of understanding your strength and what you're good at. You also have a good understanding of your objectives. So, let's say, it could be for this milk delivery company. To actually start making company, in the first place.
You mentioned something interesting. You mentioned, "I would hang out in places that my ideal customers, my actual realistic customers would hang out in". But, then you also talked about understanding who those people are. And you mentioned your guts again. To talk about those potential customers.
So, maybe you can explicitly mention how when you invest in a company. When you're looking at yours, how do you find out those customers? Those first people you want to reach and sell to.
Ryan: Sure. Well, it starts in a different way than most people figure out customer personas. Most people think about customer personas as a four-hour task. And, there's a whiteboard. And they schedule it a week, or two, in advance. They get all their key stakeholders. "Hey, next Thursday let's figure out our customer persona." You're already losing if you're doing that.
So, customer personas are your realistic customer profile. Again, it's a moving target. Because it's the person who calls today's product a no-brainer. And your product is hopefully improving, and evolving, all of the time. So, today's RCP is probably gonna be a little bit deprecated, by next week, hopefully. So, it's a moving target. Not a four-hour brainstorm exercise.
It's also because we're talking about in terms of realistic profiles and not idealistic profiles. It means we have that we have to humble ourselves. And it means that we have to use breadcrumbs. Let's call them breadcrumbs. And these breadcrumbs are the behaviors of those people.
So, let's say, I want to do milk delivery. Yeah, in a way, anyone could assume that my ideal customer profile, or my realistic customer profile, is someone who drinks a lot of milk. But, if I went through that process as a brainstorm session. And I had instead ended the brainstorm with my ideal customer profile, it would probably look a little different.
It would be someone who buys 500 gallons of milk every week for the local elementary school. Right? That would be my ICP. And then my behaviors are the things I would then do about it. I would hire a business development person. Who's had previous experience selling to EDU and governments. Right?
And that's a wildly different next step effort. Than I said, "Yeah, one day we'd love to sell to people who buy 500 bottles. But our realistic customer profile is probably someone who buys one or two. And now I've decided that that person looks more like a new mom who shops at Whole Foods. And, lady isn't a big fan of nursing her kid with her own product.
She's looking for an alternative. Well now, suddenly, my next step behavior looks very different. Now, instead of hiring maybe an older, senior business development person who's got experience in politics and selling to governments. Now, I'm hiring someone who maybe is a new mom and is in a local book club. And could pitch it to 15 people next Thursday night, at seven. And get my first few clients by Friday.
So, these efforts that I'm putting forth to grow the milk business are so different based on the assumptions that go in. And really, the humility that I'm willing to exhibit during that profile curation executrices.
Louis: But how do you actually go about it? Because you're naturally talking about two different types. And, obviously, we're talking about a fictional example here. But, do you have from experience, a way to kind of nail this kind of realistic customer profile? To the point where you're fairly comfortable with it. To the point where you can focus your efforts to get those people.
So, in other words, when you are planning to acquire a company, for say, you probably have this type of discussion. Right? To understand: Okay, who are those actual customers we want to get? So, do you have a process to do that? Do you have secret sauce, even? To actually go back to this answer.
Ryan: Well, sure. So, none of this stuff; the way I've maybe described it so far, is it sounds like it's in a vacuum. Like we can just decide. We can just decide it's gonna be a young mom versus an older education cafeteria buyer. But things don't happen in a vacuum. So, one way to start figuring out and start drawing hints from who is your realistic customer profile is to actually look at the competition.
I wouldn't necessarily call it my secret sauce. But, certainly, a lot of marketers, a lot of entrepreneurs, think it's really cool to quote-unquote ignore the competition. I don't think that's cool at all. I think it's critical to see what the competition's doing. That does not mean that I'm saying you should do what the competition's doing. But you should know what they're doing.
You should treat competitors like free interns. Right? They're just a room full of dude's. Well, maybe women. But, let's be honest, mostly dude's. And they have a similar vision as you. And they're trying to figure out how to grow the market demand.
What's the difference between that and a bunch of free interns? They're sitting in a room. They're thinking of how to grow this market. So, I like paying attention to competitors. And when you pay attention to what competitors are doing. That's one part of it. And some people stop there. But, when you pay attention to what competitors are not doing, I think it gets really interesting.
For example, one company that we bought is called Lobiloo. LOBILOO.COM. Nobody listening will want to use this product. So, I'm not selling you. But, it's an invoice generator for florists. And it was the first one to come out. It launched in 2013. It ranks page one on Google for all our key terms. And a few competitors have come out over the years. Since then. There's some sirens.
Louis: Don't worry about it.
Ryan: And those competitors cost more and they do more. Right? So, I stepped into the business and my first thought was: Well, geez, should I scale the product to do all the things that competitors do to quote-unquote stay competitive? Or stay relevant. And after reading reviews for competitors, and after getting to know some of our existing customers, I kind of realized a few things.
One is that most florists are not super tech-savvy. They don't want to be tech-savvy. Right? They don't even want to be on a computer. They wanna be designing floral arrangements. They wanna be working with clients. They wanna be sitting in the bake eating cake at a wedding that's going really phenomenally well. And they're gonna get a great review from their client for it.
That's what they want to do. So, I got into the psyche of these clients. And I realized: You know what? We don't need the product to be the Salesforce for florists. We don't need the product to do that much more. Instead, we invested efforts in making it a little more usable. Adding a couple things that people had been canceling for. Right?
'Cause we certainly don't wanna create, knowingly be conscious of churn, that we can solve for. After that, now, we're actually pivoting. Or, repositioning the messaging so that, look, Lobiloo is when you just want to save some hours. Every month. You don't wanna waste time on the computer. You don't want to spend too much time putting together proposals. We just try to make that part really easy for you.
If you want all of these other features, the CRM type of stuff. You can imagine all of the different things some folks might want. Then, Lobiloo's not for you. And we don't really wanna build that either. And so, by putting our foot in the ground there, we've actually had even last week, someone canceled. They had been a long-time user. They said, "No hard feelings. I gotta cancel. I've gotta go look maybe for another solution."
They came back four days later and they said, "Actually, can you reactivate my account. Hopefully, my information wasn't deleted. I couldn't find a better alternative. Really appreciate you having me back." And so, it's already kind of already starting to pay off. We are intentionally remaining simplistic. We are intentionally remaining a little less expensive. We intentionally remaining hands off.
But, if I had approached this differently, I could have ripped all of that upside down. I could have said day one, we're gonna put in live chat. Day one, we're gonna double pricing. I didn't because we listened to the market. That was existing customers and we also listened to what people were saying about our competitors.
Now that is our strategy. Right? Is not just doing the normal stuff. Where you buy a company and try to change everything immediately.
Louis: So, if I have to extract one thing from what you said, which is, I think, the secret sauce that we can even expand on, go over in more detail; is the fact that you can use instead of doing a lot of customer development with people, and all of that. You can use what businesses already have. The competitors and all of that.
And identify the weaknesses. The things not doing so well. Purely by looking at publicly leviable information. Customer reviews, mainly customer reviews. They could be reviews by bloggers. And do these massive reviews of each tool.
And you can start to understand. Okay, there is something interesting there. There's a trend. And I go that goes back to the guts; to the experience that you say today, Rob. Is that you start to have a sense for those weaknesses that those competitors have. That you can leverage as an advantage for yourself, right?
Ryan: That's exactly right. And it reminds me of something I actually heard Seth Godin say. I was in Chicago a few months ago and he spoke. I was at his keynote. And he said, "Look, if you ask customers what they want, it's always the same. They want more for less."
Again, it goes back to what we started talking about. Which is, failed, or broken premises. If we look at products; if we buy a company and it's got ten competitors and we've looked them all up. And we see what features they have and how much they charge for those features. It's really easy to say, "Yeah, let's just achieve feature parody. Let's charge about the same. And let's kind of cross our fingers."
So, if 100 people are gonna sign up for one of the tools a day. Let's hope that we get ten of those sign-ups. And then, if we do a bunch of ads maybe we'll get 15 of those sign-ups. That's most marketers. That's okay. But, if you want to try to grow ten businesses at the same time you have to think a little bit differently.
You have to apply systems to your growth. I think you have to have conviction. And a point=of-view. And so, at Lobiloo, it was: Hey, how can we kind of do less for less? Right? I don't wanna get stuck in the rat race of doing more for less. Because unlike some of these competitors, I don't have a full team to build features, grow them, write knowledge-based articles, sit on live chat.
It's just me. We bought Lobiloo and it's just me. I do the coding. I do the support. I answer the phone calls. I do the emails. And luckily, it's not too much. It's a couple hours a week. We've owned it for about seven months now.
So, it's going okay. But, if I'd wanted to try to compete with the other folks, without the same resources. Well, I've just given myself a really bad kind of recipe for my lifestyle. And so, by saying, "Let's do less for less," instead of trying to do more for less. Now, that's part of our growth strategy.
And now, we're kind of becoming that cheaper, simpler alternative to X. Before there wasn't anyone serving that market. Every other competitor is in the same rat race. They're competing on the same premise.
Louis: Give me the practical way to actually identify this doing less for less. So, when you're talking about the competitors, to this company this you mentioned, are we talking about like the invoicing software for any type of businesses? Or, were there actually invoicing software for especially for florists? How did the landscape look like?
Ryan: Sure. So, the main competitors do it for not any business, but for event planners in general. And then, with somewhat of concentration on florists. And the florists, each case is really unique. Because it's all about visuals. So, a florist wants their invoice to have actual images of flowers. Right?
So, that's very different from the average invoice where you just have a line item. With a number of hours and a short description. When you bake that into your product...now, suddenly, you need a search engine. And now, you suddenly need to add metadata to an image of a flower. So that you know if the flower's yellow. Or if it's in season in July. Right?
You don't want someone to make an invoice in July and tag and include flowers in that invoice for a flower that doesn't grow until January. And so, all those kind of considerations make the product really pretty linchpin for our users. The way I started to learn, specifically, how could we differentiate. Because I know nothing about flowers, right?
I know how to send invoices. I've done that a lot. But, that's about it. And I started listening through just the inbox. So, email was the full interface to a lot of these insights. For example, people would email and say, "I'm considering signing up. I just want to make sure there's no annual contract."
And I thought that was kind of odd. We don't really get that question at FOMO. And at my other SaaS products. So, I thought that was kind of odd. And I wanted to investigate. I Googled around. I looked at our competitors pricing pages.
And sure enough, almost all of them do an upfront annual deal. They also accompany that with an onboarding call. So you get some service. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the annual deal. But I just identified that that was the norm for this industry.
Is that people pay annual licenses. And then I identified the reason why. Which is, that people will have a wedding season. They'll do 20 weddings in three months. And then they want to shut down all of their tools. They don't want to pay during their offseasons.
So, these other competitors have figured that out. They charge you annual. But, for some florists who want the flexibility to cancel. Or, they don't have a really big rush season. They kind of do part-time one event a month or something. They're okay to pay all year. But, they want that month-to-month flexibility.
Again, that was another insight kind of stacked upon another insight. The nature of florists and their business model. And the nature of the lumpiness of their sales. Coupled with the business model of our competitors, who try to combat that with annual pricing.
And now, we're just able to kind of fit right in the middle. I don't wanna say in the middle. But fit in, in a new space that we've carved out for ourselves. Which is, no monthly contracts. Now, suddenly, something is simple as what I consider vanilla SaaS stack, right?
You sign up and you pay once a month. To me, that's just like a no brainer. But, evidently, to florists, that is now a differentiator for us. But I only learned that through the inbox and through a little bit of research.
Ryan: It goes back to the very core principle of something we talked about. With Seth Godin, you mentioned his name a few times. He's like focusing on the tiniest audience possible. So that you can deliver surely the best experience ever. And you mentioned a quick example.
But, I'd really illustrate this concept very, very well. You mentioned that florists want very visual invoices. Florists want flowers on invoices. But, florists are obviously experts in flowers. And, therefore, you can make a huge mistake if you add by default, an image of a flower that only blossoms a specific time of the year.
Or, even worse, there is only using funerals. Or that kind of stuff.
Louis: So, this is when you dig in to; you get so specific into your tiny audience that you can offer truly something amazing for them. That truly differentiates yourself from the rest. And that becomes this purple cow, to use what Seth Godin would mention as well.
And it's quite interesting to hear. From your perspective, a real example of how that would actually work. Because we've talked about this concept a few times on the podcast. But I can sense that listeners, a lot of them would be scared. Because that's a big thing to do.
You are a contrarian. I think you enjoy taking the opposite's view. A thought that most people will have. And I can sense that you're not afraid to take a risk and to take a stand, right? Maybe, that's not a question I was planning.
But, most of the time I don't plan most questions. How would you encourage people who may be a little afraid of taking such a stand? Of taking such a risk. And to actually do it.
Ryan: Yeah, great question. I used to really like, well, I still really like him. He's kind of a magician, mentalist guy in Britain. Named Derren Brown. And he used to have his own show right on channel four. And, I actually saw him live in New York a few months ago. So, now he's kind of a stage performer.
But he's gay. And he didn't come out until maybe his late 20s, early 30s. And he told this story on stage. I just saw him Manhattan, earlier this year. And he said, "I was so nervous for years. To come out to my family and friends. And the public and whatever. And then, what I did, I said: Hey, I'm gay. People just said, "Okay." And nobody cared. It was anticlimactic.
I think it's the same in marketing and entrepreneurship. It's totally the same. People are longing to hear someone who just believes what they're saying. Who doesn't tremble when they speak. Who has conviction and a point-of-view. And if you do that, the people who are still working up their own courage to join you; they'll prop you up.
They'll push you forward. And they'll encourage you. If you feel kind of weak, or scared. A) You can just acknowledge maybe everybody does. Some people are better at faking it. And it's okay to double down on something.
So, for example, I got into coding a few years ago. And I spent a year or two just thinking about it before I spent a couple years doing it. Because I thought I wasn't smart enough. I thought: Well, I'm not that smart. I'm not that type of smart. That flavor of smart.
I'm kind of creative, but I'm not good at math. Turns out, I've never done more than algebra in anything I've built. And I've built 35 projects. They're all live. You could check 'em out. So, all of these premises were wrong.
Then, someone told me, "Well, Ryan, all of these engineers at these companies that you enjoy..." Let's say, I don't know Uber. They said, "They're not any smarter than you." I remember the specific person who said this. I don't want to call him out. But, I remember the person. I remember the place. I was in San Francisco at a breakfast place called The Grove.
And I remember the moment he said that. Shortly thereafter I started taking coding classes. Now, that's how I spend half of my time. So, to someone who's listening and they're afraid, just kind of realize that your fear itself is fake news. And it's resting on top of a false premise. It's not true.
If you think it's not true then someone in your life has probably been feeding you those bad ideas. And you should extract them from your life. So your bigger problem is getting rid of the poison from you life. It's not figuring out how to get things done. How to learn new skills. And how to achieve more.
Louis: I think the name of your next blog title should be Fear is Fake News.
Ryan: Laughs. Okay.
Louis: I challenge you to do it. If you don't do it, I'll be very disappointed. But that's a great answer. And it's the same for me. It's funny when I started a podcast, I feel I'm quite the same than you in the sense that I like to take contrarian opinions. I like to take a stand. I'm not afraid of it.
But, because it's an addictive thing, when you start doing it you realize, as you said, that it's like coming out. It's like all of that. Usually, hopefully, if you come out to people who understand you and love you, it's going to be very anticlimactic.
And it's a bit the same when you take a stand. Like Everyone Hates Marketers. It's funny how people will connect with that. I've yet received one email that actually insulted me. Or said, "This is bullshit. Your podcast is bullshit." I actually have not received one.
I was expecting to receive one. I get a few emails saying, "You should stop cursing." And all of that. But nothing related to the concept of the core idea. So, goes to show you that it's all in your head. And, as you said, "Fear is fake news."
Right, so. Going back to the premise of the first question I asked you. I'm maybe trying to wrap it up. Do you feel there is anything else, as part of your experience that you've built--like creating so many projects and mentioning them at the same time. And all of this insane experience you've built; anything, any secret sauce, any guts, type of check that you do regularly when you want to acquire a business, or start a new one? That you do naturally.
Ryan: Well, you know when you go to the gym and you're on your second set. Let's say, you do a typical three sets of ten reps of something. Some weight lift. And when you're on the seventh, or eighth, rep of maybe the second or third set, you're very close to finishing. And your muscles are just kind of dying.
And maybe you're listening to music though. You're listening to EDM, or Drake, or something. You're trying to motivate yourself. You kind of say this to yourself in your head: Be hardcore. Just do it. Just one more. You'll be done. One more, you'll feel good about yourself.
Or maybe if you're a runner, you're looking at your Nike running app. And you're almost there. But you really have a cramp. Or, you're really running out of breath. You really want to throw up. And you decide to just push through that little extra bit.
I think I try to do that mentally. All of the time. So that moment you get in the gym a couple times a week, try to do that with your brain power. Every day. Every hour. Every moment you feel yourself slipping, once it's five or six o'clock. Whenever you stop for the day and eat dinner. Try to have that breakthrough.
So, that after dinner you can push yourself to go back to it. If you need to. I'm not advocating for not doing anything but work. But, I think a lot of us don't achieve what we want because we don't work hard enough for it.
And if we can take that semblance of hardcore, just do it, push through it; that a lot of us are able to pull off with physical endeavors like at the gym, or while running. If we can just work that into our day-to-day knowledge worker mindset, we'd get more done. And we'd get the things that we want out life.
But, ultimately, we're able to be kind of strong willed in the gym and then weak minded in front of a computer. It's strange. If we can adapt the mindset, everything kind of, in my opinion, comes to fruition.
Louis: If you have to select, to summarize your personality, or your character, in one story; one event that made you who you are today, what would it be?
Ryan: What a good one. What a good one. I've actually written about this. Is that okay?
Ryan: So, a few years ago we launched an incubator in Detroit. We decided that ideas are not useless. A lot of people say ideas are worthless. We think, actually, ideas are worth a ton. And execution also matters. These are not mutually exclusive. It's not that ideas are worthless. Execution's everything.
Idea and execution is everything combined. It's a composite record in your database. So, we decided to start an idea stage incubator. Which is, the antithesis of what anybody ever wants to fund. They want to fund traction, they want to fund a sure thing. From consumers to VC's. We want a sure thing.
And we're lying to ourselves when evaluate things that don't feel like sure things. We started this idea stage incubator. We decided the best place to do it was Detroit. Which is, for anyone who is not in American, might not know, it's kind of a shithole. It used to be great.
It used to be the auto capitol of the world. Now, they don't even have clean water apparently. And it's just not good. You can buy a house for a dollar. No joke. You can buy a house for a dollar as long as you promise to renovate it.
So, we do this incubator. We go out there, we get sponsors, we fly in 25, 30 people. Spending all of our personal money because we believed in it. And we wrap up the week, everything goes really well, and we're flying back. Well, my team, we were trying to save money, right.
It was a very expensive project. It was a very expensive experiment. So, we all bought tickets on Spirit Airlines. Which is, also just the shittiest airline in America. They don't give you water. They don't even give you water. You have to pay for it. You have to pay for each carry-on. Not just checked bags, carry-on's.
It's kind of like hell in the air and you pay for it. So, we had booked all of our flights with Spirit and they canceled our flights home. And they said the next flight they could get us on, this was a Monday, the next flight they could get us on was that Friday. Which meant we'd have to get hotels for seven or eight people for a week.
We'd have to maybe extra fee's for the flights. It was a no go. It was a: We cannot do this. And we have to choose our own destiny. Because I'm a big believer in choosing your own destiny. No one else decides. It's up to you. And so what we did was, we joined Hertz Gold.
Hertz is a car rental company. The Gold program is free. At least for the first year. And once you're a Gold member you get all of these cool perks and benefits. For free, online, on a smart phone, we joined Hertz Gold. We then called the Hertz Gold rental center at the Detroit airport. We rented huge Tahoe SUV. We paid an extra maybe $20.
For the ability to depart, or take the SUV back to a different airport than we got it from. We drove straight to La Guardia. We drove straight to New York City. Starting Monday afternoon. We got home around three a.m. We drove east from Michigan, through Pennsylvania, Ohio etc.
And while we did that, we wanted vengeance. Right? We didn't want vengeance I should say. We wanted justice. It wasn't good enough that we were all actually still gonna be home that night in our beds. We wanted to do something a little bit. We wanted to do something. We wanted to make a point.
And that's kind of why half of why I exist. And the money just fuels the ability to make more points that are bigger and louder. And so, we actually looked on Twitter and we saw that Spirit doesn't tweet. They have a Twitter account, but it says, "Our Twitter's on autopilot because social media teams cost money."
So, just everything about this brand is wrong. We decided to make a handle: @SpiritCares. And we started tweeting at everyone who is complaining about Spirit. As if we were Spirit's customer service team. After one or two tweets back and forth, we would just like curse at them.
So, someone would say, "I lost my bag at Spirit. I hate you." And we would tweet and say, "Thanks, Sharon. All bags are donated to charity." We tweeted hundreds of these troll tweets. This was in 2015. And hundreds of them. People started getting it. They started laughing. And we were actually providing better customer service for Spirit than they ever have.
Because actual customers who are actually upset were laughing and feeling relieved when they realized that this kind of fake account was brightening their day. The next morning we woke up, our account was suspended. There is no more SpiritCares. But it was kind of this project, we made a point. I screenshotted some of our greatest hits.
I wrote about it. It's now a case study called Spirit Cares. And it's about the importance of owning your brand. Because if you don't own your brand someone else will. So, I think the key learning from there, about myself. Or about just the ethos I try to build; is anti-authoritarian, choosing your own destiny, not taking no for an answer, and getting whatever you want if you're willing to do whatever it takes.
Louis: It's an amazing story. But it still feels like if we could dig a bit deeper right now into; are your parents this way? Or, are the actual opposite of what you've described? Where is it coming from? Do you know?
Ryan: Sure. Well, I've always thought that the impact our parents make on us is equal. It's the same magnitude, right. Either you become just like your parents, or you become the polar opposite. But their impact on you is the same number of, if you could turn it into a measurable unit; it's the same number of points.
And it's just which direction that impact goes. For me, growing up, there was no childhood drama. There was no drama. Not everything was fine. But I do think that in general, I was told enough times by friends, or by authorities, by English teachers. Right? Misplaced comma's or whatever. That you can't do it, you can't do it.
After you hear that enough times, you either agree with it; and that's I think a lot of people on the planet, unfortunately. Or, you explode. You set out to prove that idea wrong. So, I've been very thankful that that was kind of how my brain reacted to being told I couldn't do something hundreds of times. Was it exploded.
I kind of lit on fire. I'm still trying to fan the flame. One day, I'm sure, it will die. And then I won't be able to go on podcasts and help people. But until then, I'm just kind of shipping and yeah, as long as the high is there. But it didn't come from a specific, yeah, individual.
I've never had a mentor or an advisor. I've never had a CEO coach. Although, I've thought about it. It kind of just came from the culmination of wanting to prove other people wrong. What I think is, the good news about that is, I don't think that's a unique story. Right?
I think most of us are told that we can't do certain things. We're told by other people who are insecure about what they're able to do. And they're projecting on us. And so, this is hopefully, really relatable to a lot of us.
Louis: Yeah, absolutely. I connect with what you said. I feel it's a bit the same. So, I ask three questions at the end of every podcast episode. So, the first one. What do you think marketers should learn today? That will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years.
Ryan: Empathy. Yeah, we're spending too much time learning interfaces. Learning how to use tools. And not how to talk to humans. I think the hardest part of building a company is programming humans. It's easy to program a computer. It does the same thing. It always behaves. It tells you exactly why something didn't work. If your programming didn't work.
Humans never tell you the bug. Every human has their own bugs. And every human speaks their own programming language. So, empathy and consumer psychology is the number one thing I think a marketer should focus on today. And then, all the tools. Whatever, you backed into that.
Louis: What are the top three resources you would recommend our listeners to check out? It could be anything from books to podcasts, to courses, to anything.
Ryan: Certainly, I guess, I have to pay pilgrimage to the marketing gods. So, any book by Seth Godin. Specifically. I can't even get specific 'cause I've just read all of them. I think marketers should check out; it's kind of all content to me. Everything's that kind of leveled me up has been something that I've probably read or heard.
I can't really say every marketer should go to the peaks of Mount Fiji or something. I don't know if there's really any benefit there that's crossover. Everything's that's kind of leveled me up has been content. Spoken, written. Mostly written. And then creating content.
So, instead of saying, "What's that third thing?". I want you to absorb my third recommendation there would be for you to create.
Louis: Yep, agree with that as well. When you start creating, you have less time to consume and it's a good thing. 'Cause you become a creator and it changes the game. It changes the way you think. It changes a lot of things.
So, and the final question with you Ryan, and I want to say, first off, thanks for being so open with me. Thanks for going through this step-by-step with me. And giving me a lot of details about your experience. Your guts and how you do stuff. It was really enjoyable for me and I think listeners will enjoy it as well.
And so, where can listeners connect with you? Or learn more from you?
Ryan: Sure, so I love tweeting. Mostly they're not helpful. Jokes, but sometimes startup ideas. That's just @RyanCKulp. And then I also like to blog at ryanckulp.com.
Louis: Alright, there we have it. Thanks so much, Ryan.
Louis: Thanks, Louis.