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We had a customer in Boston called Everquote that I talked to this week, literally hasn’t done. They’re an insurance company, big public company, literally has not done anything on SEO in a year and a half and they’ve grown like 118%.
Jay Clouse 0:15
The startup investment landscape is changing. and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to Upside.
Eric Hornung 0:42
Hello, hello. Hello, and welcome to the upside podcast, first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Eric Horner. And I’m accompanied by my co host, Mr. key word search himself. Jay Clouse J. If you put Jay Clouse into Google, does anyone else come up?
Jay Clouse 1:02
No, I’m not aware of any other Jay Clouse other than somebody who once upon a time was advertising for a police officer opening on Craigslist, because he owns Jay email@example.com. And I think if you email Jay firstname.lastname@example.org, you still get an autoresponder about this open position that was posted to Craigslist.
Eric Hornung 1:24
Does that piss you off? Because I remember when we were in college, you owned Jay Clouse on every social platform, but then your Gmail was, I won’t spoil it here, not Jay email@example.com.
Jay Clouse 1:35
Yeah, no, it does. It’s the one Jay Clouse digital asset that I do not have.
Eric Hornung 1:40
If we have anyone who works at gmail, listening to this podcast, help a friend out. Let’s take over Jay firstname.lastname@example.org and get it back to our friend.
Jay Clouse 1:49
Yes, let’s reclaim it. But you bring up a an interesting point about keyword research, Eric, because this is a recent point of pride. For me, I was actually looking at some traffic graphs for my two core websites that are upside. And I started caring about SEO in March of 2020. And if you look at the traffic to both of those websites, it’s literally an exponential growth curve from the point of actually caring about SEO.
Eric Hornung 2:15
So when you say actually caring about SEO, does that mean you started? You just use different synonyms? Is that all it is?
Jay Clouse 2:21
No, it’s it’s like understanding a little bit about what search engines are actually looking for, especially in written posts. Because all that traffic I’m talking about is really derived from just a handful of actual articles on both sites. And so yeah, just writing an article knowing that, okay, I’ve researched the keyword that I want. And I know how to compete for that keyword with other people who have written articles on that keyword. It works. You you learn the process, and it works a little bit, but that’s the that is the editorial side of SEO, Eric, and there’s a lot more to SEO than just the editorial side. Like what? Well, as we’ll find out today from our guest, Geoff Atkinson. There’s also a significant amount of SEO that comes down to how your site communicates with the algorithm itself. This is gonna get a little technical. But Geoff Atkinson, the founder and CEO of Huckabuy is tackling this exact problem. Huckabuy’s software improves your search results drives more organic traffic and makes your website faster by creating Google’s perfect world on your website to queue up the perfect conversation with search bots and grow your organic channel. Robots talking to robots, Eric,
Eric Hornung 3:30
how long do you think search bots live?
Jay Clouse 3:33
What is the lifespan of a search bot?
Eric Hornung 3:36
I don’t know I get a ton of them. Regardless of how long their lifespan is, I gotta believe that they want to live the one life they have the best way they can. And so they should check out our friends at ethos wealth management, you can go to upside.fm slash ethos to learn more.
Jay Clouse 3:51
Another way for search bots to live the one life they have the best way they can is to communicate flawlessly with the websites that they are crawling. And that is to my understanding exactly what Huckabuy does. And Geoff, the founder and CEO of Huckabuy, previous to this company, was the Senior Vice President of Marketing and email@example.com. And of all the things that Geoff did at overstock, SEO always had a special place in his heart, because apparently the return on investment for SEO was far beyond any other channel. So if there’s going to be someone that’s gonna teach you about SEO, somebody who pioneered it and build it for overstock.com is probably a good person to go to
Eric Hornung 4:29
overstock feels like one of those companies that’s always kind of on the leading edge of what’s happening maybe for good reasons or maybe for bad, but I feel like they’re always innovating we’ve taught they were the first ones to join on seek xR which was a which was on the podcast, john Chaney of ck xR. They were the first partner there. I think in the whole blockchain cryptocurrency world. They made some of the first big retail waves there. So hey, if you want to learn about SEO, learn from the innovators hook up. I
Jay Clouse 4:57
was founded in 2015 Geoff has been in Park City, Utah, we finally did Eric, we got into Park City, Utah.
Eric Hornung 5:04
Now we just have to get invited out there to go skiing.
Jay Clouse 5:06
Yes, I’m sure after this interview, you’ll you’ll tell Geoff that we’d love to come visit and invite ourselves out there, as we tend to do with guests, they’ve raised about $4.3 million in funding to date. Yeah, this is this is one of those episodes where I think I’m gonna get a little nerdy because I enjoy SEO. And I know the editorial side, but the technical side evades me, especially because I’m not a developer. And I’m using a lot of stuff. That is kind of like out of the box tooling that often isn’t super SEO friendly.
Eric Hornung 5:34
Let’s see if we can change that. If you dear listener, have any feedback on this interview, you can reach out to us at upside FM on Twitter, or if you have something a little longer, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. And we will get to that interview right after this.
Jay Clouse 5:53
Hey, listener, have you ever wanted to get a message in front of the upside audience but weren’t sure how to sponsor the show or weren’t able to do a long term sponsorship? Well, now you can just go to upside.fm, slash classifieds. And let our audience know anything that’s going on in your world, whether it’s an event, an application, a special coupon, or deal, or just letting them know who you are, what your company does, all you have to do is go to upside.fm, slash classifieds. And you can place an ad on this show. That’s upside.fm, slash classifieds
Geoff Atkinson 6:33
actually grew up in the Boston area, even though now I’m in Park City, Utah, of all places lived in Utah for 15 years. I was a ski racer, actually, I spent a year on the US ski team and then skeet in college up in New Hampshire, came to Utah to take a email@example.com. But to be honest, it was much more just to be sort of a ski bum with a real job, quote, unquote, real job. So started on the ground floor at overstock back in 2005, overstock was just sort of a rocket ship right then eventually became their senior vice president of marketing. So I had quite a career, at overstock, really focused on digital marketing. But I also managed all of our analytics, like stuff from our pricing algorithm to our forecasting algorithms to even manage buying for a while. So you know, buying raincoats on the Garment District of New York City, so very diverse experience, but really, my focus was digital marketing. So email, SEO, paid search, also the loyalty program of like CRM, and our credit card program, and our loyalty program, always wanted to do my own thing. And so after overstock, I took a couple years off, because it was pretty, pretty hectic stretch there, and then found it Huckabuy and hug buy actually started as a b2c play is sort of a comparison shopping engine affiliate model, that was just a disaster, I think our largest month of revenue was like a $20 affiliate check. But we had built some really cool SEO Software that people that knew me and knew the company wanted to start licensing. And so we pivoted about four years ago into a SaaS business. And now, we’re pretty successful, sort of technical SEO Software, business, customers, you know, a lot of customers some enterprise like Salesforce and concur and Vivint. But really help companies of all size check a lot of the big technical SEO boxes that that cause growth, I learned a lot of this stuff at overstock, and how important the conversation between a website and Google is and how poorly most sites do it. And so we checked most of those boxes.
Jay Clouse 8:35
We’ll get to talk about here in a second, but have a couple quick follow ups here on on your story moving to Utah. When you went to overstock, you said you got into the ground floor, and it was kind of a rocket ship at the time. So can you give me some more context of what was the state of overstock when you joined, and then what that growth looked like during your time that you were there? Absolutely. So
Geoff Atkinson 8:52
is probably about we were probably doing about 600 million a year in revenue. We had gone public, the brand of overstock was very strong. So we figured out TV very early in the game, and TV advertisements, specifically one particular advertisement we only did for about three months, just made and you guys probably remember it the overstock girl and they did a Superbowl ad and everybody all of a sudden knew of overstock, and it was really thought of as this place that you could go for a deal where you know, overstock had come into a company that had just gone bust, brought the truck, wrote a check, put everything in the back, then sorted through it and put it online. And that’s really what it was like when I started so a lot of like, Hey, I know a guy they knows a guy that’s got a bunch of flat screen TVs, and it was a lot of that like bada bing bada bang, very seller like buyer driven. I was mainly buyers with just stuff piling up in their offices. And that’s kind of how it worked. And then when I left was probably about a $1.3 billion company. We were very sophisticated in the supply chain side, we had about 90% of our revenue flowing through partners, so we weren’t actually owning any of the inventory. When I started, I think we were probably 75% of our revenue flew through, was it somehow attached to a paid channel? When I left, I’d say 60% was somehow flowing through either email marketing, loyalty program, or SEO. So it was a really drastic transformation to probably the big product transformations. We were very much like an electronics and jewelry and watches company. When I started when I left, they’re known as a home and garden company. And that’s a really interesting story is kind of all based on SEO and keyword research and realizing that people really wanted to buy furniture online, but there weren’t good avenues to do so. So became a much more profitable company. When I was there. It also grew, obviously a lot, kind of a whirlwind. But now I wouldn’t trade it for the world is just I mean, can you imagine that kind of experiences your first job out of college? It’s pretty, pretty rare.
Jay Clouse 10:55
Yeah, and how and how does? How does a ski bum? Using your words? I’m not I’m not insulting. How does a ski bum become so interested in technically established in like Seo? How did that become something that you were like, Okay, I’m gonna lead the charge on this.
Geoff Atkinson 11:11
I think it’s one of those things where you know, you get put in a position. And if you kind of have a brain for it, and you have the intellectual curiosity for it, and you really enjoy it, you can learn really quickly. I also will say having a mentor helps you. So Patrick Byrne, the founder and CEO of overstock, whose dad was the CEO of Geico, his godfather was Warren Buffett, I mean, just a crazy sort of business pedigree to have that as your mentor after like a year and a half of being at the company certainly helped a lot. And I can’t stress enough for young employees to get in at a struct, a company that’s big enough that it has a lot of educational and upward momentum and finding that mentor that cares about you and wants to see you do well, and you do well for them. That’s the recipe for success. But yeah, even I say like, I can’t shake this SEO thing. Like I didn’t intend for Huckabuy to be an SEO company, I never had a brilliant, like my brilliant idea proved to be terribly wrong. And so you know, I just can’t shake this SEO thing. It’s just something that seems to follow me everywhere I go. Turns out that we have, you know, fantastic technology now that we’ve built that really helps companies, specifically with their like communication with Google, which helps you know, them grow a lot. But it’s not any sort of brilliant aha moment that I’m like, Oh, yeah, if we were going to transform the world of technical SEO, it was just sort of been my path. And I think you’ve got to be willing to pivot and take take what the world gives you.
Eric Hornung 12:36
Today, there are dozens of 1000s of how to SEO, YouTube videos, and blogs, and newsletters and whatever, so anybody can kind of learn it. I was just gonna flipping through your LinkedIn and trying to place where the timing was here. You’re talking like mid 2000s? how did how did you actually get a mentor? So I get that part. But how did you actually learn Seo?
Geoff Atkinson 12:59
Funny story, so I’d never heard of it. No one at overstock had ever heard of it and sort of like 2006 this is really sort of the Wild West times of the internet, where there’s a lot of like, blackhat, SEO and a lot of cheating of the system. So I had a fellow SVP or I wasn’t an SVP at the time. My name is stormy Simon, and she had gone to a conference and heard a guy speak about SEO. And so I gave him a call he had made the connection was like, Well, Geoff would probably if anyone understood this, at overstock be Geoff or could learn. It’s Geoff. So I gave him a call. And I listened to him for like, two hours and just asked him a bunch of questions. His name was Paul Bremmer, kind of a famous SEO guy, now looking back on it. And I remember like running up to Patrick’s office and going to the whiteboard and being like, you have to hear this, like, this is insane, that we can do these things to change our site, so that Google understands it, and we’re gonna rank for all these keywords, and we’re gonna get all this free traffic. In fact, most people come through the organic links, they don’t go through the paid links, we’re spending, like, I don’t know, 2 million a month or something on paid ads. And it was just sort of this aha moment. We both were like, this is too good to be true. But the vision and his support of being able to be like, do whatever it takes for us to be good at this. And that sort of trust is really rare. Like, I think at one point, we had 40 employees working on SEO, and half of them were developers, like that’s so rare for a company to have that. But with the kind of returns man, I think at some point, it became about $300 million channel. You know, we couldn’t spend enough to make it look like any kind of paid channel is just so efficient. So Paul really taught us you know, we’ve actually brought him to Utah. He was in San Diego and he came to Utah, I think it was like four days a week, took a plane came here. But basically it was like class. You know, we go to class with Paul a lot, and hired some smart people. No one really knew SEO that and so to find an SEO expert was almost impossible. You had to take smart people and educate them. And that’s really what we did so and we got so sophisticated and so deep into it, that we went down some of the Black Hat patterns. I mean, here’s a story, we got banned from Google for six months. I mean, you banned a $200 million channel, you know, as the VP of Marketing, you’re in a lot of trouble. But we had, we just pushed the envelope like as far as you could push it. And it’s really rare. I don’t know of anyone that’s had that kind of SEO experience of like, literally never heard of anything to full bore for five years, everything you can possibly do. So you know, it’s hard not to learn a lot when you go through that experience.
Eric Hornung 15:29
Besides the number of people talking about SEO now, how is Seo different today, versus when you were doing it from 2006 2010?
Geoff Atkinson 15:41
Jay Clouse 18:14
I think it’s just because SEO feels, it feels unrelated unrelatable to people who don’t understand it, so much so that it feels like magic, like this magic problem solving thing. And so it’s like, well, if somebody else has cracked the code for this magic problem solving thing, I’ll pay them to solve the problem. But then I have these expectations of I need, like, immediate results. And I don’t understand how long it can take to ramp these things up. I’m much more familiar in the world of like content creation for SEO, which is very different from a typical e commerce website, you know, so what does SEO look like in the world of e commerce at overstock, or some of the clients that we’re working with now? Yeah, it’s,
Geoff Atkinson 18:53
it’s all about scale. So you know, when you get into an overstock type world, or an Amazon, you’re talking 10s of millions of pages. And so you can’t write, you know, really sophisticated pieces of content on 10s of millions of pages, like you can in sort of b2b world or traditional content marketing. I mean, no, we did have a ton of copywriters Don’t get me wrong, like they would just write, you know, for almost like the sake of writing, but you just needed to have content. But it’s all about scale and user generated feedback. So reviews are very important. Reviews are a huge aspect of e commerce success. But also like Take, for example, like PageSpeed PageSpeed is something that scales across an entire websites page speeds becoming one of the if not the most important ranking factors there is and you don’t solve that page to page page, you have to do it on your tech stack and what how you’re delivering pages across the entire site. So with a bigger companies, especially e commerce, real estate, the stock type, you know, Yahoo Finance, those huge sites. It’s all about ideas. Implementing things at a scale that you don’t have to manage every single page, you have content flowing through, ideally, not by you, but by users. And all the boxes are checked when a page loads, like they’re structured data, there’s good metadata, there’s plenty of content, the images, load fast, the page loads fast, you’re trying to just check every box and have it checked across the entire site. Whereas with a content strategy, right, that’s a much different sort of SEO task. Now, a lot of those technical things still are important. And you need to be able to deliver the content in a way that Google understands and a quick and timely fashion. But it’s a different like now with hunger by doing b2b marketing, it’s a much different task than it was at Overstock. There’s a lot of the same principles, but in terms of what you need in terms of talent and what you need from a day to day production standpoint, it’s just a different different beasts.
Eric Hornung 20:56
Take me through the pivot. So you have this b2c affiliate, I think you use the word disaster. And you use just that you decide to pivot to an SEO Software Software as a Service style business. Take me through like the intellectual decision behind that, but also the emotional and running the company.
Unknown Speaker 21:22
Yeah, there wasn’t a ton of intellect behind it, it was much more we’re not making any money. And we have to do something. I’d say this is show you how ignorant I was at the time, I didn’t even realize the value of a SaaS company, like I didn’t know about annual recurring revenue, and that that got you a higher, you know, multiple, and that investors, like, Don’t even invest in a lot of b2c concepts anymore. They only invest in SAS, like, I had no idea. It wasn’t part of the decision. I didn’t even know that, like Why all of a sudden investors were interested in how to buy. And they’re like, well, it’s thing called an annual recurring revenue, and it compounds and they put walked me through all the numbers like, Wow, that’s great. And in fact, even after we did our first round of funding, our SAS metrics, which I didn’t even know, like, I still have struggled with SAS metrics. They’re like your SAS metrics are amazing. Like your, you know, cost per new customer is so low, and like we did it all kind of accidentally, but as a founder, it’s chasing a revenue stream and chasing, I think like that first chunk of money that people are willing to pay you for any idea is sort of a founders first obligation is to go out and try to make something that people will pay for. And I hadn’t done that. And the original hug goodbye model. But the fact that people were asking me to license technology that we had on Huckabuy.com, and pay me like, I would just make up numbers and be like, I don’t know, $2,000 a month. And they’d be like, Yeah, great. And that’s how like our pricing model got started was just like, what sounds good, right? What sound what seems like a reasonable amount. And it was, it was purely that Eric, and then from an emotional perspective, the early days are stressful, they’re very stressful, I don’t think anybody can describe how, especially if you’re struggling, and you’re doing a lot of it out, like I financed Huckabuy for the first couple of years, you know, there’s nothing coming in, there’s a lot going out. It’s just kind of, I think of it as like an endurance sport, it’s it’s endurance, and the willingness to sort of not think of yourself as a genius in any way, shape, or form. And being like, my idea was terrible, I need to pivot into something different. People seem to be liking this, let’s see how much they like it, and go down that path. So I think humility, you know, sort of like, the realization that you and the other thing, they don’t tell you, you know, you can go from a SVP of overstock with hundreds of employees and assistance and all these like special perks to like, nothing like you’re putting together IKEA furniture in the office. And that’s very humbling. And I think you just have to be quite humble, you have to be confident. But you also have to be quite humble about how am I going to get from zero to something that’s
Jay Clouse 24:12
like people are paying for? What did the actual technology that you had built for Huckabuy like, what what did you build and why did you build it? And then also, it seems like it’s behind the scenes, how do people realize that was something that they could license? Like, how do they know that was something that they even wanted?
Unknown Speaker 24:26
Well, the original vision for occupy, which I actually think is a good vision, but it takes a lot of money, and it’s actually kind of available out there now was a comparison shopping engine that was agnostic, meaning we didn’t have to pay us To be honest, we put every product on the site. And we also do the coupon calculations, because there’s this behavior for users, at least at the time where, you know, first you search based on price, then you start searching for coupon codes, and you’re trying to do it and then half of them don’t work and you’re doing this mental math and you’re trying to calculate tax and shipping and all it’s just like a real pain. gotten better now some of these apps that allow you to just like certainly I’ll just show you the coupons as you go. So it’s kind of a big data problem. But it was a pure SEO play. Like we had millions of pages, we were trying to, you know, really build up content. And anyways, but we had built this little tool that was a really efficient way to generate content, we call it Huck news. And you’d grab an Instagram post, and you just grab the link, and drop it in like the bottom of like a category page and say that page is about skis, it grab like Rossignol, sick, you know, Instagram posts, drop it, and then you’d write a little comment, like a paragraph. And so instead of having to write an article or description, you could literally write, you know, for five, a minute, two minutes, and there’s a fresh piece of content on the page. And then it’ll do that across multiple pages in an efficient way for the pages to be changing in a meaningful enough way that Google would pay attention. And it worked. And that was the first piece of software, we don’t even use it anymore. It’s not in our product stack. But that was the first piece that people wanted to license. They wanted the Huq news feature to put on the bottom of their category pages or, you know, whatever page they were interested in ranking in. So is a very simple, basic tool that allowed them to get going. And then now it’s, you know, evolved into a much more complicated product that we don’t think we have like one legacy customer that uses up news, but it’s not, it’s not any of our revenue. Tell me
Eric Hornung 26:26
about that new product, what is Huckabuy.
Unknown Speaker 26:30
Eric Hornung 28:12
We talked a little bit earlier about SEO agencies and the snake oil salesman vibe. And as someone who’s worked with companies on hiring SEO agencies, a lot of times it’s the company’s fault as well. They go out they hire this and they expect it kind of like Jay said, they expect the magic to be magical. And what they don’t realize is that there’s actually a lot of work behind it. So in a press release that I read about you guys, it said that the average customer using Huckabuy’s software, experiences a 62% growth in organic search visits 12 months after partnering, how magical is that? versus how much work is that customer putting in?
Unknown Speaker 28:49
I’d say it actually is. I don’t like to call it magical, perhaps like you guys can hear what we’re doing. And it does take a lot of work. We just did it for you. And that’s what SAS is all about, right? So it’s not so magical. But you can install us and do nothing else and grow very significantly, like we had a customer in Boston called everquote that I talked to this week, literally hasn’t done. They’re an insurance company, big public company, literally has not done anything on SEO in a year and a half, and they’ve grown like 118%. And that’s just Huckabuy talking to bots and giving them a great experience. And so that, you know, I that’s why I don’t really love to call it magical, but it is sort of it’s like there hasn’t been an SEO solution that you can buy off the shelf, install it and get those kinds of numbers. This is the first one. And that’s what I’ve been trying to build. That’s why our first iterations of the product were purely on performance. There’s a ton of SEO analytical tools like SEMrush and Moz that tell you how you’re doing. I’m like, we don’t care about that. We care about the needle moving and results moving. I
Jay Clouse 29:55
think that focused on that really makes us pretty unique. When you say you can Just install it, what type of customer you’re typically working with, I guess, a WordPress plugin, or you work with people who have custom coded everything. And now we have to actually integrate and implement this. What does that look like?
Unknown Speaker 30:10
It’s a pretty wide variety of, you know, there’s a lot of different types of customers, a lot of e commerce, a lot of b2b in particular, b2b has a very hard time communicating with Google, because it’s not a product page of a watch or something. It’s very complicated. And usually, the b2b world is very heavy on WordPress, the b2c world is much more like Salesforce commerce cloud or Shopify. And the integration point is at your CDN level. And I don’t want to get too technical here, but it’s sort of like if you use CloudFlare, for example, you can use Huckabuy’s API, and you can get all three products, you know, with an API token on CloudFlare. If you’re Shopify, you have to do something called an au solution, which is CloudFlare to CloudFlare. solution. So it’s done at the CDN level, unless you’re using just the structured data. But at the end of the day, hakuba ends up delivering the site with a US and CloudFlare end up delivering the site both for bots and for users. And we put our, you know, PageSpeed improvements and all our structured data and our dynamic rendering. So delivery of the site, not the compiling meaning, like the tech stack, or what you’re calling to build the site, but the delivery of the site is done at edge by Huckabuy and CloudFlare. So it’s done at the CDN level. Sorry to get sort of techie there.
Eric Hornung 31:29
Okay. You know how like, sometimes we have finance people on the show, and you’re just like, I have no idea what’s happening right now. Yes, that’s how I feel right now. And I can feel you just loving it.
Jay Clouse 31:39
So I would call myself moderately techie techie. I’m gonna give you kind of a use case, like, I build my websites in WordPress, I do have CloudFlare in the mix, for some reason, because I paid someone to help me with my PhD. Do I need to be more techie to implement Huckabuy? Or do I need? Like, do I need it professional? Do you guys do that for the business owner was that like,
Unknown Speaker 32:02
no, if you have CloudFlare at all, it’s literally a flip of the switch. And if you don’t have CloudFlare, and you’re using some other technology, or ideally not using a CDN, you actually use Huckabuy’s enterprise license of CloudFlare. And now you’re part of a larger group of customers, and not only get the benefit of Huckabuy but now you actually get to talk about having a CloudFlare license as well. So you’re getting, you’re getting the the benefit that the change for non CloudFlare customers a DNS change. So if you can make a DNS change at 11pm, be waiting for the site’s refresh for a minute, then no problems.
Jay Clouse 32:39
I’m very intrigued. What does so do people typically buy like a bundle of these things? is three separate subscriptions to Huckabuy, what does that look like?
Geoff Atkinson 32:48
Eric Hornung 34:00
How does pricing compare between Huckabuy and hiring an agency,
Geoff Atkinson 34:06
it’s usually quite a bit cheaper. So our pricing usually ranges on the low end about like 1500 a month. And that’s sort of for like SMB, but cares a lot about SEO and the enterprise side, it can go upwards of 10. But I’d say I think our average customer pays us about 3800 a month, maybe a little less than that. So it’s not, it’s not cheap. It’s not like, you know, just a little app that you turn on pay five bucks a month, but considering what the sort of results you get, and if you’re doing a lot of other marketing activities, and you have like any kind of marketing budget, it’s probably a you know, reasonable.
Eric Hornung 34:44
Who’s the champion inside the business, like who’s the buyer. Usually,
Geoff Atkinson 34:49
it will be, it’s usually coming from marketing. It’s usually like an SEO person that sort of gets this technical side like I like a j i can see him like, yeah, this makes sense, someone like that. Oftentimes it will end up being a developer, though, that’s like, these are really hard problems. And this company can just take, this actually takes a lot off my plate. And if it’s reliable and safe and secure, then this is a great solution. But usually we enter through marketing, and then we always have to have a tech conversation, which can go either way they either go like this is, you know, we just don’t know them. And this is a huge, you know, change, or they’re like, this makes a ton of sense. And we’re getting a lot better one of our biggest focuses right now is getting better selling into it. So we thought of ourselves as definitely a marketing company. But now as the products evolved, and we’re much more like a CDN level, where we’re having to sell a lot more into it, and so, and it doesn’t really like to be sold into. So it’s much more of like, we have a whole developers section of our website that’s getting being built and, and trying to communicate on that level. So yeah, that’s usually how it goes.
Jay Clouse 35:56
What are your cost drivers in this? I imagine the technology is probably pretty minimal. Unless there’s a ton of data being delivered here that’s running up a bill. Is it mostly people?
Geoff Atkinson 36:05
It’s all people? Yeah, it’s a pretty, very minimal cost. So nice SAS model.
Jay Clouse 36:11
Yeah, it’s all things your team at this point?
Unknown Speaker 36:13
Jay Clouse 36:16
What are they doing?
Geoff Atkinson 36:17
Basically, three groups, kind of four groups. So development, engineering is probably about a third, sales is probably another third. And then we have a marketing team of four, including me, and support team of two. So that’s kind of the breakdown today.
Eric Hornung 36:37
Are you guys hiring? We are
Unknown Speaker 36:40
sales is the focus on hiring, we feel like, we kind of got off, you know, the early stage of Huckabuy, it’s hard not to have services involved, especially with my background, people would just naturally ask for help. And so we would toss it in, you know, we would say, okay, we’re gonna pay us $3,000 a month, do you get to meet with us once a month or something like that? customers. And it was just an easy way, you know, those ask for a lot. And so we had to be really disciplined last year in particular, to get off of that model and say, we have a support desk now. And you call them if something happens. And then if you need, if you want something else you buy, like, you know, if you really just have to have your keyword research coming from Huckabuy, you can buy that all cart, but we’ve really gotten away from that. And so it used to be you know, it’s just hard. The services were a decent chunk, I think early stage startups, it’s important to have that services front, because you get an opportunity to talk to your customer, the product might not be all that sophisticated yet. And so you’re adding some other things in. Now we’ve kind of gotten really down to the pure SaaS model. And that takes a little bit of a transition, but we’ve done it and now you know, setting into 2021. That’s, that’s the model.
Jay Clouse 37:46
With the price tag, you’re talking about people paying monthly for this. And also just the naturally slow results of seeing Google reward you. What do you guys point to in the immediate term as like this is working? Is it just the metrics of like your site health and your PageSpeed?
Unknown Speaker 38:01
It’s a great question and one that we talked about a lot, actually. So it’s about showing that the product is doing what they what they bought, like what we told them it would do and they bought. So usually, the first thing that will happen is like their crawl stats, how well is Google getting through the site and downloading information, they’ll just spike up the page speeds very easy, because it’s an on off. And so you can look beforehand, here’s your scores, after and here’s your scores. And so that’s a really easy one. Structured Data takes a long time, though, then, and that was being our first product, we had to do long term contracts, which is never easy. And you don’t realize the results. At three months. I say, customers like us at six months, they love us at 12 months. And so it’s really important to get to them to that stage, regardless of the product, because it is SEO, if you get to 12 months, the result, you know, you get 62% some of these companies are getting insane results. When you get there, then that’s sort of the aha, okay, we’re gonna keep going with these guys moment. But something that we’ve we’ve had to really focus on because it’s not like an email marketing solution, or, you know, all of a sudden, just the bells and whistles are nice enough, like it’s a lot of under the hood. You know, you’re not actually, you know, watching the bots come in and crawl. But we do have a nice dashboard that sort of shows all these statistics now. But it was a struggle early. And it’s sort of continues to be one something that we really have to pay attention to our
Eric Hornung 39:27
contracts, like a minimum 12 months in length then or is it month a month, and someone can just phase out early on.
Unknown Speaker 39:35
Almost all the contracts are 12 months, the PageSpeed though we’ve just offered because it’s so easy for us to turn a customer on. There’s a 30 day free trial that you can do with that and we’ve done some shorter contracts around the PageSpeed product where they you know, they really want to invest in it, but they want some sort of an out if it just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, which I don’t I don’t blame them for doing. So those have gotten you know, PHP is just a little bit different because Not everybody’s just purely focused on SEO. So that’s allowed us to kind of shorten some stuff up and get more people in the door
Jay Clouse 40:06
with the the range in prices, is that based on usage or size of the website? How do you how do you price that?
Unknown Speaker 40:13
It’s usually based on number of pages indexed. So how many pages on the site? And then how frequently do you want those pages refreshed? So the caching and the dynamic rendering and the Page Speed takes processing time for us. So if you want to done weekly, if you want it done daily, if you want it done monthly, those are variants that they can select,
Jay Clouse 40:31
damn, I love this model. And I love that you’ve positioned yourself as kind of a premium solution for like enterprise customers, because you could you could say, like, I’m going to appeal to a million J’s who can only afford like a couple $100 a month. And I imagine you’ve made the intentional decision at one point that that’s not what you’re going to do, because I’m sitting here like, I want this. But I that’s not something I can do as a blogger, you know. So how did you guys decide the market for this
Unknown Speaker 40:56
pretty intentional to go up market versus down? I think it’s because usually companies with more money also have a higher domain authority, and domain authority like Google has to care about your site for us to work well. Like if you’re just a brand new site, you can turn Huckabuy on and off and nothing will happen. But if you have a domain authority of like 75, and you turn Huckabuy on, you’re going to see an impact. And so I think who was successful and who we drove the most ROI for lent us to say we’re gonna go more enterprise because they’re just going to get a much bigger lift. And for them four or $5,000 a month to solve these problems is like a no brainer. We’ll see how that pans out. Right? We’re
Jay Clouse 41:39
Unknown Speaker 41:40
I think at some point, we’re gonna have a self serve option, actually, we know we’re gonna have a self serve option sometime in 2021. That is a freebie and it is for Jace, literally, it’s it’s also a very marketing tactic driven tactic of getting that trust within the development community getting that trust within, like, okay, you want to try it? Go for it, try it, you’re probably gonna hit capacity in like, a month. So then you’re gonna, so that’s, that’s sort of our on our roadmap for sure. And 2021. But I think early with limited resources, we were like, Where’s the best bang for the buck? Where can we really make an impact? And who was going more enterprise?
Jay Clouse 42:17
Well, you’ve got a beta customer right here.
Unknown Speaker 42:20
All right, no,
Jay Clouse 42:21
put you on the let me know when that’s out.
Unknown Speaker 42:23
That’d be great.
Eric Hornung 42:25
How many active customers you guys have right now? And then, like, how long is the sales funnel for those customers?
Unknown Speaker 42:32
So I think we’re in the 60s somewhere around like, 65, maybe, maybe we’ve cracked 70. So 6070, sales cycles, eight weeks, so relatively short, which is nice. Although we closed the deal this week, that took two years. So you know,
Jay Clouse 42:48
it’s on crunchbase that you guys had raised some money with with this type of contract? Seems like you probably could have bootstrapped or continued to sell finance, how did how did you make that decision?
Unknown Speaker 42:56
We did we bootstrapped for a long time, which I thought was really healthy, because maybe not healthy for me personally, financially, but healthy for Huckabuy, and meant that we did have to really care about, you know, we don’t have a culture that’s like ping pong tables and foosball tables, like, it’s just, that’s not us. And I think, you know, we we have nice space, but we, you know, we’re frugal. And I think that’s going to stick you know, it’s just going to stick with us forever. The decision to bring on money was really almost like a personal connection with me and Diogo, who is the partner at album ventures.
Unknown Speaker 43:35
And we had,
Unknown Speaker 43:36
you know, almost like a bromance for like, three years. And I was really against venture capital money for a number of reasons. I’ve seen a lot of founders getting ripped off, I’d seen them, like, rip their companies away from them. Just you know, there’s a lot of bad stories out there. But I really trusted Diogo. And he has, he’s lived up to what he said he was going to do, we needed to, we’ve kind of achieved that product market fit and it was was time to put the pedal to the metal. Now, I actually don’t know if, like, we haven’t achieved all the things that we wanted to achieve after we’ve gotten that money. And so our burn rate has gone up, which drives me crazy. And you know, but you got to at some point with a software company, you can’t have it be like a personal brand, you know, that you like to go skiing in the morning, you know, and then work on it for a few hours and then go, you know, out to dinner software companies have a finite window that you have to take advantage of. and other you know, like how fast competition has jumped into our space is like mind boggling. We were like the first ones and now there’s like a bunch of companies that are doing this. So you really do have to move quickly. Time is of the essence and we felt like we had found the right partner and album and kickstart that they were going to be very supportive but not trying to change the culture or change the vision or How we went out of business. I mean, Diogo says to me, you can do whatever you want with this, if you want to sell it tomorrow, I’ll just be happy for you like, I won’t get the return that I wanted. But that’s fine. So there is a level of trust there and a personal relationship. And it was so different than all the other VCs that we had talked to, that he really just cared about Huckabuy and me. And that was, that’s really what drove it was just finding the right partner. And I think that’s something missing in VC world where you’re not just getting term sheets, you do need that sort of partners, because you’re in it for the long haul that you’re they’re not going anywhere. They’re here to stay. So I think that’s an important step that I think we did. I think we did it right.
Eric Hornung 45:40
I hope you’re still getting some time to get out there and ski even if it’s not every morning. But this, this has been awesome. If people want to find out more about you, or Huckabuy, where should they go? Just go
Geoff Atkinson 45:52
to hakavod.com. If you come in and fill out a contact us form, and mentioned the podcasts in particular, you get a nice discount, I think we give like 20% off for podcast listeners, podcast listeners. By the way, it’s been a great marketing channel for us that I never thank God for Finn, like I never would have thought of podcasting as an awesome marketing channels. But it’s just been tremendous. And podcast listeners because they learn about the product and learn about me when they come in. It’s just really refreshing to have that type of person reaching out. So we take care of podcast listeners really well,
Jay Clouse 46:27
your next product needs to be SEO for podcasts for discovery. And maybe we’ll break out the checkbook for that.
Geoff Atkinson 46:34
So Finn, our marketing manager who I know, you know, he is all about podcasts and is pushing me actually in that direction. So you might be pleasantly surprised on that front.
Jay Clouse 46:48
All right, Eric, we just spoke with Geoff Atkinson, the founder and CEO of Huckabuy, do you feel like you understand SEO better now?
Eric Hornung 46:56
Better? Yeah, yeah, I’ll take better. Um, I have like the vague outlines of what SEO does. And I think this was very helpful in explaining the concepts, like in a way that I could understand it, without it being too technical to the place that I felt lost, because this is, as you noted, this isn’t a place that I hang out frequently.
Jay Clouse 47:19
This is super interesting to me, because kind of as I said, in the intro, editorially, I feel like I understand SEO, I understand like, how to write the article in a way that is answering your question. But there’s so much that goes into Google actually understanding that that is true. That I don’t understand and I haven’t optimized for because I don’t know how, and if Huckabuy really is this easy implementation, flip of a switch, and we’re going to make your website communicate that much better with Google, that seems like in that seems like magic to me, frankly,
Eric Hornung 47:53
when we were younger, we practice basketball on this old gym, and you’d get into the gym, and it’d be freezing cold, and you go back to this huge electrical box switch, and you’d flip the lights on. And then for the next five to seven minutes, the lights would slowly turn on. And when you said flip a switch, that’s how I pictured Huckabuy, you flip the switch, and the switch has been flipped, and you are now expecting light to be present. But it’s gonna take a little bit of time no matter what. But what was once those lights are on. I was training threes. Just no big deal.
Jay Clouse 48:28
Yes, we know that once upon a time, you could dunk a basketball?
Eric Hornung 48:31
Yeah, couldn’t you three. So that was that was a lie.
Jay Clouse 48:35
What was really interesting to me in this conversation was their their target audience here. Because if this is something that works as seamlessly, and as quickly as they say it is, there are a lot of people who would want to invest in this, but they’re very explicitly marketing this towards a higher end, bigger budget type of customer. I’m trying to think about how I feel about that, personally, as a blogger, I feel sad. But as, as someone looking at this as a business opportunity, I think I’m on board with it. What did you think about that?
Eric Hornung 49:09
I think if they go to my basketball analogy, if they go to a lower pay, this is a good analogy, J just continues, okay, go on up. Let’s
Jay Clouse 49:18
play it out.
Eric Hornung 49:19
I’m not gonna keep on going down the metaphor, but I’m talking about the fact that you turn something on and then you don’t see results immediately. And I think that if you go to a lower tier in terms of price customer, you’re going to see significantly higher churn, because the cost of doing something and trying it is so low, that you’re gonna try something out, you’re not gonna see a change in one to three months. And you say, Well, why am I paying this recurring cost, but for these larger customers, they’re thinking about things in terms of years, or three year forecasts or five year forecasts. So if it takes a little longer, they’re probably a little bit less likely to churn Off the platform quickly, because he’s have a longer timeline, they’re not thinking month to month,
Jay Clouse 50:05
there was a meme going around on Twitter last week, where basically an agency owner, said $500 client, and it had this big long paragraph about like, prove your ROI, I’m just trying to make sure that this is actually making sense, and that this is a good investment for me. And then below that it said, $50,000, client money sent thanks. Which like, is obviously kind of tongue in cheek, but also really true in some ways for if you go up, up market, the clients typically understand how things work better, and they do a better job of evaluating upfront, and they aren’t so ticky, tacky about the specifics, because they know that on a large scale, this will be worthwhile. And that’s kind of how I’m thinking about this too, because you could probably go to a bunch of people like me, but because as you and your basketball analogy says, because very slowly, we’re going to be asking ourselves month to month, am I seeing the return, if this is a big item in my budget, relatively speaking, I’m going to put a lot of pressure on that. And I’m going to be really on top of it. And just like almost white knuckle just waiting to see the results. So that’s why I think this makes some sense. And given Geoff’s background, having done this for overstock.com, in the scale that they were doing, I’m sure that a lot of this is borne out of that personal experience, and it’s developed for that type of customer anyway.
Eric Hornung 51:24
And that goes back to Geoff, as a founder, which is something we try to address on this kind of deal memo.
Jay Clouse 51:30
We love the idea of founders who start on second base Jay, and I mean, this is that in spades. See, the problem is now you’re mixing a baseball with a basketball metaphor, and it’s getting muscled through some cards in there. Yeah. Geoff is a founder, though he he came in extremely humble, talking about how his first product that he was trying to build actually was a spectacular failure, I think to use his words, but at least embodying what he was saying. What was really interesting to me about the story, though, was out of that failure came a little piece of code and technology that people could publicly see that they really wanted. And that became Huckabuy, which really speaks to, I think, the pain point of what so many people in this world are feeling and how impactful small improvements can be on a really large scale in terms of traffic and conversion and things like this. So kudos to him for identifying that. He also talked about being bootstrapped for a really long time. And that’s coming out of his own pocket to develop this company for a while. And that’s something we’d like to see on the show, too, because obviously, he was forced to be capital efficient. But also, his big priority was finding clients making sales. Like it’s obvious that this guy has a salesman, mindset and heart to which is something that I love to see in a founder.
Eric Hornung 52:54
I have a I have a dumb question. So my understanding of SEO is that like, there’s something that Google wants you to see, there’s something that Google wants you to do, there’s something that Google wants you to write or show. And if you do that right thing, then you can rank high. But at the same time, there’s all these people trying to do what Google wants. So is Google changing its preferences over time? Why does more than one SEO agency exist? If there is a right answer?
Jay Clouse 53:24
Yes. And the thing is, Google doesn’t have a complete outline of how their rankings work. A lot of the algorithm is assumed in guest upon, we don’t know how things are weighted. So agencies have their own opinions, and they have their own formulas that they they’ve seen success with. But to me, the best advice I’ve ever been given on this front was basically, Google is going to over time, just get better and better at giving the best result to the question that you’re asking. And as a human, when we search for something, we look at the results, we can very quickly tell which result is better than others. And Google is just trying to replicate that experience. It used to be that you could literally just cram a bunch of the keyword into the HTML on the page in Google’s like, well, it’s all over this page, this must be the right answer. And they’ve gotten better at figuring out okay, that’s, that’s not actually the signal. A better signal, for example, is if a lot of other websites are linking to this website saying this is an authority. So as time goes on, you can you can try to play games, the algorithm all you want, ultimately, the best response, the best resource, the most valued answer to a question is going to be what flows to the top.
Eric Hornung 54:35
What if every website turned on Huckabuy at the exact same time
Jay Clouse 54:40
who would win? It probably wouldn’t really change much what is already sitting there. Like to me, editorial is what’s going to drive the majority of the results, especially if that plays out and other authoritative websites say like, this is the best article on this topic. And Huckabuy is like, now, we’re going to give it this extra layer of juice. Like Google’s going to say not only is this the best answer, but we see this as a really quick page, it loads the way we want, it looks great on mobile, it will penalize existing sites that are getting ranked well, but that don’t render quickly or display well, and mobile. So to me, this is kind of like, this is like the 20 of the 8020. In my mind, and Geoff would probably disagree and wouldn’t love that. But to me, that’s, that’s how I think about this.
Eric Hornung 55:29
So Said another way of answering my question a different way. Does that mean that a large benefit editorial, staying the same, a large benefit of Huckabuy that your competitors don’t have it?
Jay Clouse 55:42
Yes. But also, I’m really speaking from the lens of editorial based content. overstock was ecommerce, I don’t actually know how ranking happens for product search results. Because that’s harder to quantify sounds like a lot of it is like reviews based. And I don’t know how more how much more difficult it is to render those pages that are mobile friendly, and quickly the way that Google wants, I don’t know, I would imagine there are a lot of products that get placed high on the search results that are not necessarily better products that are ranking lower, because the store itself might have some credibility. And that’s probably driving a lot of the search volume. Whereas if you have a much better product, I don’t know how you overtake that without getting a ton of sales and a ton of reviews. So I don’t know, I mean, at the end of the day, like, if you’re playing at the scale of overstock, and you’re competing constantly with wayfair, and Amazon, and Walmart, these types of optimizations are probably really important, because you’ve probably done all the easier stuff that you can.
Eric Hornung 56:46
And that’s I think what I’m trying to get to his Huckabuy has a competitive advantage. But in a limited market where there’s only five market participants, it’s the most competitive advantage, if only one of them has it. And if all five of them have it, it becomes not a competitive advantage. But maybe it becomes table stakes. I don’t know, I’m just trying to understand the SEO market better. I know that there’s a million creative agencies, that’s not a real number. But there’s a million creative agencies around the country that do this to some standard some way. So it’s a super fractured space. And there’s it’s large, right, we were thinking about our total addressable market and analysis. Is it really even worth digging into a number? It’s big enough?
Jay Clouse 57:24
Yeah, that’s a good point. I mean, if it’s something where you are overstock and you are competing with target wayfarer, Amazon Walmart, I’m just guessing at this at some of these big players here. But you suddenly see that well, I used to be ranked number two for a lot of these search terms. Now I’m number three. And you figure out Oh, it’s because they have dialed in a lot of the technical level, like the edge results from their CDM just throwing buzzwords out now, you’ll think, Okay, how do I do that? I need to do that. And maybe Huckabuy is the kind of de facto go to answer for that.
Eric Hornung 57:58
In which case, is this a better opportunity or worse opportunity?
Jay Clouse 58:01
I think better because it is going to improve those websites. And the alternative is like, at some point, it becomes a priority for these big companies. Anyway, I would think, you know, he mentioned that overstock, they had a very large team with a lot of developers working on SEO. And if implementing pocket buy, saves a significant cost of doing this custom, and hoping that you do it, as well, as a team that is doing this full time for a bunch of customers, then it seems like a good opportunity to me.
Eric Hornung 58:29
I love that it also from huckleberries perspective makes them hyper reliant on Hawkeye going forward, which is a good thing for to talk about, and probably a win win situation for the company. It also gets to what I want to see in the next six to 12 months, which is he mentioned a new Google rollout happening in March. I just love to see how customers react to hug buys ability to update what needs to be updated based on this new Google rollout. I I’ve heard of just horror stories from these Google rollouts, that sites go down sites change just because some little technical thing was off. So talk about is mitigating that risk, as well as increasing search traffic. And that to me says there’s some stickiness here, I don’t
Jay Clouse 59:14
have a better thing to look for, I could go back to my old mainstay of revenue. I mean, I want to look at I want to look at what clients are attracting and what new partners are bringing on to see if they keep climbing the ladder in terms of clout in that realm. This seems to me like it has the opportunity to be an acquisition target. If one of these companies is saying like, well, the competitive advantage is to have this and not let my other competitors have it seems to me like that might be something that someone like an overstock might want to acquire, to make their in house competitive advantage, which I think is worth thinking about in terms of an outcome for this if we’re investing in it.
Eric Hornung 59:51
I’m really looking forward to seeing revenue. Dear listener, if you have enjoyed this episode, please leave us a rating on Apple pod. Cast or wherever you listen to your podcast, you can reach out to us on Twitter @upsideFM or send us something a little longer at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will talk to you next week.
Jay Clouse 1:00:13
That’s all for this week. Thanks for listening. We’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s guest. So shoot us an email at email@example.com. or find us on Twitter @upsideFM. We’ll be back here next week at the same time talking to another founder and our quest to find upside outside of Silicon Valley. If you or someone you know would make a good guest for our show, please email us or find us on Twitter and let us know. If you love our show. Please leave us a review on iTunes. That goes a long way in helping us spread the word and continue to help bring high quality guests to the show. Eric and I decided there are a couple things we wanted to share with you at the end of the podcast. And so here we go. Eric Hornung and Jay Clouse are the founding parties of the upside podcast. At the time of this recording. We do not own equity or other financial interest in the companies which appear on this show. All opinions expressed by podcast participants are solely their own opinion and do not reflect the opinions of Duffin Phelps LLC and its affiliates under a collective LLC and its affiliates or any entity which employ us. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. We have not considered your specific financial situation nor provided any investment advice on this show. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Interview begins: 6:33
Geoff Atkinson is the founder and CEO of Huckabuy.
Huckabuy’s Software improves your search results, drives more organic traffic, and makes your website faster.
Their software creates Google’s Perfect World on your website to queue up the perfect conversation with Search Bots and grow your organic traffic.
Prior to Huckabuy, Geoff was the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Analytics at Overstock. At Overstock, he developed expertise in SEO and managed everything from pricing algorithms to content generation, to buying rain jackets in New York City’s garment district. In 2007, he was named on Advertising Age’s “Top 40 Under 40” list.
- Time at Overstock 8:35
- From Ski to SEO 10:55
- Learning SEO 12:36
- SEO past to present changes 15:29
- SEO in the Ecommerce world 18:14
- Huckabuy 26:26
- Huckabuy subscriptions 32:39
- Demographics 34:44
- Measuring success 37:46
- Pricing 40:06
- Bootstrapped 42:48
Huckabuy was founded in 2015 and based in Park City, Utah.
Learn more about Huckabuy: https://passiv.com/
This episode of upside is sponsored by Ethos Wealth Management. Managing wealth with an eye toward the future demands vigilance and skill in today’s global economy. Over the years, Ethos Wealth Management has worked with clients and their other professional advisors – including attorneys and accountants – to create comprehensive wealth management plans designed to make the best use of their wealth today and help ensure its endurance for future generations.
They can do the same for you.
Visit upside.fm/ethos to learn more.
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