The Lead Generation features conversations with today’s entrepreneurs willing to tell the truth about what it takes to be your own boss and the transformative impact you can have on your audience.
We’re really excited to bring you a special extended episode with the co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Leadpages, Clay Collins.
We’re checking in with Clay 2 years after he stepped down from day-to-day involvement as CEO. Currently, Clay is growing his second startup, Nomics, a cryptoasset data company delivering professional-grade market data APIs to institutional crypto investors and exchanges.
In this episode, Clay and I take a trip down memory lane to discuss how he found the first 200 customers of Leadpages before the software existed, what he learned about leadership growing his first startup, and what it’s like to shift gears into a new industry where nobody knows about your track record.
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If you’re short on time, here are a few golden nuggets from our conversation and the resources mentioned.
- Mind the gaps. Look for opportunities in the gaps created by people using your product or service.
- Seek an MVA instead of a MVP. With a Minimum Viable Audience you’ll have a group of people telling you what they’ll be eager to buy from you.
- Create value with your content. Whether people purchase or don’t purchase your product, your content should still provide value.
- Recognize when you’re in over your head. Bring in reinforcements to bolster your efforts, and be open to significant changes when necessary.
- Weather any storm. Create a business that can thrive in a boom or bust cycle in your industry.
- Flippening Podcast
- Leadpages website builder
- Seth Levine, Foundry Group
Continue the Conversation
After enjoying this episode, what are your top takeaways from Clay?
And what’s one lesson you learned in this episode that you’ll take action on over the next week?
Get to Know Clay
Bob: Clay, it is so great to have you on this week’s episode of the Lead Generation. Thanks so much for joining me.
Clay: Bob, it’s great to be here, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in any Leadpages content or anything like that. Man, I think about Leadpages every day. It’s really awesome to login to the product and see what you guys are doing. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing with the Sites, and the page builder, man, stuff is just spot-on these days.
It’s really fantastic to see what you guys are doing, so suffice it to say I’m excited to be here. Thanks for inviting me on to chat here.
Bob: You’re very welcome, and I know some people who are listening to the podcast may not know that you are the co-founder and original CEO of Leadpages, now you’re doing some other things, and we’re going to get into a really cool double origin story of entrepreneurship. Probably really a quadruple or quintuple origin story by the time it’s really done.
But before we get into that, I would love for people to get to know how are the lives of the clients of Nomics are transformed by the work that you’re doing with your current company?
Clay: Yeah, great question. At Nomics, we’re focused on cryptocurrency data. I think to the average consumer, it’s a really boring business, in the same way that maybe Amazon Web Services is a really boring business. We think of ourselves as a utility company, and most of what’s interesting, I think, or remarkable about what we’re doing is below the water line.
So, if you are an investor, a hedge fund, you’re a prop shop, or you’re someone who lives and dies by the quality of your data, then it’s really important that the data is normalized, that the data is consistent, that the data is clean, that the data is accurate, for all the reasons why you might imagine. Right?
If you’re trading millions of dollars a day, or even if you’re trading a significant amount of money that’s significant for you and you’re making data-based decisions, then it’s important that the data is right. So, at the end of the day, we have data that people can be confident in, that allows them to do all kinds of things like back-test hypotheses, and just make good decisions around their investments, or at least make the decisions they want to make.
From College Dropout to 4-Hour Workweek
Bob: I know there are some people that are going to be like, “I don’t have a clue of what you just said, but it sounds really cool,” and some others who are into cryptocurrencies at various levels, who I think will really enjoy checking out what you’ve done over at Nomics.com.
Before you were at Nomics, of course, you were at Leadpages, and before you were at Leadpages you were doing blogging and Marketing Show work, and so forth, business coaching, and creating some really cool things. So, let’s go back to there. What got you started, originally, from being a psychology major at Grinnell to becoming a software startup guy? Tell us a little bit about that transition. How did you get started doing that?
Clay: I think the origin of Leadpages, which is the origin of my software entrepreneurship is really in content marketing. I was in graduate school, the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I was doing a double major, it’s not really a major, it’s graduate school, so it’s a double thing. I guess a dual degree is what it was called, in information studies and law, and in the middle of that, I got bit by the blogging bug that was happening at the time.
This is like 2005, 2006. And so, I started a personal development blog. This should be funny to anyone listening to this because at the time I knew nothing about personal development. It’s laughable that I would have advice for others on this stuff, so it was a personal development and productivity blog but mostly it was just me ragging on the getting-things-done crowd.
So, there’s this productivity cults that follows a system called Getting Things Done by David Allen, and it’s about writing down and logging everything, and perfectly sorting it and whatever. So I was really just making fun of that crowd, and I was making fun of the life hacks crowd, which that whole thing has gotten pretty big.
And, my point there was just all these things that people say are life hacks, just they’re not life hacks. They’re just … You know, “Here’s how to cut a Doritos bag and use it to store … I don’t know, nuts and bolts,” or whatever … I don’t know. They weren’t real life hacks, and I think they were pretty meaningless, and I think they still are.
So, anyway, I had this blog and no one was reading it, so I got really interested in how to get more readers to the blog. I got really involved in social media, and the Digg community. I got to the point where, if I had written a really good blog post, I could pretty reliably get it to the front page of Digg.
So, for anyone who was around back then, that’s a whole lot of traffic and a whole lot of backlinks; and I then leveraged that into sort of a side hustle, if you will, another one of my favorite terms. I leveraged that into a side hustle around helping brands.
“I dropped out of law school, I was doing that full-time. I started blogging, I learned how to get traffic, and transitioned into niche marketing.”
One of my customers was like Fox Television Studios, and there were some startups in the Madison area where I was living, and man, if I did not have a four-hour workweek then…I mean, I was working four to five, maybe sometimes 10 to 12 hours a week and all my bills were paid. I was a single man, I would sleep in.
I dropped out of law school, I was doing that full-time. I started blogging, I learned how to get traffic. Transitioned into niche marketing. I sold plans on creating chicken coops, I had an affiliate business around green products; so like compost pails, and red worms, and cordless electric lawn mowers, and all kinds of things like that, and I was making a pretty good living at it.
Like so many other people in this space I thought, “Hey, I’m making a good living at this,” and I actually enjoyed talking about this stuff more than I enjoy making all these super niche websites. Right? Because I didn’t do any of that stuff, I just found the keywords and did the marketing around it.
Filling a Need and Then Some
Clay: I started teaching marketing. I started blogging about what I was doing, and one day I was watching a video with Gary Vaynerchuk. He had this wine show called Wine Library TV that was really popular back in the day, and he just pulled three wines off the shelf at the wine store that he worked at, and he had someone. He just had a friend recording the video, there was no fancy post-production, there wasn’t a great mic setup.
It was really kind of crappy, actually. But, he had energy and he had mojo … Pull those three wines off the shelf and just started talking about what he likes about them, he smelled them, he said, “Yeah, this tastes like strawberry jam combined with Skittles in a stinky sock,” or whatever he said about the flavor profile of those three wines.
He was getting like hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of views on these videos, and I was super pissed at the time because I was taking a week to write some four to 5,000-word blog post and maybe I’d get a bunch of people commenting at the bottom, maybe five or six people commenting that they liked it.
I wanted to create content like Gary Vaynerchuk, where I’d just kind of just go. So, I said, “Screw it,” you know, “I have some customers that are paying me to create these landing pages for them,” so I hired this designer I met, got on 99designs. It was a freelancer in Brazil, paid them to create landing page templates.
There was this place called HTML Burger out of India. You’d give them 100 bucks, and they’ll turn a design into an HTML template, so I just made videos where I reviewed a landing page. I talked about why it converts, how it converts, the conversion rate, any kind of data we had around it, the kind of copy we used, and we gave away both the visual template, the PSD, the Photoshop file, and we gave away the HTML file.
“Finally, I went to the audience and I said, “Hey, looks like there’s lots of interest around this. They said, “Yup,” and so we did a pre-sale.”
And, oh my gosh, people really responded to that and liked it, and I got a lot of comments, a lot of feedback, and I finally was doing what I had aspired to do, in terms of creating content easily.
So, in the comments, people would say things like, “Well, how do I upload this to WordPress?” And I actually had people taking these files and uploading them to WordPress like they were plug-ins or themes. I had people saying, “How do I integrate this with MailChimp, or Salesforce?” Or whatever they’re doing. “How do I run a split test?” And I didn’t know, I wasn’t super technical.
But there was just all this neediness in the comments, just people wanting help. It wasn’t neediness, they just wanted help. And finally, I went to the audience and I said, “Hey, looks like there’s lots of interest around this. You guys want us to do a lot more, I’m definitely feeling the tension between you wanting to take advantage of this, but it doesn’t do everything you need it to do yet, you can’t really connect and get these across the finish line without a little bit of extra help, so how about I create some software that does this for you?”
They said, “Yup,” and so we did a pre-sale. We got 200 people to give us 200 bucks, took that money, hired a guy named Matouš (Höschl), along with Simon (Payne) who was working with us prior to that, in the Czech Republic, and we built the first version in like two and a half months, three months, and then we were off to the races. Leadpages was born. That was in…
Clay: Yeah, the end of 2012, it was like November 2012, and then January 2013 comes along, you know, we do 2.5 million that year, in 2013. We do 10 million the next, we do like 20 the next and it just kind of takes off, and it’s this crazy growth trajectory.
So, it was a fun journey, I learned a lot about the power of pre-selling. I learned a lot about working with engineering teams, I learned a lot about the marketing tech space, and the power of content marketing. A lot of people talk about a minimum viable product, and I think that’s probably way too early, it’s like you just shouldn’t just start working on a product.
I think a lot more in terms of a minimum viable audience, so an MVA, instead of an MVP. And we had that, and it just became kind of the roots of what is now Leadpages, or the beginnings of what is now Leadpages.
Bob: I love this story because A, I was part of it. I was one of those 200 people-
Bob: … that gladly sent you 200 dollars, and then crossed my fingers that you weren’t just going to take it and run with it, and you know, two and a half months later or whatever you and Tracy had created with Simon and Matouš this fantastic software.
Expand Your Squad
Bob: One of the things I’d love to know, is you initially grew this … You know, you had your co-founder in Tracy, and Simon, and Matouš and you have this very small team.
Bob: How did you know, once you got those initial 200 people to buy, then you needed to hire some more staff? What was that thought process like for you?
Clay: Yeah. This was my first software company, this was my first real company and Tracy’s, too, and Simon’s, too, and basically everyone involved, so I don’t know that we knew much of anything, really, back then. But, you know, I think we just knew that we had more on our plate than we could handle and that we were stretched pretty thin, and we needed all kinds of help, really.
I don’t think we knew, in many instances, where to look for the help, what the help would look like. I had the best idea about how to hire marketing help because I had been running in that community, so I knew how to find marketers that were kind of like me. You remember, copywriters, and understand conversion, and writing for conversion, that’s part of how I met you and we started working together, and other folks on the team like Kat (von Rohr) and Jeff (Wenberg).
So, I just think we knew that we need to get more sleep at night, so we should probably start hiring people.
Selling with Content Instead of Sales People
Bob: Awesome. Now, when it came to the marketing side, a lot of software companies, they go and they find this crusher of a sales person to go out and find big accounts, and you had a really interesting approach, I think, for the time where you didn’t actually hire sales people. You focused at a different route. Talk just a little about how that route really impacted those early days of Leadpages.
Clay: Yeah, I think that is the traditional path with enterprise software, and I just didn’t even know enough to even hire a salesperson. I didn’t know what a good salesperson looked like, what their characteristics or attributes were, what kind of history they would have that would set them up to be successful with us.
But, I did understand launches when I started Leadpages with Tracy and Simon. I was a personal friend of Jeff Walker, so I understood the Product Launch Formula, and product launches, and affiliate marketing, and webinars, and kind of one-to-many marketing, which really is what made sense at the price point we were, and still sell the product at.
It doesn’t make sense to have a longer sales cycle, with contracts, and telephone calls, all that for a product that costs less than $100 a month at the lowest tier. So, that’s how we started. I do think there’s companies that have learned how to do both, like Zoom. We’re using Zoom to record this.
Zoom has done a good job of figuring out how to have products where there is kind of the self-serve lower tier, and then also how to sell into corporations and close corporate accounts, but I don’t know that we have a product that is suited to that, right now.
I very much came from this internet marketing community that today I probably have a bit of disdain for. You know not necessarily like the Jeff Walker crowd, but just a lot of the trappings of launches, and affiliate marketing, and people hitting their list pretty hard, and in some cases, false urgency and huge, long sales pages with 15 bonuses, or something like that. And it’s like the whole thing is valued at a billion dollars, but if you buy now, you can get it for 200, or something.
But, that’s definitely the community that I came from, and I don’t regret it because I think that community, despite all the things that it doesn’t do well, I think that community understands conversion, at least sort of the conversion psychology of opportunity-seekers pretty well, but also just the conversion psychology of humans, in general, not just opportunity-seekers.
I learned a lot about copywriting, and psychology and social proof, and all that stuff from that crowd. I still think it’s some of the best education you can get, just don’t necessarily apply it like they did.
Bob: Some of the people that you hired on originally were super focused on just content. Right? Just being content machines. Talk to us just a little bit about how that worked out, and are you still doing content with your current business, with Nomics? Or, is that a different approach of how you’re grabbing on to people?
Clay: Yeah, it’s definitely a different approach.
At Leadpages, I think the first thing that really worked for us were videos, because it was a page builder and there were templates, and we definitely had things to say about why those templates were designed, how they were, and what they did.
That initial medium for explaining what we did, they were YouTube videos. So, I discovered that that worked. The first hire to scale that was a guy named Jeff Wenberg and he came in, and we went from maybe making a video every other week to making a couple of videos a week. We’d announce some new features, there’s some cool … I remember boxes.
He’s like busting out of a box, these are some classic videos. I hope they’re still around, I hope they’re still on the YouTube channel somewhere, but there’s one where he’s wearing a robe, and he’s got a pipe, and he’s petting his cat. I remember the intros because they were so good. Oh, I miss Jeff.
So, we were scaling sort of the visual component, showing people how it worked. I think the problem with so, so much marketing these days is there’s a lot of discussion of concepts and sort of these abstractions, even if you look at sort of the traditional startup explainer video that’s two to three minutes, and it’s got like.
It’s like, “Meet Bob,” oh, you’re Bob, like, “Meet Bob. Bob has trouble with social media and all the things, and so this simplifies it for him, and it’s all pictures, and it’s really short, and it’s all conceptual.” We went the other direction and said, rather than sort of flooding people with more general ideas about general features that will generally improve their business, how about we show people something specific that they can do tomorrow in their business that’s going to help them?
We’re not going to just speak to the broad idea, and like sanitize this. We’re going to show them exactly where they click in the app, and we’re going to show them exactly what the screen looks like, and where they’d go to do what.
A part of this video is absolutely selling the product because we’re giving them a tutorial about how they do this with our product, but also the idea is that we’re sharing the underline marketing psychology and tactics. Those absolutely apply, regardless of whether you’re using our software.
So, you’re going to come away learning something about marketing and marketing psychology, and at the same time, you’re going to see exactly how you’d do this with Leadpages. I think that worked really well. So, videos, were first, and then next, were webinars, and that’s when we hired Tim Paige to come in and scale our webinar.
So, Tim came in. We were doing webinars. We were doing webinars with affiliates, they were converting really well, got sometimes 30% of the people on a webinar would purchase; so that worked, and so we were like, “Well, that’s working, so let’s scale that.” Right? Like, this is an anomaly. Most things you try in marketing don’t work this well, so let’s have someone do this full time.
So, Tim just was a webinar machine. I don’t even know how many webinars he’s done. He still does them. Right? That guy probably has done more webinars than anyone who like ever lived. Well, you might have done more, Bob. I don’t know-
Bob: Not more than Tim. Not more than Tim. We did count it once, and while he was still on the team, and he was well over 1,000-
Bob: At the time. You know, this was two years ago, so you know yeah webinars are a major machine. What I really love about this is that you, as the business owner, started out doing these on your own, and then you wanted to scale yourself, replicate yourself, so you hired somebody to do some more video.
Then, you had some webinar success and you knew that they were working well, but you couldn’t do it all and grow this team, and lead everything and still sleep at night. So you find someone to take that on. Same thing with writers, and you have Will (Hoekenga), and Kat.
Bootstrapping vs. Capital Raise
Bob: Just really worked out well. I’d like to change direction a little bit on the backside of things, so in the business operation side you had a decision to make in the software world in 2012-2013 to go out and find funding, or to bootstrap. And, the first year or so was full-on bootstrap, and then you decided to pursue some capital raise.
What was the either internal and/or external battle with your co-founders and yourself, where you said, “You know bootstrapping is awesome, don’t get us wrong, but it would be really nice to have a capital raise so we can do some other things. What were some of those things that you weighed back in 2013-2014 as you pursued what became a pretty substantial money raise over a couple of rounds?
Clay: That’s a really good question. There really wasn’t any internal or external battle. I think that fundraising is one of those things where it’s just like any other business deal. I think a lot of times people talk about them or think about them like all VC raises are the same.
I don’t think they are. I think it’s the CEO’s job to make good deals, and don’t do shitty deals. And so, our series A, I think the valuation was super competitive. We raised at Silicon Valley valuations, and we had a three-person board that was myself, and Tracy, and Seth (Levine).
“We didn’t want people’s jobs to be in jeopardy because of one bad month, or one bad quarter.”
So, Tracy and I, we controlled our destiny, and we gave up a percentage of the company that we were fine with, and then we did, we called it a Series A1 so that our first round was five million, and the second round was like six million. That took us to 11. We still hadn’t spent any of the money we raised at that point.
And again, the board didn’t change with that Series A1, and it was really good. I think we had a sense of wanting to acquire one or two companies in the future. I also think we had a sense that even though everything was completely perfect during this initial startup phase, that there were going to be bumps along the road. We felt a commitment to everyone that we had hired.
We didn’t want people’s jobs to be in jeopardy because of one bad month, or one bad quarter. We wanted the ability to try things, some of which might work, some of which might not. So, it really wasn’t a struggle.
Something I want to highlight here, as well, is you mentioned that as a business owner, with those initial marketing initiatives around videos, and webinars, and then later affiliate marketing and launches with Kat and things like that.
That, you know, I did it myself, and then hired someone to scale it. And I think that’s really the right way to go. I think that it takes a really experienced executive to find someone to come into the company when a company has never done something before – it doesn’t know what success looks like in a given area to hire someone who’s going to come in from the outside and say, “Hey, create this net, new win for us” – when the company has never won in that way before, in that particular way, I think that’s really hard to do.
There are a lot of people who have been the heart of past successes at other companies where they came into a situation where something was working and then they perpetuated it, or maybe they scaled it; there’s not a lot a people in any entrepreneurial endeavor that have come into a business that has never been successful in a given way, and then sort of created that new success out of thin air.
Those people are very rare, and they’re hard to hire, and most of the time they’re running their own companies. They do exist, but that’s a pretty advanced hire. Like, if you’ve never done sales before, and if a company has never had success with sales reps, and then they hire sales reps.
Hiring someone to come in externally and sort of create a win there, super hard to do. That’s just tough, that’s just tough, and it happens all the time. Right? Amazon and all these companies wouldn’t exist if it weren’t possible, but it’s hard to do.
Bob: You raised some really, really great points there. There’s more about the sort of intermediate story that I’d love to get into at some point, maybe in another episode.
Passing the Torch
Bob: I’d love to fast forward a little bit with the time remaining that we have, to your exit from Leadpages.
Everybody has this vision, I think, of having this great success story, and they forget that there might be another chapter afterward, so take us to … I guess it’s been two years now, since you stepped down? Or, has it been three? I can’t even tell.
Clay: Yes. It feels like two. Two feels about right.
Bob: Two feels about right. So, take us to those later days of Leadpages, where you decided you were going to, first of all, hand off control to a different CEO, which is a big leap, and then for you to just step away and become chairman of the board, but then … We’ll talk about starting up the next company; but, what was that process like?
I think for a lot of people listening, who are in that further stage, they might have some sense that their days could be a little bit different in the future.
Clay: I mean, there are so many things about Leadpages. Like, I just did not know when we started how big the company was going to become and how quickly it was going to become that big. I remember getting the Leadpages domain name, and I think … It was like leadpages.com was for sale, and I was like, “We’ll just get the dot net. Who cares?”
It was just like, “Let’s just throw this up and launch it.”
I don’t think I had any idea how big it was going to become. I used to think about my own growth as a founder and as a CEO in terms of this, I call it the three-part cycle of founder failure, which is you spend about three months learning how to do your job, and then you spend the next three months being pretty good at that job, and then you spend the next three months realizing that the job has actually changed now as the company grows, and as things evolve, and that your job is like completely new.
You spend three months actually sucking at your job and realizing that it’s all changed, and then you start that all over. So, you learn the new job, then you are okay for three months, and then you spend about three months being okay with it, and then you spend three months realizing this has all changed.
“Thankfully there was a man, who was our COO, someone I respect tremendously, John Tedesco, and I went to the board and I recommended that we hire John to be our CEO, and I moved on.”
And, for me, I felt like I went through that pattern and was able to grow and learn the new job, but then learn the new job, and then learn the new job up until we were about 80 to 100 people; and then, at some point, I just realized that I was in over my head. I had no business as a first-time founder running a company of our size, given my own inclinations and where I found joy and happiness and what I was good at.
So, I didn’t feel like it was serving my family. You know? I was pretty stressed. I didn’t feel like I was serving the company, I didn’t feel like I was the right person to lead the company anymore. I didn’t feel like I was serving the customers; and frankly, it just didn’t feel good to not be good at my job anymore.
But, thankfully, thankfully there was a man, who was our COO, someone I respect tremendously, John Tedesco, and I went to the board and I recommended that we hire John to be our CEO, and I moved on. You know, I thought a lot about whether or not it made sense to stay at the company versus move on, and I think I made the right choice for a couple of reasons.
One, I think when a founder’s around, I think that can add just … I don’t know, I think it could be hard for an incoming leader to have everything they need.
They need to turn the page and start their own chapter, and to having the founder around, I think that could be a little bit difficult, so I wanted John to have everything he needed to be successful.
Then I think the second reason, which is the main reason why I didn’t stay on is I wasn’t qualified to be the chief marketing officer of Leadpages, like I don’t know that I would have hired me for that job. I think I was a pretty good evangelist, and I was good at telling the story, and I was good at creating content. But, really, at the end of the day, in my heart and soul, I’m a product person.
I had changed quite a bit, and Nomics is, in a lot of ways, what I wanted Center to be, which is this product business that isn’t around anymore that we started. I definitely didn’t feel like me, as a product leader, you know…sort of a full-time product leader, leading our product org, I didn’t feel like I was the best person for the company where we were at, at the time.
So, the only thing that made sense was to go, and it was fine. I felt like I was leaving the company in good hands, like there was fantastic leadership around. I think there’s always sort of that moral authority a founder has, and a certain amount of urgency, and the ability to tell the story like I’m telling it right now, and stuff like that I think can go a long way or inspirational-type stuff.
But, at the end of the day, I thought Leadpages would be best served if I moved on.
Bob: That’s really great that you’re sharing this, and I know some folks are enlightened by this kind of story. I’m also thrilled that as you handed it over to John you left things in great shape. Leadpages had just acquired Drip, and Drip was able to take on some of the mission of Center as you were talking about.
A Fresh Start with a Parallel Problem
Bob: So, let’s talk for the next part here, about the transition to Nomics, because I think, if I know the transition a little bit, you did take a break from doing things. What was that like from stepping down from a company that you’d spent the last five years building into, “Let’s put on the hardhat again, and get back into the trenches and do it again?” Talk to us a little bit about that.
Clay: First off, I am not a serial entrepreneur or a startup junkie. I don’t get a thrill out of the super early stages. I don’t hate them either, but I really like a team of about 30. I think that’s a nice, sweet spot to be in, and when you’re starting from scratch in a new industry, where you’re completely unknown, it’s super humbling.
I mean, it’s really, really, really humbling, like nobody cares about you when you’re starting from scratch, and they really have no reason to. So, it was fun to have a blank slate again, it was fun to work from home. It was fun to actually sink my teeth into a problem set that is very much related to Center.
So, in the marketing tech space, between the years of 2012, 2013 to like 2017-2018, the number of like marketing tech apps doubled every single year; so like the number of sales and marketing software or service apps, like Leadpages, was like doubling every year.
And, that created a huge problem around integrations. The first problem was that there was just all these things out there that needed to talk to each other in order to be useful. Right? If they were all part of like a consolidated marketing stack. If you use Leadpages, and you have MailChimp, and if Leadpages doesn’t support MailChimp then, well, you just can’t use Leadpages. Right?
So there was so many different versions of that, with all the combinatorics of how the space is growing.
The second problem around that is around getting a 360-view of what the customer is doing. Right? They might be attending a webinar, and there’s information about that in Zoom, and they might be opening up emails in Drip, and there’s information about that in Drip, and then they’re visiting pages in Google Analytics and that’s there. Then, they’ve got billing information in Stripe, and customer information in Zendesk, and it’s really hard to know what this one person has done across your marketing stack.
So, I became very, very interested, just incredibly interested in integrations, and issues around scaling integrations and super interested in like what Zapier had done with it. They created this self-service platform where anyone could write an integration to Zapier, and it sort of sends that into the central hub, that’s then send out again; and that was the problem I wanted to solve.
So, I was looking at the cryptocurrency space, and I’m going to get a little bit technical, but when we first started looking at the data in the cryptocurrency space, if you integrate it with five exchanges, when we first started, you could get 50% of the trade volume on any given day. Now, in order to get 50% of the trade volume on any given day, you need to integrate it with 40 to 50 exchanges. Right?
Just in a couple of years, it’s almost 10X-ed the number of exchanges you need to get to integrate with in order to get 50% of the trade volume on any given day. I think that problem’s going to continue. It looks a lot like the MarTech space around 2013, 2012.
So, I felt like there are all these issues around distributed data sets. I’m so off the mark of what this podcast is about. I felt like there were all these issues around distributed data sets.
This is just sort of a really long way of me saying that it was really fun to start working on a problem and a product that addressed a problem that I felt like I knew a lot about, and that I was really passionate about, given where I had left off at Drip and Leadpages.
And that really was the segue to Nomics. Yes, I like cryptocurrencies, yes I like startups, all of those things, but I also am really passionate about this really boring data thing that makes people want to change the conversation at dinner. So, that really was what drove me.
One of the great things about my time at Leadpages is that I got to meet a lot of really, really great people.
One of the things that we had contemplated right after the Drip acquisition, because I’d felt like it had gone well, I still think it went really well.
I think I had two really great moments of clarity at Leadpages. One was sort of the initial idea for Leadpages, and the second one was I think I really got how big Drip could be during the acquisition, when we were looking at that space. And so, I was like, “Yeah, I think we understand how to do acquisitions here. Let’s do another one.”
And so, we were looking at webinars, at the webinar space. I still believe there’s so much potential in the webinar space, and that it hasn’t been really nailed yet. And, one of the companies that I looked at was one that was started by my current co-founder, and it wasn’t really webinar software, it was like one-on-one voice chat. It was like Google Hangouts, but a lot better.
He had built it in three months, and it had all this unit test coverage, and test coverage in place. It was just technically really amazing, as well. He and I got started and we realized how much alignment we had, and we started talking about this other problem set and decided we’d throw our hats in here together, and it’s been a good journey.
We raised venture capital, again, from Arthur Ventures, who was an investor on Leadpages, and also like Coinbase, and Digital Currency Group who like have more money under management in the crypto space than anyone else. We’re doing some really interesting things, and I’m having a fun time.
Building a Startup in a Turbulent Environment
Bob: I love it. I’ve got two more questions about this particular pathway. One is when you started Nomics, Bitcoin and Ethereum, which you had been an early personal investor in, were going out of control.
Bob: And then, 2017 and 2018 happened, and the floor just drops out and the value of all those, or the perceived value, at least, of these currencies. What was that like? Because, I know that one of the cool things that I love about what you’re doing is you’re really connecting the data sets, like you’re mentioning, to institutions, and so forth. So, maybe it’s not as big a deal, but I imagine that there was like a holy crap moment, maybe, as you’re in this space new, starting up this company, getting it to grow; and meanwhile, there’s just super headwinds, at least from the public’s perspective. Talk to us a little bit about what that was like.
Clay: Yeah, I think the price of Bitcoin is probably the least interesting thing about it, for this space. Our business, because it’s focused on data, there was no perceivable impact. We don’t sell more when Bitcoin’s price is up, and we don’t sell less when it’s down.
We’re very much like the power company. We’re infrastructure. But that said, I am involved in the space, and I think I was very used to it. So, I’d been through a bull and bear market before.
I got involved in 2013, and at the end of 2013 there’s this huge run-up of the price of Bitcoin to like $1200, and then it crashed at the end of 2013, beginning of 2014, went down to like $300 or less.
I think it even got to the single digits during a short period … a very short period of time. It probably did double digits, probably not single digits, but it definitely, definitely crashed hard. That was in 2013, and it took all of 2014, all of 2015, all of 2016 and then into the first quarter of 2017 to see 1200 again. Right?
So, it had hit, in 2013, it hit 1200. It took more than three whole years to get back, and I’d seen that happen, and luckily, when it totally crashed, I was like, “Oh, this is a great opportunity for me.”
I had seen this happen and I just figured that this whole thing was going to be super volatile and cyclical until enough people are involved that it evens out.
I think I was a little bit battle-hardened prior to Nomics, and luckily, Nomics does not hold any cryptocurrency. It wasn’t like we raised money, and then like bought a bunch of Bitcoin with it, thank goodness. It didn’t phase me much, and I think anyone who’s really involved in this space, I would just behoove them to make very long-term bets.
It’s almost like if you have the amount that you are saving, and you want some of it in real estate, and you want maybe some of it in gold, if you think that’s important, and some in stocks, some in bonds, some in like just a really safe savings account. And then, maybe want some percentage of that in cryptocurrencies. I’m not a financial advisor, so this is just for entertainment purposes, only.
But, if you do that, just probably just forget that it’s there, and see if you can go into a time machine, and just wake up in 10 years and see where it’s at, and don’t check it a lot in the meantime. That’s my advice.
Bob: Excellent. I don’t think it’s advice, I think it’s entertainment purpose of the conversation.
Clay: Yeah, yeah exactly,. This is for entertainment purposes only, again.
Bob: Indeed. And speaking of entertainment purposes, you copied your playbook a little bit from the start of Leadpages and you’re using content marketing, again, to grow Nomics with Flippening, the podcast.
Bob: Talk just a little bit about that strategy, and what’s been a new lesson that you’ve learned in the process of doing that podcast?
Clay: Yeah, so I think it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done as a content marketer, prior. So, like Tim and now you do the podcast at Leadpages. I’d never really done a podcast before, I’d mess around with little things here or there.
Andy Fawcett and I had something called the Beer and Money Show. It was stupid. I mean, we would just drink beer and talk about marketing, and I don’t even know if it was that good. So, I started looking at this space, and I saw that the institutions were getting involved, or starting to.
And, that so many of the top crypto podcasts were just bros calling each other up on Skype and talking to other bros, you know? And, actually, bros so very few women on these podcasts, unfortunately.
I decided I wanted to do something that was the polar opposite of that, that was focused on institutional investors, and full-time investors that we wanted to be very professional about it, that we wanted to take more of a Planet Money approach.
We hired a podcast editor. We’d script the intros the outros, we’d script cut-ins, we did an audio documentary about security tokens. We’d do really deep-dives, and the goal was to create evergreen content that goes deep on one area of crypto asset investing or the ecosystem.
And, it’s been great for us. I mean, it really has been fantastic. Primarily, because it’s free advertising for us. I know what advertising costs on our podcast, and we probably couldn’t afford to consistently advertise on a podcast like ours, but we put ads for our own products, for our API in there.
And, they convert, so I tell that to people when we sell ads on our podcast, that the podcast itself converts. We know, because we get buyers from it all the time. It was one of those things where, because we charge for advertising, and we can include our own advertising, it’s like we’re getting paid to create a free distribution channel for our product.
It’s been good. We don’t do a lot of content marketing. It’s not like Leadpages was. It might be some day, but it definitely isn’t right now. But, we decided we wanted to go all in on like one thing, where we were going to go really deep. We weren’t going to just haphazardly create some content and throw it out there, that we were going to try, and do something really great; and, it has been great.
We’re consistently in the top 200 in the Business section on iTunes, we are today. We’re usually the one, or two-ranked crypto podcast in the Business section of iTunes. The average episode gets anywhere between 20 and 50,000 lifetime downloads. And, it’s it’s been a really good thing for us.
It’s also connected me with people in the space that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to connect with. It’s a huge pain in the ass, but it’s definitely worth it.
The Balancing Act
Bob: Very awesome. Well, I know we need to start to wrap up, but I do have one last question, because along the way for the last, at least five years to my knowledge, you’ve had a great personal side of your life with your family, and I just would love to have you touch on for a moment what it has been like to have all of this go on, with the growth of Leadpages and then the transition to Nomics, and then have this family come up.
You know, you have soon-to-be three-year-old twins in the mix. Talk to us as a dad, and as a husband. What’s that been like? And how you’ve balanced those things along the way.
Clay: Yeah. Man, I didn’t know how much I was going to like being a dad. I really did not. There was just no way for me to anticipate it. Honestly, before they were born, I was really scared. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to handle it. Mentally, I’d prepared for like one, and then like find out they were twins. Quite honestly the best thing that ever happened to me was this in our family.
But, freaked me out, and it was really hard. I think it was really hard at first, especially as I was preparing to depart Leadpages, and I had lots of things that I was stressed out about and sort of worried about getting right there. Then I had these very, very young children who had just been born.
So, I don’t know that I’ve figured it out, or that I ever will, other than I’m home. I’m home every day at 5:30, and I’m there on the weekends, and maybe I’ll work a little bit on the weekends, but I’m home every day at 5:30 and I’m there at the weekends, and other than that, I just get up really early in the morning now.
I’ll get up at like 4:30, 5:00, 5:30 and go to work so I can get a solid 12 hours in during the day, and then I’m there in the evenings and I put them to bed, and I feel like somehow this has worked, and I feel like … Do I wish I were there in the mornings? Yes. You know, sometimes I am there in the mornings, or I take them to school, but to be able to work, and have a solid 12-hour workday, and be there sort of when the other parents get home, and to have a full weekend with them, it feels like the best of both worlds.
I’m sure I could be doing something better, but they seem like really happy kids, and secure, and they know they’re loved; so, I feel like I’m doing an okay job, and mostly my wife is, but I do everything I can. It’s been fun. It’s one of those things. I think the best things in life you just don’t know, that you have no way of anticipating what they’re going to be, you just can identify them once they’re present in your life.
Bob: That’s super true, super true. Well, Clay, thank you so much for going behind the curtain a bit, and sharing some of the story of your growth with Leadpages and now Nomics, and giving us a little inside look into the entrepreneurial journey that you’ve had. I really, really dug this conversation.
Clay: Yeah, me, too. Me, too. This is a lot of fun, and it was cool to be invited on, so I appreciate that you extended that.
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