222: All In – Leaving a Full-Time Job to Work on a Side Gig with Tommy Griffith

An image of poker chips and the title of Tommy Griffith's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'All-In.'

Welcome to episode 222 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Tommy Griffith from ClickMinded about his decision to turn his side gig into his full-time job.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork went live on Instagram to answer your questions about blogging. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

All-In 

Today’s guest is Tommy Griffith, the man behind ClickMinded, the site that helps businesses learn more about SEO.

But that’s not the entire focus of today’s episode. In fact, it’s about leaving his stable full-time job to pursue his side-gig. He talks about the importance of finding your unfair advantage, why you’re the most important part of your business, and how to build a successful sales funnel.

Tommy has such an interesting story, and we hope you enjoy this episode!

A quote from Tommy Griffith’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'The single biggest engine…is you.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How he started managing SEO at big companies
  • How he left his full-time job to focus on his side business
  • Why you’re the most important part of your business
  • What ClickMinded does
  • How you should be approaching content to optimize for search
  • How ClickMinded started to become profitable
  • How to build a successful sales funnel
  • The tools he likes to use for marketing
  • What it means to have an unfair advantage

Listen to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast below or check it out on Google Play Music, or Spotify:

Resources:

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.

Transcript:

Alexa Peduzzi: Welcome, welcome, welcome to this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Alexa here and we are just so excited that you’re here tuning into the podcast today. If you listened to the podcast recently, you’ll know that we were experimenting with a new format of the podcast where we had a single focus and then each episode featured a few mini interviews focused on that topic. It was super fun, we got great feedback, and that probably won’t be the last time we publish episodes like that. To be honest, they were just so much fun for us and the feedback we got from you was really, really positive.

Alexa Peduzzi: That said, we’re returning back to some long form interviews with some really exciting guests and today’s guest is Tommy Griffith from ClickMinded and he’s here to talk about leaving his stable, full time job in pursuit of turning his side gig into his one and only job. One of my biggest takeaways from this episode was his point about finding your unfair advantage. While you’re listening we encourage you to think about your unfair advantage and how you can accentuate that advantage in your blog or business. It’s a really interesting episode and we think you’ll really enjoy it. Without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Tommy, welcome to the podcast.

Tommy Griffith: Bjork, thanks for having me man, really appreciate it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it was fun to look back, rewind the tape a little bit, and talk through the growth of our respective businesses before we pressed record on this, because we were saying right before we hit record, we were like, “Gosh, we’ve had similar paths in terms of what it’s looked like to grow these things,” and we’re going to be talking about that. But I would love to rewind the tape and tell your story a little bit to go back to when things first started for you and you have some incredible experience. PayPal, Airbnb, search engine optimization. Let’s start by rewinding the tape and taking me back to when you first got into this thing called SEO, digital marketing, search engine optimization. How did you get into it? What was that like?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. It is interesting to bump into people who you’ve never met but then you compare notes and you’re like, “Wow, we had similar timelines. We came to similar conclusions at the same times.” Different paths but came out along the same timeline. It’s funny how the world works like that. Yeah, my start started in the catastrophe of the 2008 banks crashing. I graduated in 2008 with a finance degree, thought I was going to move to New York and do the bank thing. Everyone was losing their jobs, everything was crashing, and didn’t do anything with my life related to that. It all started with 4-Hour Workweek. Did you read that book?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. It was right around the time too when that was a book where everybody’s like, “You have to read the 4-Hour Workweek.” It was like 2006, 2007, 2008. I forget when it actually came out, but I remember I was on a trip with Lindsay’s family, my wife Lindsay, and we were in Arizona and her uncle had been reading it and he’s like, “You got to read this book if you’re interested in business,” and it was just at the time when we were starting to get interested in it. Right there with you. Yeah. I’ve read it and I’m familiar with it.

Tommy Griffith: Right. Yeah. For anyone not familiar 4-Hour Workweek is the catalyst for a number of people building remote businesses, internet businesses, hiring remote staff. I think it was written in 07, or maybe the end of 06, but it’s probably a little dated now, but the general concept of living wherever you want, and building something you’re interested in remotely and traveling while you’re doing it is the catalyst for that. My very first idea around this was extremely obnoxious. I read the book and one of his recommendations was, “Okay. I mean if you make physical products that can be okay but it’s easy to get copied. If you have an informational product or a unique set of knowledge that you can share with the world, it’s a little bit harder for people to copy that.” I had this weird story where in university, some friends of mine and I started a fraternity.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, so you were like, “This is my unique set of knowledge is how to start a fraternity.”

Tommy Griffith: It’s probably the most obnoxious, unique set of knowledge you could possibly have. As a 22 year old I wasn’t bringing very much to the table. I didn’t have a lot of options. But yeah, I said okay, that’s my one thing, and I did some, what I now know as keyword research, but at the time did some keyword research and there were 1500 people a month searching for, “How to start a fraternity.” We wrote this very dorky ebook and then said, “Okay, how, how do I get this to the top of Google?” That was the catalyst. The story goes pretty wild from there. I ended up starting a company with a friend of mine, while I was traveling, that failed miserably. We borrowed a bunch of money from family and friends. I actually was in this unique situation where I was very blessed and my parents paid for university. I graduated with no debt and then I put myself into debt trying to start a business directly after school.

Bjork Ostrom: What was that? I feel like that’s worth doing a really quick detour to talk about that. Can you talk about what your mindset was at that point and then how going through that experience changed your mindset as it relates to debt with businesses or even investments with businesses?

Tommy Griffith: For sure. It has now been 10 years since that moment which is pretty interesting. Yeah. It changed everything, and I think the reason why… At a really high level I did everything wrong. Everything. I mean, every conceivable thing I could have messed up, we messed up. I was traveling, I was living overseas, I was teaching English, and I got really interested in internet marketing because of this dorky ebook, I had got it ranking number one in Google. My friend and I started a medical tourism company. The idea was, a lot of older Americans that were uninsured or under-insured…

Bjork Ostrom: Travel to another country that’s more affordable. Yeah.

Tommy Griffith: Exactly. We had a very specific niche we found, which was knee and hip replacement surgery for American’s age 40 to 65 interested in doing it in Taiwan.

Bjork Ostrom: Niche. Yeah.

Tommy Griffith: From an internet marketing perspective, it worked, right? We figured out SEO, we figured out paid ads, I taught myself everything, got everything ranking and generating traffic, but the actual fundamental business was so dumb, so dumb.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that?

Tommy Griffith: Well, I mean, in hindsight we could have done so many things differently, but, at a really high level, I didn’t even understand that you can just create. We tried to facilitate the surgery. The plan was to market to people and pick them up at the airport and bring them to the hospital and that kind of stuff. I didn’t realize until 2008 that you can just create a lead generation site. You can just cut a deal with hospitals and sell leads and things like that. It’s just one example, among probably a hundred, of things I did wrong. But I remember the moment I was working in US time zones, but living on the other side of the world, and so I was always up late.

Tommy Griffith: I remember the exact moment when I had to give up. I was 23, I was on Skype at two in the morning talking to a woman in Illinois. I’m in my underwear and I’m talking about the possible implications of deep vein thrombosis on the flight home. I remember just looking in the mirror and being like, “What are you doing?” I’m in so far over my head, it’s unbelievable. That was the moment where I said, “I got to go home, I got to hang up the towel, I got to start paying off this debt and try something else.”

Bjork Ostrom: This is a small piece of the story, but I’m curious. You took money from family and friends within the business to start that, did then you go and get a job and then pay that money back? Was that something where you? Oh wow. Kudos to you for doing that, because there’d be a lot of people who would start a business and wouldn’t go through the process of paying people back for the money that they took. That, I’m guessing, took some effort and was part of the puzzle in terms of deciding to cut ties with the business and transition to a regular job.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, and this is a little side tangent as well, but I’m fascinated now by how much money can ruin people. I’m not talking about… I had a very easy life. But when you have unlimited money, it screws with your head so much. When you make a decision that, you’re going to pay this back and it is your money that you’re just temporary being lent, it changes your whole philosophy and psychology on everything, right? Because yeah, I mean, it’s very easy to run to just keep trying, and keep trying, and keep trying if you don’t have any skin in the game. That was a big deciding factor for me for sure.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You come back and at that point you have enough experience with digital marketing, specifically search engine optimization, to start to reach out to companies that are realizing they actually need this as a position. Does that happen right after you are doing these startups and business ideas and then you start to reach out to established or startup companies to say, “Hey, I know search. You should hire me.”

Tommy Griffith: That’s exactly right. Yeah. Basically I was traveling for two years after university trying to make this work, it didn’t work, and came home with my tail between my legs and it was like the classic, “Hey dad, remember me? How’s that couch in the basement looking?. You got any spot for your son? You remember your son?” Man, I’m just thinking through, it was an actual bailout. I had no money in the bank. He had to wire me 400 bucks for a one way ticket back to the US. It was bad. Came home and the… I think the single biggest motivator in the world is being miserable and in debt because it lit me up for sure.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, I was doing a ton of outreach. I thought I would be able to get a job at a local agency or some kind of local thing in New Hampshire where I’m from, a tiny little town outside of Boston. It was just right place right time that PayPal was hiring a search engine optimization manager for emerging markets, so non-English international SEO, and I had just spent two years abroad and two years teaching myself SEO and it ended up working out. I was 24 years old and was suddenly managing SEO at one of the biggest sites in the world, which was nuts.

Bjork Ostrom: When you first started at PayPal, because I think people hear that, they hear PayPal and Airbnb eventually for you as well. It’s impressive just through the name correlation to that, the connection that you have to that. But also I would imagine that there are elements that you get into it and you realize, “Wow, the scale of this is either more than I thought it was,” or maybe it’s like, “Oh, even huge companies are just beginner level when it comes to certain things.” Coming into PayPal, what was that like as it relates to search in your division? Had they already had really established processes that you learned from or were you implementing things that had yet to be implemented as part of their search strategy?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, this is a great question. Yeah, first things first, it is incredibly over-hyped. Whenever I say the PayPal or Airbnb thing, or in general, whenever you talk to anyone who’s been working at a big company, there’s a lot of brand credibility that gets lent that’s very undue. People think about the PayPal Mafia and all these early guys that started the next phase of the internet and then they associate anyone who worked at PayPal with that, and it’s just completely untrue. PayPal is a lethargic, boring, slow company with 10,000 people that is not moving the ball forward very much. But I joined and everyone’s like, “Oh, PayPal, PayPal, PayPal,” right? I was desperate and trying to build myself back up, so I’m going to take everything I can get.

Tommy Griffith: I don’t mean to throw my former employer under the bus too much, but we got to be honest here. They really didn’t have their stuff together at all, and that’s just what’s fascinating about big companies is, it ends up being a little bit more luck and right place, right time than anything. I think the funniest example, enterprise SEO in general is extremely boring. It’s not real SEO. Most people listening they’re in year zero to year three of their site or they’re just getting their traffic going, something like that. It really is up to you. When you can make meaningful impacts in your traffic, you really do see that in your bottom line. With bigger companies it’s things like doing presentations to the executives to make sure we don’t noindex the entire site and drive traffic to zero, right?

Tommy Griffith: The funniest example of enterprise SEO is that Google has an SEO team. That’s everything. That tells you everything. It’s big company stuff, right? It’s, “We have these massive teams, and massive goals, and shareholder expectations, and comms, and press, and legal and everything and we need to make sure, we don’t noindex the site.” That’s basically the point. Of course it differs. PayPal was a much different problem than Airbnb. Airbnb was absolutely incredible, fascinating engineering problem. Some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with in the world, but PayPal was much more like a slow bank. That was the difference.

Bjork Ostrom: Yup. That makes sense. One of the things that you talk about in a post that you wrote called, Burning the Boats, which talks about this transition from starting out, early stages corporate jobs, and then into building ClickMinded, which we’re going to get to is, you talk about this idea that this phase when you’re at PayPal, when you’re at Airbnb almost had the potential to regress in terms of your search experience. Do you think that was true when you look back on it, where when you came out of it you actually had to reintegrate in some ways into cutting edge, search related content?

Tommy Griffith: 100%. Absolutely. That is the difference between… You’re familiar with Skin in the Game?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Tommy Griffith: This book, Taleb. Nassim Taleb. Is that his name?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I haven’t read it, but I’m familiar with it.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. Right. The basic idea is, he’s the spearhead of this concept, but basically, don’t trust experts and pundits on TV and people at big companies, only trust people that have to fight every day, that have to wake up and go to war every day, and it’s so true. I mean the things I learned… I managed enterprise SEO at PayPal and Airbnb for six years. I learned so much. I made amazing friends. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world, and I got to do things I would never be able to do otherwise. But whenever you’re at a big company like that, it is a massive crutch. You get undue credibility. I talk about it in the post.

Tommy Griffith: I would go to a internet marketing conference once or twice a year, and when you have that little sticker that says, “Tommy from PayPal. Tommy from Airbnb,” people want to… I mean that’s a lot of sales guys that want to talk and stuff like that. But people give you undue credibility. I’m not saying everyone who works at a big company’s a bad person, not at all, but it’s just really funny when people build a lot of their identity on their employer. It gets harder and harder to leave every year because the minute you do it becomes a violent push into the deep end, the longer you’re relying on that big company.

Tommy Griffith: I left Airbnb to go full time on my side project two years ago, and when it was finally just… I left, I got rid of my apartment, I decided to go travel. I put everything into a backpack and that first day sitting in the coworking space and trying to build the next stage of my business, I’m just like, “Oh my God. What is this hellscape that I didn’t even know was underneath me the entire time? I have so much work to do.” It was a pretty brutal realization.

Bjork Ostrom: When you say so much work to do, in relation to the amount of catch up that you have to do in the industry of search or just in regards to starting this new thing, which is you being your own boss and building your own business?

Tommy Griffith: I think all of it, all of it. Yeah, the hard stuff like what’s working in SEO in 2019 and 2020, and 2021, but also… Hey, it turns out if you don’t make this work this month, who’s going to pay rent? How does healthcare work? What is insurance? All those… It was all of it. It was a pretty brutal realization for sure.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, sure. Let’s talk about ClickMinded, this is the business that you’ve referenced a couple times, we’ve mentioned a few times. We haven’t gone deep on it yet, but I would love to explore that a little bit. This started out as a course that you had taught in person as far as I understand, and then said, “Hey, maybe there’s a digital product that we could create out of this.” Can you talk me through the beginning of ClickMinded and the transition to doing it full time? Because people listening to this podcast are interested in that. The start, the transition, and then eventually we’ll get to talking about where you are now and how you’ve been able to scale it. Let’s start with the beginning of ClickMinded.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, sure. At a really high level, ClickMinded is a digital marketing training course for marketers and entrepreneurs. We have seven different courses on internet marketing, SEO, paid ads, content marketing, email marketing, social media, sales funnels, Google analytics. Our models, we try and use world-class experts that teach the stuff every day. The social media course is taught by the former head of social media at Airbnb, the content marketing course is taught by the former content strategist from Lyft, and that’s our angle. Beginner to intermediate digital marketers, and people are interested in it. That’s where we are today and that’s eight years after the inception.

Tommy Griffith: The beginning was, and it was really rooted in that initial story I told you, which was I moved to the San Francisco Bay area, I got this job, but I was still in a lot of debt from my first side project. I was trying a lot of different things to pay it off faster and ClickMinded was probably, listeners that are listening to it now, maybe they’re in the food blogger space or they’re trying a couple of different ideas, a couple of different verticals around it. I have to admit, ClickMinded was probably idea number 15. I was just trying so many things and I think the one great no-fail test for this, of whether or not you’re having entrepreneurial seizures all the time, is checking your web hosting account for how many unused domains you have. This is the test of how neurotic you are, and I’m sure you have some.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah.

Tommy Griffith: But it’s really interesting because I go both ways on it. ClickMinded only worked because I finally decided to forget everything else and go all in on it. But to get there I had to be pretty neurotic and ADD. I tried a lot of things. it started as-

Bjork Ostrom: On that, I feel like it’s worth pointing out. In trying all those different things, how did you know that ClickMinded was the thing then to stick with? I’m curious to know, was there a pull from the market that didn’t exist in those other businesses or ideas that you tried, or was it grinding and saying, “I have picked this, I’m going to do it.”

Tommy Griffith: This is a great question. You’ve done this before, haven’t you? This is a great question.

Bjork Ostrom: I’ve done this before in my own life. Essentially, it’s a version of asking myself questions that I’ve pondered.

Tommy Griffith: Oh, interesting. Yes, there was a pull. The pull was, and actually I would very much advise this for anyone who’s in the idea phase. I was trying a bunch of different things, and the single biggest factor for me was my own interest in the market and in the subject. As one example, I had this idea. It was 2011, I was living in San Francisco, and everyone was trying to make iOS applications, right? Everyone was trying to become an app developer or design an app or things like that. The same process I went through with the fraternity ebook.

Tommy Griffith: I went through the process of trying to find a keyword that had a high search volume and might be a business opportunity. I created an iPhone app development lead generation site. It was a site ranking for things like iPhone app developer companies and iPhone app development costs. The basic idea was, get people interested in the app and then sell the leads. It started working, it was ranking, it was generating traffic, it was generating leads. But I just hated it. I just could not pull myself out of bed to work on it. Every Saturday morning when I would go to work on it I would make up so many excuses and I just wouldn’t do it. It was, the money made sense, it all made sense, it was working pretty quickly, but I just hated it.

Tommy Griffith: This kept happening, and my feedback to anyone in this phase is… Especially in Silicon Valley, people say, “Oh, markets are really important. I’d rather have a mediocre product, and a mediocre team, and a great market than anything else.” But when you’re in this phase of side project, trying to get it going, I disagree with that because the single biggest engine from going to zero to your first $10,000, or zero to your first $100,000 is you. Your own person, you have to be the engine that gets this thing off the ground. If that’s not fired up and revved up and ready to go, it’s so much harder.

Bjork Ostrom: Same idea being, if there is resistance to you doing the work, you are the only piece of this widget that’s going to cause the thing to move. You’re the only part of the engine that can actually start it and move things forward, and if you aren’t motivated to start and move forward, then it’s going to be really hard to make progress.

Tommy Griffith: Exactly. That’s exactly right. ClickMinded is now… We’ve pivoted a million times from what it initially started, but the initial start was just, I liked this. That’s it. Yeah, so that’s how it worked is I did a… My boss had asked me to do a quick training course for everyone in marketing at PayPal back in 2011. I put together a quick two hour course on how SEO works. I got a ton of really good feedback on it, and more specifically people said, “You made a very boring topic interesting.” I’m a huge nerd. I love search engine optimization. I love to teach, I enjoy doing it, and that was the light bulb moment. It ended up, I started teaching physical in-person classes in a co-working space in San Francisco. I would say all Saturday morning, nine to five, all you can SEO. Would teach SEO and then sit down with startups and entrepreneurs and help them fix their SEO, and tell them what I thought.

Tommy Griffith: That actual business was terrible. It was the same problem. It was, I enjoyed doing it, it was working, people loved it, people gave great reviews, but it was a very dumb business. It didn’t scale, there was all kinds of problems with it, I was giving a huge revenue share to the co-working spaces because I couldn’t afford renting it and not booking a class. But what ended up happening was, it ended up being just the right place right time with this online course Renaissance that we’re in now. Udemy had just taken off. I ended up pushing this course I developed offline onto Udemy, which is an online course marketplace for anyone that’s not familiar, and from there it took off. It’s now been seven years, we have more than 10,000 paid users, and we’re a digital marketing training platform for a number of different topics.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Let’s do another quick tangent, because a lot of people that are listening, especially in the food and recipe space, search is a really important piece of the puzzle, if not the puzzle, a piece of the puzzle for a lot of people. If you were to sit down, and we could do multiple, multiple, multiple podcasts on this, but if you were to sit down with somebody who is in those early stages and they’re trying to figure out search, whatever that means. They’re trying to get their site to a place where search can be an important component of it. At a really high level, conceptually, what are the things that they should be thinking about, and ways that they should be approaching content as it relates to search on their site? It might be a hard question because it’s super open-ended, but let’s say that you are riding up a very long elevator and somebody asks you that question. What is the advice that you give them?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, for sure. Yes, I’ll try and summarize our 10 hour course in 30 seconds. But yeah, I mean, people ask this all the time. How do you do the elevator ride pitch on this? I think it’s just two simple things. The first is choosing your platform and the second is keyword research, and that is 80% of the game. A lot of people think that SEO is just Google on your desktop and it’s just no longer true. Any modern web application that has to render search results has to figure out what we call document relevancy. Google is the obvious one, but if I go to Pinterest, if I go to YouTube, if I go to eBay, Etsy, even Airbnb. When you use these search applications, they have to rank those documents based on how relevant they think they are.

Tommy Griffith: At a really high level, if you’re interested in becoming a food blogger or you’re just getting started, or you’re picking your vertical, the first thing to think about is who your customer avatar is, and what platform they would be using. There are people now out there that are doing SEO and not using Google, because they only want to create content on Pinterest or something like that.

Bjork Ostrom: Or podcasts would maybe be an example where it’s like-

Tommy Griffith: Podcasts would be a great example. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yup. That would be platform. You’re speaking about, “Hey, what is the platform that you are interested in ranking on?”

Tommy Griffith: Exactly. Yeah. That’s the first concept, and then every platform has their own optimization metrics. Google’s generally the most complicated, other ones are much simpler. Amazon, great example. You can do Amazon SEO, not even consider Google. In Google, one of the primary metrics might be links, in Amazon, the primary metrics might be sales. In YouTube, it might be completed views, in Pinterest it might be pins. There’s different metrics on each platform. This is a long elevator ride.

Tommy Griffith: That’s right, is keyword research. The basic concept is we can now use third party tools to figure out how many times people are searching for a certain keyword per month. What you can do when you use these tools, I really like kwfinder.com by the way, for beginners that are doing this is. This is a great, visually appealing tool to do all this, but the basic concept is we can use a third party to get the search volume data, right? The examples I used before, how to start a fraternity searched for 1500 times a month, and iPhone app developers San Francisco searched for whatever. You can do what’s called total addressable market sizing. You take all of the universe of keywords that your customers might be searching for and then you start to bucket them into your content.

Tommy Griffith: The point here is that when people get really into this, sometimes they say, “Okay, what should I blog about today?” They go and take a shower and they say, “A recipe for paleo carrot cake,” and they just do it based on a whim. But you can be much more clinical about this and much more quantitative about this when you use the data to set your strategy. My high level recommendation is to actually overinvest in keyword research. You want to spend a whole day or a whole week doing this and you let the keyword research guide your content marketing strategy for the year, maybe your email marketing strategy for the year, and maybe even your business strategy. You let the data drive you when you’re first getting into it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s great. Appreciate that little tangent. We have reached the top floor. We’re going through a different elevator and we’re riding it back down to resume the conversation around ClickMinded. You’re creating this course, you start to get some traction with it. One of the things that I thought was so interesting in the article that you wrote, Burning the Boats, talking about this transition of building ClickMinded into your full time gig, having a lot of success with it is, you talk about this point where you were bleeding. You talk about it as this cashflow is going out, you need a quick fix, but during this time you’re actually investing in automations for the business, and I thought that was such a fascinating thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Just in general, when you think about the urgent versus the important, and it seems like that was a time when you were investing in the important things, at a time when it would’ve been easy to get distracted by the urgent. Can you talk a little bit about that period of time in ClickMinded, and what that allowed you to do longterm as you were building the business?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. This phase was pretty interesting. Another tangent around this was I ended up taking on a co-founder at this phase in the business and it was 100% on him. I was not the guy who initially wanted to do this. I wanted to fix the dumb urgent stuff. And he was much more convinced that this was the way to go. But the high level point there was actually that Eduardo, my now co-founder who was working on this with me beforehand, he was our customer avatar. Even though I’m very, very interested in digital marketing. I’ve been doing it for 10 years. Who our customer avatar is, is very much him, which is people that are very sick of digital marketing media and these click baity articles around increasing your Twitter followers and much more deeply technical tutorials and walkthroughs on how to use digital marketing to grow your business.

Tommy Griffith: The big thing around this was that we really knew our customer avatar. We knew that a lot of the automations we were setting up would be really helpful for them. I think the house was on fire and we were looking at, “Okay, should we put out these fires?” But the bigger media problem in the room was, “Is this helpful to our end user?” Is this stuff what our customers are going to love and tell their friends about? We hadn’t gotten that part figured out yet, but it took a long time. It took a lot of work. We had to create massive email marketing flows, mini courses, webinars, lead magnets for each one of our topics. It was a long term bet that was great for the users, but we had no idea if it would work.

Tommy Griffith: I was very much driven by fixing the business, like going into Excel and fixing the numbers and Eduardo was very much driven by creating more value for the customer avatar, and he convinced me that he was right, and it turns out he was.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting to hear you talk about that because I imagine a lot of people that think about digital marketing, they think about the thing that is bringing people in, the content user facing stuff, blog post, podcasts, things like that, videos. It sounds like a lot of what you’re doing, if you think of the iceberg analogy, it’s like it was the stuff underneath the water. After you have these initial touch points, it’s like, what is the journey and what does the conversation look like once people are actually engaged with the brand? Is that true or was it also front-facing content, like blog posts and podcasts that you were working on?

Tommy Griffith: That’s exactly right. The vast majority of that investment was the under the water iceberg stuff, which is, “Okay, what is the plan with all these people when we get them, and what does that product look like and how awesome is it?

Bjork Ostrom: What were the things that you were actually implementing at that point? Because I think for people listening to this podcast, we think front-facing content, we don’t talk enough about what happens after that. What would your advice be to people that are looking to level-up that side of their business?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, so I mean and it is going to depend a little bit on your business, right? Like, if you’re a super high touch point business where you’re doing a $10,000 monthly recurring thing where you’re on phone calls with your clients versus your $10 ebook, this is all going to be a little bit different, right? But if you think about the basic concept of the sales funnel, not sure how familiar the audience would be with this Bjork.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, let’s talk through it. Yeah.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. The sales funnel, I mean, the way we like to talk about sales funnels and how digital marketers mess this up so badly is, we really got a lot of value, and I was taught this over and over and over again at an Airbnb. We really got a lot of value out of humanizing our sales funnel. The basic concept around the sales funnel, top of funnel is we’re just meeting each other, middle funnel is, “Okay, I’d like to get to know you a little bit better,” and bottom funnel is. “I’m just about ready to go convert.” Sometimes people also do a retention and increasing customer lifetime value piece of the funnel, which is upselling and cross selling and things like that.

Tommy Griffith: We decided to go this concept of treating our sales funnel like you met someone at a party. The way internet marketers go about this is awful, is, they buy a bunch of paid traffic and they send it right to their landing page and they say like, “Hey, buy now, buy now, buy now,” right? That’s the equivalent of going up to someone at a party or at a bar and being like, “Hey, I’m Tommy, nice to meet you. Do you want to go get married?” It’s just too much.

Tommy Griffith: The example I use is, I met a life insurance salesman at a party once and it was the most horrifying experience in my life. Just like, “Hey, how are you? What are you doing for coffee tomorrow? Let’s look at your finances and get you into a policy.” It’s like, “Dude. Gross. Get away from me.” The better way to go about it is, “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Tommy.” Tell me a little bit more about yourself. Deliver a bunch of value, right? Then the middle funnel is like, “Hey, I’d love for a way to contact you again. Can I get your phone number?” That’s what we call lead magnet into your email address so we can follow up there. Then bottom funnel, “Oh, let’s go out to dinner,” whatever, whatever, whatever.

Tommy Griffith: For us that was a bunch of content up at the top of funnel, which is your standard SEO. What are people searching for? Create something awesome, get it ranking high, and get a bunch of traffic on the site. Middle funnel for us is lead magnets, which is, “Hey, do you want an updated version of the content you’re about to read now, do you want it as a downloadable? Do you want, whatever you’re actually looking for. Maybe this page you’re on is a walkthrough of how to create a social media content calendar, but here’s the actual Google sheets template for it. Click here to enter your email,” right? That’s our middle funnel. Then bottom funnel is, “Hey, we have this 30-minute mini course. It’s an introduction to social media, or it’s an introduction. Google analytics. It’s totally free. You’ll get lifetime access to it if you can complete it. There’s a bunch of templates, and checklists, and cheat sheets. Click here to enroll in that,” and that’s free.

Tommy Griffith: After that, they’ve done the top of funnel, middle funnel, bottom funnel. They’ve experienced 30 minutes of the product. They even read two or three articles. We say, “Hey, by the way, it looks like you’ve really enjoyed this stuff. We have a discount that lasts for 24 hours on this course. Feel free to grab it at this price.” Doing that across seven products, when you have… Our product is 35 hours of HD content, we’ve gamified the mini courses. That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about when we’re talking about that high level investment that we didn’t know would work. I wanted to change the checkout button from green to red, that kind of stuff, and Eduardo was absolutely convinced that we knew who our customer avatar was, this is the bottom of the iceberg stuff. Let’s invest in it even if we don’t know whether or not it’ll work.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting to see one of the things that you outlined in the posts that you talk about this transition is the amount of hours that you’ve worked over the period from 2012 to 2019, and then the revenue for that year estimate for 2019. 2012, 11,000. 2019, 490,000. But the interesting thing with that is the amount of hours doesn’t keep going up, it actually goes drastically down in 2019 and I think that’s inspiring because there’s things that are working in terms of the automations that exist behind the scenes. Can you talk about some of the tools that you use to support some of those things that you just talked about? Whether it be something as simple as the email marketing tool that you prefer. Are there other things that you’re using that help along the way?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, absolutely. How nerdy and deep do I go on this? Do you want to list everything?

Bjork Ostrom: You could list your… Let’s start with your, if we could say, top five. The top five tools that you’d go to if you only could use five.

Tommy Griffith: Okay. Yeah. I mean, super high level, yeah. The site’s built on WordPress, and that’s all the marketing content. Then the actual product is on Teachable. Teachable is our learning management system that’s installed on our sub domain. We use ThriveCart for our checkout process, although Teachable has a new Teachable Payments checkout feature that’s that’s pretty good, but it wasn’t at the time when we were using it. Everything is based on Drip. Drip is our email marketing platform and CRM. Everything happens within Drip, all the automations, all of that. It’s all duct taped together with Zapier. Zapier is the glue that holds a lot of it all together.

Bjork Ostrom: For those that aren’t familiar with Zapier, can you share really quickly what that is and how it works?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. Zapier is like the modern day internet duct tape. It’s a very simple way to get lots of third party web applications to talk to each other. You can create… Another version of this, a more simple version of this, is IFTTT, if this, then that. But the basic idea is both of these services, they let you plug in applications that talk to each other. If I post a blog post on my site, then tweet it out from my account, right? Or if I enter something into this Google sheet, then post a Facebook post saying this, right? If someone enrolls in my course on Teachable, then unenroll them from that. It just gets a lot of third party services to all communicate with each other. If you have an increase in complex tech stack of a lot of services that aren’t all native to each other it’s a really nice way to get everything to play nice with each other basically.

Bjork Ostrom: Yup, yup. Got it. Zapier, and then did you have one more?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. What else are we… I mean, we’re using so many different tools, but… Oh, RightMessage is another great one. Right message is a… Yeah, you’re familiar with them?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Tommy Griffith: It’s a-

Bjork Ostrom: Brennan?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. Yeah. Brennan Dunn. Yeah. That’s been a great one as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you share, for those that aren’t familiar with RightMessage, what that is and how that works?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. RightMessage is really cool. It’s basically a tool that allows you to change certain elements on your site based on who your customer avatar is. One of the first things we do is we ask users who they are. Our customer avatars are entrepreneurs, in-house marketers, or consultants and agencies, and bloggers is actually the fourth one we just recently added. Once we know who you are, we change some of the high level marketing copy based on that, right? If you’re on our social media content calendar posts and we know that you’re an entrepreneur, it might train up your team on implementing your social media content calendar with this free template, right? Or if you’re an in-house marketer, it might massively grow the business you work for by using this social media content calendar, right?

Tommy Griffith: You can change the copy and the calls to action or even the lead magnets based on who they are. You can also change the lead magnets based on where they are in the funnel. If we have top of funnel traffic, these people are brand new, they don’t know us. We say, “Hey, grab the lead magnet.” But if we know them already, if they’re in our CRM and we know that they’re already midway down the funnel, we might, instead of offering them a lead magnet they’ve already taken, we might say, “Hey, you’ve already used a lead magnet, enroll in a free mini course now,” right? You don’t waste any real estate on your site by pitching people top of funnel offers when they’re in the bottom funnel, and it allows you to manage that whole process much better. It’s been a huge win for us.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. That’s great. You’re at the point now where ClickMinded, it’s a solidly successful business. It’s something that is, I would guess, has surpassed what you would expect from if you were to stay in a traditional corporate job. If you were to look back and say, “These are the things along the way that were most important. The changes we made, the ideas that I had around building a business, the things that I didn’t do.” Would you be able to say, “Hey, these are some of the most important moments along the way, whether they be really clear fork-in-the-road type moments, or something that you look back on now, realize happened without you actually knowing it was happening at the time? Would there be anything that you could surface as important points along the way?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. First of all, the latter that you mentioned, which is that I had no idea any of this was happening at the time. I had no intuition about what the right way was. I was just closing my eyes and blindly flailing and punching, and kicking-

Bjork Ostrom: Which I think is the norm more than people would, whatever, know.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. That was great at that. I was great at looking like an idiot for most of this, but I think the single biggest thing… In hindsight, the single… It’s going to come back to what we were talking about being passionate about it, and having a personal interest in this is this idea around the unfair advantage and an exit velocity. This is coming in a couple of different ways now. I have a friend, his name is Dan Andrews. He runs an entrepreneur group called Dynamite. They have a podcast called Tropical MBA, it’s pretty cool, and Naval Ravikant, I don’t know if you’re familiar with him. He’s a lot of things. He’s like a tech Jesus or Buddha now, but he was a venture capitalist for a while and he’s talking about a lot of life and philosophical stuff recently.

Tommy Griffith: But what he says is, you need to be focused on something that, to other people looks like work and to you feels like play. That’s what he calls unfair advantage. Dan Andrews has a different concept of it and it’s more catered towards people who, they have a full time job, they’re working on a side project, and they’re thinking about making the leap, and he calls it exit velocity. I’m just pulling up the definition right here, he called it the amount of exit velocity is the amount of professional and entrepreneurial momentum you have when quitting your job and starting a new venture. Momentum can come from a variety of sources, investment, capital, experience, anchor clients, industry knowledge, and connections, AKA unfair advantage.

Tommy Griffith: The point here is I’ve just, this is back to my iPhone app developer site, I’ve met a lot of people who, maybe they’re a lawyer or a doctor, and they’re about to go start a side project, and they’re about to go sell CrossFit jump ropes or something like that. Just totally unrelated to what they’ve been doing for 20 years. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re interested in CrossFit and CrossFit jump roped and you’ve really wanted to do this for years, of course that’s fine. But there’s a lot of people that aren’t taking any advantage of the company that’s paying them right now, right? They’re not doing any of that.

Tommy Griffith: In hindsight, what I realized was, I had some massive advantages coming out of the gates. I was doing an SEO training course, but I was doing SEO at big companies. I was using my product to dog food everyone on the team. Anyone who joined the SEO team, the growth team, all the engineers, and data scientists, and designers that joined my team, they used ClickMinded to learn about it. That helped me made the product better. Also everything I was doing felt like play, it didn’t feel like work. I think the big, big meaty thing was that the world is just too big now to not do things where you don’t have an unfair advantage.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that? I think I’m tracking, but explain that.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, I think the unfair advantage, I mean my unfair advantages were, I worked at two big massive companies that everyone knows and I managed SEO there, that gave me credibility.

Bjork Ostrom: Well, and specifically what do you mean by the world being too big. Our access with the internet to a global audience. Is that what you mean?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, I mean… Okay, when someone goes to Google and they type in, paleo carrot cake recipe, there are 20 million results, but only 10 make it to the first page. If you are not the 10 best, you’re gone. You’re toast pal. That’s the thing is like, the world is getting so extreme on both ends that there’s no room to suck. The only real option is to find your unfair advantage and to do things that feel like play where to other people it looks like work because it’s a long haul and you’re just not going to survive if you hate what you do every day.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Yup. Yup. We talk about that often, the idea of, it might seem like you’ve been doing something for a long time if it’s two months or two years or three years, but in your story, it’s a great example where you started, 2010, 2011, 2012, and then it’s six years of a lot of hard work and hustle until the point where it really starts to tip.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. It’s now in eight years. I could have done university two times, I could’ve made a seven year old child. I mean there’s… I think, I’m very happy with where the business is now, but eight years you could argue that this business is very bad. Eight years is a long time. I actually list this out in the post. I list out all these companies who started after me and I just have it right here. Company’s created after ClickMinded. Lyft, $24 billion. Snapchat, $15 billion. Instacart, $7 billion. I mean, you could argue that ClickMinded is a very slow, terrible company as well. Yeah, it takes… I think people, a little bit, underestimate just how long some of this stuff can take.

Bjork Ostrom: Yup. I think it’s a good reminder to have the amount of time that it takes, but also to tie back to what you were saying before, if it is something that you are showing up to every day and you’re in some way getting something out of it other than just the potential of future financial reward, then there is still benefit in that. I think that’s the other key with what you’re saying is, eight years working on something that you absolutely hate, and not having something come out of that is a really terrible situation. Eight years working on something that you love, and not anything coming out of that still a bummer but great. Then, hey, eight years working on something that you love and building a successful business out of that, that’s awesome. Worst case scenario, if you are working on something where you have that unfair advantage or something that you love, something that you’re passionate about, is that you come out of that working on something that you actually have enjoyed spending time with.

Tommy Griffith: That’s great. You got to tweet that out or put that on a mug or something.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I’ll put it on a mug, take a picture, and then tweet it. We’re coming to the end of the conversation, but I’m really glad that you were able to come on and share your story about ClickMinded. Obviously there’s a really strong overlap with the services that you offer on ClickMinded, the courses that you have and people that listen to this podcast. We’ve talked about it from different angles, but can you give a little recap of, if people want to go through the courses on ClickMinded, what would they be getting? What would be some of the topics that would be covered? And who specifically that is listening to this podcast would be a good fit for some of the courses there?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, sure. Yeah, digital marketing training platform with seven different courses you can check out. Again, we use world class experts. There’s a bunch of free checklists, and cheat sheets, and templates, and mini courses you can go and check out. I really like to follow the model… Are you familiar with this guy Ramit Sethi?

Bjork Ostrom: Yup.

Tommy Griffith: Personal finance blogger. Yeah, a really great guy. I like him a lot. We have followed a lot of his model, which is, he says, “98% of everything I do is free, but if you want the advanced version or whatever, that 2% is the paid product.” That’s a lot of what we do as well. We’ve had a ton of success with this. It’s like 98% of everything we do is free, but if you want to learn faster or you’re trying to train up a team, go for the paid product. You can check it out at clickminded.com and let me know if you like it.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Tommy, thanks so much for coming on the podcast and talking through your story.

Tommy Griffith: Really appreciate it Bjork, thanks a lot.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, thanks.

Alexa Peduzzi: That’s a wrap on episode 222 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. 222, that’s incredible. If this is your first episode or your 222nd we so, so appreciate you being here. As a reminder, you can find the Food Blogger Pro podcast on your favorite podcasting app, Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google podcasts, et cetera. We encourage you to subscribe so you’re notified whenever we release a new episode, which is every single Tuesday. Subscribing is a great way to keep tabs on the latest news in food blogging. If you want to take your blog a little bit further, apply what you’ve learned from the podcasts and get even more and keep accountable thanks to other food bloggers from around the globe there’s food blogger pro, our membership site for food bloggers. Enrollment is now open, so you can learn more and sign up if you’re ready at foodbloggerpro.com. We’ll see you next time, friend. Thanks again and as always, make it a great week.

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