“Influencers Who Inspire” Interview with Marcus Sheridan

WHYphotoOur latest “Influencers Who Inspire” interview is with Marcus Sheridan, President of The Sales Lion – one of the premier inbound and content marketing companies in the world, training businesses large and small how to leverage content to build their digital brand and increase sales drastically. He is also Partner of River Pools and Spas, which is currently the most trafficked swimming pool company on the web and one of the largest fiberglass pool installers in the country. Marcus gives insight on inbound marketing and how it transformed his pool company into a leader in the industry.

If you were not in the field you are in, what career path do you think you would have chosen?

No question, I’d be coaching college football somewhere. I’ve always loved teaching, coaching, and competition, and if I thought football coaching would have allowed me enough time at home with the family, I likely would have gone that route.

But instead, I turned into a “pool guy” for about 10 years – and over the last two, have transformed again into a “marketing guy.”

The nice thing is, though, that I’m teaching and coaching businesses with this profession, and there’s some competition as well.

Can you explain inbound marketing to our audience?

I think this answer is often too wordy and it confuses people. My simple answer would be this:

The process of great digital teaching and communication to attract audiences (potential customers) to YOU versus throwing yourself at them.

How did you start your Pool and Spa business and how did inbound marketing help grow your company?

We started in 2001 out of the back of a pickup truck. We grew steadily until 2008, and then, almost what seemed like overnight, the banks crashed, real-estate values plummeted, and no one wanted to buy pools. Nor could many even afford them.

We had no money for traditional advertising so we had to choose a different route to take, which is when we learned about the power of inbound marketing and embraced the “teacher’s mentality” by answering every question we’d ever received from a customer on our company website and blog. Within about 6 months, the site’s traffic exploded, as did leads and ultimately, sales.

Inbound marketing literally saved our business and today we’re the most trafficked swimming pool website in the world.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience as a missionary in Chile? How did that experience help shape you as an individual?

Easily, that was the best experience of my life. It taught me how to teach groups of people in a way so that they could understand unfamiliar principles. Chile was also the place I learned to speak and present to large audiences. Before that time, I was deathly afraid of public speaking. But being forced to do it helped me realize it’s actually one of the great talents God has given me, and I work hard to use it for good.

What do you envision as being the biggest development in marketing in 2013?

This may not sound terribly romantic, but I think the concept of proper content marketing will go mainstream for many businesses in this coming year. Instead of continuing to ignore it, they are now going to be dealing with the inevitable, just as they swallowed the “I have to have a website pill” about 5 years ago.

What is next for you in 2013?

Personally, my biggest quest right now is to come up with many amazing stories of successful inbound and content marketing from businesses in all walks of life. Currently, I’m targeting specific industries and can’t wait to show the world how the principles of great digital teaching and communication are applicable to any industry, regardless of what they do, sell, or think they are.

I’ll also be speaking all over the place because, well, that’s what I’m supposed to do.

PerkettPR’s “Influencers Who Inspire” Series Continues with Jason Falls

This week’s “Influencer Who Inspires” is Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer.  We admire Jason for his honest approach to social media and we are avid readers of his very popular site, Social Media Explorer.  Jason, who resides in Louisville, KY,  is an author, keynote speaker and CEO of Social Media Explorer.  He continues to be a name that surfaces at or near the top of conversations and lists of thought leaders and top thinkers in the emerging world of social media marketing.

 

How would you describe what you do for a living?

I do one primary thing in about three different ways. SME Digital, my agency, helps companies develop digital and social marketing strategies, execute them and measure/optimize results to drive business (unit sales, revenue or costs). My information products add the other two components: Explore Events helps anyone who wants to attend a two-day, intensive digital marketing strategy event and The Conversation Report analyzes online conversations and reports insights around specific industries (or clients for custom reports) to help businesses make smarter decisions about their social marketing.  In a nutshell, – Agency – Events – Research – is what I do.

 

You recently tweeted to PR folks about how they approach you and that you are “one of them” – what prompted that and how do you handle being on both sides of the PR equation?

It was likely prompted by me being critical of public relations professionals, then having them attack me for it. Those that are easily put on the defensive about the PR craft tend to point fingers at me and infer that I don’t know PR, that I’m just a “social media consultant.” But I spent 20 years as a PR and journalism professional before social media marketing ever happened. So I was probably saying, “I am one. Thus, I’m qualified to point the finger a bit.” The way I handle it is by just trying to coach and teach and perhaps lead by example. ‘Lots of public relations professionals still assume that “spray and pray” and spamming people works best. I only hope to educate them that there might be a better way to approach outreach. Quality outreach is far better than quantity, and you can sleep at night knowing you’re not a spammer.

 

What’s next in PR now that social media is a given?

I think PR is the new journalism. With all the noise out there in the media world and declining numbers in usage and revenues in traditional mediums, public relations professionals (and current journalists who will become them) have the opportunity to become the media. Those that do so in compelling ways will have better public relations programs because they’ll become a direct conduit to their publics.

 

What’s the best social media campaign you’ve seen (besides your own) in 2012?

H&R Block’s Stache Act is by far the most compelling. To have a stoic, conservative brand like H&R Block get behind a silly tax incentive for mustached Americans and stage a Million Mustache March on Washington, etc., just gave the brand personality and showed that they could reach beyond the tried and true “Let us do your taxes” messaging, in order to reach a new audience.

That, and Charmin‘s Twitter account. Holy cripes, they’re funny.

 

How did you initially get your “feet wet” in social media?

I spent 8-10 years blogging and exploring social networks and forums for personal entertainment. My old humor blog actually gained a bit of traction when I moved it to MySpace in about 2003. I learned how to build an audience, promote my content and connect influencers to what I was doing. Then in 2006, I started from scratch with an arsenal of experience in the business segment rather than the one focused on telling dirty jokes and made up tales of drunken debauchery. Heh.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your book “No Bullshit Social Media” and why someone would want to purchase it?

Aside from the crafty title, the book’s real appeal is that it’s a blueprint for social media strategy. We walk you through the seven reasons (goals) your business might implement social media tactics and coach you through the process of developing a sound, strategic approach to using social that will drive measurable results.

 

As the Founder and CEO of Social Media Explorer, your approach with SME Digital involves Full Frontal ROI methodolgy, can you explain how this is unique to the industry?

The Full Frontal ROI methodology, which was developed by my partner, Nichole Kelly, essentially places social media marketing squarely in the crosshairs of business strategy. Everything we do is focused on real business metrics — unit sales, revenues and costs — rather than soft metrics. Sure, we can help you drive more fans and followers, but we know we’re ultimately judged on your bottom line and how social media and digital marketing contribute to it. So that’s what we focus on. It’s unique to the industry because most other social media agencies or digital marketing shops focus on the fluff metrics and Kumbaya of social media. We know it’s about business or it’s a hobby. And how many business owners out there consider what they spend time and money on to be a hobby?

 

What is next for you for the remainder of the year heading into 2013?

Two more Explore events (Orange County, Calif., this week; Portland (Ore.) in November), another The Conversation Report, this one on the restaurant industry, and continuing to help our clients kick ass. And I fully expect 2013 will be much of the same. That’s what we do.

 

“Effective Executives” Series with Beantown Bedding Founders, Kirsten Lambert & Joan Ripple

Here at PerkettPR, we are not only avid Red Sox fans, but many of our employees are proud to call Beantown our “home.”  This week’s interview is with the founders of a  local Massachusetts-based company, Beantown Bedding. Beantown Bedding, LLC was founded in December 2011 by Joan Ripple and Kirsten Lambert, two mothers of college students. The company is located in Hingham, MA, a suburb of Boston (“Beantown”).

The concept behind Beantown Bedding was to offer a solution to busy college students who had little time to launder their sheets.  Beantown Bedding developed a line of linens made from a fiber called Tencel, derived from Eucalyptus trees, which you can simply toss into a compost bin or trash can when they’re dirty. The sheets are both compostable and biodegradable and available for purchase on their website and at Amazon.com.

We caught up with the founders and asked them more about where the idea came from and what they have planned next.

 

Please tell us a little bit about Beantown Bedding and where the idea came from.

We met when our oldest children began dating in high school.  When they each went off to college, we quickly learned that they, like most college students, just didn’t take time to wash their sheets.  The health and hygiene implications were simply gross.  We wanted to find a way for them to have clean sheets without the hassle of laundering. Essentially, we decided to rethink laundry.  We joked about sending them the rolls of paper sheets found in a doctor’s office.

 

We decided to take the idea seriously and began searching for material that would be both comfortable and disposable in an environmentally responsible manner.  Easier said than done!  We identified the material we liked, organized focus groups with students and mothers, and began to explore sources of supply. Once we had a product, we conducted product testing with students from 22 universities over a two-month period.  The findings indicated we had a winner.

 

When you were researching what type of materials to use in your products, where did you turn for information and how long did the process take?

The better part of a year was spent researching the market, fabrics, and supply options. Initially, our secondary research focused on sustainable textiles through sources such as fiber and fabric manufacturers, trade organizations and publications,  trade shows and published white papers and articles.  Our first fabric choice didn’t perform well in the qualitative research stage, so we continued the search until we discovered a fiber called TENCEL®, which offered the properties we wanted… softness, strength, and compostability. Lenzing, the manufacturer of TENCEL®, was instrumental in helping us establish our supply chain and has been tremendously supportive as we’ve grown. In fact, they recently hosted us as part of their Innovation Platform at the Home Textiles Sourcing Expo in New York City.

 

How did your previous education or career prepare you to be a business owner?

While we both have degrees and backgrounds in business, we feel it’s the versatile skills we learned as mothers and volunteer leaders in our communities which best prepared us for our entrepreneurial duties.  Like all entrepreneurs, we wear many hats and must be resourceful. Joan’s Management and Human Resources background nicely complement Kirsten’s marketing and research experience. For everything else, we either learn quickly, consult with experts, or cover the gaps with outsourcing.

 

One extremely valuable resource was the team of graduate students from Stanford University who worked on our business as a class project this past spring.  After presenting our pitch at a competition for startup companies at Stanford last April, we were selected by one of the teams. It was one of many tremendous opportunities we’ve had in bringing bedsox to market.

 

You are passionate about the environment and sustainability especially with your product offerings. What else are you passionate about?

Yes, sustainability is a central theme in our messaging and we’re delighted to have just received USDA certification as 100% Biobased®.   That said, we really love college kids!  Their energy, enthusiasm, work ethic, and desire to make a difference in the world is inspiring.  Our own college kids are the basis for our story, but we’ve worked closely with many others as we’ve researched and gotten to know our primary target market.

 

Our dogs are also an integral part of our story. Since our earliest conversations about the concept, the local dog park has been the venue for many of our strategy sessions. We each have yellow Labrador Retrievers – Fenway and Sunshine, who receive an undue amount of attention since we sent our youngest children off to college. (For the record, the younger kids also dated!)

 

What is next for Beantown Bedding in 2013?

College kids aren’t the only time-starved consumers who can enjoy the convenience of laundry-free linens. We will soon roll out additional sizes of sheet sets to serve markets such as overnight camps, vacation homes and travel.   Though the retail launch was only weeks ago, via our ecommerce site (www.BeantownBedding.com) and Amazon, our wholesale business took off before we received our first inventory.   Universities nationwide began purchasing bedsox this summer for their overnight conferences and events.  As a result, our next steps are to generate awareness for bedsox in both the retail and business sectors.  Fortunately, Beantown Bedding has received quite a bit of media attention in recent weeks to convince consumers to rethink laundry.

 

“Effective Executive” Series with Shelli Trung, Founder of 3Six5Dates.com

This week’s “Effective Executive” interview is with Shelli Trung, Founder of reality date-a-thon website, 3six5dates.com. The social experiment follows the adventures of four women in four international cities, all going on about 100 dates each, within one year. Shelli was recently listed as one of Australia’s Top 10 female startup entrepreneurs, and is frequently quoted in the media on Marketing and Branding for startups. She is currently located in New York, discussing partnership opportunities to grow 3six5dates – including turning the dating stories into comics and animations.

 

How did you come up with the concept of 3six5dates?

I had set myself a goal at the age of 25 to have started my own business by the age of 30. With this in mind, I started researching the range of businesses that would suit the lifestyle I wanted. I knew I wanted to create something fun that would not tie me to a specific location. I love storytelling and was specifically inspired when watching Nora Ephron’s “Julie and Julia,” which is about a woman who cooks through all of Julia Child’s recipes in one year while simultaneously blogging about it. I combined this curiosity with the gap that I felt the TV series “Sex and the City” left behind when it finished up. I didn’t want the voice of the mature, professional, single woman to fade into the background. 3six5dates is an attempt to fill that gap in some way.

As someone who is passionate about female entrepreneurship, can you provide some ways that women can empower themselves and embrace entrepreneurship?

Regardless of whether you are male or female, going out on your own is exciting but can also be scary. Historically, women have let men lead the charge. However, I am seeing more and more women stepping up to the challenge, which is uplifting.

Women need to recognise that their unique talents – such as being excellent relationship builders, natural multi-taskers and the simple fact that women make more purchasing decisions than men – to be great assets to starting a business. The key thing that has really made the difference for me, is to go out and get your support system if you are not surrounded by other entrepreneurs. I certainly wasn’t when I started! But it is this single reason alone that has sustained me through the tougher moments – and there will be plenty of those. Learning to ask for help is another key factor. Women tend to think they can do it all – but they should realise that they don’t have to! Burning out is the fast track to wanting to give up!

Can you tell our audience about any obstacles you faced when creating your Company and how you overcame those obstacles?

At one stage, we were trying to work on 10 projects at the one time and not completing any of them. It was definitely a lack of focus – trying to do too much and accomplishing nothing. We instead now concentrate on – and are committed to delivering – three larger project outcomes every quarter.

How do you manage your busy team of volunteers and what tools have you found to be effective on a day-to-day basis?

I can work pretty much anywhere there is an internet connection. Being a virtual team does come with its unique challenges. We make use of a lot of online tools – many of them free.

We run all our meetings and training through Skype, which allows us to share one another’s computer screens – extremely useful for design work.

All our files are shared on Dropbox and we are also heavy users of Evernote to keep track of tasks. To minimize the number of emails we send one another, we have a 3six5dates private group to relay any team announcements.

Most of my team, including myself, have their emails feed into their phones which has been a great time saver.

As the sole founder of your Company, how do you keep up with the everyday demands?

I have a wonderful team who are very supportive and make me feel like a superstar so I don’t feel like a solo founder!

I think running any business effectively and ensuring you are leading and driving the vision – as opposed to working ‘in’ it – requires that you automate and delegate as much as possible.  This means equipping, empowering and trusting your team once they are trained.

What is next  for you for the remainder of 2012?

3six5dates has spent the last six months developing strategic partnerships with dating organizations in the US. We have and will continue to roll out cross-promotional activities with them, including comics and animations.

In addition, I am working on launching another startup in Australia called MenuHub with a good friend and co-founder. As the name suggests, it is food-related and early testing has shown extremely positive results so far. I am excited about this new challenge!

The rest of the year looks to be full of possibilities!

 

“Venture Capital Insiders” with Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital Partners

Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing many industry influencers with whom we have relationships – media, entrepreneurs, analysts and more – and we’re excited to expand further with our new “Venture Capital Insiders” series. Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital Partners did us the honor of kicking things off.

Jeff is a General Partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, whose investment interests and entrepreneurial experiences cross consumer, Internet commerce, marketing services, software and mobile start-ups. Jeff currently represents the Firm on the boards of Cartera Commerce, ClickSquared, DataXu, i4cp, Plastiq,  SavingStar, SimpleTuition, tracx, and is a Board Observer at  ZestFinance.  He was previously a Director at Brontes Technologies (acquired by 3M), BzzAgent (acquired by Tesco), Convoke Systems, go2Media, oneforty (acquired by HubSpot), PanGo Networks (merged with InnerWireless), Ready Financial (merged with AccountNow), and Transpera (acquired by Tremor Video).

Jeff’s book on venture capital and entrepreneurship, Mastering the VC Game, is an insider’s guide for entrepreneurs on financing and company-building. The book has been hailed by the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, TechCrunch and The Financial Times as an essential guide for entrepreneurs.

Jeff serves as a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School and teaches a class on entrepreneurship and lean start-ups called Launching Technology Ventures.  He has co-authored three HBS cases that are taught in “Founder’s Dilemma” (Curt Schilling’s Next Pitch) and “Launching Technology Ventures” (Foursquare and Predictive BioSciences).  Jeff is also the co-author of “Ruling The Net,” a 1996 Harvard Business Review article on the Internet’s potential for commerce.  He is also on the Board of MITX, the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange, and is a Founding Executive Committee Member of FirstGrowth Venture Network, a network of venture and angel investors supporting first and second time entrepreneurs building exciting companies in the New York area.

Jeff’s popular blog on helping to demystify the venture business for entrepreneurs, “Seeing Both Sides,” can be found at www.SeeingBothSides.com, which is syndicated by BusinessInsider.com, Reuters, PE Hub and others.  You can follow Jeff on Twitter @bussgang.

How is the VC climate different now than it was 10, 15 years ago?

There are two new phenomena that impact the VC climate as compared to 10-15 years ago.  First, entrepreneurs require less capital than they used to – thanks to the declining cost of technology, the cloud and the application of the Lean Start-Up methodology.  Second, new companies are able to accelerate their growth much faster than ever before, thanks to global broadband penetration, the cloud and the social fabric that connects consumers and businesses.  As a result, seed investing has also proliferated as a method to get connected to young start-ups early in their development, and growth equity investing has become popular for companies that achieve product-market fit and have the privilege of scaling fast.

What makes Boston’s VC climate unique?

Boston is the second strongest entrepreneurial climate in the world after Silicon Valley and arguably the most diverse and dense.  With its deep information technology roots, burgeoning health care industry and emerging energy sector, Boston has emerged as one of the hot spots for entrepreneurs and investors alike.  As a result, every major technology company is either headquartered here (e.g., “anchor companies” such as Akamai, EMC, Thermo Fisher, Vertex) or has a large presence in the region (e.g., eBay, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle).

Any advice for the first time entrepreneur seeking institutional investment? 

The odds are against you – most VC see hundreds of opportunities for every one that they invest in – so recognize that you have to have something special to attract institutional investment.  Make sure you do your homework before approaching an investor.  Entrepreneurs seek money once every few years, but investors are pitched by entrepreneurs every hour of every day.  Thus, there is an information asymmetry that entrepreneurs need to work hard to overcome.

What makes your book, Mastering the VC Game, an insider’s guide? What’s different about the advice you give vs other insider guides?

I think entrepreneurs have found the book valuable for three reasons.  First, it’s written by a practitioner.  I’m an active investor, not an author or consultant, and so my perspective comes from being engaged in the business for a decade.  Second, I used to be an entrepreneur, so I have empathy for their struggles to build and fund a company because I’ve been there myself.  And I know what information I would have wanted back when I was an entrepreneur.  Finally, I interview over a dozen VCs and entrepreneurs – folks like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman – to explore their case studies and wisdom.  This mix of an informed, personal perspective and compelling case studies seems to be what is resonating with entrepreneurs.

You teach at Harvard as a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School. What do you learn most from your students that helps you navigate the VC world? What are their biggest challenges as aspiring, upcoming business leaders?

I learn a tremendous amount from my students – it is very much a two-way street.  They give me great insight into what’s hot in the market, what the latest trends are and what some of their biggest challenges are.  At the macro level, their challenges are similar to all entrepreneurs – finding a unique, differentiated market opportunity and marshalling the capital and human resources to pursue it.

Talk a little about your co-authored HBS case study that is taught in “Founder’s Dilemma” (Curt Schilling’s Next Pitch) - where did 38 Studios go wrong? Did they? Was it the RI business climate?  How will it – or did it already – change the VC landscape moving forward?

The Curt Schilling case is one of the most interesting I have worked on.  Curt was trying to do two very ambitious things at the same time.  First, he was trying to build a hugely valuable business from scratch in a super-competitive field.  Second, he aspired to personally transform himself from being an All Star baseball player to becoming an All Star entrepreneur.  Many professionals attempt personal transformations and so Schilling’s efforts, which were so dramatic, provides great lessons for entrepreneurs in this area.  As for what happened to 38 Studios and the situation with Rhode Island, I’ll leave that for a future case.

How does the VC environment differ from the East Coast to the West Coast?   What are the challenges in navigating the differences?

The differences are more modest than many observers try to make it and there are many East Coast VCs who are investors in West Coast companies and vice versa.  Both markets are very competitive, but the West Coast is probably even more competitive, as there are more investment professionals managing more capital.  As a result, the deals can be pricier than East Coast deals.

Did you want to be a Venture Capitalist when you were a kid? What led you to this career?

No, I wanted to be an entrepreneur when I was a kid.  I had never heard of venture capital until I came to business school and met a few firms.  When my partners started Flybridge and asked me to join them in founding the firm, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

What is next for you for the remainder of 2012?

Whatever my investors, partners and portfolio company CEOs tell me to do!  They are the customers I serve.