Steve Rayson is a serial entrepreneur that loves building and selling companies before they get too big. His last business he sold for $20 million when it had only 6 staff and was making a turnover of $6 million and had a net profit of $3 million a year.
He originally worked in management consulting for KPMG and Ernst & Young before becoming a serial entrepreneur. He went on a course to learn about the Internet in the 1980s and saw the opportunity to start an online education company. That was Kineo (an e-learning company). Then he started BuzzSumo with two developers in an industry he knew nothing about and bootstrapped the startup with just a few thousand dollars.
Steve is an entrepreneur passionate about startup businesses and growing them without VC or institutional investment.
The Ultimate Guide to Website Traffic for Business
What you will learn
- Why giving away your knowledge for free works
- How webinars scale your time and reach
- How to work with influencers to get global attention
- Why building a business today is much faster and cheaper in a digital world
- How to grow a business with the freemium model
- Why you need to build a quality product fast and keep innovating to stay ahead of the competition
- The advantages of selling a software product vs selling a services business
Jeff Bullas: Hi everyone and welcome to the Jeff Bullas show. Today, we're going to be interviewing Steve Rayson. Before I actually have a chat with him, what I'm going to do is I'm just going to read a little bit about what Steve has done. Now Steve and I met, it was in Dublin, in Ireland a few years ago at a conference. We had got to chat and I'd heard about him, but I had never met him in person. We got to chat over a glass of wine and some coffees, and I got to know Steve. What was really nice was we became friends, and he came to visit us in Sydney, and we got to know each other over here.
Jeff Bullas: Steve is one of these special dudes, as I call them in America, or chap as I say in England. He's actually a serial entrepreneur, so he's actually started three businesses. Steve originally worked in management consulting for KPMG and Ernst & Young, before becoming a serial entrepreneur. Steve has set up and grown and has sold three companies. Now, not many people have done that. One of them is Kineo, which is an eLearning company. The last one, he actually did from just a couple of years ago, is BuzzSumo, which some of you might have heard of before. It's a social media data company.
Jeff Bullas: Now, he's passionate about startup businesses and growing them without venture capitalists or institutional investment. Welcome to the show, Steve. I've been looking forward to having a chat with you. Let's just find out a little bit more about what's your secret sauce and what are some of your inspirations, so welcome to the show.
Steve Rayson: Thank you, thank you. Really nice to be here and it looks sunny in Australia, which it's not sunny here in England.
Jeff Bullas: Well, I have been in England quite a few times. I've mostly been there in summer and most of the time the sun has shown up. Maybe it's because I'm an Aussie, and I've dragged a little bit of sunshine.
Steve Rayson: Oh yeah. Well, bring the sunshine. We've had two months of solid rain. Even for us, it's been really wet.
Jeff Bullas: Has it? Right, okay.
Steve Rayson: No, lovely to be here. It's great.
Jeff Bullas: Well, we've had, as most people know around the world, experienced a bit of a country of fire and drought. We've had some pretty tough times late last year. Lately, we've been having some rain too, so it's great to have a little bit of that. Steve, thank you for agreeing to actually be on the show. What I'd like to start with okay, so you're working as a management consultant, right, and you go, "I want to be an entrepreneur." Where did that come from? What was the inspiration that got you into that space?
Steve Rayson: I suppose the inspiration really was the internet, and being able to change the way things were done with the Web.
I was working in the mid eighties and early nineties when there was no internet. I managed to get on a program to look into how you could change delivery of service, thinking about what the internet could do and the potential of it, that got me inspired to start and grow a business in this space really. That's really what got me into it. It was really the inspiration of things you could do.
I started to think about learning and how you could deliver learning online and deliver tutoring online, things like that. That's why I got into the eLearning side of things initially.
Jeff Bullas: Right. Yeah, I remembered that when I was in the mid nineties, when the browser showed up. Netscape and so on. It was when using modems. What was fascinating was I said, "This is going to make libraries redundant," it was that, the ability to get information, and short, 20 searches to find something that was actually usable back then.
So, eLearning was your first inspiration. You said yourself, that you started three companies. Was there something before Kineo?
Steve Rayson: Oh no, basically part way through Kineo we also have another company, which is a learning management system company. Yeah, so two really in the eLearning space. Then once I did eLearning, that was a services business. Service businesses are really hard. What I learned from that was fundamentally, a services business model, I was buying people and selling people. Okay, I was packaging them as a project, so I was saying it's $50,000 or whatever to do this project. I was really packaging people's time.
Steve Rayson: In the services business, you have to be really good at buying people at one price, selling them at another price, because that's really what you're doing. You're selling time. You also have to be really good at managing utilization, so making sure everyone is on chargeable time.
if you don't sell your developer's time this morning, you've lost it forever. You can never sell it again. You have to make sure that everyone is chargeable.
Steve Rayson: Then we sold it. Then I wanted to move into product business, so that's when I then moved into BuzzSumo, a completely different type of business Something more scalable. It was a small product business, that’s where the internet provides a way to start a small business, because the internet gives you so much really. So we could scale quite quickly. We could look like a big company in all those things, but the product business was just this completely different type of business. It was much more about marketing rather than sales, really. Plus, we decided to make it low value products. Building brand awareness was really important in the product space.
Steve Rayson: Whereas, in the services business, really 20 or 30 big clients like BP and Vodafone and people like that, would buy from us reasonable and we would sell fro $100 through to $100,000. Whereas, when you're selling a product at $99, especially ones that are similar, then we need a lot of clients. It was a very different type of business. Yeah, I was in the services business and then a product business. In both cases, they were small bootstrap businesses. We didn't go and get investor money. We were looking to grow a relatively small company up to a 10, 20 million turnover, and then sell it. That's been my approach really, rather than not try and build a huge business.
Steve Rayson: As I said, my approach has always been to bootstrap them. We've invested with very little money. Maybe $10,000, $20,000, and that’s all we had to get going with really. We started it and built it, and I quite like small businesses to be products, so we were always profitable virtually from the first six months into the business..
Steve Rayson: Whereas, a lot of the books that you read about growing a business, is you take some money. You don't worry about profitability. You just scale, scale, scale, and profitability comes later. Of course, if you're bootstrapping that doesn't work, so you need to build a business that's profitable quite early on, so I've always built relatively small businesses, but building up to 10, 20 million dollars, and we've sold them up to 20 million dollars apiece, which for me is great. Not trying to be a billionaire but make reasonable money out of it. It was a very different approach. It was very much about bootstrapping the business.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. What was very interesting to hear you talking about too was you realized that the services business was going to be very hard to scale. You used the word scalability, and that was the one thing that you learned by doing something, that you realized was hard to scale and went, "Okay, this is all about trading time for money in a sense," wasn't it really?
Steve Rayson: Yeah. Exactly, exactly. Service businesses are good businesses. They're cash rich generally. But if I want to double the size of the business I've really got to double the number of staff, because I'm selling staff time. There's a limit to how much you can charge per day for somebody. It's great if you're Accenture and they do have tens of thousands of staff that they're selling, but then you've got to be good at recruiting staff and managing staff.
Steve Rayson: What I found out quite quickly was that loved technology, I also ove the brand building of a new business. Once you get it to a certain size, and once you have 20, 30 staff, the job becomes managing the business a lot more and really, I'm not so keen on managing large numbers of teams of staff, why they're not working so well, and all those sorts of things. I really like to build the brand from scratch. I love the risk you take from just building something, growing that business. I say, when we built BuzzSumo, I'd never worked in social media or about social media. It was exciting. I had to go in and find who was there, and other people who knew a lot more about social media.
Steve Rayson: I had a sort of strategy, which is who are the people, that the people who are going to buy our product respect? I just built a list of about 20 people, including yourself, saying okay, these are people who know about our product, who can mention our product. I've become friends with probably half of those people now, which is good.. It's great to build those friendships. You meet new people, you get new perspectives from them.
Steve Rayson: I think the way into the business is to find out people that your customers respect, and get to know them and see whether you can build relationships with those people, because just mentions from those people is really useful. What's even more, when they become advocates of yours. I'd say quite a few of those people became advocates. They liked the product, what we were doing. That really helped grow the business. We didn't spend $1 on advertising at BuzzSumo in the first two or three years. We grew primarily through word of mouth. That was a really important part of growing a bootstrap business, is if you take millions of investment money, you can spend loads on advertising. We couldn't do that, so it was like hey, let's build relationships with influencers. Let's build a blog. Let's build useful content that people find to help them in doing their work.
Steve Rayson: The blog we built was just about okay, let's provide information for marketers, not chase sales sales BuzzSumo, but we want people to understand that we're trying to give away some value, that it's a practical helpful blog. We built that blog up to 10, 20, 30 thousand readers. That was really useful, so we tried to do it in ways that didn't cost us too much money.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Yeah, and I think that's really important. We're in the middle of a time now where people are literally raising two or three hundred million dollars and not making money for years. That's a tough gig. Some of them pulled it off, like Amazon's done that. That's what's been amazing, that he built that incredible scale and wasn't profitable for I think quite a few years, but built a global brand. The inspiration, what I've heard from you too is that you actually said the inspiration to start was actually curiosity about what the internet could do. Would you say you're sort of like a curious sort of guy?
Steve Rayson: Yeah, yeah. I think yeah. I think paranoid curiosity. That's who I would describe myself. Paranoid curiosity, because I'm always worried that I'm missing out. What's happening in the world? What technology is changing? What's the next big thing? I read loads about lots of topics. I'm forever on blogs. I'm really interested in what the opportunities are and the internet has just thrown up so many opportunities. I was going to say, you can set up a business really cheaply these days. You can use things like Slack to have a remote team. At BuzzSumo we didn't have an office. We just had a remote team, using Slack for example. You can use great accounting software like Zero. You can use Stripe to take your payment. You can set up a whole system to take payments, use Zero, push it into the accounts, et cetera. We can build a blog, just using WordPress as we did.
Steve Rayson: Suddenly you've got a business there, which is amazing really. There's so much either free software or very low cost software that you can put together the essence of a core business. Yeah, I'm always curious about what you can do and what's changing. You just gather new business models. The BuzzSumo business model, it couldn't have been around years ago, because all we did was crawl websites, put all that data into a database, and then we charged people effectively for access to the BuzzSumo database. That's what we did. We're charging $99 a month.
Steve Rayson: Once you have that customer, it is a pure profit customer, effectively. That works incredibly well.
Jeff Bullas: The curiosity then inspired you to start BuzzSumo after you obviously sold the eLearning business. That was an observation of social media and what was happening in that space, is that where that came from?
Steve Rayson: It came from a different place, really. I had sold Kineo. I was locked out of working in eLearning, so the people who bought it said, "You can't work in eLearning for so many years," so I was looking for something to do. I was doing as I often do. I'm going around tech forums, I'm looking on Reddit, seeing what people are mentioning. I came across a particular forum, where these two guys (James and Henry) who had built an early version of BuzzSumo, who'd at that time were just finding content that's most shared. I thought, "I really like this." So I decided to ask them about what they were doing.
Steve Rayson: I contacted James and said, "Would you like to make this into a proper business? Could I invest, et cetera?" He just said, "Well, I don't know because Henry is in New York, I'm in London. We've never met. This is just a fun hobby." Basically, I went to see them and persuaded them that this could be a business. It was really their initial idea and I was really just seeing the potential. It took me awhile. It took me about six months because they were thinking, "Who's this old guy coming in saying, 'I need you to work,' et cetera?" It took awhile to persuade them, but then persuaded them to set up BuzzSumo. James came on first and then a little later Henry.
Steve Rayson: It was really their initial idea but I was doing what I was doing, which I was scanning tech forums and lead developers. This was a pet project. I just thought it had lots of potential. Fortunately, I managed to persuade them to come to BuzzSumo and that worked very well. We built the product quite quickly.
We had loads of people using the beta version (free) and giving us feedback. I'd say most of BuzzSumo came from our customers. They didn't really come from us. Lots of customers saying, "Could you do this? Could you show us what's been trending today?" We'd say, "Yeah, we can do that. Let's build that in."
Steve Rayson: Then we launched the full version, and we got people paying straight away. That launched in September. I think at the end of that month we had 100 paying customers, which was amazing to me. It grew from there, and grew from there. Then we had I think almost 600,000 people on it, so a huge number of people. We would have never got that, it was really useful. We probably gave away too much of that but because it was valuable people would say to their friends, "You should look at this. You should use BuzzSumo. They're free." We gradually charged for different features. You know, in the end, a well or bulk of customers were freemium customers, and marketing. They will have money for advertising, a freemium product can work very well.
Steve Rayson: The dangers of the premium product is you're always competing with a base price of zero. Why should I pay anything? Because I've got this base product of zero, so there are risks of freemium product, but we managed to persuade people that it's worth paying $99 for all the extra services that we were providing. We gradually restricted some of the freemium features, et cetera. Freemium really got us going. We would have never got 600,000 subscribers, without having a freemium product I think, unless we had a massive advertising budget.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Did you start off just doing a freemium model first and then added a price later or was it actually free for basic and then you actually added premium at additional cost?
Steve Rayson: We always knew we were going to charge. That's the first thing. We always knew, but once we got the beta out we knew if we suddenly charged for everything we'd lose all those people and we'd lose good will, et cetera.
We then designed it so that we had a free version. Then a paid version. We always knew we were going to charge but one thing with the beta was in just getting attention and people, and people talking about it. Cut off that good will either. Obviously, we offer people who were beta users a lifetime deal to come on board, because we wanted to keep that good will.
Steve Rayson: We gradually then added a premium tier. Then we added another premium tier, because we found to our surprise really, we thought marketers would use the tool. I think it's again, you learn from customers. I think you can have a plan but the key is to be flexible. I really like the quote from Mike Tyson, which is, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face." It's really like that. You have to be flexible. Stuff happens, you have to be flexible. We were marketing it for small marketers, small organizations. Big organizations used it. Then the publishers came in. Some of our big customers were people like Buzzfeed and people like that. Suddenly they've got hundreds of users. I think well, this is not quite right, $99 a month. We had to then create a higher tiered product. Okay, you can pay $1,000 a month. We just created different services for them.
Steve Rayson: I think the key from that was that in any small business is you have to be flexible. Stuff happens. You go where your customers are. It's a bit like pricing. People say, "Well, that's upward $99." I spoke to dozens of pricing consultants. You're talking $99 and I actually charge $9 a month or $20 a month. At that point he said, "Why don't you just start at $99 and you can always come down?" It's hard to charge people to $10 and take it $99. That first month we put it at $99, finger in the air, what will people value? Because it's going to save people a lot of time. We started at $99 and we never changed it because everybody just bought it at $99. We could have started much lower. Maybe we could have started higher, at a sort of psychological pricing point.
Steve Rayson: Pricing is really hard. Really hard. That's the other thing I learned. It's very difficult to work out what sort of pricing works, and should you be explicit about pricing? Should you do what a lot of companies do and hide pricing? We decided to make it really easy because we were so small. I mean for the first two years at BuzzSumo, we were three people servicing clients. We didn't really want to talk to people in the sense, we just didn't have the ... everything was via Intercom was the system we used for customer support. People would just log in via our Intercom recorder query and we'd answer it. I didn't mind answering queries, et cetera, because I was the only small person we had at that time. I'd take telephone calls or anything like that.
Steve Rayson: Also, when people were buying we just said, "Well, the easiest completely free trial for a week or two. You can test it, see if it does what you want. You just buy it online. You don't need to talk to us then, because you've tried it. You know what the tool does. We don't have to explain it to you. We don't have to give you a sales demo, particularly. You just try it, if you like it at the end of the month, stick in your credit card." We didn't touch the customers. That's the beauty of the internet in some ways these days, is you can get those transactions going without you having too much cost, which is an important part really. Of course, we went to the customers.
Steve Rayson: The other thing we found was webinars. Suddenly I would run two or three webinars a week about BuzzSumo. These grew. We'd have 200 people on every webinar. The great thing about it, is that you just chat to people, you explain things, you personalize, you kind of source things. They could ask questions. Really, ever let them ask questions in the room and then I'd reply to them. Also, I had to have someone handling the questions because I couldn't read the questions replying through on one side. Webinars were really useful for us to scale. The biggest one, we had about 1500 people just come on the webinar.
Jeff Bullas: Wow.
Steve Rayson: To reach 1500 people, in the old days as a consultant I'd have to travel around the country, go to meetings.
Jeff Bullas: Oh yeah.
Steve Rayson: The cost would be huge. Whereas, the webinars, we would do for free. Suddenly we'd have to pay when we got more and more numbers, but it was a relatively lower cost way of reaching a lot of people. It was just a way of trying to scale really. People seemed to like that. Then what we did was we ran webinars with other influencers. If somebody was also doing something. Lee Odden was doing stuff on content marketing. We said, "Right, why don't we create a joint webinar?" That was great because of his audience and it leveraged our audience. We got a much bigger audience. We did that. Every month we ran one with somebody else, who had an audience in the content marketing space. That was great. We ran them with HubSpot. Difficult call because they're now so huge and a real success story, but they were keen to do webinars.
Steve Rayson: The way we did them was we did research for them. We'd research, but we really did all the research. I did all the research. and then we'd push it out as a joint move. We did one, and I spent about two months going through all the data. Suddenly it got us known.
Steve Rayson: I did the same with Jason with LinkedIn. He ran LinkedIn content marketing team, and we did a joint report with LinkedIn. I think you are defined by the company you keep, and so with people who had good brands, good names. We would do all the work for them, to make it interesting for them. We would do the work. I would always do free research. When I approached him basically, "What can I do to help you? Can I do research? Would you like this.. et cetera?" I would often do free research for people and give them free data, build the relationship that way. You start by thinking about what's in it for them, not what's in it for you. Further down the line you can do a joint report or a joint webinar, in that profile.
Steve Rayson: BuzzSumo went from nothing to being really quite well known in the social media industry, from three guys as we were guys at that time, who had never worked in social media. We knew nothing really about social media, but we had to get to know the industry, and get to the industry, and build our brand and reputation. I think when you're building this space, you've got to think about what you're really doing is building a brand, because when people buy you they normally want to buy the brand. I mean unless you're building very specific technology, they want your brand and reputation and things like that.
Steve Rayson: I always start by the first thing I do is find a decent name that you can trademark. Can you trademark it not just in your country but can you trademark it in the US? Can you trademark it in Australia, et cetera? Because if you can't, most people are going to want to take your business globally. I mean businesses are generally global these days. Maybe not if you're a small cake shop or something but a software business is global the day you launch. BuzzSumo was global the day we launched it.
Steve Rayson: We trademarked the BuzzSumo name in the US, et cetera, in Europe. It's really cool and I see people who set up their consultancy as Agility or something, which works fine if you're just working in Brighton in the UK, but as soon as you try to go global your brand isn't going to work. You're building a brand, so you've got to think about all those things, about how you build and protect the brand. That's something I've learned, because I've always been trying to build businesses which I know in three, four, five years we're going to sell. In BuzzSumo we sold it after about three and a half years. I pulled it for just under $20 million, so it was a good little piece of work for us.
Steve Rayson: That's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to start businesses, build a brand, because I think I'm good at those bits. Getting us known. Then I don't want to take on it. If we were going to grow BuzzSumo we would suddenly need 50 salespeople, we were then starting to win the corporates, et cetera. I don't want to manage a team of 50 salespeople. Just any large teams really. It's not my skill set, I'm not good at it. I think you have to recognize what you're good at and what you're not good at. For me, I'm not good at managing that. It doesn't inspire me, managing people. I think, they call it a soft skill. Managing people is really hard.
Steve Rayson: I'm not good at it because also, I'm a terrible person in a way because if you're starting a business it's a hard thing but I think you have to be 24/7. I think when you set up BuzzSumo, you drive it, you drive it. If you're going to beat the competition you do have to stay up later than the competition. You have to stay up later than the competition, you have to do more, you have to write more blog posts, et cetera. There's always marketing you can do. Every day you can do more and more marketing. You'll know this. You can do more marketing every single day. You can post to this forum, post to that forum, try and run a webinar here, approach this person. It's terrible for your family. That reflecting back on it is it's really tough on your family because people say, "Work life balance." There's not too much work life balance when you're starting a business because you're starting to grow it and drive it.
Steve Rayson: I keep thinking is there a better way of doing this. If I'm honest, I think it is 24/7. You can take some time. I would always set out with other people because I think you then get their support. In any business, the other thing is that things go wrong. Things will always go wrong. That's not necessarily a problem. The problem is if you don't put it right. As long as you put it right, that's great. Some of my best customers, we've had things that went wrong. We put it right quickly. I flew to see them, whatever. That's great. Things go wrong.
Steve Rayson: I think if you have two or three people, I've always had two or three people at least with me when I've started a business, you have people who can share that burden. That, "Oh God, what's happening," et cetera. Being on your own I think would be tough, at least for me. I think one of the skills you need as an entrepreneur is of course resilience. You have to be resilient. Stuff goes wrong. You get problems with cash flow. I know when I've had to go around and borrow money from people to try and keep us afloat in cash flow terms, even if it was only for a few months. It's tough really. I think you have to work very hard I think. That can be hard if you want work life balance, if you've got young kids.
Steve Rayson: I mean I started my business later in life and I think I was lucky. My teenage kids probably suffered a bit, I will tell you, as a consequence. I think for starting with young kids, I think it's a tough space. It's hard work. That's the other thing I've learned. There's no easy route. It's just hard graphed really. It's like the quote, "The harder I work, the luckier I get." You just work very hard I think. Yeah, if you've just got a young family at the moment and you're thinking of starting a business, it's tough.
Steve Rayson: As a consequence, because I'm doing that all the time I make a terrible manager. My wife once chastised me, probably rightly. We had a new IT guy in and on a Saturday morning, something on our site went down. I forget what it was now, but for me it was really, really important. I mailed the IT guy. By Saturday afternoon teatime I'm going furious because he hasn't replied to me. I'm saying to Chris, my wife, "He hasn't replied. This is so critical. We're a small business. We can't have this down." She's saying, "Look, he's just an employee. He's not you." She was right, of course, but I would be quite a hard task master because to me, I don't care if it's down on a Sunday evening or a Saturday evening. We're a small business. We've got customers globally. It might be Sunday but they're working in Israel on Sunday. It might be 2:00 in the morning but people in Australia are up so the site can't be down. If the site goes down and you get a ping on the phone, you've got to put that back up.
Steve Rayson: I think you have to be quite driven. At least this is my view. In some ways I hope I'm wrong, because it means that you can't get a good balance when you're starting a business. I think those first two or three years when you're really driving, really building the brand is just a lot of hard graphed and a lot of hours. Unless you're very lucky or something. In my experience, that's what it is. It's a lot of hard graft. It's a lot of work. Yeah. If you're thinking about setting up a business, I do think there's never been a better time. You could set up a brand and a business now. We could put up a WordPress website next week. We can have all the infrastructure set up next week. We can get Amazon web services up. We can get intercom set up. You can look like a big business really quickly online. Then you can start building the brand. The internet gives you that potential.
Steve Rayson: There can't have ever been a better time to build a business. At BuzzSumo we're three guys. We have customers in Argentina, Australia, China, all over the place. We can deal with them. Even I was writing emails back in Spanish, and my Spanish is terrible but I have Google Translate. They'd send me messages in Spanish, I'd stick it into Google Translate, I'd write a reply, I'd send it back again. We'd just carry on managing the business that way. The tools you have, it's fantastic. It really is fantastic. I still think there are loads of opportunities. Along the big opportunities, leave to the big companies.
Steve Rayson: There are lots of point solutions and I suppose and did this on a sharing tool. There are lots of really simple little tools that you can build that make people's lives easier. You can build those up. You can then sell that company for 10, 20 million dollars. It's a good little business for you. Yeah, IBM is not interested in that. Other companies, LinkedIn is not interested in that at the small scale, but you can build something and then sell it on. I think always look at what are the simple things that make people's lives easier? I really like a little tool called Satis Meter (now Usage Meter). It runs on the net promoter score. People just rate you from 1-10. Would you recommend this to a friend or a colleague 1-10? Basically, you can keep track of your scores. We did that on BuzzSumo all the time. All the time I'm looking at how are people rating us. Is it going up? Is it going down?
Jeff Bullas: Wow.
Steve Rayson: I think there are loads of opportunities for people. In that sense, I'd like to encourage people because it's fantastic, the opportunities that are out there. It's hard work. Yeah.
Jeff Bullas: Now there's one thing that I'm curious about. In terms of a lot of times you build a platform, and you build a lot of bells and whistles, a lot of features. There's a great book out there, which talks about a minimal viable product. The Lean Startup. Now that book talks about the MVP, minimal viable product. What was your journey in terms of how many features do I build into BuzzSumo, to make it a minimal viable product? Tell me a little bit about that.
Steve Rayson: Yeah. I suppose we did do that. We started with a minimal viable product, which was doing what we saw the basics, which was people are really interested in their areas about what's being shared. I want to type in a topic about eLearning, what's the most shared content this week? What's trending? Something you don't really see from Google, for example. We thought it'd be rich and nice, so we bought a really basic ... at the start it was just you type in a topic and we show you the most shared content on that topic. That was it really.
Jeff Bullas: Wow.
Steve Rayson: That was our minimum viable product, and people liked it. Then we started adding more of the whistles and bells. Okay, so who shared it? Those sorts of things. Then we started saying, "Well, can we get data and how many links does that have as well, so we can not only see how many shared but how many links did it get, or could we add LinkedIn to that or could we add Reddit shares," so we gradually added features.
Steve Rayson: We had requests for new features from clients all the time. I think you've got to be really careful and resistant. Some features we built just didn't work but generally, we built them if a big client wanted it and we felt that it would be beneficial to other clients. Out of all of our trending feature, really came from a request from Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed was saying, "This is great, Stephen. I can see what was the most shared content yesterday," because we allowed people to do it by time, yesterday, the week, et cetera. They said, "But I'm really interested in what was the most shared content in the last three hours. A day is too old." We then built the trending feature, which shows you what was the most shared content today. You can go down to the last hour. If you want to type in eLearning in BuzzSumo now or Coronavirus, you can see the most shared content in the last hour.
Jeff Bullas: Yes.
Steve Rayson: That feature, that whole trending feature, came out of a request from Buzzfeed. We did build some other features which didn't really work really. To be honest, the main money still comes from that core MVP feature that we built. We did realize as we started getting new customers like Buzzfeed, we needed new features because they were a different type of client. We hadn't really thought about them as a client. To be honest, we hadn't really worked in publishing so we didn't really know what they wanted.
Steve Rayson: Every time we got a big customer signed up like Buzzfeed, I offered to go and train them, which normally we would just do a webinar or train yourself, it's going to be easy to use. For those big customers, I offered training sessions. I actually then went and traveled to their offices. It wasn't so much to train them. It was to ask them about their problems and what were they struggling with, et cetera, what did they need, just so that we could really understand our customers, because we thought we understood small marketers but we didn't really understand these big publishers. Suddenly, we have these very big publishers coming online, so I would go and see them. I spent time with the Daily Telegraph in the UK, et cetera. The Buzzfeed in New York. I would try to really understand what their business was, so I would listen to them and then decide whether we wanted to build things out. I do think you have to be careful on how much you build out. You don't want too many whistles and bells.
Steve Rayson: The other thing I think, if you're building the sort of product I'm talking about, is it's got to be simple to use. The nice thing about BuzzSumo is it's just a search box. Most people know how to use a search box. Well, actually they don't because they don't use the more advanced features. They just tend to put something in a search box, but it's a familiar interface. People can use it. Nobody says, "I need training on how to use Google." You work it out. It's fairly intuitive. Almost, if you need lots of training, that's almost a failure in the product design in some ways. I think if you're a big corporate product, you need that and you need to train people. For us, we need to keep it really simple so it's easy to use. We did put support videos online, help online. I would run webinars to take people through how to do it.
Steve Rayson: I ran webinars on how to do specific things, so how to use BuzzSumo to find influencers in your field. How to use BuzzSumo to find the headlines that work in your space. I would run specific types of webinars. I would often get hundreds of people come onto those. The core product I think has to be really easy to use because I think for me, it's about minimal viable product. I agree with lots of the stuff in the Lean Startup. I think that's what we were.
I think there's something about what I would call “Speed to Value”. I define this as “How long do I have to use this product before I get value out of it?”
Most people want that to be almost straight away. There are some products, and I've tried to use some of these really big data analysis products, because I love analyzing data, but sometimes if that's all we need really, do a week's training before you can get stuff out of it. For me it doesn't work for me. I'm not the sort of person I can spend a week learning a product before I get value out of it.
Steve Rayson: I think speed to value, if you're a small product, is quite important. How quickly can somebody get real value? I think what we showed with BuzzSumo is that you type in a topic and you instantly got results. It was almost we don't want to tell you what we do. When you went to the BuzzSumo website, I think it's still the same now, we could have lots of stuff saying, "This is about the product. These are the people who use it," but we started with a search box. You type something in because once you type something in you'll see the value we deliver. Rather than tell you about it, let's just show you. I think show, not tell, is a really important feature. Just type something into that search box. You'll see the value. Hopefully you'll then get the product.
Steve Rayson: Whereas, we could spend pages trying to explain that to you. It doesn't work. We just want to get people into the product. Once you're in it's saying, "Okay. Now just subscribe for a free trial, you can carry on using it." You've got to make it really simple because it can be a really small barrier, it can be a really tiny barrier, and people won't use your product. It has to be really easy to use. To me, a small product has got to be about speed to value.
Jeff Bullas: I really love that term actually, Steve. I've never heard that before. I'm sure listeners are going to be taking notes on speed to value now. Maybe that's ... what's the speed to value? STV. Okay, maybe that's a new term we should be using now. STV. Speed to value. I think one of your superpowers in listening to you and as we've talked over the years, is that you have a real knack I suppose, of one, simplifying, which I think is really, really important. Number two, I think you understand that you are just trying to solve a problem.
Jeff Bullas: This is what's interesting, when you talked about you went over to see BuzzSumo and you're going, "Okay. I'm not training you. Actually, what are your biggest problems? How can I solve them?" I think that's what you seem to have done, especially with BuzzSumo, is how can I solve a problem, how can I make it as simple as possible, and on top of that, how can I make it speed to value so they can identify the value they're going to get within seconds? I'd call that a superpower, Steve. I think it's pretty amazing.
Steve Rayson: Yeah. Not sure if it's a superpower. Lots of hard work to do it, but fundamentally, you do have to solve customer problems. That's the core of it.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. I think it's whether you're writing a blog or whatever, it's actually trying to get to the heart of what is a customer's biggest pain points, and how can you actually answer them, whether it's via video or whether it's via text. Now one of the other things I wanted to ask you too was was there any mentors or resources along the way that helped you, inspired your journey?
Steve Rayson: Yeah. In terms of books, the one book I always quote and I feel it's incredibly valuable, there's a little book, a thin volume, called Love is the Killer App. It's quite old now. That's probably 20 years old. What it really says is give away your knowledge, your value. Just give it away to people. Whether you're at meetings, take the time to give it to people. Give it away on your website. Give it away on your blog. Give away your knowledge, because that then gets returned to you. That love comes back, basically. I'm a great believer in that. I mean I hate websites that just say, "Our tool is fantastic because it does this." Ours would be, "How to write a headline, how to work with an influencer." Try to write blockers which will add value and give away your knowledge.
Steve Rayson: Some people would say to us, "You're mad. You're giving away so much knowledge here. You should be charging people for this." I don't agree with that. Obviously, in my business I'm a consultant. Maybe it's slightly different but that's not our business. I want to give away all that knowledge because that builds your brand. We want to be a brand that's seen to help people. If someone has got a problem, I genuinely would go out of my way to try and help them. I would try and set aside an hour to look at their problem. I try to help as many people as I can and I try to provide value. I try to share what I've learned, so I'm not trying to hide it away and get people to pay for anything. It's just give it away really.
Steve Rayson: I think that little slim volume on Love is the Killer App, it sounds counterintuitive to lots of people but for me it's the best knowledge you have, just give it away to other people, and be helpful to other people. Really love other people. Give them help. If they're building a business, help them grow it. Do what you can to help them because you never know, in 10 years time, that can come back, et cetera. For me, there are lots of business books like the Lean Startup and all that stuff, of Crossing the Chasm and things. There are lots of business books.
Steve Rayson: One book, if you're doing a services business, I would recommend people buy. I think it's called Managing the Professional Service Firm. It was actually written by a lawyer about managing a legal practice, I think. If you're managing a services business, where you're really selling people's time, albeit packaged as projects et cetera, it's a great book about what's the key things you need to do when you're managing a professional services firm. It gets to the nub of it really quickly, about you think like in eLearning, we thought we were eLearning experts, but really we needed to be experts in buying and selling people, because that's the core of our business model. We bought people at one price, we sold them at another price, and we had to keep them utilized in between.
Steve Rayson: It got to the nub of one of the really key things you need to track, there are only so many things in any business you need to track, so in a services business you have to track utilization every Monday morning. What's the utilization? Who is on what utilization? Are we maximizing it? Have we maxed out people's plans for this week? If you're in a product business like we were, churn is really important. Are people paying for the products and then stopping paying for it? Churn will kill your business.
Jeff Bullas: Yes.
Steve Rayson: Mathematically, churn just kills your business, so you've got to really keep churn as low as you can. It will be every day in that case. What's the churn, et cetera? Not just what's the growth rate, et cetera, but what's the churn of business and how are we growing that? In any business, it's getting down to those key things. Managing the Professional Service Firm was a really good book for that. There are two books that I suppose have inspired me in terms of the way we run a business.
Steve Rayson: I also like the Exponential Business, because I think that's what small products can do now. You can suddenly build a very small product, whether it's something like a Buffer or something like a BuzzSumo, or what I called Staus Meter. Suddenly, there is an audience of millions for those tools, so you can suddenly scale it, it's huge really. Once you're past break even, and that's what I like about small businesses. Even at the point we sold BuzzSumo, we were only eight people. That's a lean startup. Because we only had eight people, we were very profitable. But when we sold BuzzSumo we were doing just $6 million of revenues. We were doing over $3 million in net profit a year, because we were a small, lean business. It was mainly sales and us. We kept it really small. We didn't have a marketing team. We weren't spending on advertising. Yeah, that's important I think.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. That actually then brings up the point and one of the things I love about the internet and the digital world we live in, and as you said, scalable businesses, it can be exponential, as software as a service company, which is what you built at BuzzSumo. Essentially, incredibly profitable. Get the high gross profit. That's software as a service type companies or SaaS. You just said you're turning over $6 million but $3 million profit. That's almost unheard of in terms of a company with only eight people. If you were trying to do that with a services company, you just won't be able to do it.
Steve Rayson: Yeah. You can only sell eight people's times. Then you've got to pay the eight people. You're only ever making a markup on the people that you're paying, so it's a different type of business. That's why having built up and sold Kineo, we sold it for good money, et cetera, but I thought this is hard business. There's got of businesses that settle down. That's when I researched product businesses. I switched completely from running a sales based business to a product based business.
Steve Rayson: My preference, as a small startup entrepreneur would be to run the product based business. There are different risks, because you have to build the product first. That takes time and money and you may then not get any bios. I think one of my lessons would be, like we did with BuzzSumo, get the Beta version out there straightaway. If you're building something small just get a beta out there, because you get feedback straightaway. We knew BuzzSumo was working because suddenly we got loads of beta uses, and they were giving us great feedback.
Steve Rayson: Whereas, if we built in secret and then launched it you don't know. There is a danger, if you build something in beta people copy you. People did copy BuzzSumo. Lots of people copied us. My view is we just have to keep moving. That's another sort of thing. I think if you're building a product you do have to keep moving, because even if you're on the right track, someone is going to come and run you over if you don't move fast enough, so you do have to move quite quickly.
Steve Rayson: My view is it doesn't matter that people are coming and copying BuzzSumo because we've got the ideas, we're moving ahead of the game, et cetera, so they're always slightly behind us. There is a danger with beta products.
People copy. You have to be constant in your abilities and your innovation, and be able to keep moving. Yeah. Get that beta out there quickly to know, because it's high risk being a product business.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, it's interesting watching technology companies whether big or small. One thing I certainly have noticed, which is what you became aware of quite quickly was that you're actually in like an arms race. The arms race number one, is actually to build a product quickly and keep innovating, which is what you were doing. Number two, that's one part of the arms race, which is the technology arms race. In other words, constant development software. Obviously building a software tech company. The other one is actually getting that distribution to market and getting that reach globally. That's the other part to the equation of the arms race in this global digital entrepreneurship model that has emerged and is challenging all of us.
Steve Rayson: Yeah. I think the product would probably be the most important point, because if you've got a bad product, it doesn't matter what your marketing is like. The product has to work, so you've got to spend a lot of your money on the product, and I think some people spend more on marketing than the product. For us it was about the product. There were three of us. I did the marketing and management, and Henry and James did the product really. You need that. Yeah, and you just need to build that brand. I think the key about that is it's a lot of work. If you're not paying for lots of advertising, basically I was going to every forum I could find, saying, "Here's BuzzSumo. There's a free version." Every forum. I would spend three hours of an evening, just posting to 300 forums for example.
Steve Rayson: Probably 99% of that didn't work but maybe 1% of it worked. I would be writing to influencers. I wasn't just writing blogs as there was also research. We've got all this data. We do have tons of data on the most shared content. Is there any research I could do for you which would be helpful? I'd approach them in that way. I would send them articles which I thought were interesting, et cetera, or try to go and meet them. I went to conferences, primarily to meet influencers, like when I met you. Rather than necessarily to speak, because you want to meet people. Because I'd say, "Oh, I've been following your stuff. I like your stuff. You see I shared that or whatever," but you get to know them really and hopefully you do become friends with lots of those people. You want to meet people in person.
Steve Rayson: There's only so much you can do online. You can't meet all of your customers, but you can meet some of the key players. The easiest way is to go to social media marketing conference or whatever those big conferences are and meet people. Yeah, the marketing really is important but I think it's building the brand, something distinct to brand image, adding good content too. We were writing. I was writing in blog posts every day because there's so much competition in the world. If you stop doing something for two or three weeks, people forget about you in a way.
Jeff Bullas: That's right.
Steve Rayson: It is relentless, right? That's my other thing about running a startup business. Until you get to a certain point, you've just got to be relentless. It's nonstop. It's relentless. It's relentless. It's okay, I've posted into these forums. I've written this article. I mean I've appeared on probably less than you, but probably hundreds of podcasts because people would mail me and say, "Would you go on a podcast?" I just say yes to everything. Yes, I'll go on your podcast, because when you're marketing a product you have to. I mean now, I don't do that anymore because I'm not trying to market anything, but when BuzzSumo, you're growing the product, I'd just say yes to everybody. Do this interview, would you give me 10 tips? I hate all that stuff as an influencer but I would just do it because we need the BuzzSumo name everywhere. That was our aim, was just to saturate the market.
Steve Rayson: I think we did get to that point where you just say to people, "BuzzSumo." I also remember a friend of mine came over from New Zealand and he was chatting to his brother in the car driving to me, and he was saying, ""Oh. We use BuzzSumo." I think that's the sign that you're out there. You've made it in a way. The name got big and unfortunately, I think it's not being done as much now as when I was there because you are just driving it all the time.
Steve Rayson: I think the other thing I would say if you're a small lean company, this applies to both the people doing the marketing but also the people doing the product development, is just recruit the very, very best people you can find because in my view, a good person is not just worth two people. A good person is worth 10-20 people. I'm serious about that. I think they really are. A good developer is worth 10 developers, so it's worth paying double the price for a good developer because they're worth 10 developers. Somebody who really drives and has got that sort of motivation, is worth 10 other people on marketing.
Steve Rayson: My view is you keep it small but you have a really high energy team, who are running quite hard really. I think that's the way you have to do it. Yeah. Simple things like if it's risky developing a product, do a beta version quickly. I think there's that old simple rule of fail quickly. If it's not going to work, get it to fail quickly and move on probably, because otherwise you can spend a lot of time. I had been involved in other businesses and sold all of them and stuff. I've sold the most of them, but sometimes you think actually, it's not going to work. Then you have to make decisions quite quickly. That's not going to work. Maybe somebody else is keen on running it. I feel those businesses, I've passed on to other people who would like the business and they want to make them grow, but aren't thinking, "I don't think it's there." To move that on really, because I think you know content marketing much better than I do. It's about being relentless. It just builds over time. There's no big bang in my view.
Jeff Bullas: No, there's not.
Steve Rayson: You just write blog posts, and occasionally people said, "I want to write a couple of blog posts and I want them to go viral." I say, "It doesn't work like that." If you just write really good content and share really good stuff for the next year then maybe one of your pieces will work.
Jeff Bullas: That's right. Exactly.
Steve Rayson: You've got to keep going, keep going. It just goes up gradually. In my experience, the website business went up quite fast, but consistently over time. I think it's based on to give away content, you've got to give away everything you know. All my secret knowledge, give it away because otherwise you've got to prove that you're giving away stuff that was valuable to people.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. That was one of the most conversations I think I had, was people going, "Just giving everything away." I went yes, but what happens is when you give it away, actually what happens is the world shows up and gives it back to you. I think the book you mentioned, Love is the Killer App, I think is just ... I'm going to go and download it after we finish here.
Steve Rayson: Yeah. It's a slim little book but the principles are very simple. I say that. I think the other thing is I talked about Satis Meter, which is the tool we use. I think you've got to track customer feedback. We had on our site a little popup all the time saying, "How would you rate us from 1-10?" I tracked that religiously and felt sick in my stomach if someone rated us a three or something. It literally was like a body blow.
Jeff Bullas: What is the name of the app?
Steve Rayson: This was called ... I assume it's still going, we use it. It's called Satis Meter. S-A-T-I-S. Meter. Satis Meter. You just install it on your products site. There are others you can use. I think the NPS scorer, net promoter scorer is really important. Basically, people have to rate you from 1-10, would they recommend you. Really, if they're not rating you nine or ten, they're really never going to recommend you. That's the bottom line. You want to see what your average scores are. You can track them over time. A score over 50 generally is good, you work out the scores, you can see all that stuff online. I would track it every day, what are people scoring us?
Steve Rayson: We have underneath us you could rate us and you could add a comment. Most people didn't but where people added comments, if they made a quick comment I would look at it and make sure are they right, should we change that, et cetera. Every single day I was listening to customers, so I couldn't talk to them every day but by using a tool like that and because we had so many users, I was getting quite a lot of feedback. Every day I'm getting hundreds of these, giving feedback, so I can keep an eye on really. You've got to keep listening for those customers and make sure they're happy with it, because the last thing you want is churn.
Jeff Bullas: Yep. Now what's interesting too, you mention that you basically filed quickly, and if it didn't work you actually didn't do it anymore. I was listening to an interview with Gary Keller, from the book “The One Thing”, and he said that he has a tactic of what he calls red light, green light. In other words, if something is working, green. He just goes for it. If it's actually not working it's a red light. He just stops doing it. When I heard that I went, "Wow, that is such a cool but simple way to live life and to work in business."
Steve Rayson: Yeah. I think it's critical really because occasionally we added features. Then they weren't really working we'd say, "Oh, maybe because we haven't marketed them right or we haven't told people exactly what they do and we haven't shown people quite how to use them." We would come up with lots of excuses for why that feature wasn't quite working, because you spend a bit of time investing on it. You try to, oh let's try to make it work, but in reality it's just not working. It's a painful lesson but it's like okay, it's easier to move off of that really. Yeah. That's something I've learned.
Steve Rayson: I mean the other thing I would say is I'm a relatively old guy now in this game, but you just keep learning. That's my other thing. The other principle I learned is that everybody can become obsolete. With the pace of change these days, we can now all become obsolete faster than we could ever become obsolete before.
Jeff Bullas: That's right. That's right.
Steve Rayson: You have to keep learning every day. My wife still mentions about how much I read, but if I'm not up with what's happening ... she said, "Why are you playing with Tik Tok? Why are you playing with these things?" I just need to know what's happening really.
Jeff Bullas: Exactly.
Steve Rayson: The question I think everyone has to ask themselves and I always say this when I've been running teams, I always say to them, "Are your skills and experience more valuable today than they were last year? Because if they're not, you're becoming obsolete."
Jeff Bullas: Very quickly.
Steve Rayson: You need to be investing in yourself, so think about it. Are your skills more valuable now than they were a month ago, or are you less valuable? Because if you're going to be selling your skills to people, they need to stay valuable really. I think nobody knows everything. You've got to keep learning from as many people as you can really. For me it's just about learning every day. I set aside time every day to just browse, just to see what's going on. Recent forms, et cetera. Read things I don't normally read, just to try and keep us up. I do use twitter lists, and I find them incredibly valuable. Twitter can be frustrating but I have about 10 lists, and I have different people in different lists, and I skim the lists really, because I think if there's anything interesting happening in this space, then these 20 people are going to know about it and tell me about it, because then the interest in this space, this is another twitter group. I have one like for politics. There's anything happening in labor politics or something in the UK, I've got a list of people with if it's happening they'll probably tell me about it. I use them as my monitors. I try to use people on twitter as people who've got their fingers out there, telling me what's going on.
Jeff Bullas: Yes, a finger on the pulse.
Steve Rayson: Yeah, because we all have to keep learning really. My dad trained as a carpenter. His skillset really saw him through most of his life. That doesn't happen to us now.
Suddenly, you're just learning everything. I was trying to explain to my kids, I started working in the eighties. We never had computers. I was in the office when the first IBM PC arrived, and said, "Wow, what is this thing?" That was way before the internet. Then later we had the internet, et cetera. Things have changed so much and they will just continue to change now, and change probably even faster. Yes, use email, but Slack is so much faster. Things just keep moving on all the time, so we have to keep learning. It's hard work.
Steve Rayson: That's why I say, starting a business, it's a relentless process. There's no easy way to do it really I think. That's it, there's no secret. It's a lot of hard graft, it's a lot of hard work.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. What are maybe some of the biggest challenges you've had as you started and grow these businesses, Steve?
Steve Rayson: I think the kind of things that I mentioned really. I think firstly, things go wrong. I think the question is about being resilient. Things will go wrong, clients get upset, projects go wrong, et cetera. You bill somebody for more than you should do. Whatever happens, it is, stuff goes wrong. You have to be resilient. The first thing is you must expect problems. You must expect challenges to arise. You can deal them. We say, "Okay, that's fine. We're going to do them in this way," or you can be negative and down. To me, that's why I've always had people around me, to help me to keep up really.
Steve Rayson: I think understanding that things go wrong is important, so whatever challenge comes you know it's coming, and you know stuff will go wrong and you'll have to sort it out. Other stuff that's difficult, I think there are lots of things about managing a business that are difficult, like managing cashflow and things. You know, and to me you've got to know what things cost in terms of you producing it, so how much time you're spending on things. You've got to manage cashflow. Gee, I've learned that the hard way. You've really got to keep a tight reign on cash to keep that business moving. Yeah. Managing cash is a critical challenge I think for any small business. Particularly, if you're bootstrapping the business like I was. You're just the person putting the money in. That's a key challenge for you I think.
Steve Rayson: I'm trying to think of others. There are so many challenges. The other challenge is I suppose just maintaining your mental health and fitness if you're going to start a business, because hopefully you got the sense from what I'm saying, if you start a business it's hard work and you have to look after yourself during that hard work, and you have to look at yourself mentally and physically. For me, I still find time to go to the gym every day. I love going to the gym, et cetera. I try and do the heavier the weights I did, the more endorphins or whatever kicked in, enough to keep me going. I've always slept well. I've always had a view if I wake up at night thinking about work I'm going to give it up, because it's not worth it. I always sleep well and I always try to get a good, solid sleep, et cetera.
Steve Rayson: I think if you're an entrepreneur, it is such a relentless drive. I would work 16 hours a day, 14 hours a day. You have to look after yourself. You have to recognize that that's what you're doing, and so you have to recognize those things. Having a family helps. I had an older family when I set it up, because they take you away from it, so that's quite good. They bring you back to reality quite a lot. I wish I had understood a few more things around that. Equally, I think if you're studying the business and it's a bootstrap startup business, it just a hard drive to get it going.
Steve Rayson: You can try to build lifestyle businesses, but I'm generally of the view that most businesses are either growing or declining. It's very rare to have a steady, safe business. They do exist. There are some mom and pop shop type businesses, but generally in our game, if you're a software product, you're either growing or you're falling. You've got to be relentless to keep it growing really. I would say the challenge is then keeping some balance with your family, some balance with your partner, with your kids.
Jeff Bullas: Did you have a morning routine? Did you have a morning routine that you ...
Steve Rayson: Morning routine for me was I would make sure I got sleep, but I would exercise in the morning. I would set aside time each morning before I started work to exercise, for example. That was really time for me, not time for the family necessarily. I don't think I was a great dad in that sense. As I got older I got slightly better at it, but for me, it was making sure I had ... for me, I would exercise every morning and then I'd have a decent breakfast, that would fuel me up for the day, because I've seen so many people don't eat properly and sleep properly. That ultimately will lead to health issues, I think. Also, I found it a positive stress. I love to see my numbers go up, et cetera. It's stressful but it's a positive stress as well. For me, it was about exercise, eating, and sleep. Really basic things.
Steve Rayson: I think if I had my time again, I would spend more time probably looking after the family than I did. I don't think I gave them enough time. I don't think I recognized the impact that I was having by being so relentlessly focused. I would sit on the sofa at night. We'd watch TV together. Of course, I wasn't watching TV. I'm answering Slack queries, so someone is asking about this and I'm saying, "Oh yeah. You can get the demo here. Oh yes. We wrote an article on that," et cetera. I was there but I wasn't present. That sort of plastic saying. I was there in the room with my wife Chris but I wasn't present. I'm in a world of Slack and thinking about things or answering queries. Yes, the TV program is going on in front of me.
Steve Rayson: I have got better at putting my phone away. I'm still not great at it, and you need time in the evenings. I have a friend of mine who has set his phone, it just goes off at 7:00 in the evening. Now I've still not quite managed that. I'll put it in the other room and then I'll go and check it periodically. I don't have my phone by my bed. I charge it away from the bed, either at the far end of the bedroom or in another room, so I don't have the phone in bed, et cetera. I think that's a good thing. I have some routines there. In retrospect, I should have done more to keep that balance together in terms of the family I think.
Steve Rayson: I remember once, I'd been in Chicago for about three or four days, and I rang home, and my daughter picked up the phone and we were chatting for awhile and she was like, "Where are you?" I said, "I've been in Chicago for three days." "Oh, I didn't realize you were away." It's like I've been away for three days and my daughter hasn't even noticed I'm away, I'm away that often. Luckily now, you can work more from home and things. BuzzSumo, we ran it from home. I was amazed how well that worked really, with regular calls like this. We would have regular webinar calls, with Slack chatting all the time, et cetera. You can do more work from home these days, which even in the last 10 years that's just improved remarkably. You can now really work from home in a way that you couldn't before. That will help you get a slightly better balance. I think you have to travel less.
Steve Rayson: In my day, you had to get on a plane a lot. I mean you've got more air miles than I have, but in certain types of roles you have to get on a plane a lot. That can be hard for the family and stuff, so a bit of balance. Equally, I've been thinking and thinking, is there an easier way of doing it? I don't think there is. I think you're starting a bootstrap starter business. You have to be 100% on it, pushing it, driving it. I do think, people say, "How did you do better than other people?" I said, "I think I just stayed awake longer probably." I'm just working through until 11:00 pm in the evening, et cetera. Answering the queries. I was writing to more forums, pushing more things.
Steve Rayson: Hopefully, you also have a much better product. I'm sure some people will be very critical of me and say, "Sometimes you can't have a great product, you actually have a really great quality of life and balance." Hopefully that's true for some businesses. You do so much stuff, you never know what stuff really works sometimes. It can be hard to measure. You just do everything.
Steve Rayson: I did 30 podcasts let's say over a month, when I was at BuzzSumo. I never know, one of those might be picked up. 29 of those may have been a complete waste of my time, but I never quite knew what would be there. Often people say, "I listen to you talk on X," so it may just be that it's something about the way I manage. Hopefully, people will manage it. I suppose what I would hope is people manage it better than I do, and so I would at least be cognitive or really conscious of it so that they're aware of these sorts of issues, and think about ways to balance it, but it's hard.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Terms you keep bringing up are the terms relentless and persistent, and I try to identify with that. I remember the first four years, when I started JeffBullas.com, I got up at 4:30 am, before I started my day job until I finally left that and struck out as a full grownup business. 4:30 am until 9:00 am each morning to actually create content. Then I didn't know what was going to work, and what wasn't going to work, except just to keep trying. Relentless and persistence is certainly a big factor in success.
Jeff Bullas: I'm aware of your time, Steve. I suppose just before we finish up here, what's one big thing you'd like to share, a takeaway that you'd like to share with our audience that you think is really important in being an entrepreneur?
Steve Rayson: Yeah. I would go back to that little book, Love is the Killer App. I would go back to it. It's basically treat people how you want to be treated, be a nice person, and give away your knowledge. Just give away your knowledge because it's helpful to people to grow their businesses, help them as much as you can. Just basically help other people as much as you can help other people, really. That will come back to you. It may not come back to you tomorrow, next year, five years, 10 years, but I think it's a way to live your life anyway. Just love all the people. Be careful of other people. Don't say harsh words of other people. I never criticize competition, et cetera, or say harsh words. There is no need for that. The world is a small place. We're only here once. Be nice to other people. Even be nice to competitors.
Steve Rayson: Sometimes, and this happens in the states a bit more, I think people can be quite aggressive. To me it's just it's not necessary to be aggressive. It's a big space. We're all competing in this space. It's a big world, so be nice to other people, and be helpful to other people. Take time to help other people. People respect you for that I think. Yeah, that would be my one big lesson, is read that book and just be a nice person. Help other people as much as you can.
Jeff Bullas: That's great wisdom, and it's been great getting to know you over the years, Steve. You've always been a gentleman that I've loved hanging out with. Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom, experience, and passion. I look forward to catching up some time, whether it's in London or Brighton or wherever you are.
Steve Rayson: Yeah, or Sydney. I'm just booking my flights over to Sydney next January. It's rained so much this January, I'm thinking I'm definitely going to be down in Australia or New Zealand next January, so I'll definitely see you down there next year.
Jeff Bullas: I'm looking forward to that, Steve, and thank you very much for your time and enjoy the rest of your day. We look forward to sharing your wisdom and your story, and help other people. Just thank you very much for sharing your insights and giving so much away, I really appreciate it
Steve Rayson: No problem. Thank you very much. I really enjoyed it. Thanks, Jeff.
Jeff Bullas: Thanks, Steve.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.