Dan Levin is the President, COO, and Co-Founder of ViralGains. He was inspired to start ViralGains after recognizing the storytelling power of video as a medium in building authentic, meaningful connections between brands and the people they seek to serve.
ViralGains’ mission is to empower the voice of brands and people, creating authentic and lasting connections.
Prior to ViralGains, Dan was VP of Operations & Strategy at Viral Media Solutions, a full-service marketing agency whose primary focus was servicing & consulting SMB’s and Fortune 500 brands on social media & digital strategy.
Dan graduated from the College of Management at the University of Massachusetts in Boston with concentrations in Marketing, Economics, and Philosophy.
What you will learn
- Dan shares what prompted him to leap into the entrepreneurial world
- The rise and fall of viral content; learn how perspectives and expectations shift
- Discover how to build brand awareness in today’s digital landscape
- Find out how Dan is helping businesses convert attention into sales
- Dan shares his thoughts on AI, ChatGPT, and the future of marketing
- Dan shares the hard lessons he’s learnt about marketing his own business
- Plus much more!
00:00:03 - 00:01:40
Hi everyone and welcome to The Jeff Bullas Show. Today I have with me, Dan Levin and welcome everyone from all around the world. We are on YouTube as well as on any of the, you know, audio site posts around the world such as, you know, Spotify and of course, Apple. But today I have with me Dan Levin. Now, Dan is the president and CEO, chief operating officer I believe that says means and co-founder of ViralGains. He was inspired to start ViralGains back in 2012 after recognizing the storytelling power of video as a medium in building authentic, meaningful connections between brands and people. ViralGains’ mission is to empower the voice of brands and people creating authentic and lasting connections. It's about turning stories into conversations and we, everyone has a story and we're gonna find more about what was some of the the story behind how he started ViralGains. So ViralGains stands for telling yours and listening to their stories, they stand for freedom for creators and freedom for consumers and it's the science and art of listening to and engaging with people. And as we know we've got a lot of data these days, but we also need to be able to basically embrace the art of being a marketer and also an entrepreneur. Prior to ViralGains, Dan was a VP of Operations & Strategy at Viral Media Solutions, which was a full service marketing agency focusing on SMB’s and Fortune 500. Dan, graduated from the College of Management at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and that's where he's dialing in today from.
Welcome to the show Dan, it's an absolute pleasure.
00:01:40 - 00:01:45
Jeff, the pleasure is all mine. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited for this.
00:01:45 - 00:02:18
So Dan, we all have a story to tell and so you're working as an employee, working in a corporate digital agency. Number one, what led you to start the work for the agency? Was that an interest in digital marketing, being an entrepreneur? What was the original inspiration to move into the corporate world for a digital agency? And then I want to talk more about what made you decide to leap into the world of being an entrepreneur.
00:02:19 - 00:07:26
Great questions, you know, it's so funny. I've been kind of shooting myself in the foot here with the bio I put on LinkedIn and sort of the background that I usually have plastered all over the internet. So truth be told, I actually co-founded that agency as well. I have, you know, sort of a corporate, I have all kinds of philosophies about corporate governance. And one of the things that's important to me, we're going a little tangent, but I'll come back to the question, which is, I always like to be honest with myself around sort of what level I feel like I'm operating at. And so, you know, when I think about my time at Viral Media Solutions, which was that agency, I, you know, I kind of mentally have parsed myself out as I was at a VP level. I was in college. Of course, I'm like, I'm thinking here before that I started a company called Magic Shovels, which I'll tell you about in a second. And then I'm like, of course, yeah, everyone always loves his name. There, you know, I viewed myself as sort of director level and the reason I say it is because, you know, you could have a 12 year old, start a company and they're like president, she, you know, CEO president. It's like, no, you're not, you have no idea what you're doing. You're, you know, you're baking t-shirts or running a lemonade stand, but maybe head of lemons, but not quite Chief Executive Officer. So, yeah, my background goes all the way back to, it goes back to the sort of early social media days back when YouTube was only, I think a few years old, when Facebook was like four years old, Twitter was, I think just a couple of years old. This is 2008 or so. And I've always been just broadly speaking, a serial tinkerer. It's actually a funny tangent story one time when we were raising money, our series B, I was like in this boardroom in Chicago with like, you know, like a dozen and a half investors. And as they were asking me the same question that you're asking me now in my head because this is just how I've always viewed myself. Yeah, I just like to tinker with things. But instead of saying tinker, I said, I'm a serial tinkler and the room erupted and I had no idea why I was like, yeah, tink, you're tinkering with things. It wasn't until the flight back home that I turned to my business partner. And I said tinkling as in peeing, right? He's like, yeah, you did. I'm like, wow, that explains the laughing. But thank God I didn't think of it back then. It would have completely screwed me up. But that's just a funny story. So I was always a tinkerer of things. I loved messing around with platforms and I became infatuated with social media back in the day. And one of the biggest things that I just found that was so profound and I felt this on the receiving end of it was that everything I had ever consumed up until that point in time was always dictated to me. It was just like here's stuff down your throat, you know, it's like it doesn't, you know, maybe it was delicious, you know, maybe it was interesting content or a movie or whatever. But if you thought about it, media, it was always just one to all of you and you know, whether it's on TV, it's like here's the content that we decide on this network we're gonna show you and this is the content that's popular. We kind of like, you know, there's a bunch of individuals, they can kind of puppeteer, what is the zeitgeist or the cultural phenomenons that is popular is the same thing with radio, you know, the DJs and the people that are that are sort of running the radio, whether it's print, the publishers had all the power,right? Before social media and even the early days of digital, it was, yeah, you could go on the New York Times website, but it's a bunch of editors saying here's the stuff that's gonna be the zeitgeist of the day and consumers historically, ever since media was around always just sort of said, yeah, that's just the way it is. And then this thing called social media comes around and all of a sudden it's wildly different because if you go on Facebook, it's like, well, where's the editors? It's like there's no editors. It's like, what about Reddit and digg.com? Like who's calling the shots on Twitter or it's like, nobody. It's just a place for a bunch of users to come together and self decide what's popular. It's like, and how popular is it? It's like, kind of massive, it's bigger than anything we've ever seen quite frankly. And so this sort of power dynamic had shifted permanently where you have social media and what is viral, which I'll talk about in a second sort of with reality, what is viral or what is popular or what is interesting, no one's controlling, it's a bunch of users that, you know, whatever's trending on Twitter or Facebook or wherever else is just what everyone by a sort of meritocracy and democracy chooses to engage with and up votes and shares and the more shares early on at the algorithms were so simple, more shares, more views, more, you know, more people will see it, more shares, more views. It just became this like, you know, endless loop immediately.
00:07:26 - 00:07:28
Much more organic back then.
00:07:28 - 00:13:09
Super Organic. And the funny thing back then was when something would go viral, everybody knew it was like, did you see, you know, the, you saw gangnam style like, yeah, I saw that it's like and the double rainbow guy. It's like, yeah, I saw that and, you know, something would go viral like a dancing baby. You could say that something goes viral. Everyone's like, I've seen the thing you're talking about now. There could be a video with a billion views that's like, have you seen this? I haven't seen it. But what was interesting was that brands of course, they saw this and they're looking and saying woah, another medium that's massive, bigger than, you know, could be bigger than TV, bigger than anything we've ever seen. Let's take our repurposed 2am infomercial and put it on YouTube and we get all these eyeballs, right? Oh, no one's watching this. What the heck is going on? Well, maybe if I put it on Reddit, that'll do it or Digg like back in the day. No, consumers are just like, no man, I'm not interested in this garbage. This is boring. This isn't cool. And I was watching this all happen in real time and I became completely just infatuated, just as a tinkerer, as just like someone is watching this happen. I'm like I got the power, we got the power, the power is shifting. This is interesting. And so what I started to do was and yeah, there was a few of these websites which were very popular at the time. Not even just talking about Facebook and Twitter. I'm talking about Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Mix, Delicious, Propeller, Yahoo Buzz. All these kind of social news aggregators if you will. And one of the things that I started to do was get really curious. And by the way, you know, when I say serial ticker, I'm like, if there's a button I'm pressing it, that's just, it's always been my personality. I see a button, I gotta press it. If there's a wall, I gotta see if there's a button behind it. Like I just like to click on everything and look at everything and understand how it works. It's just how my brain's been wired and if I don't get it, I'll make a spreadsheet and figure it out. And so one of the things I got really excited about was like, what is this thing that like controls what gets popular? I was like, wait a minute, there's tens of thousands of things being submitted and you know, on certain websites and, you know, maybe like 100 of them will be on the front page of like, you know, StumbleUpon or Mix or something like that. Like, what is that? What determines that? And then, you know, fast forward a few months of just tinkering. And I basically, just because these were early on sort of simple systems, I basically cracked the code. This was sort of my early days, I kind of cracked the code. So what I started to do is just feeling, you know, power hungry. But I was, this is kind of cool. I would submit stuff to certain websites like mix.com or something and I knew exactly what to do, how to do, what time of day to do it, with the kind of headlines that would be catchy, with the kind of like I started to figure out like these different things and they, you know, okay, this time of day, this kind of headline top three things, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I got people like, I gotta read this and then I started working with like a network of people I'd met online in various forms that were trying to figure it out. And I was like, wait, if you like to share this, so I'm gonna submit it and it's gonna be very catchy and then you kind of share it. Wait five minutes, share it, wait six minutes, two people share it. And we had like a group of people that were like kind of messing with it. And before you knew it, you know, fast forward another few months and in a certain time period, probably half of what went viral or what was popular at any given day was a group of probably 20 or 30 of us engineering it like this on command. We would say here's what's gonna be viral. There's gonna be tens of thousands of things being submitted all around the world and half of anything that's popular in any given day or going viral or being shared everywhere was just us kind of goofing around being like we figured out the formula. And what's funny is I had no idea how valuable this would be until one day. You know, the other thing that I thought was funny was back in the day if you submitted a piece of content, like there were no scalable AWS server like systems that would be like, hey, what, how much bandwidth do you need? Is it popular? I'll give you more bandwidth. Is it not? I'll kind of like do it down. So if you have a blog that's normally getting 1000 views, you know, a month that goes viral overnight and gets a million views in an hour, it crashes and I kind of, you know, maybe not the nicest thing, but I found it kind of like, I was like, hey, I can crash websites, check this out. I'm gonna submit something and kind of crash it. But one day someone actually pinged me and said, hey, wow, you submitted my website the other day to just some random website and it went viral and things have been blowing up for me. And actually to this day that blog is still around, I can't say who it is. It's a major tech blog and they've become one of the biggest tech blogs in the world that all started and at the time they were only getting like a few 100 views a month and they reached out, I was like, you've transformed things for us. Can you submit that again? And I'm like, sure I did it a couple of times and then after like the fifth time of asking this person asking me to submit it, I was like, no man, I'm just doing this for fun. I'm just having fun. Like, I'm not submitting your stuff and he's like, well, what if I give you 20 bucks? I'm like, 20 bucks. That's interesting. I'll take 20 bucks, 20 bucks for a million views. I had no idea what I was doing. I don't know what 20, a million organic views overnight. I'm like, yeah, that sounds like about 20 bucks worth. I don't know.
00:13:09 - 00:13:11
So you're doing this from when you're at college? When was this?
00:13:11 - 00:22:35
Yeah, this was I think I was at this point, freshman in college. Yeah, freshman call. I had skipped on like a dozen business ventures that didn't quite pan out. Just silly things that, you know, blogs or all kinds of stuff that I was doing even when I was in high school. But yeah, so, you know, I'm in college, freshman in college thinking, you know, 20 bucks, if I do this, like five times a day I get 100 bucks. This is amazing. So, I hit up an old friend and the reason that I called back. So I called up an old friend from high school. We got connected because we were in physics class in 11th grade and we were thinking, what the hell are we learning Einstein's theory of relativity for? What do I need like why? It's nice to be educated in hindsight. I understand why it's nice to be worldly. But at the time, we were just like, are you gonna do physics? I'm like, no, I'm like, I'm not doing physics either, but yet we have to do this paper and I think we ended up failing that assignment. But the whole time we spent talking about business ideas and I hit him up and I was like, hey, I got something he's like, really, I'm like, I think I got something there is this thing that's working and these people are needing eyeballs for things. Like in hindsight, I'm like, how do I not see this months earlier and start charging appropriately? So what happened was I'll kind of make a longer story short because I could tell stories as you could see. Our whole thing is telling stories. I like to share them, but I'm gonna fast forward a little bit. And what happened in essence is we made a website called digg.com. I mean, sorry, not digg.com. We made a website called Magic Shovels. Why? Because it was websites like Digg. Digg was the most popular at the time. So it's like digg.com. And we're like, well, we can promote things and dig and make it go viral too. So it's like magic because no one knows how we're doing it. And you, when you're digging, you're shoveling. So Magic Shovels it is and we would sell social media packages that guaranteed virality or your money back for like it was like guaranteed, you pay 20 bucks and you're gonna go viral or else you don't pay anything. And on the fourth day, we closed I believe Sears and that's when I went holy crap. Like what just happened? Like where did they come from? Where do they find us? What is Sears doing this? Where at the time I thought it was all just a joke. I, you know, in the interest of time, I'll kind of say the rest is history but it was just to kind of sequence it real quick. One of the biggest challenges. So we were doing this and probably made something like, I don't know, maybe half a million bucks doing this for the next couple of years or so, just just selling these social media packages. One of the things that happened was even still the thing is brands didn't know how to create good content. It was still early days of social media and we were probably rejecting like 90% of stuff, we still guaranteed virality or at least that you'd make the front page of a lot of these websites, but not that you would do it for any kind of content. So if the content is crap, there's nothing we can do. So we realize the two of us, we've got to help brands navigate this space. So we started an agency, Viral Media Solutions. It was a full service, digital media agency that did everything from strategy, from ideation to strategy to ideation, creation of content. Videos, blogs were big at the time. So like, you know, if it would be like, you know, let's say you're, you know, like a Hilton or something, you know, we start a travel blog for you and if you're, you know, a car company, cool places to go or like just a blog, images, early memes and just basically all around consulting them on how do you do social media, what is it and how do you make good content. And that was for a couple of years that we did because they didn't have the good content. So only after that once we realized now we've done our part, the quality of stuff that people are submitting to us for social media kind of advertising is of much higher caliber, we can get rid of the agency. Agencies was never my thing. I always loved technology. I love scalable systems. The only way to scale an agency is you hire more people. Now, I love agencies to death. Many of our customers are agencies, most of our customers. It's hugely important and I can go on and on about why agencies are very critical for especially enterprise and global brands that can't possibly, couldn't possibly navigate the world in house. So they're very important. I never wanted to scale people as kind of like, you know, many offices and this and that I actually thought about going corporate. So senior year in college was, this was now two years of Viral Media solutions. And I think that I still had a decision. Do I go corporate and make my mom happy? Who when she was like, you know what, when I told her I was making money on the internet, she's like making money on the internet, like you're scamming people. I'm like, no, it's like, I don't know, like everything all my friends say, you know, there's scammers on the internet and how can you make money? Sort of traditional, very traditional. She also had a funny story about my mom. God rest her. So one time, so my third year of college things were doing well enough that I dropped out of college and I didn't, I went home that day and I like, everything was, like, probably spent a week before I told them. So I told my parents, I told my mom, hey, I'm thinking about maybe potentially dropping out of college. Things are doing well with this internet thing we're doing. And I'm just not seeing the value of continuing at this stage and she's listening intently, like, interesting, interesting, interesting, interesting. Casually, goes away. I'm like, she's casually walking up the stairs, casually goes in the bathroom, casually locks the door and then yells, I'm jumping. It took me two seconds to make it up the stairs. I kicked the door open because I thought she was very convincing, very convincing kind of, I'm from Ukraine originally. That's where I was born. We came here as refugees and they, like, I can tell a whole story which I won't because I get that I spent as much time I have on the first question, but I'll just say the usual immigrant background of coming here with nothing, no language. My, you know, my dad washing dishes, my mom becoming a waitress where people are pointing to things because there's no language. So traditional, hardworking values. So the idea of drop, you know, the idea of dropping out of college, the idea that she brought up my brother and I here so I could drop out of college to do internet scamming. It just didn't land well. And so she announced that she's jumping and I kicked the door open and I promised her I wouldn't drop out of college between you and I, I mean, you should drop out of college. I had to re-enroll. I had completely ruined my GPA and everything. I had to spend an extra year in college before finishing it. Finally got the degree to satisfy that. And then thought, you know, maybe I should do corporate but then I thought, nah, I'll hate it there. I wanna do my own thing. And what we're doing is clearly interesting and working and that was the evolution to ViralGains where we said, listen, I don't want the agency model. I want technology, let's build a technology out of what we're doing. And the biggest thing I said, what did we learn the most about social media? And the biggest thing we learned with this was this idea of two way dialogue between consumers and content creators who could be marketers. And this idea of the two way dialogue and just how rich that could be. But right now we're having a conversation, right? And you know, we're on this crazy Zoom world medium where we're not in person, but it's working because I can still share stories and you can see me and you can hear my voice and we're connecting and you know, video was very powerful doing that. But what a lot of marketers were still doing even with digital is they were talking at people. And if I were a wall right now, if you were a wall, I wouldn't enjoy this conversation as much. And so we took this element and said, how do we take this element of just how much buy, you know, participation builds, buy-in from consumers there is, and how do we facilitate this two way dialogue? And as we started doing that, we realized the more consumers tell marketers, the more marketers can be responsive to those consumers in their advertising. And so, you know, we started sort of building on this idea of insights and then realized as those insights are generated, there could be interesting audiences that we create from those insights because people are saying stuff and brands want to be able to find those people later. And so today, I know it took probably a couple of minutes longer than you were thinking the story would take. But basically today, what we do is we help enterprise brands called Fortune 2000. Fortune 500 here in the US with through their agency partners, derive insights on the things that are important to them and building audiences off of those insights that they can then become addressable for the marketer and do it all in the context of advertising they're already spending so that it's not particularly difficult to switch from their current mode of operating.
00:22:35 - 00:24:08
So you started around 2012 and things started changing two or three years later as Facebook moved from being starting to apply algorithms that stopped what made it more and more difficult. I've been interested in your insights which and getting viral traffic is addictive, isn't it? Getting that attention by something you've created is addictive. I was trapped in it back in, you know, the first five or six years of my blog and I cracked the code, I was able to write stuff that, you know, you published it at the right day, sent out the email at the right time, put on the right platform, wrote the right headline, wrote a controversial headline and so on. So that worked and still works today. But back then it worked an absolute treat and it was viral and huge. And that was a rise of companies prior to that Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, which were plugged into the worldwide media machine of social media, which I got excited about as well. So I went, I can reach the world with my own voice, my own content if I create good enough content and you did that, it was fantastic. But that changed in about 2013-14. That was one change and then it happened again and I think Buzzfeed lost a lot of their traffic. So is viral still really important to you or that gigs over in terms of being predictable?
00:24:09 - 00:27:45
It's a fantastic question and the answer is it's completely over, it's over. There was a period of time where with like with many things, right? You've got to catch the waves at the right time as marketers and they do that all the time and you see brands jumping on trends of the day and at the time, you know, like that story that I mentioned where that the blog that we grew through social media, they're still big no longer now relying on any kind of new virality. It might happen once in a while here or there. But anybody trying to engineer it, I would say, forget about it completely and not just that, but, you know, I think the model itself will always had certain kinds of downsides. I think a lot of it was fad-like, it was so cool, like when something went viral, it was so cool. But then when you looked at the, you know, unless like if you were a marketer versus like a blogger to whom you're actually building an audience and building awareness, you know, a marketer would say, you know, let's say it was a cool video and some, you know, car, you know, was doing some crazy stunt and jumping out of the sky. If you're the CEO of Ford, you're like, so how many sales did we make? It's like, not really, I mean, everyone saw the car flying around. It was cool. But as an actual long term marketing tactic, it's not viable. It's just very cool. And we took advantage of it while it was cool. I loved it. Just me messing around. Once in a while, the rare situation was that some brand could leverage it in just the right way. They needed that for some reason. Now it's a lot more about thoughtful. It's almost like the old stuff is the new stuff because it's so easy for people to get caught up in the latest thing, like ChatGPT viral this, you know, this, you know, but not thinking about it, but I could, you know, five more trend of the day or of the moment or Pokemon Go, that was huge for a second then the whole world became infatuated. But the ones that actually stick to the tried and true, understand your audience, get to know them really well, like the insights and really get to understand what they do, understand how to speak to them over time, multiple touch points and really understand that customer journey will always win anyone over. Anyone's chasing the zeitgeist of the day where the caveat is. You know, I like to say, just to certain agencies and marketers to not think of these things as always being or’s meaning there's a room for it, it's just what percent of your focus is it, if 90% of your focus is always on the new shiny thing and 10% of the stuff that works, you're gonna have a bad time. You're usually gonna be a little bit behind. By the time you catch it that the train is just moving and moving and moving, you've got to spend, you know, 90-95% of your time on 90%. It's called 92-50, 92-50% of your time on the stuff that works consistently that you're churning and learning and grinding over time and have your, you know, seven and a half to 10% for the fun new shiny just to try it. What if it works? What if it doesn't hurt? What if we learn something? But to your point, you're right. Things changed when the algorithm sort of changed and viral went away, we still kept the name. But, you know, because it was fun sometimes, you know, once in a while someone thinks we're still doing that, you know, viral stuff. But I'm sticking to the name because I like it.
00:27:45 - 00:29:27
Well, it's a good name and but like you said, the viral gig, which was, you could crack, you crack and I was able to crack the code quite regularly as well. And that worked for my website. So, but you gotta move beyond what we, what I call ego driven attention seeking which is what viral traffic is like, oh, great. I've got a million views or I've got, you know, 1000 comments on LinkedIn because I created great content there and you'd find content work there but didn't work there. So, but you gotta move beyond the ego to actually going just like the question you said before. How many sales do we make? In other words, is there content at the bottom of the funnel where the buyer intent they're ready to buy?
So then this raises the next area which is what you do today and some recommendations you'd make to any entrepreneur, agency, whatever on corporate to how do I get business online? How do I, you know, build brand awareness? How do I get insights about customers then how do I convert them into sales? So bottom of the funnel, if you say buy Ford car now and type it into a Google search engine, that person's ready to buy a car, right? That's, so now that's a certain type of content. So let's move on to what you're doing today in terms of how you're helping corporations basically convert attention into sales. Tell us how you do that in the platform and tech you use.
00:29:28 - 00:35:02
Yeah. So everything we use is our own, like everything is homegrown and you know, go back to that idea that, you know, the old is new. It's interesting watching this industry evolve over time. Now, if I were to speak solely to the digital advertising industry, I've watched it go through this interesting evolution where I'm almost surprised how long it took for us to be where we are as an industry. And I just realized that the story I was gonna tell was probably gonna be 30 minutes long. I'll skip the evolution of digital advertising over the last 10 years. I'm like, no, not a good idea. But what I will say is the most important thing is for brands to and marketers to be pragmatic. And also a little bit more simple, you know, one of the things that kind of saddens me. Maybe I don't wanna be mean about it but where we are as a sort of industry is that it's become so difficult and fragmented and complex. If you look at the number of companies in the space of broadly digital advertising and you look at just the categories and I'm not even talking about, you know, your search or your social, you know, basic big categories or things like that. It's just like demand side platforms, supply side platforms, you know, customer data platforms, data management platforms. It's just like, you know, all these acronyms 24/7 everywhere, you know, ad servers, ad networks. So you which one it is all, you know, there's the data providers and then there's the ones that do the verification and identity resolution. And it's just like if I'm a marketer, I'm just like, which by the way is why they have agencies. Agencies that are, you know, if I'm a marketer, a brand and I'm like, you know, someone comes knocking and they're like, you're what, like we're a CDP that helps with the you oh, how are you different from the DMP from yesterday? Or the SSP told me that they do what the DSP does. And so this is why the agencies exist. And I feel I'm very empathetic to them about that kind of plight because you don't know where to look. And even in these categories in any one of those categories I mentioned there's like three dozen companies, at least there's a few leaders, but there's a bunch of companies there. So you multiply any given category by the number by the universe and you're dealing with I was gonna say over 10,000, I will stand by probably over 10,000 but at least thousands of companies globally that are competing for ad dollars and confusing the bejesus out of our customers about what to do. And that's why I say about going back to basics, kind of like fundamentally back to, okay, before I knew or someone told me that I needed a, one of these things, what do I actually genuinely need? And for us, it comes down to the core of it is understanding consumers and it such a fundamental core because especially if you're on the open web because there's a lot of black boxes with these walt gardens. You don't know what Facebook is doing or where's the data going or where it's coming from. And how those algorithms work and how they're doing that. But if you're advertising on the, if you're comfortable with that, it's one thing which I think they've got, had their hand caught in the cookie jar one too many times to be trusted on certain things and brand safety issues and where the data is going and who they're selling it to. But that's a topic for a different day on that whole thing. But, you know, if you're advertising in the open web, what you need to do is you need to get a very rich understanding of where people are. You were kind of talking about, you know, someone going Googling to buy Ford car. Now, that's like a marketer's dream. If they were only all doing that, like buy the thing now and tell me where exactly where you are. And so the way that we help marketers sort of turn media, and their advertising dollars into ultimately sales is by helping them move consumers from say part A of the journey to part B of the journey. Because you can ask a brand awareness question, hey, are you aware of this brand or you know, are you aware, you know, I don't wanna use any specific examples but or the extra customers. But you know, are you aware this product exists? You first and foremost, then you have some people say yes and no. And you're kind of doing that awareness and then once they realize they're just in a category, you could actually start sussing out what's interesting for them in that category. And so if you're let's say you're, you know, if you're like a Pampers or something, for example, and you're trying to understand, you know, what's important to the consumer in the diaper brand. And is it, you know, that prevents leaks, is that it's, you know, soft to the touch or that it's eco-friendly. And once you understand what is important to someone in a diaper brand, you can then communicate to them in a way that's meaningful for them. But if you're just showing a diaper brand to everybody that you think is a parent or is interested in diapers or maybe you go on parenting.com and you assume, well, I'm just gonna do endemic advertising or I'm just gonna go to where vertical level targeting. It's not gonna be as efficient and likewise, if you're buying data from sources that you don't know where it came from, you run a foul of various privacy problems and I'll tell you in the US certainly privacy is top in mind.
00:35:03 - 00:35:32
What you really let, I suppose, distill it. Number one, you, as we had a chat before we left on a hit record, you said that one of your main ways you do that, in other words is you are much more survey driven to gain insights into customs before you create any content. So you do surveys, gain insights and then create content that communicates with what the consumer wants because you've gained those insights, is that correct?
00:35:33 - 00:37:59
Mostly what where we play in the ecosystem is we're the technology layer, right? Kind of going back to that, you know, not running an agency thing. So for us, the technology layer that brands can use very quickly at massive scale, get insights as they're getting those insights, each bit of information becomes a person goes into an audience segment that they can then reach. But if there's certain insights that indicate to them that they need to change their strategy and content or anything like that, they take that back themselves for them to ideate work with their creative aid partners agencies. And then if it found, you know, if Pampers as an example were a client and then, and they were interested in, you know, reaching people that care about the eco-friendliness of diapers or when they're going in the trash, what happens if they biodegrade or what it is. So they go back and, you know, they can ideate and say we need content. A, we need diapers that are eco-friendly if we don't have them in the first place. But B, once we have those diapers, we need to tell people that, hey, here's what we do to become eco-friendly or sustainable or carbon neutral or whatever it is. And then they can come to us and say, hey, we need people that specifically care about the eco-impact of diapers for their babies. And then we go great because we told you that was important to these million people. Now we have these million people and then we can match this very, perfectly kind of engineered content to the people that care specifically about that. And it's such a powerful thing. If you're a parent and you care about eco-friendliness and all of a sudden, you see an ad for something that is, speaks to the eco-friendly of a diaper. You go, oh my God. How do they know? It's like, well, remember when you told them six months ago, it's like, how do they know? And then you're like, screw all the other brands. I'm buying this one because that kind of, you know, going back to the idea of telling stories, brands are talking to people, people are telling them what they care about. Brands are communicating back and forth. And that's why our sort of mission is empowering that voice of the consumer and that facilitating that conversation. And that's the tie in to where we came from with the social media. That's what it's all about. It's what having a conversation is like if you're talking at people in 2023 and beyond. Good luck, my friend, when you're talking with people, it actually leads to remarkable ROI on advertising dollar spent.
00:37:59 - 00:38:05
So, do you create content in conjunction with the corporate you're working for or the agency you run?
00:38:05 - 00:38:39
No. So they always come up with the content, what we do is help them ideate around. Well, what questions to ask? What do you want to know from consumers if you had a magic wand and what data don't you already have today? Or what data do you wanna have sourced in a privacy compliant way that you know, is accurate? What would that question be and what would you do with it? And once we kind of agree on what those insights should be, then we can marry it with certain content, help them with their advertising, but we don't touch the actual creative itself.
00:38:39 - 00:38:49
Right. Do you actually then help them select the type of advertising they should be using such as programmatic or whatever, or social media paid, you do that as well?
00:38:50 - 00:39:57
So it's not so much that we consult them so much as we help to execute on those. So we absolutely can execute on those programmatic buys. And everything that we do is programmatic. You know, it's not, you know, of course, that, you know, a lot of people say, you know, they came for the technology state for the service. And we of course, will always try to be as helpful for our customers because we want them to succeed with the technology, of course. But we don't actually we don't consult them on, you know, should you spend this much on search versus social? We're very much programmatic, open web shop. That's kind of like that's sort of where we play in the digital ecosystem. Anything that's not a walled garden we can plan there. And social tends to fall into the world gardens. Search is kind of a walled gardens, the agency partners are there to advise brands on what should be my media mix once they've decided that they need to reach people programmatically in the open web and need insights and audiences from them. That's where our agency partners know they can come to us and then we can execute that for them.
00:39:57 - 00:40:03
Right. Does your platform have a name or is it just a platform that you use underneath your brand name?
00:40:03 - 00:40:22
We call it ViralGaines Odyssey. So coming from an internal brainstorm of, you know, sort of Homer and the Odyssey and like the journey of the, sort of the buyer's journey, if you will or the journey of a consumer with a brand, everything startles. It’s all about stories about stories, ViralGaines.
00:40:22 - 00:40:54
So what, so let's explore that a little bit. What are some of the things you've learned on the journey and in terms of as an entrepreneur and you've had to evolve. In other words, you had to move beyond viral because it stopped working. So then you had to evolve. So what have you learned along the way as an entrepreneur, like team building or marketing your own brand? What are some of the things you've learned along the way that you could share with our audience?
00:40:55 - 00:51:18
Yeah, it's a great question. You know, I guess if I had to distill it because, you know, a lot of times things are very case specific. They come up in the context of what should I do here or here. I will say broadly speaking, a few things. I actually, you know, we are our ViralGaines went through a couple accelerators here in the US. And one of the great things I get a chance to do is as part of being an alumni, I get to kind of mentor other entrepreneurs and up and coming startups and I always give them kind of the same advice which is again stage appropriate, right? So these are like, kind of earlier on, it's different versus a little bit late stage, kind of different kind of advice, besides telling them to run for the hills and don't do it because it's not as glorious as people think it is. But, you know, one of the things they say is, when you hear and this is the advice everyone hears, it's not the destination, it's the journey. It's like I want you to like, write that on a piece of paper like 1000 times as though you're in detention in school and you have to really understand that because entrepreneurship, what I've come to learn is mostly, I'll keep it PG, it's mostly, this is something someone told me so I don't take credit for this but they described it in a perfect way. It was like entrepreneurship is like F word, F word, F word, F word, F word, F word, F word. And then it's like, hey, that's neat. It worked for, oh, F word, F word, F word, F word, F word. So just 20 F words followed by the occasional, huh something worked or that's neat. If you don't enjoy those F words, you know, this isn't for you. And it's the same thing that I learned, which is, you know, when you look at athletes, you look at the, you know, ultimate fighting championship or, you know, like fighting, like here in the US, like UFC’s big and Bellator and sort of these professional fighting leagues. You look at these guys, it looks so glorious. They come out and then they fight and then they're victorious. It's like you realize that's like 0.001% of their life, the other 99.999% of them in the gym. Just like, oh God, oh God, I can't do it. And someone's like, you got this, like my heart's giving out. So, you know, one of the things that I've really come to learn and it just sounds so cliche and this is just what I always say is come to love the journey.
Once you commit it and you realize that's what it's gonna be like. Then trust yourself is what I say. And one of the things that took me a while was especially if you're a disruptive entrepreneur, it's so easy to get caught up in trying to figure out why are you having these ideas? Why isn't it done this other way? Because again, if you're really trying to do something a new way, the logical thing that we always wonder to ourselves is why isn't it already done this way? I must be an idiot or this must not be the way to do it. And I had a lot of self doubt along the journey where I would think so many times, even as a professional, that there's some things that I, you know, we didn't really talk about. But that's part of that 10 year evolution of the space where I'd be looking at things being like, why does it work this way? There's gotta be a reason this giant system set up the way that it's set up. And I don't even want to ask, like, I'm scared to ask, I don't know why it works this way. And at this point, I'm too scared to ask because everybody seems to be going along with this way of doing things. And it took a while for me to kind of be like, no, I have an intuition and this is illogical and I believe in this deeply and I just know that it's, this is wrong or this is right or this could be easier or should it should be different. And it took a while for me to lean into that eradicate the self doubt and realize, look, if I'm wrong, at least I'm making a statement and someone can tell me rather than having these limiting beliefs. So I think if any entrepreneur can genuinely take those two things, you know, limit the self doubt, which allows them to work quickly, you know, efficiently, all those things and to enjoy the constant suck and fail. I think they'll succeed. And the last thing I'll say, and this comes back from my tinkering days and this isn't even something I think I could teach because either people do or they don't. But once in a while, bend certain rules that aren't the law, don't bend the law, but bend certain rules about the way that things need to be done. I'll give you a quick, quick anecdote.
Back when we were first starting and we were rebranding, you know, we had the original three founders and the next seven people were marketing interns. We had seven marketing interns because you were asking about how do you brand yourself? And this is, you know, the 2012-2013 and we had these interns and I'll tell you this much. They'd be putting in like 40-60 hours. Like some of them were like, I just wanted, like some of them were just like, I just want to help volunteer. I just wanna learn stuff. They weren't even official interns. They were just people that would hang out with us because they kind of liked their energy and it was very high and I could go on and on about the value of that, you know, people ask about like, how do you find mentors? And I'm like, well, if you're in there and you're like, you know, will you be my mentor, go in there and be like, yo, what's up, man? You know, it would be exciting. You use your energy and we use our energy to attract a lot of talent. So when we were small, we looked huge, we had these seven interns on social media tweeting at people, posting stuff, they'd go to events and conferences and they would just walk around with our shirts and customers would be like, yeah, you guys are huge, right? They didn't know that there was just like three people who were barely getting started. Like I see you guys everywhere. You're tweeting like 20 times a day, you like 50 blog posts up at all times, you're making video content because we were good at doing what we were doing. And so it's kind of like, it's not even, there's not even a rule around this, but it's almost like a life, it's like a hack. It's like, how do you appear much bigger than you are? It's like, I don't know, just make a lot of noise. You can pretend to be bigger than you are before you even are as big as you are. And that's like the idea of like doing things that I can't, we can't really teach. And the last example I'll give and I promise it's the last one. Here's an actual practical one that's even a little bit more applicable when we were, you know, raising money. You know, if I, you know, if these early investors are listening, I love you guys to death. And, and this is not meant in any way to be a negative thing, it's actually a positive thing. But, you know, we were very mindful about some of the first people who raised money from. And there's a few names here in Boston that just are, were well known. Everybody knew these investors. And what we said to ourselves was what do we know about psychology? You know, things like FOMO and how do we do that? And so one of the things we said was we very methodically identified, you know, imagine we were like detectives. We had like a wall of like, here's the ones, here's they gotta get to. And what most people will do is when they're pitching people, they're asking questions, like, how much are you willing to invest? How do I get the most out of you? We flipped the question, the question we asked was, what's the least amount you're willing to invest? I don't even want you to make this a difficult decision for you. Will you invest for 1000 bucks? Why was that important? So, you know, the first few investors we got, they invested what was little to them. Why? Because then we could say it was not a lot of money for them to say yes to. And we gave them a good deal. So we weren't very dilutive because it's not like we raised, you know, hundreds of thousands and kind of gave away the farm. We said, what's the least you're willing to take. What happened was once we got the first one, the first few, we went to the fourth one and said, hey, we're ViralGaines, you know, are you interested in investing? And they like, oh, like, oh, is anyone else saying, I'm like, well, these three people have already invested, like who's invested? You got so and so and so and so and so it's like, yeah, they're like, okay, I'm very interested. So, well, what's the least, you know, like, you know, by the way, we knew who's four and 5th and 5th and 6th and 5th. By the time we got to the, you know, 20th investor, our first round, we raced from like 60 individual investors here in Boston. We had a giant seed round. By the time we got to the 20th, we were like, hey, you know, we're ViralGaines. Here's the 20 investors that have already invested. They would just go, I don't care what you do. Here's take, shut up and take my money and that's like a bending of the rules that sort of going back to the, like, how do you teach that? And I would just say the creativity, you know, for any entrepreneur behind what you do and the thoughtfulness, think what we did rather than saying, will you invest a million bucks and them saying, no, we said, will you give us 1000 bucks? All I wanna do is be able to say you're in. Well, they don't need to know how much you're in for. They don't need to know any of that. They just need to know that you're in. It'd be like me going to Mark Cuban being like, I'll give you 0.0001% of my company for a dollar. And he's like, sure I'll give you a buck, whatever and then I can go walk around and be like, yeah, so Mark Cuban's an investor, you know, like you say that to anybody, they're gonna be like you made Mark Cuban an investor? I'm in, well, if he's there, I'm in and long went way of saying we probably did dozens of these clever life-hacky like things that you just gotta be. This is going back to the self doubt thing. It's like, who are we to invent a new way to ask investors for money? And we were like, I don't know, just do it anyways and it worked and that's what I'd say. It. Be creative, be in it for the long haul. It ain't all glory. And then, you know, that self doubt thing, it's just, it's useless, you know, mind clutter, just get rid of it. And plus maybe 30 other things I tell them but next, next time.
00:51:18 - 00:52:03
Great. Well, thanks for sharing that. Now, I have one other, one last question, which is about the now and the future and it's two letters, it's called AI. So where and ChatGPT which is almost synonymous now. Alright. So where do you see AI and ChatGPT, those technologies in today and in the future for marketing. And let's just keep it to marketing, for example, where do you see that? And how are you guys using it? So there's two questions there. So I'd be interested in your thoughts.
00:52:03 - 00:52:06
You didn't say five to 10 years? Did you, did I hear that right?
00:52:06 - 00:52:08
You can say five to 10 if you like.
00:52:08 - 01:01:57
I have. Okay. Maybe I heard that. Maybe it was another interview you were doing with someone else. But yeah, I have no idea. 10 years from now, like, you know, I refuse to make any predictions. About five years is becoming tough, but I'll tell you what's interesting. I think there's gonna be a, I'll start with a prediction first and I'll talk about what we're doing. There's gonna be, I think, renaissance level innovation in the creative sector of marketing. What I've seen these technologies do on the creative side is nothing short of, for me, miraculous, truly miraculous. I've seen some of the imagery that it creates. We were talking a little bit about that. The images, it's starting to create videos, it's starting to, you know, it could listen to someone talking for about 15 seconds and go, alright, I got you, I've listened to you enough and it can start speaking just like you. I saw recently like a 12 minute trailer for a movie. Not a 12 minute trailer for a movie. I think it was the movie itself, like a 12 minute movie. Completely prompt driven AI generative. Was it good? No. Was it revolutionary for what I'd ever seen before? Yes. And the crazy thing is, you know, you've seen this, you know, GPT launches and it's kind of neat, kind of sucks, okay, fast forward two months. How about now? It's like, holy crap. And then it's like, you know, then GPT 4 comes out and it's like, alright, I'm going home, you know, I think between 3.5 and four, you know, if you look at certain metrics, it went from being in the bottom 10th percentile for how good people are to the top 10th percentile for how good people are just like that. And I think if they can solve certain issues with, you know, certain scaling issues and the challenge of creating new, more advanced models, which they'll solve. Right now, you know, if they were to create a GPT 5, I'm not convinced that they even could technologically do it. Just the amount of computing power required to run some of these models. I think is stressing the system and the complexity of them, but they'll figure it out. A lot of this is just technological challenges that we haven't sought to face because we haven't had the need for this level of a modeling. But I think they'll figure those out. And my prediction is that creative at scale and personalized, creative at scale is going to become a lot more feasible. There was something the industry tried to do creative with certain technologies and it was just never quite what it needed to be. Whereas on the flip side, so I think where the industry faltered on the sort of creative technology it made up for on the foundational targeting, pipe connection technology. So like if you want to do programmatic advertising, it's amazing what we can do, you know, we can collect insights from tens of thousands of people in seconds. Put it into audiences, pour it into, you know, a different platform, send it to the customer, they can immediately be targeting them with other things. So a lot of that piping that we spent most of our technology on like optimizing show Jeff this ad or this ad and why and you know, kind of like figure it out like, you know, the probability that you'll convert on any one of those and tons of that sort of framework is laid out there and there's some very sophisticated tools. If you try to use Google AdWords, the damn thing is even I'm confused sometimes or Facebook advertising marketers that execute campaigns have to be very tool savvy. But that's where a lot of us have spent most of our focus on that technology because creative was very difficult. But what AI can do now is to generate beautiful imagery on the fly with very few prompts. I mean, imagine if you know you're browsing, imagine you're browsing the New York Times or some other, you know, website or whatever MotorTrend or, and in real time there's certain information that the publisher knows about you. What device are you on? Where are you in the world? What else do we know about you based on the other data sources we have access to. Maybe you're reading an article about, you know, the latest supercar you could have, you could have one of these AIs generate on the fly. You could literally almost like imagine like a reverse prompt where it's asking, hey, I have a person hypothetically, ChatGPT I'm on, I'm this blog and the person's reading an article about this and here's what I know about them. What would be an ad that, you know, here's like the foundational elements of it. Maybe I want, you know, I'm Ford and I want to show them the new Ford Mustang. And I want an ad that like, just that you think, knowing the entire corpus of human knowledge and at least the entirety of all psychological literature that's ever been written. What do you think Jeff would like in this case? And he'll go, here's your ad for you. So I think that as a five year out reality is not impossible if we don't run into like an S curve problem with some of the stuff so personalized advertising at scale and will make marketers lives for creative amazing. And I'm sure you've heard of so many people that are using it now, you could say I need my next five blog posts. This is available today. It's like I want to write a blog post about this. It's like here's a blog post like nah I want it to be about this instead. Here it goes. Yeah, but I wanted the style of Shakespeare. Here you go. No, but I want every word to begin with the letter B and every third word with an S, it's like here you go. And they can be pumping out those articles, you know, one article about this or that. So funny enough again, we won't have enough time to talk about this. But I think we're gonna, the industry will run into a little bit of a challenge of garbage content which is websites that will prop up very quickly in low quality YouTube channels and low quality websites and publishers where it's just AI generated content, just kind of creating this massive amount of generic, like text gaming, the SEO engines and just kind of funneling people to it. But over time, I think we'll find a solution to that where we get into a more interesting realm where marketers are using it to help them with their marketing strategy. Even today, you could ask it if you're an entrepreneur, you could probably go to ChatGPT and say I'm starting this kind of business. Give me like an MBA level business strategy that's actually quite sound that covers all the areas and it'll do that. It'll actually do that. And you're not, you know, you're not as worried if you're writing code that it'll make a little mistake. It puts a little hallucinates a little bit, you know, I mean, you can kind of deal with that. So you could do that as an entrepreneur and it'll tell you, you can say, what about this thing? What about that thing? What about this thing? So I think I think marketing, advertising, these industries could not be more primed for technologies like generative AI to help on the ideation and content side, strategy side, but also then the execution side and that's some of the stuff that we're excited about on our end, we're using it even on the most simple level. We basically gave everybody at our company a license to ChatGPT. And we said, you know, it's not a lot, it's like 20 bucks a month. We just said everybody gets this. We had an AI Day, we took everybody, you know, several times we've met, we've brought everybody in together to kind of showcase their cool funky things they're doing. We literally said, play with Dolly, play with it with ChatGPT, play with Bard, play with anything you want, work related, not work related as much as humanly possible. And we kind of had like a show and tell day. and also, and some folks were like, hey, it can help, you know, with it can certainly help a marketing team come up with content pitches, certain aspects of proposal writing. It certainly helped me with things like email writing which is amazing that it could actually save me time. You know, me personally, you know, I've got folks that will send me like a 40 page report and, you know, it's like, hey, here's this studied thing on the industry about the data marketplace and I'm like, who's got time for that? So I'm like copy paste, hey ChatGPT like, what do I, like give me a one page summary of this and it'll tell me and it'll be damn but like, dang good. I'm gonna ask you a few times to make sure it says the same thing three times because like, I don't want to get back to the person that sends it. Like, it was really fascinating what they said about the elephants being mined for data. And they're like, you know what I'm like, yeah, I totally read the report of the elephants, you know, in Tanzania. So I might ask it a few times, but you're sure that this is what this 40 page report is about. But I'm using it to save time across the board. And we're certainly looking into it for all kinds of interesting ways that we can apply it to ask better questions. You know, that's another way you can do is, you know, hey, Pampers is curious about these things, what questions should they ask? ChatGPT is a beautiful tool to tell a marketer. Here's some interesting ways you can use ViralGains to glean insights and build audiences for this journey that you're trying to build with these consumers. So I'm super excited about it. Five years from now. I think things look great beyond that. You'll find me in a bunker somewhere. You know, swatting it away when it becomes sentience. I'm still not sure on that whole thing, but we'll see.
01:01:58 - 01:02:53
Yeah, we'll just, it'll unfold in its own creative way. And I think the things you mentioned like AI helping us as humans being even more creative, I think also to scale creativity, also scale content. Also to provide insights into data that you just couldn't do as a human quickly or easily. And even like you said, distill all this noise of this 40 page proposal into a summary for me, thank you very much. So there's a lot of ways AI can help and thank you very much for sharing how it is impacting today, how you work and how people use it for marketing. So how can people contact you Dan, is the best way to contact you and the team? If they want to use your services or just wanna really annoy you or something. So tell us what's the best way to contact you.
01:02:53 - 01:03:42
The way to annoy me is to send me an email. That's a quick question. That's the number one way to annoy me. But if you want to do it kindly, the best way to contact me is connect with me on LinkedIn. And it's certainly anyone looking to actually work with ViralGains to help, you know, glean insights about their audiences or insights about things about the audiences that they might not know to augment their existing data strategy. They can build those audiences out. They can certainly go to our website, fill out a contact, reach out to us and I'll certainly mention that you saw me on the show, give you a nice, great special treatment. The White Glove Service by me personally, I'll manage your campaign personally. But there's, yeah, the number of ways they can reach me that all work.
01:03:42 - 01:03:51
Right. Thank you, Dan, for sharing those insights and your journey and your stories. And I look forward to meeting you in Boston one day in real life.
01:03:52 - 01:03:56
I would love that, Jeff. Thanks so much for having me on the show. It was really a pleasure to be here.
01:03:56 - 01:04:01
It's been a pleasure mate, as we say in Australia. As I said in America, it's been a pleasure buddy. Thank you very much.
01:04:02 - 01:04:02
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