Hiten Shah is an entrepreneur, start-up advisor and angel investor. His SaaS businesses have focussed on analytics, content marketing and teaching others how to do better in their jobs. In this interview, Hiten shares tips on how to be a great marketer and the details of his new venture.
TL;DR: The highlights
- On CrazyEgg, “We were lucky more than anything else. We tried 12 things, knowing that eventually something would work.”
- If you’re just willing to do the work, you can get the traffic.
- Don’t copy case studies. Instead turn the results into new ideas to test.
- New venture, Quick Sprout, will help people with the application of optimisation advice.
- Read The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development by Patrick Vlaskovits.
How do you class yourself, a marketer, a founder, a developer or a combination?
If you really look at all the things I’ve done and am doing, you’d probably think I’m a marketer. But honestly, I’d say I’m a businessman. I like all things business really and business is literally creating something out of nothing that people are willing to pay for.
What got you into marketing as a businessman?
My early businesses weren’t tech-focused but my co-founder (Neil Patel), at 18 was already doing SEO and helping out other folks.
He had one customer paying him $3500 a month to do SEO. When I looked at this, I’m like, “Oh, so you’re making money? I kind of know how you’re making money and I know how to manage money so that you’re making more than you’re spending”. And so I got into online marketing because of him.
We started the consulting company, helping people to do SEO. And then really fast, as dig.com and social media started taking off, we started doing social media and content. And then at some point, we just started building products. One out of about 12 worked and that was Crazy Egg.
At what point did you know Crazy Egg was going to work?
Honestly, when I got pulled into customer support. We got pulled into help with support because when we put the product out people just loved it.
We didn’t even realise how lucky we were. It was a fantastic product at the time because it made all this daunting analytic stuff easy to understand. We just visually showed you where people were clicking on top of your website. And we were one of the first companies to do that. It’s safe for us to say we pioneered it.
Being able to display analytics to people who aren’t analysts, marketers, tech people, engineers, hit a nerve and the timing was right.
Saying that though, I would attribute more of the success of Crazy Egg to luck, especially initially, than anything else.
Why do you call it luck?
We tried 12 things, knowing that eventually something would work.
Neil and I, our biggest tool for learning is doing. So we built 12 things. We didn’t know how to build software. I wasn’t that conscious of that, though. He was technical from a marketing standpoint. He wanted to just geek out on the tech side of it and do the work and make people get more traffic. I led the team as CEO.
That’s a theme in our success actually. It’s kind of all about marketing and traffic and content. Either we’re serving marketers or we’re serving product people. A lot of Crazy Egg users are designers and product people and KISSmetrics users are marketers.
Our success came from trying to help people by providing educational material or content. If you want to be a good marketer then put great stuff out there that other people can learn from and action.
We built a brand we wanted to build, which is one of being helpful, helping people improve in their jobs.
What challenges did you face that start-ups now might not?
Well, we’re starting a new company right now and honestly we still have to do all the work any start-up would have to do.
You could say it’s harder than ever to build a great product but I think it’s easier than ever to get the distribution. We might have had major advantages years ago, given our existing audience but, now, your ability to put a blog post out and get ten thousand views on it is much, much easier.
When you’re starting to build a brand, you can write an in-depth article that’s spot on and you’ll get the attention. There are so many tools for distribution that it doesn’t require as much as it used to many years ago. If you can write a blog post that gets a few hundred or thousand views, you’re already building an audience. And that’s what we have to repeatedly do.
Most people are just not willing to do the work. But if you’re just willing to do the work these days, you can get the traffic, you can build the distribution.
Is it effort or love that creates great content?
You have to give a shit. I think the only way to make something great, regardless of what it is, is effort with the right quality. If you can hit a nerve or hit on something timely, like I did with the Slack survey I did last year, that’s great content.
But, yes, I think giving a shit about what you’re doing, really caring, is probably the difference in anything I’ve seen done. Actually it is possible if you don’t give a shit, but then you’re relying fully on the wind behind your back and luck.
What about all these blogs we see boasting big wins e.g. “I made the conversion rate go from 1% to 50%”. Is that kind of blog aspirational for founders and marketers?
I think that the Internet is very early. SaaS is very early. Consumer businesses on the Internet are also very early. So when you read something about somebody increasing conversion, the only thing I would do with that is convert it to ideas instead of the results.
For you to take action on someone else’s case study you have to test it. There’s no other option, right? And then you have to determine, out of all those ideas out there, which ones are worthy of testing for your situation.
And so we do take case studies. We have this massive list of ideas that other people have had and we’ll just look at it and be like, “Oh, that one’s good. It looks like that one might work in this scenario.”
Those posts make great content though because people love to click on it and read about it.
What’s your advice for anyone who has to challenge someone, a client or boss maybe, who says, “I want it to be red or green or blue.”?
This is really easy. If you’re not data informed about your decision making, then you’re screwed. So if I’m in a discussion about an idea, I’m like, “Alright, there’s a few tactics here. One, can we just go test it? Do we have enough conviction? Not on the ideas, but on the fact that we’ve got to figure this out. So do we go test it? Or do we have more questions before we even make a decision on testing it or not?”
That’s honestly all that most meetings should boil down to in a company. You’re never sure of anything when you’re operating a business. You’re only sure of the data you have and your opinion of what to do with that information. Even when you’ve had debates, if you really dig into a debate and try to understand where people are coming from, they’re coming from some data. They just don’t know it.
Having a gut feel, even unconsciously based on data, can’t you get that wrong?
Here’s the awesome thing about data from your gut; people will believe you as long as your gut is right. So you can be a strong personality and push these changes without testing them, but you’d better be right. What someone coming up, and what I did, is figure out whether you’re going to be long-term successful with your current approach.
So apart from learning from other people’s content, is formal training important?
We have been experimenting for years with how to educate marketers. Our primary focus is going to go from just educating to actually helping them apply the things through software. So, it’ll be easier to implement the advice that we already give through the blog.
There’s a few things we’ve done before that we’ve learned a ton from. We have a university and we’ve built videos. We used to charge for it. We don’t charge anymore. We’ve learned a whole bunch about education and we realised that it takes dedication to always keeping that content fresh. And when you have a lot of these videos based on software, and software that’s changing, it’s very hard to keep your content fresh.
We’ve done webinars. We’ve done paid membership sites. We’ve experimented with all kinds of things with our audiences. What we realised is that we’re not necessarily ready for that because we couldn’t figure out a path to making that something we can keep doing and investing a lot in.
Tell me more your new business, Quick Sprout.
Yeah, so this is what I mentioned earlier, helping people apply optimisations with software, that’s Quick Sprout. We’re trying to build the best tool to help people create better content and get more traffic and conversions from it.
Our main goal is to provide the best product possible for people to increase their traffic from blogging and conversions.
Hiten’s reading list
- The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development by Patrick Vlaskovits. He’s a good friend and this is a good quick book everyone should read.
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield: for helping you get out of a creative slump. This will give you a kick in the ass.
Photo credit: Mashable