#27: Rand Fishkin: Think Big, Start Small – the No-Bulls&#! Guide to Starting a Business
30 March 2017
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“It’s OK to build something small, it’s OK if it doesn’t work out, maybe it will work next time. Don’t judge yourself too harshly and don’t compare yourself to Zuckerberg.”

From today’s episode you’ll learn:

Today's guest

Rand Fishkin
Rand Fishkin uses the ludicrous title, Wizard of Moz. He's founder and former CEO of Moz, board member at presentation software startup Haiku Deck, co-author of a pair of books on SEO, and co-founder of Rand's an unsaveable addict of all things content, search, & social on the web, from his multiple blogs to Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, and a shared Instagram account. In his miniscule spare time, he likes to galavant around the world with Geraldine and then read about it on her superbly enjoyable travel blog.

Podcast transcript

Hello guys, it’s Justyna, LiveChat Content Writer, and you’re listening to Business Sidekick, a podcast dedicated to growing an online business!

It’s a special, 27th episode of Business Sidekick and you know what? It’s been a year since I started this podcast!

On this occasion, I have a very special guest and it’s Rand Fishkin, a founder and former CEO of Moz, board member at Haiku Deck, co-author of a couple of books on SEO, and co-founder of

I asked Rand about the most important elements of growing Moz, and I’m taking you into a journey from the first steps of business building to more advanced growing strategies.

Rand shares awesome insights about growing your business, so enjoy!

Alright so hello Rand, thanks a lot for accepting my invitation, I’m happy to have you in Business Sidekick!

My pleasure Justyna, thank you for having me.

Can you please tell me something about yourself and the role you played in Moz?

Sure, I am Moz’s co-founder, I started the company as a blog where I would share my thoughts about SEO and web marketing way back in late 2003, early 2004. That evolved into a consulting business at first, for a few years, and then in 2007 into a software business.

And over the last 10 years we’ve grown to 35 000 plus customers, and a team of 155 people here in Seattle, 45 million dollars of revenue, so it’s been an exciting journey.

Yeah well I had to ask this question because it’s kind of you know, entrepreneurs wet dream. So how did it happen that only a couple of years after SEO Moz was founded it became so successful, is it because you started writing your blog in 2004?

Yeah, yeah, I mean the blog you know the blog was built over 3 or 4 years and that gave us the audience essentially to, that we could reach with our software. So when we launched the software in 2007 we didn’t have to build up a bunch of marketing mussels and attempt to reach out audience, we had the audience baked in already.

So I think that kind of gave us a kick start on growing. And, you know, Moz, I think it was very well know even in 2008 or 2009 but it was not, you know, it’s not a big business. It sort of took a long time to become what we are today, I think we, let’s see we probably didn’t pass 10 million dollars in revenue until 2011 so... 2012, actually. Yeah so it’s been a, it’s been a long steady journey not an overnight success.

It sound amazing especially that today’s interview is the final interview of Business Sidekick’s first season and I would just like to know did you manage to overcome the problems that every business faces at the very beginning.

So my first question would be: you founded Moz because you believed it would be successful right?

No I did not found Moz with the idea that it would become a business of any kind, right. It was very much an accidental start up.

It doesn’t sound like a proper tip for our listeners.

But I think this is how many many great businesses get started right. It’s a founder or a team who has a problem or you know is working in the market and they see a paying point and so they try to solve it for themselves or for people around them, and then they make it available, maybe that product or service available for others, and it starts to take off…

And then they slowly sort of learn through experimentation, and trial and error - and that is exactly what happened with Moz. We had a consulting business, we were doing web design we realised that a lot of our client’s needed a SEO, so I started learning SEO, and then I started writing about it, and realised that oh there is a big group of people who are trying to learn about SEO, and my writing seems to be interesting to at least some of them, and I got better and better at blogging and covering the space.

That turned into, you know, an audience that was then ripe for wanting tools and software to automate their workflows because they were frustrated by all the manual work that they had to do.

And of course we had built tools for ourselves because we had that same problem, and the problem applied to lots of other people as well, especially people who were already in our audience right. If I was writing about the problem, that meant the people who were reading it had that problem.

So it’s almost like a market research by blogging. You know it’s a very unusual way to do it but I think a powerful one because I think you build up an audience a passionate audience who cares about the solution and cares about you in addition to validating, you know that there is a market space for this.

And what was the exact problem you had?

Well so, SEO, it historically had been more so and even today it was a very manual process. You know the process of: OK who is my audience and who are their influencers. What words and phrases are they searching for in Google, what content do they wish was out there, how do I produce that content, how do I get high rankings to that content, why does some pages rank above others, how do I earn the ranking signals that I need you know onpage links, engagements, speed, all those kinds of things, how do I make my website SEO friendly and search engine crawler friendly, how do I identify problems and opportunities, how do I see what my competition is doing.

That was all stuff that you had to you know plug in a bunch of websites, and do a lot of searching and do a lot of manual work, or you know write your own tools and software to crawls things the way you needed, and export them to CSV and load it into Excel, and you know play with pivot tables to get just the data you needed and then imitate it the way you want it...

When in fact a good piece of software should do that for you and that was, that was the problem that our software solved and continues to try and solve.

It sounds like a tough job for one person!

Oh my God, right? I really feel for SEO’s I do a little bit of SEO consulting myself mostly for non profits or the occasional startup that I’m friendly with, but certainly it’s the case that this in an immensely challenging workload for a single person or even a small team and I think that’s why you see us SEO consultants, great SEO consultants getting $500, $800, $1000 an hour.

Yeah, speaking of money I have a question that’s particularly important for, you know, young entrepreneurs. How can you finance your business if you are just starting, how to indicate how much money you need for the start and of course how to survive the early years?

Yeah, I really like the model of what’s today in the startup world called bootstrapping. Where you essentially make sure that you can go through a small number of early customers, make enough revenue to support even slow growth of your business, and I think consulting is a way to do that, a very simple product that is low cost and you have 5 or 10 customers that you know want exactly this thing, and so you build it just for them and then you start to scale it out and try and find other customers, and I think those are, those are great ways to go.

And then, what’s nice is, if you have a little bit of money coming in through whatever you are doing, product or services, you can then integrate slowly on the product, improve it, improve your marketing, and go after a funding of many kinds right.

So you can look at government loans, small business administration here in the United States, or you can look at Banks, you can look at friends and family or angel investors, you could look at VC’s if you are trying to build something immensely big. You can look at smaller funds, if you are aiming for more of a maybe a midsize firm.

So there’s many opportunities like that and I’ve, I like that a lot. I think being able to survive on the revenue that you’re already building gives you, you know infinite runway, rather than saying: you know what I need $500 000 or I need $1 000 000 before I can start my business.

You know if you can start a small amount of your business in your afterhours time, or if you can take 6 months off of your job and you know, use a little bit of your severance or your savings or your partner, or your significant other’s income to be able to fund that early runway, so you can build enough to have some revenue, I think that’s a great way to go.

Yeah I think that many people think that they are able to repeat the Zuckerberg effect.

Zuckerberg?! You are talking about someone who didn’t have to make money for years because his parent had tons of money and he was going to Harvard, right?

I mean, he was rich before he founded Facebook, it’s not like, that’s not a chain, that’s not the same!

I think that normal people have everyday problems, they have health issues to worry about they have, they have family they have to take care of, you know they financial stress in their lives, they have to worry about paying rent. You know, Mark Zuckerberg did not have to worry about paying rent.

So I wouldn’t compare yourself there you know that’s fair, I think it’s great... You know it’s one of the things that’s so important is that startup founders or business founders of any kind recognise how important other people are to their success.

So Moz... You know, yeah, I started it with my co founder which is my mom, Julian... But we weren’t making enough money that I could pay rent or my bills or anything like that.

I was living with my girlfriend who’s now my wife, Geraldine, she paid our bills, our rent, you know, I bought the occasional bottle of wine, that all my salary could afford.

So, you know, I’ve never owned a car so I drove her car, she funded, those at least 4 years of the early days.

Oh my gosh.

I couldn’t afford it. Yeah.

Yeah that’s the true story of success.

Yeah, I think that’s it, right?

It’s the wonderful loving, caring people in our lives who give us the ability, they give us the financial stability, and the emotional support and the, you know, the courage to be able to do this.

I think it’s, you know, just folly when we you know when we put founders on a pedestal and so: oh, this person build this amazing business and aren’t they incredible.

And what about the people who supported that? What about their friends and their family, their husband, or their wife, their boyfriend or their girlfriend who was there and doesn’t get the applause and the credit but was there the whole time.

So true, so true. Yeah, alright so let’s move a little bit forward. I’m wondering if you as a SEO and content marketing expert can you give any pieces of advice about what’s the most important when you build a website?

Yeah I think this is where it comes down to being able to knowing your audience extremely well, and then to know your strengths and weaknesses as well.

If you for example were to say to me you know: Rand I am not a great creator of content, my content marketing is not my thing but I am a good relationship builder, like I, like that’s something that’s real powerful for me. I’d say: that’s fine, that’s really great, why don’t we make your website a very small site, it doesn’t need to be targeting a ton of keywords, it doesn’t have to have a tremendous amount of content, it does needs to do a great job of selling those folks who you think are in your target audience on your product or services, and you’re going to let the product or services speak for themselves, and you’re gonna go use relationship marketing.

Your personal connections, your emails, your phone calls, your visits to conferences and events as your primary marketing channel. And you’re going to do that until you grow big enough to were you maybe could hire someone who could do more content and more SEO for your site.

And I think that’s a fine thing to do. And there is not one one formula for a successful site or one formula for a successful web marketing strategy. It is all about identifying what works with your audience and if your audience’s influences, and about recognizing where you can contribute unique value in your eco-system.

And that’s funny because so many people are telling that if you have to, if you want to have a successful website you have to have a beautiful copy, fantastic pictures, awesome navigation, website architecture and blog of course blog you end up with a company you are selling socks and you’re running a fashion blog and that type of thing at the beginning!

Yeah, and if you are a fashion blogger who loves writing who loves the space who is wonderful at coverage and gets attention you know that’s how you build your business - great! Do that and then also be selling socks, right.

But if you are someone who is passionate about the business of selling socks, the manufacturing of them and the creation of them, and you know you’re marketing strength is in email or your marketing strength is in relationships, your marketing strength is in video, your marketing strength is in social media, fine! Use those channels!

Don’t feel like you because everyone says: oh a blog is important that you have to have one. A blog is one tactic, but you don’t need it. Twitter is one tactic, but you don’t need it. Facebook is one tactic, you don’t need it.

I mean would recommend that you claim your Facebook and Twitter profiles so that later on your chose to invest in them and you own them and you have them, but I would not pause it that those are, that any marketing tactic is default.

The funny thing I’m thinking is that your tactic is kind of think big, start small and that something.


I don’t hear about often you know.

I love that, think big, start small, I’m writing that down. It’s gonna be the title of my next book.

I’ll send you my bill. Speaking about content marketing, market is so saturated there is so many blogs, even so many podcasts. Do you think that it still possible to sell with content marketing and to become an expert thanks to content marketing?


I don’t think a saturated field simply means that it’s more difficult to stand out but it also means there is a much bigger audience to reach. So 10 years ago there were only a handful of well there is a good handful of popular SEO blogs.

Today there are many many more, but the audience is also you know 5 to 10 times the size that it was. I think the opportunity is very exciting and I know that dozens of people at least, who started a podcast or a video series or a new blog or a new website or a space or a social account, that’s become very popular and very successful in only the last few years.

That is not, it is a barrier to entry, because the space is so saturated, but if you have unique value that you can provide and this is the channel that you want to build strength in and you got passion rounded I would certainly urge you to invest.

My caviar to that is: don’t assume that it’s going to work the first time you try it. Don’t assume that it’s going to work in the first month or the first 6 months. Give yourself a couple of years to get good at any tactic you want especially a content marketing tactic which is really about learning your audience, and learning your writing style, and your content creation style, and iterating and iterating and getting better and better.

I think it’s so dangerous when people assume that you know oh you know we been blogging for 3 months we haven’t had any success with it, we’re throwing in the towel.

It happens so often.

Yeah, it does! It’s crazy to think that way, Moz’s blog wasn’t successful in its first year, barely successful in its first 2, you got to give it a lot of time.

And how do you measure the success?

Ah, I think that that thankfully is a little bit easier today than it has been in the past.

There is sort of 3 things that id look at raw traffic and engagement, so time on site and just for a visit and all those kinds of things. And I did look at your conversion rates so you can see when people are coming to your content whether they are converting to, you know, whatever it is you know your contact page or filling out a form to get more information, or signing up for your product, your free trial, putting in your credit card whatever it is.

And then you can also do that with multi visit analytics, and that’s more complicated to set up, but that’s certainly possible both in something like a free tool like Google Analytics or more complicated tools like you know Kissmetrix, or Mixpanel, or Omniture or what have you. And then you can see: oh people visit my site 6 or 7 times on average before they sign up for it, for credit card free trial, and here’s the pages on average they tend to visit, and here’s the contribution of those pages.

It’s a little bit of a challenge but certainly worth doing if you are trying to build up a big funnel.

OK so content marketing is one thing that can help you gain more website visitors and are there any tactics that you would, you know, suggest checking, like paid apps, or maybe social media perhaps?

Yeah I personally love social, I think it’s a great way to build an audience and to gain an influential following, it think it does work really really well in combination with content, with at least come content, right, because you want your website to be able to be the next logical step that people have once they get interested in what they are sharing on social.

But you can do that in many ways: that could be driven by coupons or discounts, or you know free tools, or you know, a sign up for a free webinar, or fill out this form to get in touch, whatever it is, get a demo, that kind of things.

But it doesn’t have to be a giant website, it just needs to be the central place that people go to, after they you know check you out on social. But social is great amplification and reach channel.

And also, I like paid ads, but paid ads tend to work well when you already have a functioning funnel of some kind, so if your organic traffic is doing well, paid tends to do quite well. If your organic traffic is small or nonexistent and you’re not doing too well with it, you generally struggle with paid as well.

Then I think that comes down to, you know, if your brand is not well known, if you don’t have some type of an audience through some channels whether that’s email or search or social, or content it’s really tough to convince someone to buy from you on their first experience with your brand.

It’s much easier if they have visited your website 3 or 4 times and they’ve heard some good stuff about you, and maybe their friend said something nice, then you tend to convert well, but pretty tough to convert on a first visit or on a first frame touch.

I wanted to ask you if you think organic traffic is the best source of, you know, of traffic?


I mean you know when I say organic traffic there’s a lot of ways to build that. You can build that traffic offline, through word of mouth, or through events and conferences, through relationship building, you could certainly do it through traditional advertising, right, sort of brand advertising online or offline but build up in association with your brand you could do it through sponsorships.

But you need to get those first few brand touches, and that positive brand association going, and type in traffic or people looking for you already.

Or you can invest in one of many organic web traffic strategies like SEO, or social media, or content marketing, or email or, you know, PR, link building, like getting your traffic from referring links, barnacle SEO, where you sort of build up your content and your brand on other sites that rank highly, because you’re doesn’t yet, but you need, you know you need that, that organic platform of some kind to be bringing in traffic, otherwise you have a high risk of failure early on.

Alright and now the last questions, if I ask you to share a piece of advice for starting and young entrepreneurs or a couple of words of encouragement and motivation, what would it be?


I think entrepreneurship is, it is very challenging, it can feel lonely, it can feel like you have to prove yourself to someone, right, that you’re competing, you know competing against all these impossibly hard to achieve figures.

If you are an entrepreneur, you know Richard Branson and its Eli Musk and its Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, and that’s who you compare yourself too and I think that’s actually dangerous.

I think that makes you, that makes all of us, bias in wrong headed kinds of ways. It makes us judge ourselves more harshly than we should, it makes us forget about the statistics that you know 95% of start ups are not going to return their initial investment.

It makes us forget that it’s OK to fail and that trying and experimenting needs to be its own reward and I think that if we had a little bit less of that culture of sort of machismo, and comparing ourselves to the biggest most successful and instead saying: hey, it’s OK to build something small, and it’s OK if it doesn’t work out, maybe it will work next time, and look at all the skills that I’ve acquired and learned, that’s a great thing.

So don’t judge yourself to harshly, don’t judge others too harshly and don’t compare yourself to Zuckerberg please.

Yeah exactly, I have the last question, I probably the most important one, how did it happen that your facial hair became so popular?

Right, yeah well I started growing out my moustache to encourage Moz to become profitable again and they finally just did.

Beautiful cause, you know.

Yeah, yeah, so I just shaved my moustache off I need to update my profile photo but the, yeah it did take on a life of its own didn’t it; I don’t know how that happened.

Yeah but the funny thing is that it became a part of your brand, your personal brand you know, I was always wondering it was you know the, your strategy or it just.

Strategy, no.


No certainly not! I never thought it would grow this long you know I assumed we would become profitable sort of 3 or 4 months after I started growing it, not 3 years.

Oh my gosh, so, that’s awesome, so one piece of advice that is to grow your moustache right?

Yeah well it’s not for everyone.

Definitely not for women, right, so thank you very much for the chat, it was a great pleasure.

Thanks a lot guys for listening! I hope you liked this interview as much as I did.

At the beginning, I told you that Business Sidekick is now one-year old and with this glorious, final episode we’re closing this season of Business Sidekick!

On this occasion, I’m going to gather all the knowledge you learned in this podcast during last, long year, and publish it as an ebook. I chatted with many amazing experts, interesting people and successful entrepreneurs, and I will be more than happy to pass their knowledge, hoping that even more of you will make a good use of it. So stay tuned, you’ll find this ebook on our website in couple of weeks: it’s If you’d like to stay in touch with me, you can take a look at my writing on LiveChat blog and that’s

Thank you so much for listening to this podcast and making this magic happen, all the best, take care!

#Business Psychology


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