John is formerly the head of growth and marketing for Trulia Rentals and HotPads.com, brands both owned by Zillow. He has also consulted with some of the largest companies in the world and some of the coolest startups. He is now the Founder of Credo, a SaaS company which helps businesses find the right digital marketing consultant or agency to grow their business online.
On this episode, John talks about how he quit consulting, and stumbled upon a great business idea while finding his replacement for his clients. This is when Credo was born, and 15 months later he’s making a great living and able to travel the world when he chooses.
Mac: Welcome to another episode of the SaaS Bootstrapper Podcast. Today’s guest is formally the head of growth and marketing for Trulia Rentals and hotpads.com, both of which are owned by Zillow. He also consulted some of the largest companies in the world and some of the coolest startups. He is now the founder of Credo, a SaaS company which helps businesses find the right digital marketing consultant or agency to grow their business online. John Doherty, welcome to the show.
John: Mac, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Mac: How are you today?
John: I am doing well, man. It is snowy outside in Denver right now. So, yeah, it’s a good day.
Mac: You know, I’m in Portland and it’s 30 degrees here which is colder than it ever really gets. And we actually had some snowflakes yesterday and I was really excited, but it never sticks. So, yeah, but I looked up 12 degrees in Denver. Okay. I can’t complain.
John: Yeah, it’s freezing. It was nicer when we got here on Sunday. We just moved here, like literally drove to the city three days ago and it was nice and it got freezing cold these couple of days. It’s supposed to warm up by the end of the weekend. It’s how it goes in the mountains.
Mac: So, I am actually going to start off. So you just moved to Denver. I think a couple of days ago, you said. So I’m going to start with a question I usually either wait till the end for or it kind of becomes obvious in the talk, but when you and I were setting up this call, you were in the middle of traveling, literally traveling the world for three and a half weeks with your wife, and I’m like, damn. He’s living the SaaS dream.
Mac: So, I want to know, ae you living the dream or…?
John: I haven’t been asked that before, but I think I would say I am. I think I actually emailed you when I was on a train from either Prague to Vienna or Vienna to Budapest. So yeah, it’s easy to portray like a certain view of your life on Instagram or Twitter, whatever. But yeah, I just got to travel the world with my wife. We literally went around the world in three and a half weeks and yeah, I can work from anywhere. I was able to cut back my work hours from 8 to 10 hours a day to like 3 to 4 hours a day for those weeks and yeah, be kind of nomadic and not have a permeant address. My wife and I’s permeant address has been my in-law’s house in Austin, Texas for the last two months. And we move into our house three weeks from today, like January 1, 2017. So yeah, it’s fantastic. I get to travel, make money on the Internet. If I have an Internet connection, I can work. So, it’s pretty sweet.
Mac: Well, I have to say I am pleasantly surprised to hear that because I was thinking how so often entrepreneurs and people just view us as, “Oh, I can just build this project and start bringing recurring revenue. Then I will just travel the world and it will just run itself.” And I think so often that actually it doesn’t happen anything like that, but I think in some cases it actually can be reminiscent of that and it sounds like you’ve figured it out.
John: Totally. It has been a lot of hard work. That’s for sure. The last year’s been…had its fair share of ups and downs. Highest of highs and lowest of lows, but it is possible to do if you want to try and make it happen.
Mac: So you started Credo three years ago?
John: I actually started the first version, I like to call it version 0.1 in January of 2013. I didn’t start working on it full time until October actually of 2015. So, yeah, it was going for a bit before.
Mac: So let’s back up. I know you’ve got some marketing and SEO background. Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about what you are doing?
So yeah, I actually got my start in marketing. Fast-forward a couple of years. Got my start in marketing. I was helping to run a book publishing company from basically a hippie commune in Switzerland and was publishing English language books and it was just me and the founder. And it was basically like, okay. Live in Switzerland, bootstrap business, have no budget to travel. How do I get these books in front of people?
I found SEO, content marketing, that sort of thing and then moved back to the States in 2010 and got a job in Philadelphia working for a small marketing agency there building, basically as link builder driving links to for-profit universities. So, you know back before all the laws were enacted for that. So worked there for about 10 months and then moved on to an agency in New York City called Distilled, and really went deep into technical SEO, content marketing, some link building, but my specialty is really technical SEO with my web developer background. And so, yeah, worked on, as I said, some of the biggest companies in the world all the way downward with some really cool like seed-stage tech startups as well, helping them get traction through SEO, content, and email.
And then from there I moved on to…I was hired by Zillow to run marketing on their brand HotPads, which is a rentals market place they had acquired. I was okay, man. Turned their traffic around, hired a whole marketing team. 18 months…12 months the team went from myself to 8 people, SEO, content, email marketing, PR, link building and partnering with the Zillow team on some acquisition, paid acquisition stuff. Relaunched the site, did a full visual refresh of it. I was there for about 18 months. Saw great traction on their business.
And then I moved over to Trulia and was basically leading growth, SEO, email marketing there. And yeah, I was there only about five or six months. And then some career turbulence hit and I ended up going out on my own and started doubling down on, at the time it was called Firing Gun. I rebranded it to Credo in January of 2016. We can get into that. Some important lessons learned there.
But yeah, with Credo I started the business originally January 2013 because I was getting out doing my own consulting. I was basically, I am so busy right now. Had a full time job and had a couple of freelance clients and basically was spending two weekends a month living in, single living in Brooklyn doing freelance work for clients, and my salary caught up to where it needed to be. I was like I don’t need to this.
And so, I told my clients, I was like hey I am going to stop doing consulting in February of 2013, I guess it was. It was the end of 2012 that I was telling them this. They were like well who should we go work with now? You’ve been great, but since you’re not going to be doing any more work, who should we work with? I am like I don’t know honestly. I had other people coming to me through my own blog and speaking and all that asking to work with me. I was like well I’m not taking any new clients. I’m actually getting out of consulting. And they’re like, well, who should we work with? I’m like, I don’t know.
So I literally built out a Google sheet of agencies and friends that I knew that did consulting that were good at what they did. And so, I had their name, their email, name of their company that applied, services that they did and their minimum budget. And so the first lead that I ever sold, I had this person come to me asking to work with me and I was like I am not taking on anyone new. And I emailed my buddy Brandon at Walworth Media, I was like, “Hey, man. I have this lead. Would you be willing to pay 50 bucks for it?” He was like, “Yeah, absolutely. What’s your PayPal?”
Literally three minutes later, I had 50 bucks in my PayPal account, sent him the introduction, went and bought the domain. Hiredgun.co was the original domain, launched the site, which actually just tweeted out a picture of the original homepage the other day. It was just…where it’s gone from them to now is just unbelievable. But yeah, that’s how I started. Been in the black since day one. Just kind of took the long as I went in-house and all that.
But actually right before I left Trulia, I went on vacation in Europe and was laying with my in-laws and extended family and my wife and was laying on the beach in Italy, just outside of Cinque Terre. I was re-reading “The Four-Hour Work Week” and basically was like man, I really want to go and try my own thing. Started with Tim Ferriss’s kind of direction through that book. Started putting together a plan for how I would go and do that within the next few months. Came back on Sunday, got laid off on Monday, and basically decided that I was gonna double down on it. So it’s been 14, almost 15 months now that I’ve been out on my own building, doing the product, building the business. Took it from basically nothing, took it from $80 in revenue, October 2015 to this month, December 2016, I’m gonna do about $16,000, $17,000 in revenue.
John: So, yeah. It’s been quite the ride.
Mac: That’s great. So actually I want to…I have a question from the history a little bit. So you went…where you say your degree was in?
John: Technical writing and web development.
Mac: So, there’s a little bit of an overlap there I see, but how did you get into the SEO and marketing? Was that something that you…
John: Yeah, it was something that I found. I’ve been a blogger for a while. Even I…I think I saw the first time I blogged was in 2003, something like that. 2002-2003, like mason days of blogging. And so, kind of figured out how to build an audience. I figured out that I was pretty good at that. I’ve always been a writer, both creative and structured. And so, technical writing made sense. Web development made sense because just because I was kind of a geek at heart and just to me, it was just more languages to learn. I speak fluent French, I speak decent Spanish, and I can get by in Italian. So to me, it was like okay. Just another language to learn.
And then, yeah, I got started with that publishing company that I was helping to run from Switzerland and really learning about what is SEO. At the time I was developing on the Joomla platform and they called them SCF URL search engines, friendly URL. So I was kind of figuring out more like the technical parts of SEO and then brought in content, link building, and all those things.
Mac: So you were self-taught pretty much out of necessity?
John: Totally. Almost all SEOs and digital markers are. We’ve all had mentors of course, but you start learning it out of necessity and then you get obsessed with it. It’s both creative and structured. So I think it plays well to both sides of our brains.
Mac: Yeah. So you, it sounds like you were initially trying to help out your clients as you were leaving them to help fill your role with them and that essentially turned into a business for you?
John: Yeah, yeah. Totally. That’s exactly how it went.
Mac: And was that obvious to you right away or at what point in building that spreadsheet were you like oh, I could actually make money from this and not just be helping my clients. This actually might be something to turn into a business.
John: Yeah, it’s a great question. I kind of realized it as I was sending that lead to Brandon and was like at Walworth Media. He and his business partner, Kate, have become good friends of mine. I was like huh, that was pretty easy. I wonder if I could do that again. If you can do something once, you can do it 10 times. It’s kind of something that I stand by. If you do it 10 times, you can do it a 100, and so on.
So yeah, it was really like, it was really then I was like this is interesting. I don’t know that I want to be at the point…at that time, I was like I don’t know if I really want to be lead gen, but I have all these coming to me, so maybe I can make an extra 500 bucks on the side just like introducing good people to good people and really just helping people. And yeah, it’s kind of just gone from there, and yeah, as I said over the next couple of years, the site was still up and going, get a couple leads a month and pass them off.
But really wanted to double…it was just kind of ticking on the back of my mind, you need to give your own thing a go, you need to give your own thing a go. And then, yeah, when I got laid off in 2015, I was like, I finally decided to listen to myself and said, “I need to give this a shot.” I was actually offered two different director of marketing positions at other companies within the next couple of weeks and my gut just told me, don’t do it. You’re not going to be happy with yourself if you at least give doing your thing a shot. And so, yeah.
Mac: And at the time you were laid off, what was the status of Credo exactly?
John: It was still called Hire Gun, H-I-R-E G-U-N, and I had like, I mean there is a site up that had a bunch of style and CSS issues, there are no public profiles on the site, there’s was no back end, lead manager, or anything like that. So basically it was a website where you could submit a form and that lead would go directly to me and I would follow up with them and then make some personal introductions. So that’s what it was.
Mac: Okay. Did you have…Where you making much money off of it at that time? Did you have many customers?
John: I literally made $80 in revenue in October 2015 and in the next month I did $700 in revenue.
Mac: Wow, nice.
Mac: So, when you were starting out here, you had mentioned there…were they mainly people that you knew or not necessarily people that you knew that you were reaching out to?
John: It was on the like…people looking for work side or like leads, people looking to hire someone?
Mac: Well, actually both. I guess initially it was your clients that you were trying to fill the most for.
John: Exactly. Initially, it was my clients, telling some people that I was investigating this business, let’s put it that way. People started sending me leads. So I started getting referrals from people and yeah, just my own blogging and stuff around the internet. People would find my personal website and I had stuff about this business on my personal website and they’d come over, fill out a form. So yeah, that sort of thing. At the beginning, it was mostly referrals from friends or people I knew that were business owners that wanted help. And then yeah, now I get a lot that is like I don’t know the site, I don’t know the person, any of that, but they are connecting with people on my platform.
Mac: So, I think we’ve come at this from a few different angles at what exactly Credo is, but could you just give for listeners who maybe have a missing piece there what Credo is today and what it has turned into? Because I know that you have subscriptions and you talk a little bit more about exactly the model?
John: Yes, sure. So, it’s a market place. So there’s two different sides to this. There’s the side of businesses looking to hire a marketing agency or consultant, and then the marketing consultants and agencies looking to get new clients. So from the side of businesses looking to hire a marketing agency or a consultant, basically the pitch is that Credo is a market place where they can connect with marketing agents and consultants that work within their budget, with their type of site, and have availability to work with them. Basically, it’s really frustrating. And also they can be sure they’re high quality. There are a lot of people out there that claim that they do SEO or whatever, but they’re not actually any good at what they do, and at worst, they’re actually going to hurt the sites that they’re working on.
And so, I vet every consultant agency on the platform, everyone. Right before you hopped on this call, Mac, I was on a call with an agency based in Minneapolis, Minnesota talking with them about what they do and the kind of products they work with, and that sort of thing. So doing that qualitative, and I also get quantitative feedback as well looking at some of their clients and that sort of thing. So everyone that’s on there has been personally vetted by Credo, but really at this point by me, because I have no other full-time employees.
And so, from the business side, so basically businesses can either contact an agency directly through that agency’s profile. That leads goes directly or that contact goes directly to them, or they can just, they can fill out their project and say, “I’m looking for someone to do SEO and Facebook ads for $3,000 a month.” And then they submit that and the agencies that qualify for that get email about it, and then those agencies can contact that person and then they take the conversation from there.
So on the agency and consultant side basically, it’s for agencies and consultants really that work with SMBs. The sweet spot for Credo is client’s that can pay between a $1,000 to like really $4,000 a month. People that have more than $5,000 a month to spend on marketing have no problem finding a good agency. But SMBs, honestly the most vulnerable businesses, they have a really hard time. They’re getting spam emails, people saying, “I will do your SEO for $99 a month,” that sort of thing.
So basically I wanted to build a place that they could find those agencies and that the agencies that do that kind of work could find good clients like that, not getting tire kickers, that sort of thing. So for agencies and consultants, it’s a subscription to a platform and depending on the level of their subscription they get different numbers of leads every month, leads that they can contact and try to turn into business.
Yeah, so I launched that actually, the SaaS version of the company in May of 2016. Before that, it had been a commission where basically when an agency closed a project, I would get a percentage of what they were getting paid as my compensation.
Mac: So, as a blogger and a consultant, and having been in this business for a while before, it seems like you’ve already had a bit of a built-in audience. What type of audience would you say you had at the time of starting this besides your existing clients that you were in the time leaving? So you’ve got those people there that you already got a relationship with and they will clearly take your word for who should take your role.
Mac: Aside from that, what type of audience, if any did you have at the time of trying to fill the holes for both sides of this business?
John: Yeah, totally and marketplaces are really interesting because you’re really running two businesses. There’s a B2C side, there’s B2B side. So yeah, I actually was really fortunate to build a really good audience when I was working for Distilled, which is a search marketing agency based in London. I was in New York. They also have Seattle office. But yeah, I was…I had my own personal site, johnfdoherty.com, that I had been blogging on. I blogged on twice a week. Every Tuesday and Thursday I’d publish a new article. I did that for three years. So, went from basically nothing. I was busy. I was going to teach everything that I know. If I learn new link building tactic or I build new spreadsheet that will help me do something better, or I saw this interesting thing in the search result and I investigated it, I was going to teach it, I was going to write about it, I gonna publish.
And so I did that for a long time. I built that from basically nothing to at its peak, it did about 20, 25,000 visits in a month, which you know, pretty proud of. And so, I was also doing dome speaking. Speaking at Meet Up, speaking at different conferences, that sort of thing around the country. And so yeah, I built a pretty good following on social media, on Twitter, and those sorts of things. I really started building an audience early, have business owners and that sort of thing. But a lot of digital markers, a lot of SEOs and agency owners, and that sort of thing. So I was very fortunate to connect with people that are really good at what they do, people that different SEOs, if you think about SEOs that are well-known, I’m friends with them.
And so, on that side, it was really easy to tell someone, “Hey, I’m getting these leads. If I have one that fits for you, do you want an introduction?” And they’re like, “Sure, absolutely.” It was really easy to see that initial supply, so people to service the businesses that are looking for digital marketing help. And so I had that and then I didn’t build that out until I saw the initial demand, the initial demand of my own clients looking for someone. Also getting leads, people who wanted to work with me that I couldn’t work with. So I had that initial demand that I focused on building up the supply.
And then I went hardcore into focusing on the demand again. So getting more businesses that are looking to hire someone s the demand side. So yeah, I had to…you have to balance both of those and then once you reach a certain point where there’s basically liquidity in your market place, where you have enough on the demand side, have enough on the supply side, then you just focus hard on the demand side and that drives the number of people that you have on the platform needing clients.
So for the last number of months, I’ve been focusing on generating the demand side, and then the marketing for the supply side basically takes care of itself. People are like yes. This platform is growing. It has leads that, clients, that I need what I do with budgets that I work with. Why would I not sign up?
Mac: So, what are your main tactics to do that these days? Is it still blogging and speaking?
John: Yeah, it’s definitely my own blogging, creating content on my own site, creating content on the Credo blog, getcredo.com/blog. I’m running, right now, I’m running a survey to basically help, excuse me, help consultants and agencies know how to better bench their prices. Are thy undercharging, are they overcharging, those sorts of things. My own speaking, I’m trying to do some more speaking in 2017. 2016 was pretty much a wash with moving and all those things, and doing a lot of product development. Yeah, a little bit of paid advertising, so Facebook advertising and Google AdWords, just to supplement stuff. I also get referrals from agencies, right? Agencies are…the digital marketing lead space is pretty fragmented. Different agencies are getting different leads and they might have a minimum of $5,000 a month, but someone comes to them can only pay $2,000 a month. Until I started my business now, they had nowhere good to send them. So basically I created a place where when a lead comes to an agency that they can’t take, they can be sure that they can send it to me and Credo is going to find a very good agency or consultant for them to work with. So yeah, all the things that I was doing for clients for years and doing in-house, doing those same things on my own platform.
Mac: So I noticed that your subscriptions are, actually, I forget exactly what they’re based on, but I noticed you give a general sense of how many leads you might get per subscription. So, I think the base one was maybe one to two leads a month or so. I can’t remember exactly. The next level’s a few more than that. How do you ensure that each of these agencies or consultants are actually getting those leads and that’s spread across all over your, all of the people in your database or whatever it is?
John: Yes, for sure. Some of it, to be honest, is manual, some of it’s automatic. So I have an idea, I know about how many leads are going to the platform every month and then I figure it out what type of agencies and consults are best. Right? So agencies that are on Credo that their minimum is $5,000 a month, and they are definitely some that are willing to pay $75 a month subscription or $100 a month to get a profile on the site and get leads that way, because if they close one or two of those over the course of the year, they’ve got a fantastic return on their investment. Right? But the people that work with one to two to three thousand dollar a month budgets, those are the best agencies and consultant to be on Credo. So I know if I am getting 80 leads a month, this many are gonna, basically gonna be SEO looking for this. And so, ballpark, it’s 12 leads a month. But then sometimes someone will come to me and say, “Okay, I’m looking for SEO for $2,000, local SEO for $2,000 a month.” They run a lawn mowing business, but I’m based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m like okay. You need to chat with this agency because they’re in Minneapolis. And so, just refer them directly over that way.
There’s a lot more product development going on as well so that I can, I just talk to the business. Startups are constant products, they’re constantly in flux. Right? I would definitely say that I’m still searching for product market fit and yeah, so now what I’m really focusing on is how do I get the leads to the right people at the right time. Basically, how do I do that routing? That’s something that I’m having a lot of conversations about at this point. So, yeah, that’s the answer. It’s a messy answer. Some’s automatic and they’d see the qualifies, will get a lead, and they can contact through the platform. Some of it is manual, me saying like, “You can talk to this person. Can I help you out and fill that form for you?” That sort of thing.
Mac: Okay. I think that answers what one of my questions was. So, there is…I mean you can go to getcredo.com and see the list of marketers that are available. So someone could theoretically just go and contact someone on their own like that. But they can also come through you and say, “Hey, which of these people would be best for my needs?”
John: Yeah, yeah. If you go to getcredo.com, I use Intercom on the site, like live chat. So I definitely have people, someone came yesterday and say, “I am looking for SEO consultant. I can spend a thousand dollars.” I am like okay. Tell me a bit more. I route them in a specific way. But then they also can come, go to getcredo.com and there’s a button there that says, “I need a marketer.” And basically they can fill out, if they don’t know who they want to work with and basically they can’t decide who to contact, they can just spill out their project details there and submit it and then up to four agents or consultants that work within their budget will contact them.
Mac: That’s great. I also love, I was browsing around the…I am not sure if it was a blog page or just a regular page on getcredo.com, but you have some data, which I assume comes from you, of average SEO consultant rates and I bet you must be starting to get some pretty cool, interesting, unique data.
John: Totally, totally. So I have…that one was published a year ago and now if you search SEO consultant rates, my site shows up number one and I have the knowledge graph, the answer box there as well. So it shows the answer and a link to my site and image, and that sort of thing. So as I said, I’m actually running a survey right now with agencies and the size of how big they are and where they’re located, and all that, so like actually trying to get broader information on the industry and how much people charge. Individual consultants, part-time, freelancers, agencies, small agencies, big agencies, what have you.
Yeah, I can also have a lot of really interesting data with the people on my platform and I can say, I can theoretically take that data and say okay. How much do SEO agencies with a maximum of five employees that do e-commerce, how much do hey charge on average, right? So how much should an -commerce companies expect to pay for SEO while working with a small agency, right? So that sort of thing. I have some pretty cool data that I haven’t gone in and analyzed yet, but definitely, could and plan to in the future.
Mac: That’s really cool. I have to keep browsing around and see what else is out there. Do you have any competition along the lines of what you’re doing here?
John: Not really, to be totally honest with you. There is one other site that kind of…they build themselves as a research firm, but their model is advertising. So basically like they’ll go and get reviews for you, and then if you want to promote your company, then basically you pay to be sorted to the top of the list. It’s more like Yelp Play or Google Featured Listings. The rankings on my site are based off of reviews, number of reviews, quality of reviews, completeness of profile, those sorts of things. So you can’t pay to be sorted higher on getcreado.com.
Yeah, there was another one that a friend of mine was running, but he sold that about a year ago. So yeah, there isn’t really much competition in this space that people are really focusing on high-quality digital marketing. There are like the UpWorks and that’s not sort of thing, but that’s more you know, I need someone to write a blog post for 50 bucks, something like that and that’s not the kind of space I’m trying to play in at this point.
Mac: Sure. Yeah. And how crucial do you think it’s been to have it been part of this audience and to have an immediate audience that you can contact for this? I mean, do you think…
John: Super crucial, yeah. It’s why it’s succeeded I think. I had that initial traction off the bath because of that. I was reading some book recently, I don’t remember what it was, but basically I saw a stat that it’s like, oh, no. It’s this site called Indie Hackers, indiehackers.com, where basically it tells the stories of bootstrap entrepreneurs like myself and it was like 75% of successful businesses that launch are launched by people that have had a number of years of experience in that same industry. Right? So I’ve been in digital marketing for a long time, so I launch a business in digital marketing industry. But if you’ve been in digital marketing and you try to go launch like, I don’t know, a fashion site or something like that, you have no experience in fashion, you’re likely not going to succeed.
So, yeah. I think it’s absolutely crucial, and being bootstrap had to learn a lot about business models and that sort of thing. But if I didn’t already have people to kind of tap into and really people to send leads to initially, like it wouldn’t have really taken off nearly as well and I don’t know that I would’ve succeeded. And I see a lot of abandoned marketplaces. People wanted to build…like I’m gonna build a marketplace for designers, but they’re not a designer. They don’t know any designers, right? How are they going to achieve liquidity in that market? So I think it’s really like, if you’re bootstrapping, you have to give yourself every advantage that you can.
Mac: And when you were starting this, was there at all anything else, even in a different niche that you were at all modeling after or referencing?
John: So, basically the one that I really like took, I guess some inspiration from is clarity.fm, which is founded by Dan Martel who is this fantastic Canadian entrepreneur. Actually, his wife’s agency is on my platform and she’s a friend of mine. But Rene Warren, she’s fantastic. Yes, that’s really and I’m on there. So basically there you can contact someone. Say you need 30 minutes of advice on SEO. People will contact me and be like I need to talk with you about this technical SEO issue I’m facing on my e-commerce site. So we hop on there. But what I realized was that there was no good way to research agencies and contact them that do like ongoing work, SEO audits, that sort of thing. It’s all based off of who’s blogging, who’s speaking at conferences, that sort of thing and I really saw a need there. Just like Dan brought together experts to do 30-minute phone calls paid by the minute sort of stuff, I made all of that transparent. I wanted to do the same thing for digital marketing consulting, not just one-off advice.
Mac: That’s great. I love it. I want to switch gears for a second before we close out and you had mentioned some lessons learned in your rebranding.
Mac: Can you touch on that briefly if it’s possible to do it at all briefly?
John: Yeah, for sure. So the quick and dirty story is I landed in Virginia for Thanksgiving 2015 and I had an email from a lawyer in an agency in New York City saying that they were serving me with a seize and desist because I was violating their trademark. And I’m like, what the heck? And so I go and I looked. It was this agency that had a similar name that had a trademark that was similar to what my brand was called in the category of trademarks. Right? And so, I use Legal Zoom for my legal stuff. And so I contacted a trademark lawyer through there and they were like, “Yeah, you’re in violation.” I’m like, “Shoot.” So basically negotiated with them to give me a couple of months to find a new brand name and rebrand, and all that and basically played it like, I’m a brand new bootstrap startup. Made a mistake. First-time entrepreneur. Give me a little bit of grace.
And thankfully, they did and so I rebranded in January of 2016. So it took me about two months. And the hardest part was finding a name, to be totally honest with you. Finding a name that meant something to me, so Credo is truth, in Italian is truth. So I want this to be, I want Credo to be a canonical place where you can go if you’re looking for a good digital marketer, you can find it on Credo, is basically what I wanted to be. So, but finding a brand that wasn’t taken, didn’t already have a trademark in place, I almost called it Go Advisor but there’s someone that, I was like Advisor Marketing or something like that that had the trademark in the same category with the trademarks office.
So, I talked with another trademark lawyer and they were like, “Yeah, you’ll be in violation if you launch this.” I’m like, shoot. I went back to the drawing board, found the name Credo. There is a mobile company, credomobile.com that also launched credo.com. So I did Get Credo, but also was looking for a name that I could get the same domain name, Facebook URL, Twitter handle, all those different things and this is the one that hit. So, here we are.
Mac: It’s tough. Every domain I ever look at is either taken, most of them are just being squatted on.
John: Yeah, it was funny. As I was doing the research, I actually found a lot of really brandable domains that wouldn’t have worked for me, but I was most surprised at the ones that are, it feels like there’s a lot that are not available because people are squatting on them, but if you start going deep and actually spinning up different names, I actually found a lot of cool names for different businesses, like domains that are available.
Mac: What was your process? Did you have much of a process for coming up with names or was it just a bunch of brainstorms and Google searches?
John: It definitely started with brainstorms and Google searchers. And that actually didn’t bring anything up. I was thinking okay. What’s Credo? It’s advisors, consultants, it’s that sort of thing. I didn’t want to go with something generic. There’s a lot of like digitalmarketingconsultants.com sort of thing, but those are never trustworthy. Right? If I want to build something outside of just digital marketing space eventually, this is a brand name that can grow with it. And then talking to friends, I kind of came up with a shortlist of like six or seven. Paid a bunch of agencies. I was like what do you all think? Friends outside of the marketing space, business owners, entrepreneurs, like what do you all think?
And this was the one that people kept coming back. Actually, Go Advisor was the favorite. And then, but obviously, that was taken. And then I actually ran some Google consumer surveys. So I paid 300 bucks and I did a couple of different surveys, split it up between men and women, focused it on small business owners and Go Advisor came up first and Get Credo came out the second. So I had the qualitative feedback from friends and I had the quantitative, surveyed a couple of hundred people and got their feedback on it as well.
Mac: It’s great, yeah. Coming up with names is one of those things that can be very fun but also incredibly frustrating.
John: Absolutely, it is absolutely both of those. Actually, that’s how I came up with Hired Gun in the first place. I was like what are these people? Gun for hire, obviously not available. Flipped it on its head and hiregun.com available, all right, buy it. I had no clue about trademarks at the time. So those are the not to take. But honestly, that set me back probably a couple of months worth of productivity at the very beginning of getting this thing off the ground. So, it’s definitely a hard lesson learned but got through it and kept on moving. Didn’t give up. So the people that win are the people who don’t give up. I’m totally convinced of that.
Mac: Well, you’re doing it, John.
John: Thanks, man.
Mac: I really really appreciate you being on. You’ve given us lots of great advice and lessons learned. Do you have any other advice to pass on anyone else starting at their own, first, their SaaS product?
John: Yeah, I think, I mean if you can code, it really helps. I’m a descent front end web developer. I have no back end skills. So if you can code, it definitely helps, but identify your real need. Start light weight. I started with a Google sheet and emailing people and people sending money to my personal PayPal account. I didn’t go and form an LLC and get business bank accounts and that sort of thing. That didn’t happen for a couple of months until I had revenue and you could see that there was something here.
So start light weight. That leaves you to iterate very fast as well, launch something in a niche that you know, that you have some experience in. And then the biggest thing is build an audience, teach people what you know, be blogging, learn how to do some cured research and right stuff that people are searching for as well, so you can kind of build a new audience outside of social media or whatever. So yeah, those are the biggest ones and then as I just said, keep going. Don’t give up. Keep moving with where you see the industry going and focus really hard on really providing value to your customers.
Mac: Okay. I got one more question then. What do you advise people who get going on an idea, and then all the sudden, they get another idea and they get distracted for a minute? Is that an issue with you? I feel like it’s an issue with almost everybody.
John: Absolutely. Have a Trello board that’s called Other Ideas, and put the idea down there and never look at that board. It’s really it because I have so many ideas. And it’s funny. When you start something, you very quickly come up with, you see other needs. If you started a business, you instantly see what are other potential businesses. And so yeah, give yourself the gift to focus at least for a while. I like to start things. I don’t like to operate things. And so, to be completely honest, I feel myself getting a little bit wiggly and a little bit like okay, what’s next. But I focused on this thing for 15 months now and I definitely want to keep growing it and turning it into something real. But also like if you build it right, and this goes back to the very beginning about living the digital nomad, SaaS entrepreneurial lifestyle, I’ve purposely built my business the way I have so it gives me freedom. So if I wanted to, I have great revenue coming in, I can hire a content writer, I can have someone working, doing all the development, I can afford to pay that. I can lower the number of hours that I’m working a month on this thing or the week that I am working on this thing to like 10 and that gives me another 30 hours a week to go work on something else.
So, I’m not doing that yet, but I’m definitely, personally thinking about it. I like the way Bryan Clark, a copy blogger, has built his business. He started off being a lawyer, then he built Copy Blogger as a blog. He was working with clients and has gone through a bunch of iterations of his business and now is selling a platform for people selling digital products. But he’s gone as he’s seen the need and as he got interested in something else and found people to run his other businesses. So there’s many, many different ways to build your career as an entrepreneur. So do what you want to do.
Mac: Yep, and keep doing it.
John: Yeah, exactly. Play your strengths.
Mac: Don’t give up. This has been really great, really great John. I really appreciate having you on. Where can people find you and Credo online?
John: Yes, so three different places you can find me. Business website we’ve been talking about, Credo, is getcredo.com, G-E-T-C-R-E-D-O, getcredo.com, getcredo.com/blog is the blog. You can find me on my personal website. It’s johnfdoherty.com, J-O-H-N-F-D-O-H-E-R-T-Y.com. And then, Twitter is where I am most active. I am there way too much and I respond to people. I love having conversations with people. So twitter.com/dohertyjf, D-O-H-E-R-T-Y-J-F. Yeah, connect with me at any of those places.
Mac: Sounds good, John. Well, hope you got some listeners that will head on over there. I know we’ve got some people that will find it of use. So, hopefully, you’ll hear from them. So, John, I really appreciate it and thanks for being on the show.
John: Mac, thanks for having me, man. It was a blast.
Mac: Thank you. Take care.
John: Take care.