[00:00:00] Corey: Today I'm joined by Ben Landers. Welcome Ben.
[00:00:20] Ben: Thanks for having me, Corey. It's great to be here. Awesome.
[00:00:23] Corey: I am super excited for our conversation. Could you please tell us a little bit more about you, your background and the work you do?
[00:00:30] Ben: Yeah, of course. I'm the founder and former CEO. Always sounds weird saying that of Blue Corona, digital marketing, marketing technology company that helps home services companies, increase sales, reduce marketing costs or optimize their marketing costs.
Really differentiate their brands, online. I was the CEO of the company until October, 2021. so it's been a little while we were acquired by a company called Everservice. And so at that point I became an advisor to the company. And these days I spend my days, biking, golfing, and, you know, I spend a fair bit of time talking to agency owners who, you know, want to hear our experiences.
It's kind of like this, you know, how did you grow the business? What were the challenges that you had? And then some people want to know about the sales process, what I went through and sort of deciding whether to sell or not. and again, I'm still an advisor for Everservice. So occasionally there's an agency owner where it becomes pretty clear that they would, might be a good fit for our, collective.
And so I can of course speak to that.
[00:01:27] Corey: Awesome. Lots to unpack there. Could you share just for context for listeners a little bit more about Blue Corona, specifically maybe the size of the business, number of employees, revenue,
[00:01:37] Ben: whatever you're comfortable sharing. Yeah, so the company was started in, uh, officially in 2008, early 2008.
And when we were acquired, we were maybe 140 some odd employees, maybe four or 500 clients. And, uh, we were, you know, we're well into the eight figure, size. now the company has continued to grow. The company is still a brand under the Everservice umbrella, and I no longer have, uh, you know, detailed access to the financials, but I could tell, you know, the audience that the company continues to do extremely well, something I'm, I'm very proud of.
And then I'm also like, man, had I known that I might have waited a little bit longer.
[00:02:20] Corey: Very interesting. Yeah. Yeah, but you must be proud of, of, of all of that, I'm sure at a certain level. Yeah. could you, what, so tell us about, let's wind back to 2008. what's the founder story here?
[00:02:32] Ben: Yeah. So I think, I think in some ways my story is unique and in some ways it sounds similar to a lot of other, you know, agency owners that I've heard. Um, I started my career working for a bunch of big tech companies, hotjobs. com at the tail end of the. com bubble. And then I went to work for WorldCom.
Some of your audience probably doesn't even know who WorldCom was, but it was up there with Enron. Huge scandal, of course. I, you know, I was one of 120, 000 employees affected. I had nothing to do with it. I was a young, you know, major account sales guy. And so I had worked for these big companies, publicly traded companies, and then I met a business owner, kind of a small business owner.
It was in the sports marketing, kind of space in Chicago, which is where I was living at the time. But I'm from the D. C. Area originally. And so the guy in Chicago said, Hey, look, I own this business. We sell sports marketing like a sports marketing agency, but for amateur participatory sports like Iron Man, warrior dash, all that kind of stuff.
They sell the sponsorships for those types of events. And so he said, You're from the D. C. Area. I have the whole mid Atlantic open and I'll I'll move you back there. And, you know, maybe at some point you want to be closer to your family and all that stuff. So So I went there and then, long story short, I met another business owner in that new role.
I met a business owner who owned a bottled water delivery company. Um, so the company that delivers the big, you know, jugs to your office or to your house. again, it's small business, four or five million dollars in revenue. and I met the owner, I was out mountain biking. And the owner was out mountain biking and we just started talking and he said, Oh, I'm an engineer.
I own this company, drink more water. What do you, you know, and then we were talking about growing his business. He was like, you know, I got to spend all this money on advertising and marketing because half my customers are consumers and half of them are businesses. So businesses we have like direct sales.
But on the consumer side, I'm doing radio ads and TV and I do yellow pages. This was back, you know, way back in the day. And, um, and he was like, you know, I can't stand advertising people. I like, I loathe advertising people. What do you do, Ben? I was like, uh, uh, I'm a marketing guy. Uh, I guess I'm an advertising guy.
And so anyway, I, that conversation led to. me going to work for him, which was again, sort of, uh, weird advertising marketing guy going to work for a, uh, engineer. And he was also, uh, had in his Harvard MBA, he was kind of a finance guy. when I went to work for him, the concept was he want, he said, I want to track, I want to build a system to track every single advertising marketing thing I do, because the reason I can't stand all these advertising people is when they come in to pitch me stuff.
there's no way to quantify it. It's like, you know, they're using what the competitors are doing as the justification for why I should spend more. And that's total BS. You know, I'm a numbers guy and I want to see the data. And I, and I tried to explain to him that, you know, this again was back in the, you know, in 2004 or 5.
And it was like, you really can't track certain things. but anyway, we set out on this journey and we built a software to track all of his advertising and it was kicking out these reports. You know, you're getting this many leads from this marketing channel, this many leads from this market channel, this many sales.
here's the cost per lead, cost per sale, revenue dollars from the channel and then gross margin dollars from the channel. And so we had like all this data and then we started an office coffee business. You know, this was a bottled water delivery company. So we started an office coffee business.
I was running it. So I was, I was still vice president sales marketing for the water company doing all this tracking. And then. I was the guy building this office coffee business, and I was demoing a plumber, and I'm talking to the owner, and I'm trying to sell him a coffee machine, a Keurig, you know, a big Keurig coffee machine, and I said, Hey, look, I have an ownership interest in, uh, Drinkmore, the bottled water company, you spend a ton of money on advertising marketing as a plumber.
I see your yellow page ads. What are you seeing in terms of the leads in the trend? I mean, ours has gone straight down. Yeah. And he's like, how the F would you know that? How could you possibly know that? He says, my CSRs are supposed to ask every caller how they found us, but they never recorded correctly.
And, people just say, oh, the web or whatever. And, um, and so I said, I got to show you what we have going on at Drinkmore. I left that coffee demo, went straight back and told, you know, my boss, the owner of the bottled water company, we're, we're in the wrong business. I don't want to run the coffee business.
I want to start a new company. And I want to demo what we do with the tracking for the owner of this plumbing company He's gonna like he's not gonna believe it. and so that's essentially what happened And then the irony of that whole thing is that guy didn't hire Us like when I pitched him when blue corona became blue corona.
I couldn't close it I was like you are the reason I started this company and you're, you know, now you don't want to do it. It's too expensive or whatever. And so we signed up as biggest competitor. And the next year, that biggest competitor went from spending 120 grand a month in yellow page ads.
Again, this DC area, it's expensive market. He cut it all. He went to a bold listing, And the guy that I had, uh, demoed the coffee to still had these full page. You know, ads are probably, you know, 10 G's a month per book. Wow. Anyway, and so then, you know, I, that's how Blue Corona got started.
Bob Perrini was the owner of the drink, of the bottle water company. And Bob and I became partners. We both put, you know, money into the new entity. I was the sweat. Bob never worked for the, for Blue Corona. He was like, acted like a mentor and an advisor. And he was certainly a, an investor. And so that's how it, how it started.
[00:08:16] Corey: Well, let me, let me dig in a little bit on this. what were you selling to that original plumber? was it more of an analytical analytics package
[00:08:23] Ben: or was it Yeah, when we first started, when we first started, and this will kind of speak to the audience and just in terms of like how starting a company is such an iterative process.
when we first started the business, it was like, you know, these ad agencies are everywhere, like a dime a dozen. They're all over the place. there are almost no companies that do tracking and analytics, especially for small, medium sized businesses. I mean, of course, there's like Adobe and Nielsen, you know, for enterprise, but there's nothing for small, medium sized businesses.
So we said, all right, we're going to be the tracking layer. And if they want to use fill in the blank digital marketing company or traditional ad agency, we don't care. It'll all funnel through us and we'll track everything. so two things happen. So one, a whole bunch of early sales were made just like that.
People were paying us for tracking and reporting and, and sort of an analysis of what's working and what's not. one thing started happening was when we would show people that one channel wasn't working like yellow pages, that plumber that canceled all the yellow pages, he's like, Hey man, I don't know what to tell you.
Like you've saved me. Again, like over a million dollars, like I love it, although we're going to be canceling all the tracking for, the yellow pages. but my real question for you is like, I'm not trying to save money per se. I'm trying to grow the business. So what are you tracking? That's working for other companies.
And can I hire you to do that now? I wasn't the analytics data science guide. I mean, my partner was really the heavy numbers guy. the engineering mind where it was like, everything has to be quantified. I was selling advertising marketing in a previous lifetime when it wasn't tracked. I was pitching big ideas and dreams.
So I came back to him, my partner, and I said, you know, I know we're an ad tracking company, but like this guy is saying, like, he's got 120 grand that we saved him. And he's saying like, Hey, if I give you 50 grand a month, where would you put it? and I would do SEO, pay per click, email marketing, retargeting, you know, I would do all this stuff and I do that stuff for you so I know how to do it.
Like, that's kind of my background. And he was like, uh, I don't know if we should get into that. You know, there are a million SEO guys. That's what he used to say. Ugh, SEO, you really want to do that? And was like, I'm not sure whether I, it's just that I want to do it. I mean, I do enjoy it, but it's, someone is literally holding out fists full of cash saying, help me.
So we, we then layered on the marketing services and then of course for anyone out in the listening audience who, you know, plays golf or does any kind of sport, people would rather spend like 500 bucks on a new driver than take their old, you know, hand-me-down driver from their dad or whoever and take a lesson and the lesson will make you better.
And the same analogy is like the tracking, the data from the tracking is gold. It's priceless. But it was so hard to get small business owners to pay, fill in the blank, you know, 1, 000 a month for the tracking, but they would give you 50 grand for SEO. So it's like, all right, we're going to do the digital marketing services and the tracking will become our layer of differentiation.
And, you know, we initially had a model where we charged for the marketing and we charged for the tracking and then. You know, there were other times where it was like, does it really matter? I mean, we could charge a more for the marketing and then just include the tracking, so it started as the tracking and analytics company, and then we layered in the marketing.
[00:11:45] Corey: the amount of time that passed between having this first conversation with this initial, uh, plumber who ended up not buying to. Becoming more of a marketing agency
[00:11:54] Ben: focus, I would say it was, it was well within the first year. So let's just say the initial company was literally just me
And we were selling the tracking and then probably in like September, October, it was like, all right, pivot. We are adding on search marketing
[00:12:11] Corey: services. And did you focus at that point? Was it, was it home services exclusively or was it any local small business that was online?
[00:12:20] Ben: you know, the original sort of thought process was, if we believe we can help the company, like we can use the tracking, this was when we were doing the tracking, if we can use the tracking.
to help them, if we could see this becoming a case study client, that's number one, number two, if we can understand their business and I don't mean like, uh, you know, uh, this is a software as a service company. Okay, I know what that is. I mean, if we can understand the economics of the business, how they generate gross profit, what are the levers of the business?
I mean, as like a MBA, if we can understand the business, how it makes money, how it creates value and how we can apply ourselves. And if it was something that you could, uh, you're, you wouldn't be embarrassed if your grandmother read about it on the front page of the paper. So we had like early on, we had an outreach from like a gambling company, another one from like some sort of college humor, adult website.
And it was like, I don't want any part. so, um, so first we were not verticalized. We had healthcare systems, software as a service, a business bank, plumbing companies, bottled water companies and we were not verticalized, I would say from 2008, we went sort of not verticalized all the way until probably 2018.
Wow. Good 10 years. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:13:34] Corey: Yeah. And actually it was not too long ago relative to when you sold your business, uh, in 2021. and so yeah, maybe we can jump forward to maybe 2017 or 2018. What was occurring in the business 10 years in.
selling the, you know, the agency services and the analytics and the tracking, uh, and the analysis. what were the conditions in the business that led to the realization that you should verticalize?
[00:13:59] Ben: I think it really came down to when I brought in, I brought in a vice president of sales and marketing, a guy named Mike Wilson.
I think I started talking to him in 2016. kind of telling him, Hey, I'm, I'm gonna build an actual Salesforce, a national Salesforce. He was working at a company called Infor. Infor is like a competitor to Oracle or sap, you know, huge e r p, company.
and he was managing a national world, I guess a global sales team, for Infor. So I started talking to him and basically just trying to get tips from him. And one of his questions was, why? Why do you serve all these different, industries and I was like, well, you know, if there's a, if, if Google decides to come in and do like direct booking and plumbing, or, you know, if there's a huge recession, these need based services, plumbing, HVAC roofing, those are not, um, disrupted by the recession.
But like we had a lot of remodeling clients for modeling is a disaster when, there's a recession, so I see it as too big of a business risk and we have like case studies from all these different clients. Now, my background was in home services. I mean, I had a lot of home services experience.
I don't want to go into all the details of it, but I understood plumbing, HVAC, roofing, electrical, bottled water delivery. Certainly, um, at it, like, like an owner of those businesses. So I knew that space. Um, but it wasn't to say that when we had, you know, Carolina's health care reach out, I couldn't make sense of that, you know, their business as well.
but Mike really kind of had this idea that less is more. Mike was like, if you hired someone like me to come in. Sales are going to accelerate, and I'm going to outsell your ability to scale the operation side. And I was like, Oh, yeah, that's what all sales people, what all sales people say.
Of course you're going to say that. That's what all sales guys say. So I'm like, yeah, yeah, yeah, sure, sure, sure. Um, but of course, you know, when you ask what were the conditions going on in the business, you know, we had two employees just to, to use an example. We had these giant healthcare systems. That had reached out to us and I can't remember whether one was referred by the other.
It was probably that and, in theory, there were probably 10 people that could have worked on those accounts, but practically speaking, there were two people that really were the subject matter experts. Like, how do you set up Google analytics and all the tracking with HIPAA and with this enterprise healthcare system?
And so you started realizing that, you know, if this one employee leaves. We're in deep shit, you know, whereas with the plumbing companies where we have 30 of them We've trained lots of people in the playbook for for example Residential plumbing and so as you started looking at it, you look at your resources.
We were a bootstrapped company So I put money in my partner put money and we didn't raise money And and that's a big, you know, some of the biggest ad agencies in the world are not vertical eyes But you know if you raise a hundred million dollars And decide you want to do something that's different than if you both put in a couple hundred grand and say, okay We got to make this thing go before we run out of cash.
So we were we were having issues where You know each thing coming in the door, you know Yes, we hit we still had we even way back in 2011 12 We probably had 40 or 50 percent of clients were probably home services Okay. We still had a huge chunk, but you know, if you have 10 things coming in the door, half of them look the same.
And then the other half could be, you know, all over the place, enterprise, small software, healthcare. And so it just became clear that our resources, my ability as a leader, it was like, we cannot be the best at all of these things. Mike Wilson's point was you, you want to winnow it down to like, if the goal is to grow the business at that time, say we wanted to get to 30 million in revenue, you know, profitably or whatever the goal was, it was like, what's the smallest market we can serve?
[00:18:05] Corey: can I ask you just a follow up question on that? So why can't you be the best and serve businesses of all shapes and sizes?
[00:18:12] Ben: I think you can, if you have a lot of money. I think you can if you have a lot of money because you can go out and you could buy like, who is the ultimate, you know, who's the ultimate person, like, who's the guy that runs a digital marketing company for health care by that business, tuck it in and have it as a, as a business within the business.
I mean, I think theoretically you could do that, but when you sit there and look at it and go, okay, what would we need to do? What would blue Corona need to do to be the absolute best? Okay, we would need content experts. For health care, for legal, for technology, for, you know, fill in the blank manufacturing, we would need to be tied in to all of the, who are the influencers in those, you know, markets for link building and PR and all that kind of stuff.
Like, what are the things that are common with conversions on the website and what are things that are industry specific? Um, like no one in B2B software, and I'm sort of joking here, but no one's calling, you know, they fill out a form, but, but a residential plumber. It's like if it's not click to call, um, or like book the appointment immediately,you know, it'd be totally out of, out of kilter.
So what you start doing is sort of that, you know, I think it's a Jim Collins thing, the hedgehog concept where you start saying, okay, what are we really passionate about? For me, it was always like the small business, the challenger brand, the home service company. I just, I knew it really well. So it's like, what are we really passionate about?
What can we be the best in the world at with like in our lifetime, like with our resources and uh, and then where do we make money? So the other thing that we started looking as we had detailed analytics about our business. Because of my partner's background from day one, we had a really highly customized accounting package and so I could tell you profitability per client even from like in our first year.
I could tell you like our profitability across every client. So one day we sat in probably, it was probably 2015 or 16. We just said, all right, like, let's do kind of an 80 20 of the business. You know, does all of our profit come from like a handful of clients? In our case, the answer was no, the 80 20 didn't apply, but it was like it was like 90% of our profit came from 50% of our clients, something like that, you know, where you suddenly said, gosh, let now let's look at the 50.
And what are the commonalities of the 50? And it was like, oh, wow, you know, like these enterprise healthcare clients, they might be fun, kind of challenging, you know, it's, it's like tough work, intellectual work for someone. and, and maybe they had budget to like fly out there to meet with them or whatever.
it's not like profitable work. I mean, it wasn't unprofitable. It wasn't a sweet spot. So when you look at like, what are we passionate about? What can we be the best at? And where do we make money? That's sort of what led us to that.
[00:21:03] Corey: What do you
suppose would have happened if you didn't make this change back in 2016 from a verticalization?
You just continued down the road.
[00:21:11] Ben: You know, I think we were, we have done well consistently. Always had great client reviews, and always got a lot of referrals. I think we would have kept growing. But what would have happened? I mean, I think we would have. We grew faster when Mike came on board for the first time in my life, a sales guy actually under promised and then overdelivered.
So Mike came on board and turn the dial, so to speak, and it went faster than I expected. And I remember telling my partner. I've got to start hiring on the operation side, and I've got to upgrade all these systems. Our, our task management, our office space, I had all, and he was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, like the guy had one good quarter.
Okay, like, let's not get carried away here. Yeah. And I said, the problem is, but if, by the time we need the people, we're gonna be so upside down in terms of the delivery. And this is every agency struggles with this, right? Like you hire ahead, you make no money. If you hire behind clients and employees are pissed off.
I like this guy,
Mike Wilson. Mike is a good guy. He's, crushing quota and he's coming in and telling you less and more.
I love it. uh, in 2020, I promoted Mike to be our president. Nice. because again, Mike did have the sales background, but Mike started his, um, his degree, undergrad degree was in, he was a programmer. He was a software developer. So he's one of those rare people that he's really got, like, kind of both sides of his brain.
Both sides of his brain are highly capable where he recognized, you know, he told me what was going to happen. It started to happen. He kind of pulled me aside. You know, it wasn't during the executive meeting where everyone is present. He would pull me aside and say, Hey, Like, I trust you, I know you know what you're doing, it's not going to stop after this quarter.
It's going to get bigger. And these are all the, look at the pipeline report, you know, these are all the deals we have coming in. Like, I'm here to help. Yeah.
[00:23:07] Corey: What, what was he doing? I'm so curious. Like, what was he doing to generate all that business all of a sudden? Maybe it wasn't on this
[00:23:14] Ben: side, but what, who were they?
I got goosebumps just, uh, I got goosebumps just thinking about it. Yeah. Um, Mike, Mike would be, uh, you know, again, he's a fantastic leader. I think he's still the, you know, he's the president of Blue Corona, but he's also, he's kind of the president of all the digital marketing brands under Everservice, I believe.
I might have his title wrong, but, um, he's ultra capable, uh, leader. But what Mike did, Mike took a page, I believe out of a playbook of a mentor of his. Which again is all about getting crystal clear about the what and the how. The what being the goal, like what are we trying to achieve? And then once you're clear on that, you know, how are we going to get there?
But, for example, like the sales presentations. I mean, I had a sales background, you know, and so I always thought, Oh, you know, I'm great at selling and I'm great at hiring salespeople. But I didn't demand that everyone use the exact same PowerPoint or tell the exact same story. Mike did. Mike wanted everyone in the company to be able to tell the story in a consistent way.
Like every time. You know, we had one sales guy that would go on and on about the tracking and how we started as an analytics company. and then he would skip over. sort of all the breadth of what we can do, the solutions that we offer, the solutions that he would skip over some of that. And Mike heard it and was like, why are you doing that?
that's not our, you know, go to market pitch. So he made everything hyper consistent. He did narrow the focus, even where I pushed back and said, I don't want to be, you know, sort of one vertical. Mike was one of those guys that, and I, I'm sort of embellishing a lot of this. Um, when he disagrees, he won't argue with you too far on it.
He'll just do it. And then later, when you're like, why are you doing this? I told you I wanted to be in all these markets is like, did we hit the number? Like, do we have the best reviews we've ever had? Are we more profitable than ever? And what do you, what are we talking about? Exactly. Yes. All of a sudden, like every trade show is like, you know, the plumbing HVAC trade show, every day webinars, but you know, and I'm like, okay, I, you know, I get it.
And he would like, if you want to spend more money, I'll go broader, but we don't need to go broader to achieve what we're trying to achieve. What was he
[00:25:29] Corey: doing from you as collectively? Like, what were you doing to actually generate the business? like, how are you getting the leads and appointments?
Was it mostly outbound? Was it a combination of sort of inbound marketing and content market? Like, how did you, what? At this time, like how did you get this thing
[00:25:46] Ben: going? Well, you know, I think Mike's original hypothesis and again, he might, he might hear this and say, Oh, this is, you know, not, not true, but I think his original hypothesis was, you know, we, I, we started doing SEO for blue Corona.
You know, I was writing articles, publishing case studies, publishing analysis that I'd done back in probably in 2007 before we even like started the company. And so we had sort of the flywheel of SEO going from very early on. and we were getting all inbound leads. I mean, I used to make outbound calls when we were first starting out, but then we, it was sort of like, why would I go outbound when I come back to the office after meetings each day?
And I've got more inbound leads than I even have time to follow up with. so Mike saw that and said his initial thought was I'm going to add outbound onto your inbound engine. but it's going to cost more like Ben, your cost per acquisition, you've been living in Lala land. It's like the U. S.
with, rates of money, you know, like now the rates are up and young people are like, Oh my gosh, you know, mortgage is 7%. My dad's like 7%. I mean, I've gotten by a bigger house, you know, that cheap when I, so Mike was like, you've been living in this cost per acquisition land. That's like, because you've been just the beneficiary of this monstrous.
You know, SEO flywheel. That's going to change. That's going to go way up and you have to start like getting ready for that. but then when he started going, kind of setting things up to do more outbound. he came back to me at one point and said, it makes no sense. It makes no sense for me to have reps.
Reps time is their most valuable thing. Makes no sense to have them making these outbound calls, calls. If we can just keep tweaking the inbound, so we did outbound if you consider outbound speaking at conferences, getting on panels, reaching out to clients and saying, what's your experience been like with us?
Hey, who else in the industry should I talk to, you know, sort of like pushing referrals basically, um, always done a lot of email marketing to the people that inquired didn't close. You know, that kind of stuff. But but the vast majority and this maybe has changed over the last couple years again.
I've been largely uninvolved since probably mid 2020, you know, in terms of paying attention to how we generate opportunities.
What was at that
[00:29:15] Corey: time the structure of the sales team and the marketing team
[00:29:18] Ben: we had one marketing person plus whatever I was doing as the CEO I mean, I kind of looked at Sort of high level C level marketing was sort of what I was doing.
So we had one marketing person who would do, you know, oversee kind of the SEO and, and, uh, I don't know that we did a lot of paid search, but any, if we did any paid, if we did, um, you know, conferences and stuff like that, he would set it up. And then we had like a, um.
I don't know if he had like marketing operations, but he was basically the guy that took, we use Salesforce. He took Salesforce and kind of customized it for us. So we had all the funnels and sort of deal stages and the pipeline. And then what he would do is he would, he sort of would serve as this, you know, the leads come in and he's sort of making sure that they're getting doled out to the reps.
Sales enablement. Yeah. I would call it. You had like, you had a marketing. Qualified leads, but then you had sales qualified leads where it was like the sales team could say, Hey, marketing, try again with that one. Like, that's not qualified. And, and Mike, Mike is also a master at incentives. So, you know, incentivizing people for like incentivizing the marketing team to get into the marketing club of leads and the sales accepted, you know, I, and I don't even know if that's exactly how he did it, but I remember all of a sudden I was like paying and I say, I, the business was paying for all these different little things.
I'm like, dude, what are you doing? people used to just do this stuff because it was like their job. And he's like, yeah, and look what that got you. you know, he would incent these behaviors, this alignment between sales and, and the person, the marketing operations person or enablement was kind of in the middle and then we had, reps that were again, a combination of their, they're taking the leads thrown over for marketing, doing the discovery call, kind of the qualification.
to say that we did no outbound is, is, um, is wrong. I mean, we did, we tried all sorts of different things. We did some direct mail and those folks would be the ones that are calling through their portion of the, list and they could go and do anything they wanted to, you know, they could call people up, they could get the marketing team to do a competitive analysis and send it to someone, you know, cold, whatever they wanted to do, you know, they were sort of empowered to run that, but the marketing and sales team were sort of a.
it's like a soccer team or something, offense and defense in that regard.
[00:31:30] Corey: That's awesome. did you guys join like, home services associations? Uh, what did that play a role in your ability to, to grow and scale?
[00:31:39] Ben: We did. I mean, we were, that was, you know, again, sort of one of the benefits, obviously when you're taking a verticalized approach is you can start to kind of go deeper and say, all right, who are all the groups that matter within these, so, you know, and again, in home services, you know, they're, they're a whole bunch of influential groups.
Some of them we were like friends with, so we didn't join per se, but we were like friendly with them either because one of their members said, this is my company. They're the best. And then there were others where it was like a pay to play. You know, you want a table at our conference? You can speak, you know, sort of thing.
And, you know, it's hard to say. I mean, I would say we value the partners. So they've certainly played a role. I think I have kind of a bias for again, our original sort of marketing engine, like no single partner that I'm aware of, and I could be completely wrong here. It was generating the kind of value that we were getting from our own sort of research content, that kind of thing.
[00:32:37] Corey: did conferences play a meaningful role in your go to market, going to conferences, sponsoring,
[00:32:42] Ben: my perspective on conferences is it's, I mean, if you have people like I, I'm friendly with, uh, and now they're, some of those competitors are part of our family.
Yeah. There are some people that have a personality for conference life. Like, I mean, they are in, but, but it's not because they're speaking. I mean, maybe they're, it's their speak, but then they're at happy hour. They're like at the late night dinner They are after the business gets done. Yep. Yeah. They're people that, that they were like, put on earth to do that.
Yeah. I am not one of them. Neither am I. . Um, and, and our team, I mean, we, you know, we had a handful of people that would. We do that stuff, but I wouldn't say that from a results perspective, they were like overwhelmingly. You know, successful with it. So, yeah, like when, when the conferences all got canceled because of all the COVID related stuff, there was no, from, from my standpoint, someone on the market, he might say, Ben, you are killing us.
Like we we've gotten hundreds of sales from this. Yeah, that may be true. I mean, maybe true, but not my perception.
[00:33:45] Corey: Let's shift the conversation a little bit to, hiring, and product. is important as a vertical market, an agency focusing on home services. How important is it for you to hire people with a home services background?
And if so, if it is important for which roles are the most
[00:34:00] Ben: important?
a lot of marketing companies are really great, like with marketing, you know, the SEO and pay per click and all that stuff, but they don't know very much about business, like the finance side of business or, what should go into cogs and why, and, and sort of, again, identifying leverage points within the company.
Thank you. And I say all that because, I, and I won't get into this because it was part of our, it is part of our secret sauce, I think, still, which is, um, there is a way that almost every small business owner thinks about their business, like when you ask them, like, what would you pay to acquire a new customer or, what is like your profit center within the business?
There's a way that people think about it. And it's, you know, And it's flawed or wrong. And so, we would kind of teach people a different way. To look at the business. And when I say teach people, like the Blue Crone employees, we would kind of teach them a different way to look at the plumbers business or the HVAC company's business.
And I say all that because, it wasn't always that helpful to bring someone in, for example, like into a pay per click role who had worked with a bunch of plumbers in the past, if they didn't, weren't willing to kind of look at things through a different lens. Because you'd have people that would come in that would say, You guys are paying X for this keyword like that's stupid.
You know, I never did that You know my company we did did it this way and it's like yeah Well, let me show you a different kind of way to look at it, right? And if some people would see it they would go. Oh my gosh Like so glad I joined like I'm but then there are other people that like that makes no sense So I think where you obviously want people that have experience, but again, it's sort of, you can have too much experience sometimes, but, you know, in the account facing roles, you need people that have the ability to identify with probably first and foremost, the small business owner.
I mean, even more so than like the plumber versus, you know, HVAC, or, you know, electrical, a lot of those companies have more in common. Then they have like more in common as small business owners than they do as like a plumber versus an electrician. from the account services side of things, it helps when people have that, like, we have a lot of employees where they're like, Oh, my father was a fill in the blank.
My parents own this type of company. and again, so they would have this, like this, a certain mindset, like, you know, you'd have people where, like, again, the company is hitting budget early. You know, they've set a budget for pay per click and they're hitting it early and someone who understands that small business owner understands that, like, if they've got trucks sitting in the lot, people are like, you know, at McDonald's on break smoking cigarettes instead of running jobs like that plumber, if someone could call him up and say, hey, you have capacity, there is more out there.
Like, can you handle that this month? Like, turn it on. That is like, goes straight to the bottom line and it's life changing for the owner of the business and for all the key employees and goes out, trickles all the way down to the, to the technician. So, but then there are other people that are like, well, I didn't call him because he said his budget was 2000 hours a month.
And it's like, Oh, it's a business owner mindset is critical. but you know, when it comes to like copywriting, I mean, if you don't know anything about. residential plumbing, or you don't know again, like what's a heat pump versus geothermal versus, you know, fill in the blank, you know, somewhat problematic, but most, people that are great again, great copywriters, you can get them.
I've never met a great copywriter who can't get up to speed lightning fast. Sure. Yeah. Especially if they're like a
[00:37:38] Corey: journalist, you know, especially if that's their focus going forward, they'll get it and they'll get better over
[00:37:43] Ben: time. The business owner mindset, I would say is the number one thing. Like if you were serving enterprise, office in the DC metro area.
And in the DC metro area, there are tons of agencies that serve government, nonprofits, all that kind of stuff. That is a different world, different mindset, you know, committees. And I want no part of that. That is completely like, does not work if you're trying to serve people that are the small business owners, especially in the trades.
Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
[00:38:18] Corey: And my experience of serving folks in the trades. Is that they could be rather emotional and wear their heart on the sleeves when they're
[00:38:27] Ben: upset. There's another, there's another piece that, that people don't realize that, you know, like, again, if you're a 20 something, you know, sometimes you hire someone that people that are like really sophisticated with, you know, filling the blank digital market stuff, some of them skew younger.
So you have someone that like, you have to kind of teach them, like you are the age of this business owner's like daughter and, and they were like, this guy is such a hothead. You know, he's like flying off the rails and he's, he's like yelling at me. And it's like, When, when a lot of times when people don't know something, like they feel dumb, they, they, their reaction to it is to get angry, like raise, he's not like not yelling at you.
Like you have to kind of go deeper as to why, because the person's like, I went through the numbers like 10 times and he was screaming and it's like, you know, yeah, because you can do advanced mental math like on the fly, like, Oh, your conversion rate doubled, which means your cost per lead went to half.
And then the guy's getting mad. You're like, why is he getting mad? This is all good news. And it's like, because he's not following a word you're saying, right? Like people forget how smart
[00:39:27] Corey: they are. So it's a little bit of EQ goes a long way. I think in these situations,
[00:39:31] Ben: big time, big time.
[00:39:32] Corey: as it relates to the services you provide, within home services, did you end up developing any product itself or how did your product evolve as you got more focused on the home services
[00:39:43] Ben: Well, I mean, again, when I think back to like challenges that we faced, you know, I, I kind of think of them as like kind of in the life cycle of the company. Like when we were a startup, it's like. You're trying to create new services, but you're trying to deliver services. You're trying to conserve cash.
You're trying to invest for growth. You're trying to add to the team that you have. You're trying to develop the team, like you have all these challenges. And then as you get into like the growth phase, all of a sudden it's like, gosh, we need to build like an actual, like kind of a level two leadership team.
And instead of promoting people that have been here from the beginning, kind of this loyalty culture. Where we're promoting people because they've been here in the trenches with us. You got to start hiring people who have done it before, kind of a performance culture and going into the question you asked is when you're in the services world, you start looking at, okay, well, like what are the challenges that prevent us from scaling, assuming you want to scale?
And I would say a lot of agencies start to scale and start to realize that, gosh, scaling means spending more time doing these things that maybe you don't like doing, like HR and organizational design. But you start looking at it and going, okay, well, if we focus on one industry and so every client starts to look more similar, that could help us scale.
If we could winnow down the services that we offer, so we're not trying to like do everything for everyone, that, that might help. and if we could create a product, you know, there's a famous book, Guy Kawasaki, Art of the Start, and it's throughout the book, it's like services don't scale, services don't scale, productize, productize, create a product, use the services to get the insight and then turn it into a product.
We did in 2011 or 12, we had a software separate, it was kind of tied to the analytics, but it was separate from the analytics. One guy and his brother built it. It was like incredible. And it was like, we're going to turn this into another company. We're kind of recapitalize it. New company will license it back to blue Corona.
And that way we can get a SAS multiple on that business. And that thing could grow to become monstrous. And then blue Corona will grow like a agency challenges, fits and starts. I learned through that. And again, this is, I have a lot of limitations as a former CEO, as a leader, running a service company.
I'm running a product company. I mean, could not be more different. And just because you're good at one doesn't mean you can do the other. I started realizing like, gosh, now I see why these software companies raise, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars and how they blow through it. it's so much different thinking about, you know, the architecture for a software that's going to serve.
10 million people. And, and I was like, Oh, don't worry about that. We'll figure that out when we get like a thousand subscribers and the developers, like you do not understand. That's like a tax. Like you can't just pull out the guts and put new guts in once we have a, you know, a thousand, customers. So we tried that.
We ended up reabsorbing the company. We bought the entity back. Um, that was probably in 2013 or 14. It's kind of funny. The company that acquired us, Everservice, their sort of tagline is, uh, is tech enabled, people powered, and nothing could be a clearer description of, of Blue Cronus business. We have software tech products, we use it to deliver the services and to differentiate.
As opposed to licensing it or selling it as a separate package.
[00:43:06] Corey: now that you're on the other end of it. and maybe reflecting back on that process. any of the lessons learned, whether personally or professionally, as far as the, you know, being the CEO, founder, founder, led CEO, getting acquired.
Anything you want to share with regard to, you know, Well,
[00:43:22] Ben: I, I like the, uh, I like, it was a combination of, uh, I would, I would probably chalk it up to Mike, you know, before you, uh, it, it's always going to benefit the business to have, think of like, uh, your company is having a master sort of pitch deck. You know, the blue Corona pitch deck, which is like, you know, who we are, who we serve, how we serve them, how we'll win in the marketplace, the size of the market, what differentiates us, who are our competitors, how are we better, who's our team, the core team, what makes them great?
How long have they been with you? Um, you know, a little, some of the growth, financial data, and then sort of the future, like the vision, where are we taking the company? We had, we were, we always had things like that from very early on. I was always sort of work in the culture, sort of why we exist, our values, all that.
And we had lots of like decks and an intranet. Training and all this stuff, what Mike, what Mike did was just keep making it clearer, simpler and clearer, simpler and clearer. And so when you have that deck, even if you never sell the business will be a better business for the clients, for the employees, for the owners, it'll grow faster, more consistently when everything is crystal clear, what we're trying to accomplish, how we do it, how we behave.
And so having that sort of that master deck. And then if you decide you're, you're ready to look at maybe an acquisition or joining forces with someone else, that's the deck. You know, if you hire an investment banker, we didn't, but if you hire an investment banker, that's what they build. Um, we, ours was so good that I remember I would get decks from investment bankers trying to sell companies to us.
I'd sign the NDA and open up the deck and I'm like, ours is better than this. They're going to pay this investment bank a fortune as part of this deal, and we've already got that. And I know a lot of the players in the market. I would get these blind, random emails from people that had no idea who I was.
You know, that some entry level person at the, uh, investment bank, it's just blasting out decks and I'm like, not paying a premium for that when I know the market and I know our business. So the, the takeaway for your listeners is, you know, as be as clear as you can be about your company, why you exist, who you serve, how you differentiate, how you go to market, how you win, how you generate business, the structure of the organization, key systems that you use.
I mean, obviously it's a lot, it, it's a lot to put together. So maybe the investment bankers are, maybe they're paid fairly, but as the CEO, you should be able to, with your team build this, and then that becomes sort of your blueprint for you internally. But then when you go to sell, it's amazing how much better the story plays.
When you're, you're not like that meeting that you're having is no different than any other meeting that you might have internally where you walk someone through this is who we are. This is what we're all about. When you have to, like, go through that. I went with some clients, you know, as like a fly on the wall where it was like, kind of like they like, let's dress up the pony to take it out to market.
Um. It's hard to do that really well, you know, when that's kind of like your first time you've put it, it's like first time you tried to tie a bow tie or put a tuxedo on. So it doesn't go as easy as someone who does it every Friday night. I love that
advice. It's super practical.
I have just two final questions for you. Uh, first one is what advice would you have to an agency owner? Maybe they're, they've taken a generalist approach to growing their agency. And they're thinking about verticalizing their business or focusing their business in on a vertical, what sort of advice that, uh, would you have for them as they're thinking through this choice?
I think I would encourage them to again, kind of think through that. What are you, what are you really passionate about? What's your team really passionate about? I mean, maybe it's everything, but most. Groups of people that I know sort of gravitate to a type of client, a type of, you know, type of, uh, persona.
And so I would just, I, I got, maybe I'd take a step back and say, what are you trying to accomplish? I mean, if you're trying to become like Razorfish or something, you know, you're trying to build a billion dollar WPP. That's what you want to do. Then maybe that's okay. I would, I would examine your resources and say, do I, can I really do this the right way?
Um, but if, but if the goal is like, oh, you know, I'm running a 8 million agency and I want to double in size, I would just say, kind of do what Mike did with me, which is like, you know, what's the kind of how narrow could we go to achieve that? Because the challenge of scaling services as you and probably a lot of the listeners know, Is, you know, services are tough, it's tough to stick scale services and when you're trying to do it, you know, across a lot of different industries with multiple services, it's very, it's very difficult.
And I guess I would, I would probably rather, um, verticalize around an industry versus a single service. I mean, I think industry is risky, you know, ask anyone who specialized in luxury when, you know, a recession hits or something. Um, so I would think very strategically about like, where's a good place to be in the coming years, but I think, uh, verticalizing around a service, if it's digital, I think that's even, um, to me, that's even riskier.
That's really technology is, yeah, by definition, I mean, with the,
[00:49:19] Corey: with the coming of AI and. Who knows what the next five years is going to be like, but it's going to be different than, than our world today. Like they should go
[00:49:25] Ben: through the analysis of like, what are the advantages of being broad? I mean, yes, if there's something that happens in one industry, yes, it provides a little bit of variety, but.
You know, sort of take it the other way, you know, what, what exactly are you gaining that where you need to stay so, you know, so broad and is that, is that really, uh, more attractive than, than going narrow? I think most people say, well, I don't want to go narrow because it's like that industry is not that big.
I mean, I hear you say, I used to say that to Mike, like, you know, we can't get to this size with that industry. And he would be like, you know, that's a, that's a filter filter that exists in your mind.
[00:50:02] Corey: Exactly. Exactly. Last question. What's your motivation?
[00:50:07] Ben: Uh, wow. What's my motivation? It's, it's changed over the years.
These days my family and friends call me Zen Ben. They, they would have never uttered that word. Um, you know, back then. Yeah, I think I would say, you know, my motivation continues to be, um, you know, I'm a big fan of sort of the journey and the process. And so even I would say like for the audience, I mean, again, I know we talk a lot about growth.
I've mentioned growth a lot during this. Growth should be the outcome of great thinking, of a great strategy. Growth should not be the goal. I mean, I know that for a lot of people it is, and I know for me, in many years in the past, growth was the goal. But growth should be the outcome of building a great company, having a great strategy, you know, delivering a lot of value for the clients.
And I say all that, again, as it relates to, like, I feel the same way about, like, setting goals. The goal exists to get, you know, to get you to start the journey and to sustain the journey when it gets, when it gets tough. So I would say my motivation continues to be sort of watching people transform, you know, sort of through the journey.
as I mentioned, you know, I stepped down as the CEO in 2021 and the company has, I would argue it's done even better. So after all those years of running it, on the one hand, there's like a twinge of sadness, like, man, I wasn't as, I wasn't as important as I thought I was. Um, but then there's also this tremendous sense of pride that the people that I hired that I worked alongside kind of in the trenches with are now in more important roles in a, in a much bigger ecosystem doing stuff that I'm sure they could never have imagined.
And so the satisfaction comes from that. I mean, that's priceless. That's beautiful.
[00:51:57] Corey: Where can people reach out to get in touch with you?
[00:52:01] Ben: Yeah, email is probably best. Ben dot Landers, L A N D E R S at Blue Corona dot com. I also have a personal Ben at Ben Landers dot com. So someone feels like they can, you know, don't want to go through the corporate channel.
That's fine. Um, again, happy to talk to any agency owners about growth challenges. I'd probably referring back to someone like you, but growth challenges, sort of the decision or some of the things that were going on in the business when we decided to, uh, to go the acquisition route. And then, of course, if someone looks at ever services, Website or blue coronas and sort of wants to learn more or wonders.
Like what a good fit would be. I'm happy to, um, have a conversation.
[00:52:38] Corey: Fantastic, Ben. This has been awesome. So much value here for the listeners and I've learned so much myself. So thank you so
[00:52:45] Ben: much. Thanks for having me. Yeah. Yeah. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.