Episode 47: How to Grow From Concept To Cash with Rand Fishkin

I sat down with SEO guru Rand Fishkin, co-founder of MOZ and SparkToro.

He’s legendary in the marketing and SEO world.

Amassing, 400,000 Twitter followers, and 139,000 on LinkedIn, and growing.

Now I had to know:

  • What it took to kickstart MOZ
  • Where his genius ideas come from
  • And how he navigates the tricky waters of bringing an idea to market

We discuss his current business, SparkToro which was built with a single goal: to help marketers know their audiences inside out.

So, if you’re in the trenches building marketing products, or you’re thinking of turning a product into a service – this one’s for you.

Seriously, this guy’s practically a god in the SEO & marketing universe.

So, I was glued. And you will be too. 

Remember to:

Follow Rand on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/randfishkin

Follow ‘Mellonie Francis’ on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mellonie-francis

Transcript:

Rand:
You don’t have to go where your audience isn’t, or where they might be in the future, you can be a cutting edge follower, you don’t have to be the trailblazer. It just doesn’t make sense in my mind to go put lots of effort and energy from a marketing perspective into a platform that you think is going to take off rather than one that already is proving that it is.


Mel:
Hey, guys, I’m super excited to have here with me, Rand, Fishkin, a serial entrepreneur, an innovative mind a legend in the marketing and SEO world. At the moment, as I’m looking at it, he has 139,000, LinkedIn followers, because of the value he provides, each day here on the platform, he co founded one of the earliest SEO companies Moz. And it was exceptional, I remember using it back, when, and it, I use it almost every day, when I was trying to understand the SEO tactics each site was using. And now, he has exited that about five years ago. And he’s the CEO of Spark Toro, which is a really cool data analytics tool, which lets you better understand your audiences and consumers. Rand has just an exceptional way to really market and share insights and knowledge. And that’s what caught my eye. And I’m just super excited, someone of his level is here to share his journey of entrepreneurship with us. He’s also actually written a book about entrepreneur ship called Lost and founder, which is like a painfully honest guide to the startup world. So I’m really excited to have him on here and share his journey. PS, he’s also got 400,000 followers on Twitter. So he’s really got this marketing thing down, Pat. So let’s get into it with any company that you do, given that you have had such success. How do you you know, sit there and how you actually come up with that? Yes, this is the thing, you know, that I think, oh, that’s what I want to really, really do you know, like, so I just want to hear about your mind.


Rand:
I think this is often you know, how when you hear a real story of sort of a, whatever a celebrity or a famous person, you’re like, how do you do this incredible thing? And how did you accomplish that? And you find out like, their parents were actors, and they just got them the job, right? They didn’t do anything amazing. And I think the story here is rather similar, at least when we when it comes to molars, right in SEO software, which was, I was a failed web designer, my, the business that my mom and I were running, which was like helping people with small business websites was dying and owed a lot of money, including, we had contracted some SEO folks to this is like 2002. So really, early SEO, contracted some SEO folks, for our clients, right to do SEO for the websites that we were building, and we couldn’t afford to pay them. Like we we literally didn’t have the money our clients didn’t pay us. We whatever, all sorts of nasty things. So I got into SEO because I had to do it myself. Because we had no money to pay the people who we wanted to do it who are professionals got and found that I had a reasonable knack for it After slogging away for for several years built up something of an audience around the blog, which the blog was just basically me saying, I don’t know how to do this, why does this work? Why doesn’t that work? You know, if you read the early blog posts, they’re terrible. And then, you know, trying to network my way into, let me see if I can go to this conference. And I’ll just hang out in the lobby and like interview people who know what they’re doing in SEO and that kind of thing. So I got into SEO completely by accident and terrible business operations and not knowing what I was doing. That was that was the start. And then the software. The software came about because we we built some software for ourselves to be able to automate some of the tasks that we were doing. So this is a few years into our SEO consulting journey. That software was not ready for primetime in any way. But when we made it available to other people via our blog, lots of people signed up because there was almost no other SEO software out there. And certainly nothing that you could subscribe to online that would do it all for you. You know the SEO software at the time you had that downloaded onto your desktop and run it from your local machine and it didn’t work. very well, and you get blocked all the time. So our cloud software subscription service was better. Not good, right? Like it wasn’t, it wasn’t great or anything. But we got very lucky with timing, incredibly lucky with timing in that we released seo software, just when 1000s Millions of people were getting into SEO and Google was growing like a rocket ship. And so, you know, Moz did very well was an industry leader for many years. And then, I think, to your point, right, like some other people came out with better software easier to use stayed up more, especially was more effective in languages that weren’t just English in the US, and sort of took the market share away from Moz. I think by you know, Moz was probably market leader for maybe like 2010 to 2015 16. And then by 2017 18, you know, it was being surpassed by folks like SEMrush and Ahrefs, Sistrix other providers.


Mel:
So, fast forward to now, do you see that with tech, and with your new venture? That timing, you know, you said, timing is everything, you know, it’s like almost like first to market? And is that also the crux of what you saw as well. But you know, there isn’t enough, there is a problem here, I need to enter this lack of research there was at the same sort of journey here, or you’re much more mature entrepreneur at this point, you know, so what are you picking for


Rand:
in more ways than one? Yes. So So with Spark Toro, interestingly enough, I think two things are true. One is, I felt that the product that spark Toro provides, I thought it was very strange that in the prior 20 years, no one had already made it, it seemed like a thing that should definitely exist, right? You should be able to go to a website and type in, hey, I’m trying to reach interior designers in California, tell me what they read and watch and listen to and follow. You could do that in 1968. Right? Like, you know, you go into whatever Omni comm or or, you know, Don Draper’s offices, right, and you’d get, you know, there’s a big book, and it told you Oh, okay, well, interior designers read these magazines, and they watch these, you know, these networks on television, and they go to these events, you know, and those books would get updated once a year by some market research firm. And it seems madness to me that that in 2018, right? When we started building Spark, Toro, that there wasn’t software that told you that same thing, right, that information is right out there. It’s public, everybody on Twitter, and LinkedIn and Facebook and Reddit and YouTube and Instagram and Tiktok. They’re telling you exactly what they read and subscribe to and watch and link to comment on. You just have to crawl that data and put it into a database in a smart way and make it query Abul and give someone a user interface. So that that is what we built. But I don’t think it’s a timing thing. I don’t see that industry. It’s not going away. But it’s also not on the rise. There’s no big movement around it. The key the second thing I was gonna say is we don’t have to care this time. So mas Melanie, I raised money right from venture capitalists. Yeah, the VC model is invest in 100 companies 95 of them die. Four of them do kind of okay. And one of them makes you a billion dollars. Right. So everybody is trying to chase that billion dollar growth curve, which means you can’t enter a market that is long term profitable likely to be a success, but probably won’t be a smashing success. That’s what spark Toro is. Spark Toro is the lowest risk kind of software startup what what Casey and I wanted to build was a company that was very likely to serve a lot of people well, and to make a profit doing it, and to survive for a long time. But not did not need to be a billion dollar rocket ship. And that’s, that’s why the timing issue didn’t matter for us nearly as much.


Mel:
How many how many employees? Do you have this time round? Like, because, you know, there’s just the three of us. Yeah, and I just love that. I just think it’s so super easy right? Profit.


Rand:
It’s not a headache. Yeah. I mean, we have plenty of challenges, right? Like we, you know, Spark Toro experiences its share of pain and heartache and struggle, but compared to mas, our worst day here is better than most of my best days. Right? Because it’s just a very easy company to run. It’s low stress. It’s low intensity The there’s not a lot of management issues or politics or people’s hurt feelings. If Amandain’s upset about something, she’ll tell me if Casey’s bugged by something we’ll get on the phone. If I have a problem with something, I’ll go complain to Geraldine, you know, like,


Mel:
you go create, or you go create a video about this.


Rand:
Like, I’m I’m upset that Elon Musk is doing this insane stuff with Twitter, and it really breaks a whole bunch of stuff. And he he should know better. And


Mel:
so that’s what I’m saying. One of your challenges I saw you recently, post about, which is what your company is there is to give us audience analytics so we can better understand their psyche, and then we can better actually talk to our market as a result, right. So cool. But there is this problem right now on that if they don’t share that analytics back with you, you can’t really share it back with us being all platforms that we are consuming content all day around. So that is that sounds like a challenge. And how do you see that future of that challenge play out? Is that going to get harder for you to actually be relevant and impactful to us that want that data?


Rand:
Let’s see. So when we talk about that, in broad terms, I think the answer is, it’s been challenging the whole time we’ve existed, like Instagram has always made it hard to crawl them and get their data out. LinkedIn has always been a pain in the butt to crawl and get data from. But you know, that’s what we’re here for. Right? We’re here to solve difficult technical challenges. I say we, this is almost all Casey. Right? So Casey builds systems to work around, he worked with me at Moz. And at Moz, we had to do this against Google, right, like crawling lots and lots of Google search results, especially, you know, today, they’re less so about it. But there was a time in the mid 2010s, when they were extremely aggressive about trying to block companies like Moz, from crawling their results. And then, you know, they at some point, they finally threw in the towel, and they realised, wait a minute, I think it might actually be a good thing if we let these people crawl our sites, because they will help people create content for us, which helps searchers so we’re kind of giving up on the whole don’t crawl us thing I don’t think I don’t think anyone at Google has even mentioned, you know, crawling search results in seven, eight years, right? But Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, they’re still all a pain about it. You know, who’s great about it, as Reddit read, it’s like, yeah, crawl the crap out of us, like, Come and get it baby. You know, we got we go and get lots of Reddit data. And and that’s been fantastic. I think that I think that openness actually helps Reddit be more relevant and useful. Twitter’s API obviously has been, you know, they’ve had a free API for a decade. Plus, it’s been incredibly useful for all sorts of purposes. You know, lots of people use our free tools for our Charles free tools, which use the Twitter API. And I mean, when I talked to the Twitter API team, obviously, before new guy took over, but they were thrilled with us, right, they loved that we provided you know, all these free tools, and it helped people use Twitter more, and it helped give advertisers more opportunities, and Twitter was good for their business. It was good for us. Fantastic. I have no idea why new owner wants to shut off free API access. That seems like a pretty terrible idea. Seems like it’s going to really hurt usage. Obviously. It’s really hurt usage already. I think 10% of Twitter’s activity is gone since December, because of a lot of it because of the clients, right? They shut down the external API for external clients. Like I can’t remember the name of the really popular ones. But most of those folks have gone over to Mastodon now. Right. Oh, seems seems like a terrible business move to me. But, yeah, so in terms of what spark Toro is doing, yes, it’s a challenge. It’s always been a challenge, it’ll continue to be a challenge. I think it’s one of those things where, you know, Casey says, Ah, this is gonna be a pain in the butt. And I always say, Yeah, but it’s gonna be a pain in the butt for anybody else who wants to try and do it too, which makes it a competitive advantage.


Mel:
I mean, one thing I’ve always wanted to do is crawl LinkedIn to really, truly understand popular content, you know, like, what was the most shared posts, like what is actually trending? And it’s so I mean, it’s difficult. I think you have to have a very great engineer. You were all thinking of these as entrepreneurs going gold. Wouldn’t that be great, but as soon as you go in and even think API, that’s it that’s out of the question would know they don’t have that so. So again, you come back to crawling, which they make it like it’s almost an illegal thing that you’re trying to do. So all these clever ideas of what we want to do then we just go oh, just too hot. or I’m scared that the engineer is not going to be good enough to be able to actually crawl at that rate, and then they’re going to be blocked and and keep doing it. What’s your thought and feedback to those of us that are, you know, coming up with maybe great solutions that would be very relevant for creators or so forth. But we just like kind of go, not, it’s just going to get too hard from engineers, you know, yeah. gone through that.


Rand:
Yeah. I mean, with LinkedIn, in particular, and actually a more and more of the services, they’re specialists who do the crawling for you, you can just pay them, right. So you know, if you search for data sources, like you know, full crawl of LinkedIn, or hey, I want to, you know, buy LinkedIn API, you can buy third parties who essentially will crawl most of the profiles on LinkedIn for you, and then you send them an API call, it might take a little while, that’s a little more expensive. But to be honest, it’s probably way less expensive than building your own service to go crawl LinkedIn. So I would look at some of these third parties, I think, this specialised data access industry, that’s going to have a very strong and powerful future. Right. And yeah, yeah. You know, I don’t know if you’ve seen like, the phone banks in, you know, for example, I’ve seen some of them in like Vietnam, right, where they just have huge banks of, you know, hundreds 1000s of mobile phones that are essentially just scrolling on Instagram. Yeah, to get all of to crawl all the Instagram data. Yeah, just buying from them. Right. You don’t have to do it yourself. You can just buy from one of them. Yes.


Mel:

I mean, that sounds so bizarre. And I saw that with it. It’s just sitting down empty phones, and it’s just going through and they met like, it’s just automated. And it’s cool. Yeah,


Rand:
they have a little computer machine with a little fake finger that’s scrolling on their phone. Yeah. Instagram can’t obviously detect what’s what’s the difference between a human being with their finger and you know, a finger that belongs to a machine.


Mel:
Okay, so you’re saying, you know, if you see an opportunity, if you see that there’s relevant data that can be really thing.


Rand:
Yeah, if you want something super valuable, and you think to yourself, gosh, if I built this, if I only had access to the data, go check it out, someone probably is getting that data, they’re selling it to other people already, that means it’s cheaper to sell it to you, right. And if you are a genius, who can extract data from one of these unique places, you might consider selling it to, you know, folks like Spark Toro and many others.


Mel:
Got it, got it, come back to then the channels. Now you said, you know, bread, it’s really cool and easy to extract data. But you’re across all these channels, being a provider of research. So you are like really curious of what’s going on what new data is available as well, that can be useful. I’m really more, you know, over here on LinkedIn, and I’m seeing like new filters coming and popping up like recently, they said, you know, anyone that interacted with your content is a data point that was new that I hadn’t ever seen before over in sales, which is, which is really, really great to know, who you know, has interacted with my data and who’s then in my ICP, like, I can kind of get that which wasn’t there or profile views. And then I can really go in and that sort of stuff wasn’t actually, you know, a year ago, looking back, and I was pretty intimate, unless I just missed it. But I’m pretty sure I was pretty intimate with the platform. It wasn’t there. So these kind of, you know, there is data that is looks like that’s newly being released to us and to you then. So how do you see that in Twitter, in LinkedIn? Do you see us all staying with these platforms, utilising them the same way so that they can continue to collect data? Do you see a huge shift in where we’re going to move? How we consume content? I’m really keen to hear your thoughts on those points.


Rand:
Yeah, I mean, let’s see, I will say this. As far as marketers go, I don’t think you have to predict the future. Like, I’m actually pretty passionate about this. I wrote a post about it in early January, where I don’t think that’s your job. And I don’t know that it’s particularly valuable, right? If you tell me like, Hey, I think in three years, a tonne of the business networking activity that happens on LinkedIn is actually going to move to tic toc. Yeah. So what I mean, maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong. But yeah, what I would tell you is, don’t move any of your budget. Don’t move your efforts over there until you actually see that starting. Right. Right. You don’t you don’t have to go where your audience isn’t or where they might be in the future. You can be a, you know, cutting edge follower. You don’t have to be the trailblazer. It just doesn’t make sense in my mind to go put lots of effort and energy from a marketing perspective into a platform that you think is going to take off rather than one that already is proving that it is. So I almost take this approach of you know, my job as whatever provider of audience research Yes, we haven’t done anything with tick tock because frankly, what I believe is tick tock is primarily a consumer Entertainment Network. Agree not an interests network, you watch it the same way you would watch television and movies, or play video games, not Oh, I’m really interested in. I’m an interior designer who wants to learn more about this new architecture style. So I’m going to follow these people on Tik Tok. I’m not saying there aren’t a few, you might do it. There’s some, there’s a little bit of that. But that’s probably more of a YouTube thing. It’s more of a Twitter thing. It’s more of a I subscribe to Architectural Digest email newsletter, I subscribe to these sub stacks. That’s where those types of interest activities are happening. And you go to tick tock to watch people with not enough clothes on dance. Right? So like, I’m not saying that’s the whole thing. But largely tick tock is an entertainment network, it becomes an interest network and a source of influence network, different story, right? Totally different thing than we have to start crawling in and providing data, but it’s not there yet.


Mel:
I agree. I mean, as also a content creator or influence, I people go I really want to get on tick tock and you know, I want to shift over there. And I was like, But why you don’t know, you’re no one’s there that you care about, like you care about


Rand:
people, they’re, they’re just not caring about the thing that you’re doing there.


Mel:
That’s right, they’ve peeking in different interests, like when I look at my clients, what they are doing there, it’s like with the kids like so, my audience 4040 Plus, they sometimes getting on with their daughter and doing dances to with the daughters, and you know, and really having fun with it or consuming very strange content that they that we wouldn’t ever know in the business world to be honest with you that they do. I mean, if you really want to get in but it’s, it’s some of them are just getting it who are interested just in entertainment, or they love entertaining themselves or love entertaining, and they just want to have a go and play with this really cool, powerful creation tool that’s been released into the market being you know, tick tock, really powerful. And I really love what you said, yeah. So what about you? When did you decide that LinkedIn is where you want to build influence? You know, when?


Rand:
Because you’ve got a long time ago?


Mel:
Yeah. Why did you start and wet late? Because the reason I’m so curious is okay, your background comes from SEO, you’re having you know, that’s where you why wouldn’t you just keep plugging away? I’m pretty sure


Rand:
the first time I saw LinkedIn ranking for someone’s profile highly in Google. That was the trigger point, right? I went, wait, I need to sign up for that. I need to create my profile there. I need to claim it. I need to own it and run it and all those kinds of things. And I’ve been active there probably since Oh, six. Wow. Yeah. So for a very, very long time. And then, you know, LinkedIn also became, I would say, more powerful and more important, the, the worst content on Twitter performs, right. So essentially, a lot of the marketing universe for a long time was very Twitter centric, you can find some on LinkedIn as well, always. But over the last especially, I would say three years to three years, and particularly since Elon announced he was, you know, buying Twitter last year. The exodus from Twitter to Mastodon and LinkedIn are the two primary ones, you to discord a little bit like those places are also getting some activities, some Reddit. But LinkedIn was a huge beneficiary of that, at least in the universe that I operate in. And I suspect probably plenty of others. So you, I think you could you could kind of feel like, hey, Twitter is going to be a place where you fight about politics and social issues. LinkedIn is going to be a place where you have interesting conversations about your professional life and professional interests. And so I would say I’ve moved probably maybe 30 40% of my social activity to LinkedIn, I log in much more than I did two years ago for example. And we’ve we also saw right the spike, you can see it in Spark Toro, right that interest in us followers of Spark Toro people sharing, you know what we’re doing, they’re people sharing our blog posts, their people re sharing the videos that I make there. All of that has been stellar with we’ve seen some of that unmastered On to but not not to the same extent.


Mel:
How has your followers you know, from oh six, like when did you see the massive spike to like 135k followers? Like, how are they just viral pieces? Or is it just, you know, steady, slow and steady and just kept doing it over? And was there early on to that? Because some people come in on your own right now. Really fast 100k? And you’re like, Whoa, like, I don’t know if how you’ve done that? And what kind of audience or if you bought that, or what you’re doing, right, because it takes a long time to get quality audience so


Rand:
yeah, I don’t see I don’t see a big viral spike, you know, even when we have a piece that does extremely well, or, you know, video gets whatever, 100,000 impressions or something like that. On LinkedIn. Maybe there’s a small lift, but usually, you know, it’s day by day by day, people sign up for our software, or they get our email newsletter, or someone forwards them to, so they find us because someone else mentioned them. So it’s it’s always been a slow trickle slow and steady build. I think those people you know, who built audiences extremely rapidly. This is not exclusively true, but it’s often true. Amanda, my VP of marketing right at Spark Toro. She’s an exception to this rule. She built an audience very organically, but extremely quickly, right. But most of the for most folks who are like that, right, Amanda’s talked to a lot of them, and probably would have more success interviewing her about this. But what she’s seen, and what we’ve talked about is that most of those people who have very spiky audiences have extremely low engagement rates, right? So they’ve built up this audience very quickly, by usually focusing on what I would call maybe a topic of viral interest, or a Follow Me to make money fast kind of thing. It doesn’t have to be money, but it can follow me to accomplish this goal that you have very rapidly. And most of the people figure out that most of those people are snake oil salesmen. Right. And because most of them are, and that’s not to say everyone is there’s some outliers, for sure. But Melanie, I’m sure you’ve seen the same thing like that.


Mel:
I mean, yeah, I’ve seen it. And I, I mean, I can tell when someone, like I’ve got an eye for it now, where it’s, it’s not real. It’s not I mean, it’s


Rand:
kind of engaging, right, like, yeah, cryptocurrencies were a, you know, a pyramid scheme of sorts, right? The the first few early people, if you could convince everyone else to buy whatever crypto scheme you’ve got going, you could make an incredible amount of money. And so people who are very good at convincing people to short term sort of, Hey, there’s this way to get money fast. And it’s sort of like a lottery, right? You could win or you could lose, but you should gamble on this thing that I want you to gamble on, because all benefit from it. People who are good at selling those stories often did quite well out of that, that makes me sad, right? Like, I wish that that was not a skill or a talent that was rewarded. But also, you know, I recognise it for what it is,


Mel:
yeah, I sit there and analyse a lot of content creators, especially the ones that I want to talk to, or whatever. And sometimes I’ll sit there and I was like, I don’t, it doesn’t make sense, the value is not there. I don’t understand why someone’s engaging with you to this radical point, or why you guys are all engaging with each other, really, it’s not changing or adding value. And sometimes it’s actually embarrassing, I feel embarrassed for them, but they’ve got 100k followers, and they’ve got two likes, I actually feel like, if I was them, I would like start like getting rid of the connections ASAP, so that they can look like a legitimate human being. It’s, it’s, I feel embarrassed for them. And you know, they’re like, I want to come on your podcast, and I’ve got 100k followers, and I’m like, Yeah, but it’s all about that quality piece of value a for me, and then I’ll look at you know, your How are you engaging? And how were you as a person and how you giving back and, you know, I love your profile, Banner, you’ll see your I love going with an underdog and personalization of being able to feel that human that it’s, it’s going to be a nice chat, you know, so it’s, it’s done a really authentic way. So yeah, I kind of look at that. And it’s super weird. What about like you, and how do you come up with what you’re going to actually create? You know, do you have a process of videos and stuff? Yeah. Yeah. Like, how does an idea come to you and then take me through your actual content process of how we actually then goes into production? Like, do you use a Trello board? Or do you put it in your notes like Justin Welsh, zoomies notes like, what you know what happened?


Rand:
You’re gonna hate this. The answer, the answer is gonna make you so mad.


Mel:
Get up in the morning.


Rand:
So, basically, I would say, it’s kind of 5050 for me. So 50% Someone has reached out and said, Hey, would you I want you to, you know, fly to the city and speak to agency owners about attribution, marketing attribution, right? And then the loss of attribution. I’m like, Yeah, okay, I think I can make that work. And so then I’ll spend a weekend put together a presentation, build a bunch of visuals. And very often, I will take one to three slides, concept stories, elements of that talk, and turn them into little videos. Right? So I have one I’m working on. Well, I just finished the presentation, and I’m working on going to make the video probably tomorrow about, you know, telling a story around how the thing we were talking about earlier, that sort of 1960s style, advertising, you know, possibility catalogue and what those look like and how the modern equivalent, doesn’t, hasn’t really caught on. And it’s quite strange, because we essentially outsource it to programmatic advertising. Anyway, I’ll, I’ll make the video sound better. But the the core concept of it came from work that I already did, right? And then the other one is, I get a lot of inspiration from interactions with people, right? So I, you know, you and I have this podcast. And maybe you’ll ask me a question around like, hey, where did you know? How did you get to the user interface of this? I’m not a user interface expert. So I probably wouldn’t do that. But some question that you ask, I’ll go, oh, that’s a frickin great question. I want to answer that, but I want to answer it at scale. Oh, for example, when you talked about the videos that I made, right, you’ve got the screen over here. And then you’re looking at the looking right at the camera, and then you look over at the screen and the video is playing. I made a blog post and a video about how do I do those because a lot of folks asked, so I figured, hey, I should have it out there just so that it’s a quick answer. And that happens on Twitter and it happens on LinkedIn and happens on Mastodon and happens in my email. And it happens from conversations like ours. I think that, yeah, it’s a great way to like empathetically create.


Mel:
Do you as soon as you get that moment, like I asked you that? How do you remember, like, I gotta put that down now just had that conversation?


Rand:
Gosh, I feel like I use the filter of if it sticks in my brain long enough, it must be good. And therefore I should create it. And if it goes away, and I don’t remember, it couldn’t have been that great. That might be that might be a terrible filter, but it’s worked for me so far.


Mel:
Got it. Got it. Okay, so super


Rand:
informal, incredibly informal, very unstructured. And this goes, this goes to the whole thing, you know that Amanda and Casey and I have around chill work, right? We don’t want structure, we don’t want process. We don’t want to do lists, we don’t want much on our calendar, we want to make sure that we can successfully run this company with hopefully 25 to 30 hours of work a week or less, that we you know, will often put in more sometimes we put in a lot. But yeah, our goal is keep it really low, not hey, let’s, you know, burn the midnight oil and try and nose to the grindstone and get this to grow, grow, grow, grow, grow.

 

Mel:
So what do you do then in your other spare time when you’re creating that space?


Rand:
I mean, what I want to tell you is I have lots of fun and I you know, slack off and play video games.


Mel:
But actually, I started this other company I know I know. I’m incorrigible. So I mean that company is fairly chill as well. But


Rand:
I my wife Geraldine and I are working with a video game studio down in Los Angeles to make a an action RPG game in which you play an Italian chef who goes out into the magical forest and fights monsters and collects ingredients and then goes back to your restaurant and cooks for clients.


Mel:
Well, and how long has that process will be in taken Is it is it like building a house like where you’re like choosing the characters choosing how it moves like is it that extensive? Because that’s that’s the most similar thing I can compare it to that your I think


Rand:
your house was a reasonable choice, right? You got to choose the kitchen cabinets, choose the colour of the kitchen cabinets, choose the little, I don’t know thing on the drawer that pulls it out and


Mel:
about logic. Now. Yes, that’s what we don’t have to think about too much housing, like what’s the logic and how do you move and


Rand:
this has been, you know, it’s a huge number of decisions but I am not doing the programming for the game or the art, we have a team of the studio has got a team of artists and programmers who are doing it. And yeah, it’s about, let’s see, it’s been in development for who I think the very start of the project was two years ago, we signed with the studio about 16 months ago, 1416 months ago, and we expect to be raising money for the project in May. The demo will be completed, then the demo for investors and then probably marketing the game about nine months after that, 10 months after that, and hopefully coming out either by Christmas time, or 2024, or the start of 2025.


Mel:
So going into gaming is very interesting for someone in marketing, do you see that opportunity of you know, also getting exposure into this industry, which is going to have our AR VR. We’re going to all go into this world apparently in chill out in web 3.0. And all this and do you see? Is that why? Like what was I don’t know, I don’t


Rand:
I think the metaverse Yeah, augmented reality virtual reality. I think it’s a niche play that is useful for a small number of applications. Right. I can see some medical science applications. I can see some, you know, chemistry and Applied Sciences fields getting value from that I can see some, you know, lots of gaming, maybe adult content, but like their niche plays, I don’t see every business person logging into the metaverse instead of zoom, or you know, us doing this call in a Metaverse rather than a video call. I think that’s not I don’t think that’s 10 years off. I think that’s not my lifetime, not my professional lifetime.


Mel:
Oh, wow. So you don’t see us just going and hanging out at the MELFI coasts right now together and doing the push?


Rand:
I mean, I do like I do, but we’re gonna get on a plane to do it. Okay, like, I just can’t, I can’t imagine I realised you probably have an even longer way to go than I do. But


Mel:
that’s right. I mean, when I’ve talked to other people, that’s what they were basically stating, and then you know, this thing, we’re going to go instead of watching TV, we’re going to go and hang out in these metal versus right. And then I, you said that, okay, you’re going to gaming. And I mean, if we are going to go hang out in the


Rand:
game, the games that I think I think there will be some VR games that take off there already have been some. But I, I still think that 90% plus of the game market is going to be, you know, visual game on my phone screen, or my computer screen or my TV screen with my switch controller or my Xbox controller. I don’t see a bright and beautiful future for metaverse. Beyond beyond some of the applications we talked about. The reason that I’m passionate about games, I sort of loved them since childhood. But the reason that I really went into them is because I am not an artistic personality. But I love the arts. I really I really, really do I have a deep passion for artists and creators and people who can do creative things. And I’ve never been able to flex that part of myself. Because I just I don’t have skills or talent there. But I do know how to run software teams. Like that is that is my one, you know, my one skill set that can overlap with it with a creative thing is okay, I think I can be a decent manager CEO, sort of, you know, raise money does, you know, specify what things are good design and bad design, make good decisions, that kind of stuff. Right? That’s where I can flex that creative muscle. And the video game is kind of a, in a lot of ways. It’s a love letter to things that I care about. And I’m passionate about which is you know, cooking. I absolutely love cooking. I love Italy. My wife’s Italian and I love visiting and sitting down at you know, her family’s table in whatever village we’re visiting and not understanding 50% of the words but drinking a lot of wine and yeah.


Mel:
Beautiful. Yeah, beautiful. So what is its money for you? Something you said raising money for you is a strength of yours. And what in this is that? Is that something that became a strength from back before like it was it before you even started? It? Oh yeah.


Rand:
I’m pretty sure when white American male children are born, they just like inject them with a little like here. It’s gonna be easy for you to fund this. Yes, especially. Right. So I I think that’s kind of a, I don’t know it. It’s bullshit and it sucks. But I don’t know, I’d love to change that part of the world. I mean, you know, when when Geraldine and I, hypocritically, when we fund companies, we basically said like, white dudes need not apply, right? So we just don’t we don’t fund projects that are from people who look like me. But the, you know, with the game in particular, I think it’s a small amount of money we’re raising, right? We’re not talking about 10s of millions of dollars, it’s going to be probably less than two. Right? So relatively in the, in the grand scheme of things, a small amount of fun, money, fundraise, we have a network of lots of people who have a high net worth and are interested in project like this spark Toro raised money also from like private investors. And I would say like, I think that my skill set around this was was honed and developed during my years at Moz. Right I, I mean, I famously, you know, wrote three, two or three blog posts about pitching, you know, 50 100 different plus VCs and getting turned down by all of them. We had a very unsuccessful pitch process in I think it was 2009 and another in 2011. And yeah, I sort of, during my time at Moz, almost became like, famous as the CEO who couldn’t raise money. Thankfully, thankfully, Moz was profitable, right. And that’s where I think like, in terms of building companies, I’m decent at building profitable companies. They’re not going to be rocket ships, but they can make money. Right, like they can provide a service or a product to a customer who wants that product. I don’t know, maybe that’s weird in the world of tech entrepreneurship. seems not to be very popular right now. But


Mel:
yes, what will come out investors are looking for that type of investment, because they’re so shy of coming back anything else? So you have to constantly as an entrepreneur, think about is my thing that I’m going to put forward, profitable or not? Or it’s not going to be something? It can’t really go and build Ubers at the moment, for me that someone’s going to take that time. That I mean, I wish some runway,


Rand:
I wish that were true for a long period of time, but I have a sneaking suspicion but that by this time next year, there’ll be the Uber fundraising, we’ll be back.


Mel:
Well, yes, of course. So actually, I was writing my content pieces. And I was like, okay, things come to me in the morning. You know, like, I have these amazing thoughts, and I don’t know where they come from. So I have to write them down our


Rand:
thoughts in the shower. It’s like, yes,


Mel:
but then that’s a problem in the shower, because I don’t have my mobile phone to like, write it down or like, you know, transcript,


Rand:
it’s gone get it on the glasses.


Mel:
I’m gonna be I’m getting I think I’m definitely gonna get Alzheimer’s who’s my future is what I’ve thought. And I’ve actually been listening to podcasts from like, timber lay and stuff who actually talked to Alzheimer’s specialists, and like, literally don’t turn on air conditioning anymore, because they’re like, that will accelerate. You’re getting Alzheimer’s, cuz I’m like, how does it talk? Because I’m like, how does the thought come to me and it’s gone, like literally in 10 seconds. So when you told me your content processes, if it sticks with me, it will work. I’m literally like, literally on my phone, like recording this thought. So this morning, I had this thought of what’s happened to tech companies, you know, what happened to funding and it was because I love tech, I love the disruption. I love the innovation that happens. But you know, looking at my shares that I put in, and I was like, yes, Spotify is gone, and done. Good. And I think it’ll keep doing good. I was like, should I just sell out because this thing’s gonna be like an 18 month journey. And I was reading about it. And it said, you know, in 12 months, you’re right, you know, it’s this interest rate, this inflation, this position that we’ve got in, you’ve probably seen it time and time again before in your, you know, cycles that you’ve gone through, but it’s just


Rand:
think inflation cycle was like, I think right around the time I was born, so it’s been a little while.


Mel:
I haven’t seen an inflation cycle. But I mean, I’ve seen where people, you know, put in money back into the account, they go into a recessionary or they can go and put it in their savings because they don’t see the opportunity. So I actually wrote a piece and so my content is like it came into my brain I have to quickly put it down and you know, record it, and then I’ll come back to it otherwise, it’s gone for me. And so I did that. What happens to you like sort of after that of that you sit down you record your video, and is it like boom, boom, like do you post it right then and there? You’ve recorded it. Does it go into


Rand:
homes? Okay, I would say 75% of the time I will post I will record it and post it within the same, you know, hour block. And sometimes I sit on it for a little while off. Often when I do that, if I’m a little unsure about it, I’ll send it to Amanda and say like, Hey, what do you think of this? You think I should post this next week? Or, you know, wait until we, whatever do this thing that sparked tomorrow? Or I’ll post it after your blog post or whatever it is.


Mel:
And where do you store that then? Is that in a Google Drive for your do you use Trello? Or some tool? Just put it in Google Drive? Yeah. Okay. So you know that that piece is not posted? Like it’s not organised, you just know, that’s the piece I’m working on?


Rand:
Yeah, I mean, I. So I often use email as my task list for everything. Okay, so essentially, you know, I’ve uploaded something to Google Drive, and then I sent the email to Amanda. And when the email comes back to me from her, then it sits in my email until it’s complete. And then once I’ve gotten to inbox zero, all my tasks are complete. So I do I use email a little bit like how you describe, you know, using whatever your voice notes on your phone, which is, if I have a thing, I will email myself, or I’ll email someone to take this action. And then, you know, my inbox is essentially my task list. What I like about it is it means that if I’m at Inbox Zero, I have nothing to do. Right? There’s no, no more work remains.


Mel:
I often do get to Inbox Zero out of curiosity,


Rand:
not not very often. But I’m usually sitting between Inbox Zero and 10. So it’s usually, you know, very, very quick to reply to everybody get all my support emails done, you know, help people out with using Spark or whatever I’m doing. And then there’s a few tasks that are almost always sitting in there. I think there’s maybe two right now one or two, so very tiny inbox, usually. But it’s, uh, it works well, for me in terms of just simplifying all that flow to one thing, I don’t, honestly, Melanie, I don’t understand how people have, well, I have my text messages and my LinkedIn messages and my Twitter, DMS and my whatsapp and oh, that’s a nightmare for me, I, you know, I have three or four things like that, that I have to check. And even that feels too many. I wish I could tell everyone just email, just all everything through one place. So when people LinkedIn, me, I will almost always reply, I usually check my LinkedIn messages every two to four days. And I’ll just reply to everyone and say, Sure, happy to chat. I’m random spark toro.com. I don’t check my LinkedIn all that much.


Mel:
Got it? Yeah, I know what you mean. Like, there’s just so many communication channels, and people have so many preferences.


Rand:
And I feel like it drains your ability to be thoughtful, get things done, be productive. I think it’s too much.


Mel:
It’s just I agree with you worse. Oh, it’s for me to like, I’ve got slack than WhatsApp and then and it’s like, I just want to turn it all off or just have one inbox that just pulls and then just replies to them in that channel. They go there’s a product that anyone wants to do. I


Rand:
talked to an entrepreneur who was thinking about trying to build a you know, one inbox to rule them all. Yes, product where we’re essentially just integrate with with all these others. But the fact you know, WhatsApp offers no functionality like this. LinkedIn offers no functionality like this. Twitter. DMS is like the one thing you can’t take out of the. So it’s kind of impossible.


Mel:
But yeah, so rent after you’ve done your LinkedIn, how do you then do Twitter as well? Like, is it


Rand:
Twitter for me? Twitter, for me was a very important, very powerful channel for a long time, but it’s faded massively, you know, since new guy took over, and now I mostly think of it as a place to just cross post. Okay, so I post interesting things to Mastodon, if I get good responses there, I’ll sometimes go and maybe I should post that to LinkedIn, or Twitter as well, LinkedIn, the same thing, I’ll post something on LinkedIn, they’ll be like, Yeah, I’ll go throw it on Twitter as well. You know, my goal with Twitter is not to build a real network there. It’s just to while it still lives, I might as well get some marketing value from it. That’s kind of my philosophy, and I hope it either dies or he’s forced to sell it soon. I wouldn’t mind you know, I’d be interested to see if an entity with more thoughtfulness and ethics took it over whether they could revive it, but yeah, I fear for its future.


Mel:
It’s Yeah, it’s interesting because LinkedIn kind of connects to Twitter, you know, where you can cross posting just press one button and it will go there. I’ve never I mean, a lot of people got I really want to be that be on Twitter and anyone that somebody is on Twitter, and that was a previous thinking before that I would talk to and I was like, oh, maybe I’m missing out. You know, maybe there is something here and I was actually you know before thing think that maybe that’s a place where you just record your thoughts you just put down like this is my little thought rather than I put it into my notes and then I could potentially take from there and go further.


Rand:
People bounce off of it and that kind of thing. Yeah,


Mel:
from from that is when would you say Twitter is I like Instagram a hashtag based user search?


Rand:
No, not even time right before the algo feed. There was a time when Twitter was a little more Instagrammy like you described. But today, not really Mastodon works that way right. Mastodon is raw timeline, all hashtags searches. The hashtags themselves actually produce really interesting stuff and there’s there’s fascinating people on there. I’ll tell you Melanie, like I there’s a there’s a woman who’s I found out is based in Seattle, so when I joined when after dawn i i saw when she joined Mastodon, her name is G Willow Wilson. She’s an author. I read one of her books I left the US if the unseen gosh, I want to say four or five years ago, I love the book I thought was just outstanding. It’s sort of this like crypto in terms of cryptography not not cryptocurrency meets Middle Eastern fantasy. In this sort of. Yeah. Time Time, timeless story. Really beautifully done just fantastic. And won a bunch of awards. Anyway, she joins Mastodon and I just reply, I was like, welcome to Macedon. It’s great to see you here. She sent her reply. I started following her I think I reply to a couple other things that she read that she sent. Then she started following me. And we message back and forth a little bit and and she, like me also plays Dungeons and Dragons. I found out and so then, then I was like, Oh, well, you know, you’re I think you should come over sometime. And we’ll you know, Geraldine, and I will cook for you. And we can play d&d. And she was like, oh, yeah, that sounds great. Oh, my God, you know, to turn one of your this this artist, this writer that I’ve idolised whose book I loved into a potential road connection, because she lives in Seattle. What an incredible thing that is. That’s what I loved about early Twitter. when Twitter was at its best it was this, oh, my gosh, I can find these interesting people whose work that I loved. And we can build real world friendships and relationships. And now Now Mastodon, is that right? I did that with a second person.


Mel:
I need to check that out. That sounds like that’s where it’s happening. The real connection. Yeah, that’s like, where?


Rand:
Oh, it’s such a beautiful, such a beautiful place. Like they’re, they have the rule, because it’s based in Germany. You know, you can’t share any content. That’s illegal in Germany, which, you know, Nazism has been generally outlawed, white supremacy generally outlawed? You know, it’s not, they don’t have freedom of speech in Germany, they have, like, Hey, you can’t say that stuff. And so Macedon is just a much kinder, nicer place, right? That if you’re an asshole, you don’t want to be on there. Right? Because you’re, you know, you can go call people to K word


Mel:
talking about nice stuff, because you’ve become more and more probably into philanthropy, I would guess over the course of your entrepreneurship journey. I don’t know if that it started early made, but I definitely see that as you know, you’d like supporting feminine females underdogs doing stuff. That’s a value. Cause for you. Yeah, I always,


Rand:
you know, you know how there’s sort of this acronym SJW. Right, social justice warrior. And, and people started using it as a pejorative, like to insult you. I don’t understand aren’t all the things in that acronym good things. Like I, I want things to be more just for other people. I thought everyone was interested in justice. And also, I’m going to fight for it. Granted, it’s, you know, behind the keyboard. I don’t know if you can see my shoulders. They’re very tiny. They were not made for fighting anyone. But yeah, so I have always sort of had an interest in whatever you want to call it social or progressive causes. But for a long time in my career, I didn’t think that you were allowed to do that as a business person. You know, I thought you sort of I thought it was mutually exclusive, right? Either you can be sort of public about your viewpoints and what you want to see in the world, or you can run a company, but you can’t do those two things together. And then I started seeing I started seeing other are entrepreneurs and frankly investors doing it and I thought, Oh, shit, maybe I’m maybe I’m allowed to do that. And then I noticed two things that I really love about it. One is if you put that stuff out there about yourself, yes, you will lose followers and maybe even some friends and and some business opportunities, but you will also filter to get the really good people who agree with you on this stuff who are like supportive of it, they will come find you and like you more that, oh my god, the filter on both sides is so valuable being able to filter out people who were probably going to be dicks anyway. And bring people who share your worldview. And you know, like, if you’re into kindness and feminism and you know, you believe that black people and trans people should have the same rights as everyone else. I can’t guarantee you we’re gonna we’re gonna get along, but we probably will. Right? Because we agree on the core fundamentals. And if you don’t think those things are true, and you’d like to see those people genocided I don’t want to help you. I don’t want you in my business. I don’t want you in my personal life. I’d prefer you didn’t follow me on Twitter. I hope you don’t subscribe to my email newsletter. I hope you’re not paying for Spark Toro. I still review every single customer we get at Spark Toro, I look at, like, who comes through? You know, we only get between three and maybe 20 signups a day, right. So it’s usually pretty possible for me to every day I you know, I get the email of everyone who signs up. And I’ll just go take a quick look and make sure that they’re not running like a, you know, I don’t know, guns and methamphetamines website or whatever it is. And we’ve had to refund I think, only two customers ever. For basically not one of them was like, they helped the RNC fundraise, and I was like, goodbye, you’re, you’re done. And I think the other one was in the other one was in firearms, I think. But in any case, right? It was one of those like, Okay, this is I love having the filter that that, you know, being


Mel:
morally inclined. So it’s been such an amazing chat to get to know about your full, you know, your journey into what you’re thinking about right now with the all the platforms. And


Rand:
Oh, thanks. Yeah, Melanie did a


Mel:
video on you. I’m still uploading. So maybe we can’t see each other anymore. But we’re alright. Sounds good. My final question for you. GPT, the biggest topic right now. Very interesting, I guess, interested to know, how do you think it’ll play into your content? How will it play into your company? Spark Toro that you’ve spoken about? Because everyone, it is the most trendiest thing that we are discussing constantly on LinkedIn, but can’t let you go without getting that? Yeah.


Rand:
I mean, I think like everyone in the tech world, I played around with it a little bit. It’s impressive, but not, I think I was less impressed than a lot of people were. And maybe that’s just because I played around with lots of AI chat bots before. I think many people who played with this one had probably not seen the earlier iterations. And this one’s better. Don’t get me wrong, obviously better way better. But it’s still a very boring derivative creator. And I don’t I don’t see it replacing any of my content or marketing activities in the near future. That could be just because I like the way that I create now and I’m not. Yeah, I’ve never heard up for ideas. Right. So I think chat, GBT can be like, Hey, give me a list of ideas of audience research topics to write about. You can totally use that as a prompt. It’ll give you a list. Maybe something in there will spur good idea from someone I can see people using that. I don’t have any problem with that. Go for it. I do think inside spark Toro. It gets interesting, right. So I, for example, I tried using it to replace some of the functionality that spark Toro provides. I was like, hey, well, what if someone just goes to chat GBT and says Tell me what topics interior designers are interested in. And they’re what track TPT is great on or open AI generally, is it is great at giving you very confident answers right or wrong. And, you know, we looked at I looked at the list of like topics that it said interior designers were interested in and I was like, oh, that’s exactly what you would Get if you scrape the top 100 websites that rank in Google for interior design. And then you crawled all their pages, and you shoved all of their content into a topic extraction model. And you got back a, you know, a list of subjects that the topic model extracted, which is not the same thing as tell me what they’re interested in. It’s not like it’s a, it’s the nearest reasonable computer generated substitute for that, but it is not the way someone who was an expert, right, so an expert in interior design, or who studies a field closely, or who looks at Spark Toro and sort of says, Oh, these are all the topics that people are talking about on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on Reddit, on Facebook, on Instagram, on medium and blog posts, whatever. You know, it’s things like paint and architecture and flooring. I’m like, Okay, you’re, technically you’re not wrong. But this is a bad answer. Right, a good answer to what is what are interior designers interested in? Is Scandinavian modern a frames? That’s a good answer, it will never appear on there. Because it’s, it doesn’t get pushed up the topic modelling list enough from the scraped sources? Of course. So I don’t know, I think probably there’s some use cases that people will replace audience research for. And I’d probably tell them not to do it, right. Like, I think it’s a bad idea to go, you’re better off probably like interviewing, surveying, using tools that actually get real time or recent data from people’s Yeah, like social activity.


Mel:
I think what Charterparties got is you can input data, and it can then give it to you in a table format. Like for example, Hey, I interviewed X Y, Zed interior designers, here’s the transcripts, can you put all this in a table for me? So it’s summarised? So I can then you know, that that I think that’s what it’s powerful at rather than I’ve never used it to ideas generate, because my ideas come from my questions of people that I’m talking to. And if you’re not doing that, then, you know, it’s only going to use historical questions that Google’s been asked to drive you content moving forward, or it’s not going to be that powerful of the conversation.


Rand:
If there’s a Yeah, if there’s like an Excel function, where you paste text into a cell, and then you’re like, hey, yeah, take all the text in this cell and break it out. And all these things. You don’t need to know the Excel command anymore. You


Mel:
can just use it like, Okay, here’s the caption I’ve written, can you make this better? I’ve seen some prompts. And I don’t think prompt engineering is becoming a real thing. If you know the prompt, like, can you make this more maybe persuasive? Or can you like, you know, really shorten this and make it more punchy? It can sometimes understand parts of that because you’re like, I’ve written my whole Yeah.


Rand:
Now punch your content. Yeah, I actually I think that’s a great use case. I have seen some I’m a wordy writer, and a wordy speaker. Sorry about that. You’ve had to endure for the last hour. But that Yeah, I think that that extract out the non essential parts of a sentence and reconstruct the sentence in a shorter


Mel:
I think what prompt engineering is going to do and I think copywriters that want to advance will become prompt engineers and what will happen is, those commands is what I’m actually putting into my notion files that okay, how do you command it to do something in a in an effective way that you don’t ask the wrong thing, but what’s the most effective way to say you know, remove all the ands and buts and ORs these are the kind of the words that you don’t really need to have that people constantly put into their content and we don’t have the time or we don’t want to sit there reading it we don’t need to read those potential you know, this or that. So I think it’s gonna He’s gonna have huge power in that but yeah, replacing ideology or I think copywriting definitely, if you can use it with the right prompts will be future. So that has been a pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know everything that you’ve done and really keen to actually check out spark Toro now. You really sparked my interest over there. So I think anyone that you know has listened on you should definitely check out Rand Rand Fishkin, check out what spark Toro is doing, because he’s definitely sparked my interest, much more from you know, having this discussion and I think he would have yours and check out Rand on LinkedIn, his content is super depth full like it’s actually got depth, it’s actually got value. So if you’re not just looking for just some inspiring content, and you actually want to learn truly, you know, what is going on in social marketing real true insights. I think he’s actually there sharing truth. value over there into the network. So if you haven’t come across him he’s really, really effective in providing great value and insight. So, thank you so much rent and I really look forward to releasing this.


Rand:
Yeah, my pleasure. Melanie, take care, great chatting with you.


Mel:
You’re listening to innovative minds.

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