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So Aaron, what's your backstory?
I was born on the Northern Beaches of Sydney (Avalon) and had a pretty good upbringing.
Went to the local primary school, local high school, etc. Pretty standard Northern Beaches kid life, really.
Probably the only thing worth mentioning is that my Dad is a 6x Olympian (equal to most Olympics for an Australian) and was the Captain & Flagbearer of the Australian Olympic Team in Athens in 2004.
He also won a Bronze Medal in Atlanta in 1996. He was part of Australia II, which won the America's Cup for Australia back in 1983. I was fortunate enough to travel a lot with him through my younger years. I have good memories of road-tripping the East Coast and West Coast of the US, going between sailing events, and cranking Alanis Morrisette's Jadded Little Pill on the CD player in the car.
My entrepreneurial journey started whilst at University. Before driving to class each day (I lived about 30 minutes away), I would go through the phone book and write down the phone numbers of 10x local businesses that didn't have a website listed. I would cold call them while driving to class and try to sell them one.
That turned out to be pretty successful, and I managed to largely pay my way through university by selling websites to local small businesses.
The best customer I ever got, though, was my University Bar. I noticed the promotional posters they were placed around the University that were basically made with Microsoft Word and ClipArt, so I approached them and asked if I could do all their graphic design and website work in exchange for bar vouchers.
I quickly accrued several hundred dollars worth of bar vouchers, and when you’re a poor university student used to drinking $2 goon sunrises, this goes a long way 🙂
After finishing University, I co-founded a startup called Launchpad6 which was essentially a video CMS (so what Shopify is for eCommerce stores, we were for video websites). We managed to get customers like Red Bull, Ford, Unilever and more and ended up selling that around 2010.
Having gathered a love for SaaS marketing, I then went on to be the first marketer (or early marketer) at InVision (last valued at $1.9 billion), Campaign Monitor (valued at around $1 billion) and SafetyCulture (last valued at $2.2 billion).
I also tried my hand at a few other startups over the years, including an order management application for surfboard shapers which didn’t go so well (I sold it for $5,000 after failing to get a single paying customer).
What is Attributer?
Most businesses have tools like Google Analytics installed on their website, which tells them where their visitors are coming from (E.g. They got 100 visitors from organic search, 200 from paid search, 150 from paid social, etc.).
But when it comes to tracking how many actual leads & customers they get from their various marketing efforts, most businesses don’t have a solution.
Attributer is that solution.
You install it on your website, and each time a person completes a lead form on your site (like your ‘Request a quote' or ‘Contact us’ form), Attributer passes through information on where that lead came from (i.e. Organic search, Google Ads, Facebook Ads, etc.)
Businesses can then send that data into their CRM and start to track things like how many leads they got from their Google Ads, how many customers they got from their SEO efforts, how much revenue they generated from their Facebook Ads, etc.
How did you end up starting Attributer?
After my time at SafetyCulture, I went out on my own. I was doing marketing consulting work for various companies (including Practice Ignition for a while there), and I just kept experiencing the same problem.
I’d start working with these businesses, and the first thing I’d do is try to understand how they are currently generating leads & customers. They all had Google Analytics installed, which would allow me to see where their visitors came from, but none of them ever had that same data in their CRM, and I could never actually see where their leads & customers are coming from.
So the very first version of Attributer I literally just built for myself to use with my clients, purely to solve my own problem.
I probably used it for 1-2 years for my clients before I realised maybe others could possibly use this thing too (if only I had realised earlier).
How did you build & launch the business?
After using it for 1-2 years with my own clients, I decided it would be worth putting it out there as a product to see if it got any traction.
I’m a big believer that in the early days, names & logos and things like that don’t really matter and that the only thing that matters is figuring out whether you have product/market fit.
So one evening, I came up with the name, designed the logo, bought the domain & launched the first version of the website.
I then put it on Product Hunt and got a few somewhat-influential marketing friends to share it on their socials, and Attributer was officially launched.
How have you grown the business?
Unfortunately for me, the launch did basically nothing in terms of really growing the business. I think we maybe got 2-3 customers each paying $49 per month, so I wasn’t quitting my job just yet.
However, that initial bit of validation and talking to those early customers gave me just enough encouragement that maybe there was some product/market fit here and that I should keep investing in the idea.
I’d always known that there was a big SEO opportunity for this business but that it would be a bit of a slow burn (like SEO always is), so I basically just started working on SEO.
There are a lot of channels people want to track (i.e. Facebook Ads, Google Ads, YouTube Ads, SEO, affiliates, etc). There are a lot of different tools people want to be able to track those channels in (Salesforce, Zoho CRM, Pipedrive, Microsoft Dynamics, Stripe, etc), so we essentially just create blog posts for each of those matchups (i.e. How to track Facebook Ads in Salesforce, How to track Google Ads in Zoho CRM).
I’ve been doing a blog post per day for the last year, and people finding those blogs in search results is where the vast majority of our customers have come from to date.
More recently, I’ve started to do YouTube videos as well. YouTube is the second biggest search engine behind Google, and the videos also rank in Google Search Results, so it makes sense to extend our strategy there as well.
Finally, now that we are a year into the business and have several hundred customers, we’re starting to see ‘word of mouth’ kick in as well. This is particularly true with marketing agencies who start to use us for one of their clients, like what they see, and then tell their other clients about it.
Any big failures and learnings?
I think the initial launch would be one of the biggest failures. I always knew the launch wasn’t going to be huge and that SEO was going to be the long-term driver of growth.
Still, you hear all of these amazing stories of businesses launching on product hunt and going crazy, so there was probably a little part of me that hoped that would happen.
The lesson for me there was that in order to really grow a business, you need to find a repeatable, scalable acquisition model. If you’re just relying on one-off things like product hunt launches or promotions, then you’re never really going to grow.
Conceptually I always knew this (it’s commonly written about), but I think this was the first time I had really seen it play out.
What's next for you and your business?
Continue to focus on our SEO initiatives. We’re fortunate to have found a really scalable acquisition channel for the business, so we’ll continue to focus virtually all our efforts on that, including continuing to publish a blog post every day, produce a YouTube video every day, and build links back to our website to help grow our authority in Google’s eyes.
Your go to digital tools?
G-Suite for email, docs, etc
Figma for design work
Bubble (No code app builder, which most of the Attributer app is built in)
WordPress for our website
Apple Notes + Apple Pencil for planning and thinking
Attributer to know where our signups & customers are coming from
Any inspiring founder books you recommend?
Vivid Vision by Cameron Herald - A great book for understanding how to set a vision for your business and work towards it.
Playing to Win by A/G Lafley (former CEO of Procter & Gamble) - A great book on business strategy, how to figure out the right strategy for your business and put in place the right resources and system to achieve it
Any podcasts or websites you love?
I’m a big fan of Reforge and the articles and resources they put out over there.
Brian Balfour (founder of Reforge and former VP of Growth at Hubspot) has a great article called 4 fits of a $100m business which I think should be required reading for all SaaS founders (and probably other founders too)
What do you love & hate about being a founder?
The pressure. As a solo founder who has bootstrapped the company, I own 100% of it. With the delightfully-high profit margins of software companies, my salary is essentially the revenue of the company.
As a result, there’s basically a direct correlation between the success of the company and the quality of life my family gets to live, and it’s a lot of pressure.
Any mental health tips?
Surfing has always been an important part of my mental (and physical) health, so I try to get out 3-4 times per week.
I can’t imagine what my health would be like (both physical and mental) if I didn’t have surfing.
What does it mean to be a founder?
Having real skin in the game
Any advice for other founders?
The most common mistake I see founders make is doing too much stuff (designing fancy logos, buying great domains, worrying about using the right tech stack, etc) before they’ve really validated that they have a product people want, that people are actually willing to pay for it, and that there’s a scalable way to acquire customers.
Logos, names, domains, tech stacks, etc don’t matter unless you can get the above 3 things right, so do the absolute smallest thing you can do to validate those before doing anything else.
Your details, socials etc.