Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey there, my name is Arrigo and I'm the founder/managing director of Koala Rank, an all-in-one content marketing service for small B2B firms. We drive ongoing business development for a variety of B2B firms who need to pre-educate their prospects and partially (or fully) automate their buyer's journey through educational content that speaks to the true needs and pains of their ideal customers.
Koala Rank started back in Jan 2020 and it's grown to become a full-time endeavor. I've tried branching off into multiple projects various times only to find that Koala Rank was the one to invest in long-term. Right now we're sitting at exactly $8K in MRR but March 2021 saw a boom in subscriptions and I'm predicting there will be a lot more in the coming months due to new marketing efforts and investment.
Retention is great, we've only lost 2 customers since getting our very first one towards the end of Feb 2020, and that's because they weren't the right fit in the first place. My initial understanding was that Koala Rank would have been helpful for startups to start increasing their authority, but I was wrong. Startups need their 1st clients immediately whereas content marketing is better suited for firms with existing customers.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I've always wanted to run my own thing, ever since I was 19 (I'm 25 now). Coming out of school, I didn't have that many opportunities ahead of me: Italy was doing poorly economically, I didn't have any particular skills to offer, and the job market was evolving in a way that I just couldn't understand back then. What I did have was a love of languages, so I decided to travel for ~3 years prior to settling.
I came up with the idea of Koala Rank after many years of trying (and failing) to get into technology. Some of my earlier mini-projects were all related to web design rather than business, marketing, sales, etc. I knew nothing about these things and couldn't bother learning as I thought my two passions in life were languages and technology.
For what felt like the longest time, these were only side projects and things that I believed would never help me accomplish anything. "Everyone knows how to make a basic website today," I would tell myself all the time. So I decided to go back to University in Italy and study computer engineering after 3+ years of working.
It didn't end well.
Calculus, physics, linear algebra.
I just wasn't cut out for it. Plus, the more I went, the more I realized that I like doing and not necessarily thinking too much. It's a good thing to have the foundational knowledge in place but it's another to go ahead and implement that knowledge. So towards the end of my 1-year university "experiment," I decided it was time to move on.
By this time, I had developed a deep passion for writing.
It wasn't the type of business writing and editing that I do today for a living; it was mostly random, the flow of consciousness-type of writing. And I honestly loved every minute of it. (This even led me to write and self-publish a book!)
Ok, so why am I telling you all of this?
Because it's the combination of all my passions put together (languages, technology, and writing) that allowed me to see the bigger picture. There was no "aha" moment in the process of developing Koala Rank, nor was there a premeditated "grand plan" like you see in business plans for startups who receive huge funding rounds.
It was a slow, treacherous, often depressing, at times exhilarating process of 5+ years learning about what made sense to me that other person valued as well.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product
My first stab at offering a real tangible service that wasn't working as a precarious employee for a restaurant or a gig worker for a food delivery app was when I found out about Fiverr, a place where I could literally sell what made sense to me that other people would value as well. And what made sense to me at the time was translation.
At this time, the thought of people paying me to get something done for them was science fiction. But I decided to give it a try anyway because, after so many years of trying and failing, I was ok with pretty much anything life would throw at me. And the good news is that life threw a ton of translation projects my way.
I first found out about Fiverr when I was launching my book in Aug 2018 and needed someone to create a Kindle version for a very low budget. I didn't have any idea what I was throwing myself into when I first discovered it but thought I would give it a try as a buyer like I would do with many other services online. And I actually really liked it!
The idea that you could purchase a service instead of a product at the click of a button was really compelling to me. Products were just useless to me at that time; all I needed was to get sh-t did with my trusty Macbook Air and a Word editor. That was it. And Fiverr was the perfect place for me to get started, so I created my own gig.
At this point, my goal was simply to survive, literally. I had no job, my career at university was clearly going in the wrong direction, and I had nothing but my writing skills to get me out of this mess. And so I started writing for money. At first, it was just translation but over time it grew more and more into content writing as well.
Much to my surprise, all of this was working.
Customers kept coming back, new customers would ask for more interesting blog posts to work on, and I would see my monthly income slowly increase month over month.
One of the best decisions I made back in the day was to be bold enough to start prospecting directly rather than wait for customers to come knocking at my door.
It was not a glamorous lifestyle, but it did the job for me.
I was independent, and that was all I wanted.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The story of how Koala Rank came to be is truthfully crazy because I had no intention of launching anything like it; my goal back then was to stay on Fiverr and keep growing my income even though there were many parts of it I didn't like (link to a crazy experience I had with ransomware on the platform). It was all I had back then so I valued it highly.
But then I received this email from Fiverr in Jan 2019.
It was about this new Studios feature that they were launching, and I immediately thought to myself: "Is this like a real business type of thing? Like having my own thing type of thing?" That's when the gears started rolling in my brain. For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to call something my own, and it was exhilarating.
What do you think I did next?
I clicked on that "Create a Studio" button (duh!)
And then, I got stuck. I landed on this page which asked me for a billion different things at a time when I had just worked months to rebrand myself on Fiverr and differentiate my offering. I couldn't believe I had to start from scratch again.
But as I mentioned earlier in this story, thinking twice isn't really my thing, so I rolled up my sleeves, slotted in a few hours here and there between client projects, and started creating this "Studio" thing for which I had literally no idea what to go on about.
I'm a creative type of person, so I never stop creating. If I spend even one day without doing something "fresh" or "new" that I can showcase, it's a lost day for me. Since translation was still my biggest gig back then, I eventually created a blog for it.
It was called Translation Domain, and it's still up to this day. (Although it's been plastered with terrible ads since I sold it in Jun 2020)
At this point, I had some basic experience with branding from previous projects (some of which aren't live anymore), and I thought that I could build the next iteration of a brand that resonated with who I was and what my customers cared about.
The process was grueling.
At first, I named my studio Rocket Koaster.
This is because the initials to my branding had always been "R" and "K" which came from an old nickname I used to have on the internet since I was 14: Ryukyra (the combination of Ryuk and Kira from Death Note, but with a Y because Ryukira was already in use). That stayed all the way to signing up to Fiverr until I realized that it was near impossible for most people who wanted to work with me to pronounce it.
The impracticality of having such an unpronounceable name led me to first shorten it and use just the initials (RK), and then to find creative ways of repurposing it into something that would evolve to become my own business in the future. (Again, my first stab at it was Rocket Koaster which can still be seen in the URL of my Fiverr studio).
But if I was to be serious about developing my own business, I needed a better name, and a better brand, and a better service. You get the idea.
So I came up with this.
I spent weeks working first on my own, then with a designer, I paid $350 on Upwork to bring up a branding that felt more thought through, more professional, and, most importantly, 100% unique. That's how RANKIN'KOALA came to be, and it was honestly something I was very proud of back then. It looked incredible to me.
Fast forward a few weeks and I had already plastered a variety of social media accounts, a new website, and the Fiverr Studio itself with the new branding. It felt like the start of something new and exciting, and it looked like it too. So by this point, I was pretty set on the name and was refining what the service looked like.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
By the time I had launched RANKIN'KOALA, the goal was to pivot from translation and writing to marketing. How I would do that, I had no clue about. So I did what I always do; I launched without knowing what I was doing! (& then quickly proceeded to buy a book on how to do content marketing for fear of clients not getting what they wanted)
This is what the gig looked like:
On day 1 of Studios launching, Fiverr placed RANKIN'KOALA on its featured Studios page and, to this day, we still appear on the 1st page for many queries such as "content marketing," "marketing strategy," and "b2b marketing." This gave me a unique opportunity to generate bottom-of-funnel leads thanks to Fiverr's tools.
Although some leads are coming through Fiverr still, it's a far cry from what it was back in the day for me. Today, I don't generate any revenue whatsoever from the platform, and I use it primarily to delegate work to writers that I trust and that I know will deliver good work.
What's worked for me, in particular, is the intense branding and reputation management work done in the early days to ensure that RANKIN'KOALA (later to become Koala Rank) was seen as a reputable service provider rather than just another content mill on the block.
And that's when Fiverr started feeling a little bit tight for me.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As a bootstrapped business, Koala Rank's growth is fueled by its margins, so we have to be profitable at all times, there's just no way around it. And that's the way I had set up the business from the get-go: you pay us a quarter upfront and we give you a level of service that is unmatched for the price you're paying. That was the pitch at the start.
Fiverr's 20% cut on every single transaction was starting to feel a bit predatory in my case as I was offering such a highly personalized service for pennies back then. Plus, the Studios program was chock full of bugs, inefficiencies, things that didn't work, and an overall terrible seller experience. I hated every minute of it and started growing resentment towards the platform that had given me so many opportunities.
It was time for RANKIN'KOALA to detach itself from being "just" a Fiverr Studios and, because of that, it was also time for it to become a more mature brand.
That's when the name Koala Rank came to me.
It felt simple, easy to remember, and unique at the same time.
Using an animal mascot made it easy for people to visually connect the branding and service to a feeling of joy and empowerment whereas separating, swapping, and shortening the two words made the brand name more searchable on Google.
From there, Koala Rank adopted a lean approach to developing its service, marketing assets, messaging, and other relevant business content:
- Sales collateral like one-pagers, branded meeting links, etc
- A blog with great UX and a style that is uniquely Koala Rank
- Clear messaging across social media and 3rd party channels and a lot more.
The goal for me was (and still is) to create a brand worth spending your money on not just because of quality of service but also because of our commitment to providing you with the best resources in the field of content marketing for small B2B firms.
In terms of sheer numbers:
1) Koala Rank's search engine visibility has grown steadily since its launch, with almost 1M impressions since the website's launch
2) We've had ~40k unique pageviews throughout the lifetime of the business, although some of the data in the analytics are skewed because of a major spam bot issue I had a few months back which produced a spike in traffic
3) Our monthly recurring revenue (MRR) has skyrocketed in the last few months and we're up to ~$8K, with $11K made in the last 30 days alone
4) Engagement metrics like social media followers, community members, and email subscribers are steadily growing albeit at a slow pace (308 subscribers so far)
5) In terms of operations, we've generated more than 210 content ideas for our customers and are actively producing ~25-30 pieces per week
6) Finally, we've generated 200k+ worth of unique pageviews for our customers, with some of the campaigns we're working on shown below
All business metrics are healthy overall and I'm looking forward to the results of the next wave of marketing investments that I'm making right as I'm writing this article.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was working on the service, website design, and all the heavy-lifting of creating a good value proposition without talking to anyone about what I was doing (no audience = no one waiting for you to launch).
I feel like this is a common problem among creators as we are heavily keen on getting our hands dirty but not so much talking about what we're doing all the time. We're not salespeople at heart but I've learned to become one over the years.
Now, everything that I do is backed up by a marketing and sales mentality:
- "How do I position this new feature so that it resonates with my ideal customer?"
- "What would someone interested in my services feel like if I...?"
- "Where can I spend more time listening to my buyers' issues?"
This way of thinking took time to develop but it's embedded in what I do day in and day out now, whether I'm developing a new capability for the client portal we have available or whether I'm creating feature pages for customers to inform themselves.
One of the best decisions I made back in the day was to be bold enough to start prospecting directly rather than wait for customers to come knocking at my door.
I decided that if I wanted Koala Rank to be successful, I needed to be the one knocking at people's door, and that's exactly what I did. I started looking for company websites that would potentially fit my service and reached out to them directly.
Of course, I didn't use their contact form for that, I would have never received a reply that way. What I did is use Hunter.io's brilliant chrome extension to find relevant email addresses, possibly from the founders themselves, and reach out directly.
This effort led to my first customer on February 28, 2020.
I still remember the date precisely.
Almost two months after launch, that's how long I had to wait to get my first real customer. And, thankfully, they purchased a quarterly plan! That gave me enough cash injection and confidence to keep pursuing Koala Rank's growth as I kept learning more and more about how to build a business for the long term.
And that customer is still with us today.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use a variety of tools to run Koala Rank the way I want so listing them all would be a nightmare but I can briefly describe the most important ones:
- Our client area, powered by ManyRequests, is by far the most important tool that I currently use that isn't directly under my control as it allows me to eliminate constant email back-and-forths by providing all information customers need to see at a glance, including production statuses (similar to Amazon's).
- The 2nd most important tool in our stack is Airtable, the most incredible project management tool you'll ever lay hands-on in my humble opinion. What you can do with Airtable as a non-programmer is absolutely insane and allows you to literally automate huge chunks of your daily operations without a hitch.
- My 3rd and final selection for this shortlist is HubSpot, a place where I store all customer information as well as automate the buyer's journey from strangers to ultimately becoming a brand advocate. Leveraging the entirety of HubSpot's potential isn't easy but it's a necessary evil in today's environment.
These are the 3 tools that I absolutely cannot do without to properly run Koala Rank, and Gmail is a close 4th but I'm looking to shift communications more and more to the client area so that I won't have to spend as much time in my inbox anymore.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Some of the more influential people and organization that has helped me shape Koala Rank to become what it is today are Brian Casel (a pioneer of productized services), HubSpot's incredible Academy resources, CoSchedule's AMP podcast, Julia McCoy's guidance, the insanely valuable content marketing strategy seminar held by Content Marketing Institute's founder Joe Pulizzi back in 2015 (and still relevant today!) and, finally, the feedback of Zero To Marketing's founder Andrea Bosoni.
If you're planning to get into content marketing this video is a must-watch:
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
My advice to entrepreneurs looking to get started is to take the time to do the "boring" stuff like opening business directory accounts, designing a proper editing experience in your Content Management System, working on accessible user experiences that aren't just made to look pretty, and ultimately focus on benefits and brand positioning.
Your brand positioning is the glue that holds everything together. Without it, your entire organization is like a spaceship floating around in space with no real direction, only going forward because of the momentum built thus far and potentially crashing out of nowhere and when least expected. Positioning is what gives life to your brand.
I would recommend taking the B2B Marketing Foundations: Positioning course on LinkedIn Learning if you're planning on launching or you've already launched a B2B company. For B2C, there are also plenty of resources out there on how to position your brand in a way that resonates with consumers rather than a business audience.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, I just published 2 new job listings on our website recently as Koala Rank is going to move heavily into heavy-scaling territory soon and I won't be able to handle all things on my own anymore. Until then, I'm still automating my way out of most tasks.
I'm currently looking for:
A junior account manager to oversee up to 20 accounts, some big and some smaller. This role would work directly with me initially to understand the ins and outs of our project management system and how to deliver great results to customers who are eager to receive top-notch content from us.
A junior content strategist who's going to work exclusively on the internal content marketing efforts of Koala Rank (no contact with customers unless necessary) and who's going to be in close contact with me to drive significant results throughout our organic channels: blog, podcast, and social media.
These would be my first 2 part- to full-time hires so there's a learning curve there but I'm serious about the opportunities that Koala Rank can offer to people in search of furthering (or starting) their career in the field of content marketing.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can also follow @ArrigoLupori and @KoalaRank on Twitter and request a connection with me on LinkedIn or follow Koala Rank on our company profile. These are the only 2 social media platforms that I truly spend time and invest in for business purposes.
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