I’m Wences Garcia, co-founder of marketgoo. Our passion is to build a company with a unique and enduring culture while we create impactful digital products.
Today we are focused on providing DIY SEO tools to the Hosting industry so they can resell them. Hosting providers offer our solutions to their end-customers, who are usually SMBs and small shops located all around the world. We are bootstrapped, doing 6 figures ARR with a team of 15 people in a fully-remote distributed model.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I was a college dropout (because I was very lazy!) and found myself in the world of the early Internet. I dived completely into it, working for ISPs and a web hosting company as their first employee.
Sharing your fears and challenges with like-minded people who are also going through something similar is one of the best tools to prevent and overcome burnout and validate assumptions.
I’ve always wanted to create something. I devoured magazines and blogs about entrepreneurship. But working at that company was a very fast ride and I felt it was a good idea to stay there and learn. That company grew swiftly and after 9 years I cashed out and decided to start something on my own.
The sum of my experiences together with industry knowledge and understanding of the competitive landscape were what gave me the necessary skills to create this project. I identified a gap in the market and then worked to position myself and the company as the right solution to address that gap.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
When you have the will to start something but don't have a “breakthrough” idea, I guess the easy step is to start a service company. I definitely knew I wanted to industrialize the operations, so I joined forces with my co-founder and we started an SEO agency with background automation.
We had some savings, and providing services brought in enough money to live on, but left very little time to develop a product - which was our ultimate goal. Two years after starting, we got an acquisition offer by a large agency. It was an equity deal and it looked like a nice idea at that time. But it turned out to be a bad move, we lost control of our destiny and spent more than two years circling around in limbo.
It was our lowest point but we decided to start again with a strong drive to create projects where culture and values always came first. The automation technology that we’d built was the starting base where we spotted an opportunity in the same web hosting space we knew so well.
It was like connecting the dots of my industry experience, our service company experience, and the automation technology. So that was the start of our DIY SEO SaaS company.
We chose a niche and developed a distribution platform to help these types of companies. We started a pilot with a small company that worked well. Then we decided to exhibit at trade shows and closed more agreements.
Our decision to stay bootstrapped meant that we were aware some hard times would come - and they certainly did. Almost running out of cash, losing sleep, working endless hours, battling low motivation, we went through it all! However, the tradeoff was that we didn’t suffer tremendous external pressure coming from a VC or other funding source.
More competitors began to appear but we had an edge over them as we already had promising traction. This channel market is very slow-moving but with patience, we’ve increased our number of partners and have developed a deep understanding of what it takes to have a successful go-to-market.
I truly felt we were a successful company even before we turned very profitable. Today, we are successful margin-wise but our culture and work model was a success long before!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
It took a lot of time to ramp up the business. I remember watching a presentation about the long, slow, SaaS ramp of death and feeling like it was written for us! But we are in a business that is subscription-based and the market was rapidly expanding so more and more business was rolling in.
We’ve taken profitability really seriously since day one. Re-investing was and it is still a must but once we crossed the fixed-cost structure, we started to have a very profitable business. As in any SaaS business, gross margins are very high and talent is our main cost component.
Our model is very unique, we rely on a small number of channel partners worldwide. They re-sell our solutions white-label to their millions of customers and we get profit sharing. So it’s a kind of B2B2C model where we acquire partners and serve end-users. Integrating is hard and it takes months or even years, but once you are in, you align completely with the partner in order to work together to sell more and help their users.
We have over 300K active paying accounts at this moment and growing fast, But we have over 20 million potential users to market through our partners. There is still a lot to be developed. We have a very ambitious roadmap to improve our end-customers experience.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
- Choose a niche: when you don’t know your niche, you will lack clarity in everything you do - you’ll have a watered-down message, positioning efforts that are all over the place, and significant revenue and volume will be very hard to come by.
- Be clear on your distribution model: this is extremely important - while our product was being built and improved, we already knew it had an excellent fit with its main distribution channel, and we built it thinking of this channel. You need to think of them both together.
- Create a strong aligned culture: our Culture is something that has differentiated us as a company time and again, and we have dedicated a lot of resources to cultivate it. A strong, successful Culture means we’ve aligned our group goals, to our team members' individual, personal goals, and we're profitable doing it. Our company is the vehicle to reach each individual's goals or desired way of living.
- Overly optimistic expectations: there’s a fine line between being a visionary and fooling yourself with overly optimistic expectations. Be real about what’s doable and about the time and resources it will take to see traction.
- Lack of focus: many of us have a tendency to never focus on just one thing - we come up with incredibly creative and valuable (but sometimes disjointed) ideas and if the company does not have a defined vision and focus, that can spell disaster. You need a structure and ‘filter’ in place to avoid being pulled in all directions. As Jason Fried recently said, “Ideas are never in short supply, the focus is.” Lack of focus is one of the slow killers that you need to watch out for.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use a lot of tools, and of course, each team has their preferred stack, but I can share the tools that absolutely all of us use:
- Daily Tasks and Workflow Management: Trello
- Team communication: Slack
- Project Discussion: Basecamp
- Documentation: Notion
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Maverick by Ricardo Semler. Building a company culture in a very unlikely environment (a manufacturing corporation, in Brazil, in the ‘80s) was not only inspirational but provided a lot of concrete advice. I always try to incorporate what I learned from this book into our own culture.
Traction by Gino Wickman. This book was the guide that radically transformed the way our operations were structured, our values were explained, and our business focus was narrowed. We used the operating system model laid out in the book, but adapted it to our own needs and named it mOS: marketgoo operating system. It’s been a success.
Naval Ravikant - whether it’s with bite-size tweets or full-on tweetstorms, Naval always makes me think, not just about work-related things, but life in general!
Sahil Lavingia - we went from remote-friendly to full remote in July 2019 and it’s been an amazing ride! But there have been some challenges especially with asynchronous communication - overcoming these is a work-in-progress and I can always count on Sahil to have some great insights, sharing what works for the fully remote team at Gumroad.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Take advantage of peer groups! Sharing your fears and challenges with like-minded people who are also going through something similar is one of the best tools to prevent and overcome burnout and validate assumptions. Don’t isolate yourself.
Define your company values. When you’re starting out it certainly doesn’t seem like a priority, but being clear on what you want to be and what you value is a game-changer when it comes to attracting talent, and it helps minimize the growing pains that come when you start expanding your team. Also, take this exercise seriously and not as something to check off your list. Values need to be discussed among the entire team, not imposed by you.
Culture is Deliberate. I believe that culture is more important than the company and as a Founder, you need to cultivate and guide your culture as much as possible while allowing it to develop organically. This is a huge challenge and I actually have a Culture team at the company where we discuss all Culture-related issues, have deliverables and goals, etc. Besides being a Founder, I am also the Head of Culture at marketgoo.
If you’re a Visionary, get yourself an Integrator. As a Founder, you often find yourself dreaming one minute, the next you’re defining strategy and pushing new ideas, and getting creative without much structure. This is not a practical setup. I got real with myself and determined I was a Visionary and I needed someone to focus on operations.
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