Just last week, our founder, Larry Kim, recorded a podcast with Jeff Sauer of Jeffalytics. Now, I know Larry pretty darn well (we’ve worked together for five years!), but many of the stories that he shared on this podcast were new to me.
Most of us know Larry Kim as “Larry the Marketing Hack Artist.” In interviews, he typically reveals crazy tactics and divulges new theories he is investigating. However, this conversation was different. Rather than diving into the technical stuff, Jeff tapped into Larry’s entrepreneurial side. They chatted about everything from his career trajectory to the inception of WordStream and closed out with Larry’s recommendations for aspiring entrepreneurs.
If you’re an LK fan, this podcast is definitely worth a listen (you can tune in using the embedded SoundCloud clip below).
Don’t have 40 minutes to spare? I jotted down the highlights below!
Jeff kicked things off by asking Larry how he got involved in the digital marketing space. Unbeknownst to many, Larry actually never planned to be a marketer. His undergraduate focus was electrical engineering and he was actually employed at a software company when he was first introduced to paid search. Someone on his team mentioned that they needed a volunteer to help out with the company AdWords account. It peaked Larry’s curiosity, so he offered to give it a shot.
Sure, he had no marketing expertise, but he enjoyed the technical aspect of paid search. He quickly realized he could apply his coding skills to manage the account more efficiently. He wrote a program to scrape the webserver logs and identify tons of keywords to add to his accounts. Nowadays this is hardly revolutionary, but back in the “golden days” of AdWords, it was huge.
His account soon generated tons of clicks and millions of dollars in revenue. Larry was hooked.
Larry winning Search Personality of the Year!
Suddenly, Larry was a man on a mission. He knew he had something powerful—a unique way to get the most out of AdWords—but he had no clue how to monetize it. At first, his plan was to be a SEM consultant. He ditched his engineering job, signed a handful of clients and was wildly successful with their accounts.
As he took on more clients, the work became overwhelming and he began writing software programs to do the manual labor for him. His clients were blown away by his ability to discover new keywords, organize them into granular ad groups, and create customized copy at lightning speed. Of course, his secret was that he didn’t have any super-human powers, just a few powerful snippets of code.
Finally, it dawned on him—this side project, spurred by laziness, could actually be his big break.
Larry knew he had a great idea for a software platform, but knew he couldn’t bring it to fruition on his own. The problem was, software is expensive to create at scale. He compares it to building a railroad. The upfront cost is huge. You need a considerable amount of cash to build the infrastructure to kick things off. Of course, admission is cheap, but it builds over time, eventually turning over a profit.
So, Larry decided he needed to convince a venture capitalist to give him a hand. Of course, he had no VC contacts at the time, so he emailed his pitch to hundreds of firms. He scored a dozen or so meetings and, in the end, every single investor turned him down. To them, Larry was just a kid with an idea—no teammates, no product, no customers.
I definitely would have given up by this point, but Larry saw this rejection as a blessing. It was a roadmap. He now knew exactly what he needed to do to get his company up and running.
He used that cash from his consulting gig to bootstrap the business. He started by hiring a few engineers and a marketer. Together, they built the first iteration of the WordStream platform (in a Panera!).
Our very first office!
Once they had a viable product, Larry went back to the VCs, explained that he’d taken their advice and offered them another opportunity to invest in his idea. Many were surprised to see him come back. Impressed, two decided to invest in a Series A round and the rest is history!
To close out the podcast, Jeff asked Larry what he thinks it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. He shared a couple interesting nuggets. Firstly, he points out that nearly all founders have not one, but two strong skillsets. Oftentimes, these traits are different, but having a combination is key. For Larry, his strengths were programming and marketing. By marrying the two, he could create something unique.
It’s also critical that aspiring entrepreneurs understand the power of projection. You need to believe in and project your vision with such conviction that others want to join you for the ride. The key to success being able to convince people to buy into your idea—from entrepreneurs to new hires to prospective clients.
Finally, Larry stresses the importance of building a great team. You won’t be a one man show forever and smart entrepreneurs know how to scale. Larry warns that far too many founders struggle to relinquish control to others, which can be a death wish. Instead, pick one part of the company to focus on and outsource the rest to people who are smarter than you. Larry explains that he has been fortunate to build an amazing team that he trusts. Now, he’s able to focus his energy on his passions—hacking his way through marketing by testing all sorts of crazy ideas and writing ground-breaking content on his findings. Essentially, becoming the LK that we know today!
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