To make it on the Inc. 5000 list, you need to hit a three-year growth of 30-40%. MarketBeat has done that for seven consecutive years now. Since we first made the Inc. 5000 list in 2016, we’ve actually multiplied our top-line revenue by 10x while maintaining great margins.
I was recently invited by Brandon Maddox, CEO of Silencer Central, a Sioux Falls-based firearm accessory company, to provide insight to their team on how MarketBeat continues rapid growth.
As I thought about what has made MarketBeat’s growth meteoric, I identified three concepts that have separated MarketBeat from its competitors and have propelled the company forward. Hopefully, you can apply some of this insight to your own business.
Clearly, you’re doing something right when you are experiencing rapid growth within your company. You start to hire new people more frequently. Maybe you make the move into a new office. You adopt new strategies and take on new products. You develop new partnerships. The only constants are growth and change. You’ve caught lightning in a bottle. So really, the question becomes, how do you keep that lightning? How do you not lose the spark that made your business magical? How do you maintain what created the rapid growth you are seeing today?
#1 – You have to be willing to take on the projects that other people will say are too hard, too complicated, too expensive.
In our industry, everyone uses off-the-shelf ad serving software called Everflow. It’s a decent piece of software and many of our partners and competitors use it, but we chose not to. Instead, we built our own ad management and tracking software. It has taken years to perfect the technology and we probably have $500,000 worth of development time into it. Why did we go through all the trouble when there’s off-the-shelf software that does most of the same things?
Well, we can now do things that other people can’t. For example, triggered emails. We can send you another email asking you to buy as soon as you open one of our newsletters. We can also personalize the targeting of ads based on which other ads you’ve clicked on before. We know how much advertising and subscription revenue each user has made us down to the penny, which makes it really easy to tell which advertising channels are working for us and which aren’t. Our custom ad serving software has become a competitive advantage for our company because it allows us to make more revenue for each user on our website.
The easy route would have been just to use the off-the-shelf software, but if we hadn’t put in the effort to take on the hard project that no one else wanted to take on, we wouldn’t be reaping the benefits of it today. So make sure to take the time to think about what makes sense for your business. There has to be a big hairy project somewhere that you know in the back of your mind you need to take on, but haven’t yet because it will cost a lot of time and money. It will vary from business to business, but whatever it is, if you want to continue to grow revenue you have to identify these projects and pursue them.
#2 – Doubling down on your strengths will create more growth than expanding into new products and markets.
Our strength at MarketBeat is email marketing. We have 3 million subscribers and attract 100,000 new opt-ins every month. We are always asking ourselves “How can we get more email sign-ups?” and “How can we better monetize our email list?” We aren’t out here trying to have the biggest YouTube channel or Instagram account in the world, because we know that’s not what we’re good at. Instead, our time is better spent trying to be the best at what we are already great at than trying to be “just okay” at something we have never pursued before.
For example, about 18 months ago we tried to expand into credit cards, savings accounts, and insurance recommendations. We put a bunch of time, attention, and money into developing a credit card recommendation engine on our website. We lined up advertising partnerships. We thought we did everything right. But the results were crickets. The outcome was that nobody saw MarketBeat as a place to learn about savings accounts and credit cards. Our audience wasn’t asking for this information and it simply just didn’t work. Sure, we lost out on the initial dollars that were put into the project, but the biggest cost was that it distracted us from what we are the best at.
Think about what the key question that you should always be asking yourself is. Depending on the type of business you’re in, maybe it’s something along the lines of, “How do we sell more of our core product?” or, “How do we make sure everyone in our target market knows about us?” By regularly asking “How can we get better at what we are already great at?” you’ll stay focused on your strengths and core business instead of getting distracted by shiny objects.
#3 – You have to give up parts of your business to people that are smarter than yourself.
If you’re the CEO of a business, you are used to being the smartest person in the room. You feel like you know the most about your business and what you need to do to be a successful company. This is 100% true in the beginning and continues to be true until you hit the mid-seven-figure mark. Once you get to a certain size, you get stretched thin and can’t put your full attention on every aspect of the business even if you’d like to. To get to the eight-figure mark and beyond, you need to build a management team that can devote their full attention to respective parts of the business. Then you actually have to give up control and let them lead in their parts of the business. This is really hard for a CEO to do, but it’s the right thing to do.
In 2019, I had to give up control of MarketBeat’s advertising sales and affiliate relationships to Will Bushee, our VP of business development. He learned the industry pretty quickly and because that’s the only thing he focuses on, we make more than double what we did per email send than before he started. He found the best advertising partners that had the best fit for our audience, developed direct relationships with them and it has paid off in spades.
In 2020, we really started to build a software development team. I’ve had to give up creating new features on the MarketBeat website and hand it off to our software development team led by Rebecca McKeever. I still provide guidance on what we should focus on, but the actual planning and execution is on them. Our website has improved significantly as a result.
In 2021, we hired our first-ever CFO, Arin Gonseth. She’s an accounting rock star. While we were making good money, our books were a mess. A little over a year later, we audited financials for the first time ever. We’ve redone our company handbook and benefits package. We’ve updated our insurance policies. We’ve done all the stuff that I would have done previously if only I had unlimited time. Now that we have Arin to devote herself fully to these areas of the business, we actually do them well.
So how do you find world-class leaders for your company? You have to create a culture of fun at work so that people at your company truly find joy in working there. At MarketBeat, one way we do this is by engaging in fun projects that benefit the community. We made a MarketBeat cheeseburger a couple of years ago that benefited Call to Freedom, an anti-human trafficking organization, crafted a beer that benefited a local animal rescue, and continue to sponsor concerts at the Levitt every year.
MarketBeat’s business is to get people to click on advertisements, and that’s not always the most exciting thing in the world. But, our employees feel like they are part of a family because of all of the community work that we do together. Another thing to remember is that to attract great talent, you have to pay above-market wages. If your people are stressing out about money at home, they aren’t going to bring their best game to work. The people you want to come work at your company already have jobs somewhere else. The best people aren’t sitting on the sidelines looking for work. If you want to steal someone away, you’ll have to pay them more.
The way we do this at MarketBeat is to try to give everyone a base salary that’s commensurate with market rates. Then we take 1% of revenue every quarter and distribute it to employees based on their salary and their tenure with the company. As a company that is approaching $30M in revenue, this is a $300,000 expense for us every year. But it’s well worth it because of the loyalty, commitment, and productivity that it creates.
To summarize, here are the three things I highlighted to focus on as your business grows:
#1 – Take on the hard projects that your competitors think are too hard, too complicated, too expensive, and too time-consuming.
#2 – You will make more money by doubling down on what you are best at than by trying to do something brand new that you don’t know anything about.
#3 – To grow past eight figures, you need to develop a culture that attracts world-class talent, and then be willing to fully delegate leadership over areas of your business to your team.
You may have noticed there is nothing earth-shattering in my three points, but that’s because there’s rarely anything earth shattering in business. There are no secrets.