Paul May co-founded BuzzStream, a CRM for link building and PR/social media that allows online marketers to manage relationships and be more effective in getting results, be they links or press. He gave me the following two-part interview about the software creation and startup process.
If you’ve ever been solicited to SEO a startup with a unique new product, you know that the project is futile or almost. The search volume doesn’t exist because the market doesn’t yet know to search for the product! So I was pretty curious how BuzzStream answered that problem. As someone looking to create a startup, it was also insightful hearing about their hiring priorities.
You can find part 2 of the interview on my blog, where we discuss their usability testing and Twitter auto-integration.
What was the need you identified when you first started BuzzStream?
The original idea came out of a problem that my co-founder, Jeremy Bencken, had when he was building his last company.
He built a very successful apartment hunting site called ApartmentRatings.com and all of his traffic came via organic search (mostly through long-tail, geographic terms). After selling the business in 2007 and thinking about what problems he faced that were both the most challenging and built the core value of the business, he honed in on content promotion.
His team knew that building rankings was a function of attracting links, and content promotion was by far the most effective way they’d found to do this. But they needed a high volume of quality links to move the needle, and their outreach efforts had to be highly relevant and personalized. So the challenge was scaling content promotion efforts without sacrificing personalized, relationship-based outreach.
After trying spreadsheets and various general CRMs, Jeremy realized a glaring need in the market for specialized tools, which led to the initial idea for BuzzStream.
From there, we spent four months talking to customers to validate the need for these tools, and we came to the conclusion that this problem was actually part of a bigger trend developing in the market.
We believed that SEOs were going to need to focus more on quality links, which required more relationship-building and personalized engagement, and PR pros and social media marketers were going to need to focus more on scale (because media was being replaced by social media).
We felt that there was going to result in an increasing amount of overlap in the work required of PR pros, SEOs and social media marketers and, this was going to require tools to help coordinate and control content promotion efforts among teams. So we saw a longer term opportunity there.
How has the vision evolved since then?
The overall vision hasn’t changed, but I would say that the “overlapping roles” trend emerged slower than I expected, but it’s pretty clear that we’re starting to see this now. You’re hearing more people talk about things like content marketing, content promotion, social SEO and SEO PR, which is a sign of this.
The Panda update and the high profile manual penalties (e.g., JC Penney) are contributing to this as well.
What is the greatest challenge you have marketing a first-of-its-nature product?
When you first launch, you have strong beliefs about how people will want to use your product, but there’s no market history to rely on for proof points. So, what tends to happen is that you put the product out there and you get feedback from ten different groups that each have different use cases.
For example, one group may be using the product to coordinate efforts among a team and they really want collaboration features, while another is using the product to keep track of their backlinks and they really want link discovery features. Synthesizing this feedback can be very challenging and has implications for all parts of your business – it impacts messaging, feature prioritization, marketing programs, etc.
What were the first two positions you hired for with BuzzStream? Why those 2?
Our first two full-time hires were both developers. We hired developers for a simple reason…we didn’t feel like the market or our product were far enough along yet, so we didn’t want to focus our spend on sales and marketing yet. We knew we had a lot to build and we felt like nothing was going to impact the company more than product in the early stages.
In hindsight, would you start with those two again?
I think it’s served us well, but I do think we should have been more active in the community early on. I’ve been focused on two things almost exclusively: 1) calls with customers/prospects (to understand customer requirements and for sales purposes), and 2) product management.
This has been a very good thing, but I don’t think we’re as prominent in the community as we should be. I don’t think I’d change the decision if I had the benefit of hindsight, but I might change our development focus to things that required less of my time, so that I could be more focused on conferences, social media engagement, etc.