Sramana: So you graduated from Dartmouth, turned down Goldman Sachs, and decided to focus on Wpromote. What was your next move?
Mike Mothner: It was June of 2003, and I moved back to L.A. I had a good idea what I wanted to do to expand Wpromote. I was using PPC to drive an organic search optimization product and I was aware of two things. First, through the process of running Wpromote I had become very good at PPC campaigns. Those campaigns were getting harder and harder because of the increased competition.
I also realized that as the search engine industry became consolidated as AltaVista, Dogpile, and all the other sites started dying off, that my product was becoming less and less relevant. Once your site is in Google you are in Google, and people would not need our monthly service any more.
I realized that there was an opportunity to provide higher end PPC management services to companies. That is what I knew I had to do and I knew that I wanted to hire somebody to do it for me. I had a really good life because I was working only two to three hours a day. It was a lazy post-college first year. I knew what I was going to do, but I did not wake up in the morning and go do it.
Sramana: How much revenue were you getting from the automated search engine submit product?
Mike Mothner: In 2004, our revenue was around $250,000 with profits of about $50,000. Halfway through 2004, I hired a childhood friend who was from Manhattan Beach and who had gone to Dartmouth as well. He had been a liberal arts major and his plan was to go to law school. I convinced him to work for me for $10 an hour while he was studying for his LSATs.
About three weeks after I hired him we realized we had to move into an office to get real clients, and two weeks after we moved into that office he stopped studying for the LSATs.
Sramana: What was his role?
Mike Mothner: In the very beginning we both did everything. There was not much division of labor. A month after I hired him, I hired a second employee who was also planning on going to law school. The exact same thing happened with him. That summer the three of us worked out of a single office.
Sramana: What about clients?
Mike Mothner: The only clients we had were the original service clients. We had to tackle a branding issue because the original search engine submit product was called Wpromote. At the same time, we named our new PPC product WpromoteSolutions.com, and we kept the original basic submission service at Wpromote.com. We got our first PPC management client, who is still with us today. We have raised our prices a number of times since then, but she is still grandfathered in under our original pricing plan.
Sramana: What was her business and how did she find you?
Mike Mothner: Her business is AmeritekID. They do fingerprinting for businesses that do background checks. We got her as a client through PPC advertising. I think they keyword we used was ‘PPC help.’
Sramana: Was there a lot of competition for the keyword phrase ‘PPC help’ at that time?
Mike Mothner: We were one of a small handful of companies that were advertising PPC management solutions. In this case, there were very few companies who were dedicated to doing only that.
It is very difficult to land your very first client. We are honest and we are not going to lie and say that we have clients when we don’t. She ended up becoming a client because we were able to push the conversation down different avenues to show our expertise.