Affiliate Marketing is at the heart of many wonderful bootstrapping stories. It’s inexpensive to get going and profitable quickly, and managed well, can scale substantially. Zeeto CEO Stephan Goss has bootstrapped a traffic arbitrage business to $42 million in 2015 revenue. If you are working on an affiliate marketing / lead generation type of business, this is a useful conversation.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Stephan Goss: I was born in Switzerland, pretty close to Zurich. I came to the US in 2007.
Sramana Mitra: Did you do your education in Switzerland?
Stephan Goss: I started in Switzerland and ended up graduating in the US. I graduated from the University of Albany with a Bachelors degree in Business.
Sramana Mitra: In 2007 when you came to the US, was that to finish your degree at some university?
Stephan Goss: No, it was mostly just to get out of Switzerland. I was trying to do something different. I had the opportunity to do an exchange semester. At that point, I was randomly assigned to Toledo, Ohio.
Sramana Mitra: When you came here, what did you do?
Stephan Goss: I came here in 2007. I started studying and ended up moving to New York and became a professional skydiver for nine months. Then I went back to school at the University of Albany. Because I’m a foreigner, I wasn’t allowed to work, but I was allowed to make money online. I started building websites. That failed pretty miserably.
Then I started building more websites and started buying traffic for them. That didn’t work either. I learned how to buy ads. I started buying ads for other companies and that started everything off. I ended up moving from Albany to Manhattan. I decided to move to San Diego since all the money I was making was going toward rent. I partnered up with a friend and that’s how everything was started.
Sramana Mitra: What did you start? What form did this starting everything take?
Stephan Goss: We didn’t have a grand plan. We had no business plan – nothing. I was still buying ads at that time. Basically, a friend of mine that I ended up partnering up with had a lot of advertisers that were looking for ads. We started the foundation of Zeeto. What we figured out was that by asking questions, you can create very high quality ad inventory.
We figured this out by asking 10 questions. Everything was static. Nothing was very fancy. It was just hard-coded. We started iterating on top of that. We were three people in the beginning. Now we’re up to 80. It has always been the same idea. We’ve just been building on top of it and getting much more sophisticated.