Rand Fishkin previously founded Moz, the SEO software, tools and information site and his venture, SparkToro, launched in June 2018. SparkToro was founded with the intent of creating a new way for marketers, PR professionals, entrepreneurs, and product builders to get audience intelligence without the need for expensive, time-consuming, inaccurate surveys. Said more simply, to help people do better marking.
Mike: SparkToro sounds like a truly unique organization. You’re helping your customers find ways other than standard Google and Facebook ads. Tell me more about this and why that is important.
Rand: Three big reasons – 1) Because the ad marketplaces of Facebook and Google are so expensive and so crowded that getting any kind of competitive marketing advantage is nearly impossible. Sure, you might be great at Facebook Ads, but your competition probably is, too. 2) Because it sucks to have the world of web marketing dominated by a couple organizations with all the power and leverage to control the market, set the rules, abuse them for their own purposes, and charge almost any price because of their monopoly power and 3) Because we believe the best marketers will always be those who find creative ways to go direct, but they need tools and data to help guide their investments (and hence there’s lots of opportunity)
Mike: As a domain guy, I have to ask how you chose your business name / domain. Were you looking for something catchy that people would remember?
Rand: We had some rules, specifically these ones, that we wanted to follow. SparkToro played off my love for the Japanese cartoon, Totoro, and it fits all the criteria 🙂
Mike: I, and most people, probably know you best for your time at Moz. What influenced you to start the company and take it to where you did?
Rand: I was desperately searching for a way to make ends meet as my mom and my web design business was falling apart in the early 2000s. It turned out that the SEO blog I started just happened to earn traction and attention (and eventually, clients), so I doubled down on it and eventually we found ourselves with a big audience of folks who’d pay for SEO software. To be honest, we mostly stumbled into the world of software-as-a-service — we launched the subscription as an experiment and were shocked when it turned into more than half the company’s revenue by the middle of the year.
Mike: I prefer to have my taxes done by an accountant and I almost feel the same about SEO. Is it too complicated for the average website owner to handle on his or her own?
Rand: Yeah, for the “average” business owner, SEO isn’t just complex, it’s also a highly specialized skill and an area where a few winners take most of the pie (because of how rankings and searcher choices work). If you want to do well at SEO but don’t have deep time and interest to devote, hiring a professional is a wise choice. If you want to be truly the best in your field, you’ll need to make it a core competency, and that (probably) means hiring a team in-house.
Mike: You’re also an author. Lost and Founder sounds fascinating and I can’t wait to read it. Based on the feedback on Amazon, it sounds like you had some tough times and as a result have some great advice. Could you expand on that?
Rand: Moz wasn’t a smooth journey by any means. My sense is that through the failures and struggles, I learned a tremendous amount that’s non-obvious, but is conveyable! Thus my hope is other entrepreneurs read the book and are able to avoid the many mistakes we made.