This post, “Startup Legends Talk Hiring, Branding, and Core Values, With Oli Gardner of Unbounce and Ryan Deiss of DigitalMarketer” was first seen on Foundr and written by Nathan Chan. Listen to the entire podcast here, that features three of our keynote speakers from Affiliate World Europe 2018 in Barcelona, Spain.

What To Expect From This Podcast

Oli Gardner and Ryan Deiss are both digital marketing pioneers who have grown their online businesses to millions in revenue. Gardner, the instructor of Foundr’s Landing Page Formula course, co-founded landing page builder Unbounce in 2009. Deiss, a serious entrepreneur, founded DigitalMarketer in 2011.

Not surprisingly, this turned out to be a fascinating conversation, in which Gardner and Deiss shared both similar and differing opinions on everything from branding to hiring.

For example, both founders insist that creating core values is an important business practice that will inform your branding and your decisions. “I have had more businesses come close to failure because of too much opportunity,” says Deiss, who adss that having a mission makes it easier to know when to say no.

In addition, as both Unbounce and DigitalMarketer grow, Gardner and Deiss have each honed their strategies for hiring top talent. The details might surprise you, as one of the two companies doesn’t even allow candidates to submit a resume (it’ll get thrown out).

Listen in as Gardner and Deiss join Foundr for this lively chat in Barcelona, where they share their hard-earned lessons from growing online businesses and the sacrifices they’ve made along the way.

Nathan Chan's Foundr Podcast With Oli Gardner, Ryan Deiss

Nathan Chan’s Foundr Podcast With Oli Gardner, Ryan Deiss

Key Takeaways cover:

  • How to build a great brand
  • The one thing that keeps your customers coming back again and again
  • Why creating core values for your company isnt’ just a nice thing to do, but necessity
  • The latest interaction and design trends – and which ones you should steer clear of
  • Why community is the new brand and how to build a community that boosts your business
  • The biggest opportunity in ecommerce right now
  • How to stay relevant in changing content marketing landscape
  • Sure-fire tactics for hiring and vetting top talent
  • The big sacrifices they’ve had to make as founders

>>> Read the full transcription for the podcast on Foundr


?️ Let’s kick this off. I guess Oli. How did you get your job? Can you share with everyone just to kind of 30 seconds, minute, like what do you do? How did you start doing the work that you do today?
How did I get my job? That’s an inch. Just saying, I’m looking at it. First of all, I’m not a CEO, Co founder. We have six of them. We started back in 2009. We worked on and off with each other, different jobs just prior to unbalanced for you’re working for a really sketchy online casino and Costa Rica and decided let’s do something a little nicer. No more kneecapping, people don’t pay. So we just decided, someone had it. The CEO had an idea, he had two ideas. The first one was garbage. We picked the second, and I became a marketer of the day we started.
?️ Awesome. And Ryan, how’d you get your job?
How far back can I go? So in 1999 I need to make some extra money, and I decided I was going to be a Web Designer even though I didn’t know how to do Web Design, but I figured I could learn in a weekend if I got a client, the only person that would hire me was a lactation consultant and you know what that is. So let’s just say when you’re 19 and you’re building a website for a lactation consultant, your friends think you’re into some like weird stuff. And now I have four kids so I’m hit. But at the time it was less cool. But that was where I got my start. She actually wasn’t able to pay me, but I was working with her to produce this book on how to make your own baby food and that was … She was really smart.

She said that I know at some point my clients aren’t going to need me, so I want to have this thing that I can offer them when they’re done, when they’re done nursing. And so she wanted to then sell them this books. We worked together on the butch said, “Look, I want you to keep the book as payment,” like what am I going to do with a book on how to make your own baby food. But I needed to make some extra money. So I built a simple website through some, optimised it for no joke, Alta vista and Dog pile and all. Back in the day before Google and was my first kind of entrée into selling online. And that one website became 50, became 100, began talking about stuff, teaching these things as well. And here we are today.

Creating A Great Brand

?️ Yeah. Wow, that’s crazy. So that’s kind of probably brings me to my first question. One thing that I think both of you guys have done tremendously well with Unbounce. And you’re leading the marketing. And then also Ryan, with your 40 plus companies, even just digital marketer. You guys are very, very strong at creating really great brands, which is something that I think, especially in this world. A lot of affiliate marketers, they might be drop shipping. They might be transitioning to building a brand. Like would you like to start Ryan? Like what, what are some things that you think people should be doing when it comes to creating a great brand?
Yeah, I mean, so, first of all, we think about the difference between branding and selling. To me, and there’s a lot of definitions, but I see selling anytime you’re selling and making an offer, what you’re doing is essentially making a withdrawal of relational equity. So we think about all of our companies, we have a certain amount of relational equity packed within these customers, and we sell them something. We’re trading some of that equity for some dollars. And when we’re branding, we’re making deposits of relational equity. Now, if you’re a good enough Marketer, you can, in the context of sales copy. In content marketing is all about making deposits. That’s what I consider really great content marketing to be. Unbounce one of the best in the world that I know I learned a tonne from watching them, like, “Oh, we should be doing that,” but that’s making deposits.

So to me, that’s branding. I am making a strategic business decision that we’re going to make deposits of relational equity. Now, once you have adequate deposits on file, it’s appropriate to make withdraw. That’s how it works. And so that’s the way that I see branding, and really then take us to the next level. It’s about infusing those values within the company itself. So that’s kind of that next level. It’s not about the product, it’s not about the offer, it’s really about this is what we value, this is the value that we deliver and this is why you want to do business with us.

?️ Oli?
Yeah. I mean, for us being a single software company, it’s all about our customer success team. Some of our first hires, a Ryan who led that for years. That’s why we’re perceived as being a strong, powerful, good brand because our customer success team are incredible. They just treat people so well that our competitors can’t compete with that. We have people leaving, we do the exit interview kind of, “Why you canceling,” and people got to see the competition and then they come right back and they tell us why they came back and it’s because of the support and it’s because of the community. And you’re talking about values. It’s our values, we have our core value system, six core values. And people actually really live by them. And it just makes a big difference. I’m just hiring wonderful people.

That’s how we started it. And soon as you hire, you get one Bozo. And can poisoned things and things change. But as long as you make your employees happy, that you look after the employees, they’ll look after the customers and the customers will look after the investor as it goes around like that. So employee first is how we’ve always kind of succeeded that way.

Community Is The New Brand

?️ When you talk about community and fostering the community. Obviously, there’s a great community here that I see the guys are doing really well. What are the things that you guys are doing to foster that community? Being both of your companies or I know you have many different companies. Ryan, eCommerce companies. Like do you have groups for each one of those or like.
Yeah, we have Facebook groups for our major consumer brands, in the BDB space. It’s making sure that we always have a presence at the major events, so you don’t have to put on your own events to build community. You can have a presence and an event like this if your market is there if your people are there. Be a vendor, pay for a booth, throw a party, begin to build, begin to build that community there. I saw a shoe store … There’s a shoe store in Austin, Texas. They sell kid’s shoes. Children’s shoes, is primarily what they do. Shoe stores all over the place are going bye bye, because of Zappo. Any number of companies that are selling shoes online, this shoe store is crushing it because during the week they have authors, they have children’s book authors come in and read books in the shoe store.

What books have to do with the shoe store. Nothing except for the fact that it’s perfectly aligned to the market and the audience. So build communities around the market, around the audience. Then the medium doesn’t matter as much. It could be a Facebook group, it could be a forum, it could be live, it could be meetups, but just having some commitment towards that is I think going to be essential that those are going to be the ones that win.

The way we do it. What we kind of talk about community, we have unbalanced experts, so their customers, they run agencies and they’ve been with us a long time and they’re very active in our forums and they’re very supportive. If the rest of the people, we reward them by giving them that position of leadership. They are no man expert, not many people are considered that. So we have conversations with them; a group conversation every week and they feel part of it. They give us product feedback and things that you think could be done differently. And we listened to that and they champion us everywhere they go. And if people are commenting about features or problems or what things are trying to do, they’ll come in with JavaScript packs and different ways of changing behaviour of the tool and they’re just lead the community. Because they’re so invested in the success of us because, without us, we’ve got a lot of agencies whose entire business is supporting our customers.

So we invest heavily in them by giving them our time and our attention and, and our ears. Not like cutting them off and put on a bucket and given the people.

Very vaguely.
But that huge for us. It makes a big difference.

Hiring and Vetting Top Talent

?️ We talked about as well kind of creating values and attracting the right people to your company. Some of the people in the room right now, it’d be going through a scaling phase where they’re looking to hire great talent. I’d love to hear your guys’ strategies because really the level of success your company has fundamentally comes back to the people and the team. So what are some things that you guys are both doing to hire and retain and attract great talent.
We’ve had one way of doing it since we started the company. It was Carter, our President now. His idea basically if you want to apply for it, if you send us your CV, your resume, we will delete it. If you give it to us, we’ll tear it up. We won’t look at it. You have to go to Unbounce, sign for a free account and build a landing page to tell us why we should hire you. And why you want to work for us, because that will take out 99 percent of the people who aren’t good enough or unwilling to go through that friction. Because a lot of people will just, they’ll email the same thing to every tech company in town or every whatever thing you’re in and this gets rid of all the people who aren’t actually serious.

So that is like a self-filtering mechanism that we don’t have to work at. And we only get amazing people coming through that apart. There was, I got one and one of the last things we ask people to do, we say, “do all this.” And then we say tell us rockstar name. So people go, “Oh, they google, what’s my rockstar?” And it’s one of those generator things. So I got this landing page. There was this a lady applying for job and I saw her landing page and says at the top this whole thing about I love zombies and bacon. Alright. I’m terrible at interviewing people. I’m too nice. I can’t ask hard questions. So we sit down this coffee shop and I’ve got my opening lines is going to be great.

Okay. So tell me about zombies and bacon. She just went blank. And I was like, “Oh God, I the hard question again.” And she’s, “What do you mean like zombies and Bacon?” That was the opening paragraph of your landing pages. Oh, I found the rockstar name generator, but I also found like a resume generator. I just put it in a few things and it spat that out. But none of that’s real. She didn’t get the job. Generally speaking, it works very well.

And that one sec. So I’m good at selling stuff. I’ve gotten better at hiring. I will tell you that’s the single most difficult thing that we do. And because of the structure of our company we have a holding group and then most of the companies are run by either GMs or Presidents and I tell all of them, you have two main jobs. Hire, train, retain great talent, don’t run out money. I think those are the biggies. Hire, train, retain great talent, don’t run out of money. The account is going to help you a number two, honestly. Good luck on number one because that’s really tough. Again, I’ll give a book recommendation again. Patrick Lencioni, The Ideal Team Player is a very, very helpful book. And the methodology and some of the questions that are in there, and it’s not very long. But what I will simply suggest is if you’re hiring somebody to do a particular task, have them do that task in some way shape or form even if you need to pay them.

So we’ll tell people as part of the interview if we’re hiring somebody for a marketing role or copywriting. We’re going to ask them to do the work, and we pay them to do it. Here’s $250 to go and do this. You learn a lot there and then at the end, the last phase of the interview that’s done with an executive, they make it through. If they show they have the basic core competencies to do it, then what we’re looking for is, are they humble, are they hungry and are they smart? And smart doesn’t mean emotionally, smart means emotional intelligence. Can they work with a group? So humble, hungry, smart comes from the ideal team player and there are good questions in that book to ask for kind of suss that out and we grade them. We found that to be a phenomenal final filter and that has prevented a number of bad hires.

?️ Test projects, very key and paying that person for their time you do that too.
Test projects and Patrick Lencioni’s model for humble, hungry, smart. The things that I’ve done that have made me suck less.

>>> Read the full transcription for the podcast on Foundr