We work fast, and we work hard. As much as you plan for success and execute to perfection you’re bound to fail. The best way to approach failure and overcome it is to understand it and accept it.
Jay Swansson is the CEO and Co-Founder at iAcquire, a digital marketing agency based in New York City and Phoenix. As a Co-Founder and CEO of iAcquire, Jay spearheads digital marketing strategy, business development, employee recruitment efforts, company vision, and culture.
After graduating from law school in 2004, Jay joined a boutique search marketing agency as Vice President of Sales. In this role, Jay fostered the growth of the company to become an SEO industry market leader and helped lead the company to acquisition.
In 2009, Jay partnered with SEO industry veteran, Joe Griffin to start iAcquire. The bootstrapped company now employs 100 digital marketers in New York and Phoenix to provide full-service digital marketing strategy to 150+ clients worldwide.
Jay earned his Bachelor’s degree while playing baseball for Butler University and later received his Juris Doctor degree from William Mitchell College of Law.
Joe Griffin is the CEO and Co-Founder at iAcquire, a digital marketing agency based in New York City and Phoenix. In this role, sets and collaborates on the company vision, growth plan, offerings, and technology.
He began his career in digital marketing in 1997, co-founding one of the industry’s first search engine marketing firms, Submitawebsite.com. In early 2001, Joe joined iCrossing as Director of Strategy, and later VP of Strategy, and VP of Media. For three years Joe was part of iCrossing’s explosive growth.
In January 2004, Joe returned to Submitawebsite.com and became the company’s President. In four years Joe increased revenues by 400 percent and led the sale of the company to Website Pros, now Web.com (Nasdaq: WWWW).
What are you working on right now?
Jay: We recently launched a new brand, currently in beta, called ClearVoice. With ClearVoice we’ve taken the lessons we’ve learned over the past four years in search, social, content marketing, publishing, design, and journalism to create a software platform very unique to the market.
ClearVoice, in a sense, is a social network to help drive quality content strategy between brands, content producers, and publishers. The platform will help brands and content strategists develop ideas, share experiences, and tell great stories to enhance search, social, digital PR, reputation management, and branding.
We aim to help bring the economics back to the content producers.
Where did the idea for iAcquire come from?
Joe: Jay and I go back to 2004. We became friends, and shared a mutual passion for building businesses and being aggressive in work and life. He and I formed iAcquire in April 2009, with the goal of creating a best-in-class digital marketing agency. We assessed the industry and realized that there was a gap in services for link building, so we created a proprietary technology called iRank that identified opportunities for brands to promote their content on external domains. Though iAcquire was founded as a SEO firm, today we’ve broadened our reach not only organic search, but also digital strategy and content marketing including social media and digital PR. Today we work with more than 100 brands on holistic digital marketing strategy and execution.
How do you make money?
Jay: We have a few different business models.
iAcquire is a holistic digital agency that focuses on digital brand strategy from start to finish. We help brands develop and implement strategies in on-page SEO, market research, content strategy, and content marketing.
Content marketing is one area we differentiate from many agencies as we can be a partner, vendor, or combine it with our agency model. We’ve developed proprietary technology called iRank that allows us to filter and find publishers at scale with efficiency. We also have an in-house editorial, creative, and journalism team that works to develop great content for our brands and publishers.
What does your typical day look like?
Joe: We may be running a million miles a minute, but the core of what we do is working with our agency’s leaders to make sure they have the tools and resources they need to be successful and help our clients “win”. Each day, Jay and I will connect with most of our team leaders and many individual contributors. We have standing meetings, but also travel to connect with prospective and current clients. We also continue to define and redefine the company’s vision so we are always innovating and staying current.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Jay: This is probably the best part of my job. iAcquire is a self-funded startup, so although that has some disadvantages, the advantages are that we can act and move quickly. When we see an opportunity or have an idea we move on it and we move fast.
The key to bringing any idea to life is to first surround yourself with the best talent you can find. Once you have a team you can trust it’s time to go to the war room. In our war room the rule is that it’s ok to disagree, just not to be disagreeable. You can’t be a jerk and you can’t point fingers.
Hash out ideas, abuse whiteboards, come to a decision, and, as always, it all comes down to execution.
And our secret weapon… We’re very fortunate to have such a talented “dev” (development) and creative team. I can’t emphasize that enough.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Joe: I love seeing this revitalized effort to bring the power back to the content producers. Google is actually one of the leading advocates of this movement, given their recent Google Authorship initiative. Google Authorship will become a requirement for publishers and authors, and you’ll see the value of credible content producers rise dramatically based on the merits and publication of their works.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Jay: When I was growing up my parents didn’t actually let us work when we were in school. They’re teachers so it was always “education first” in our house. The philosophy was to focus on education, sports, family, and friends and the rest will take care of itself. I really appreciated that.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Joe: It’s tough to look back and single out certain decisions that led to unfavorable results – especially when you consider the impact those unfavorable outcomes had in shaping the person you are today. It’s often those defeats that teach us the most. In my past I’ve done a less than optimal job of holding certain folks accountable. My forgiving nature has gotten the better of me quite a bit, but I’ve also adopted some slogans along the way that I continue to remind myself of – one of my favorites is “If you fail let it be your fault. Don’t let others fail for you.” Basically, you’re responsible regardless when you’re in a position of leadership. If someone else is failing it’s on you – don’t let that happen.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Joe: Don’t take no for an answer if you believe in something bad enough, but don’t build your business blindly. Validate the market before you start building. Start with a financial model, then build it. You’ll never hit your numbers exactly or even close most of the time when it’s a start up.
I wrote a post called “99 Lessons Learned as an Internet Entrepreneur” that offers other tips for entrepreneurs.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Jay: I could probably narrow it down to one or a few but we fail all the time. We work fast, and we work hard. As much as you plan for success and execute to perfection you’re bound to fail. The best way to approach failure and overcome it is to understand it and accept it.
Take the good, get rid of the bad, learn from your mistakes and keep grinding. If you do that with relentless persistence the world cannot stop you.
It’s also important to not point fingers. It’s human nature to remember when you were right and forget the times they were wrong so it’s really important to not look back and say “I was right, you were wrong.” That mentality will inhibit all creativity and trust on your team going forward.
Everyone is going to make mistakes and if you’re in a company that takes chances and is truly innovative, you want people to put their neck out there and create things that do not currently exist in the world. That’s what makes you great.
Create an environment where ideas are safe and welcome. You will thrive, innovate, and win. Your team will be fulfilled and they will lead with passion. Again, that’s why you recruited the talent in the first place. Let your leaders run with ideas and be accountable.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Joe: The accessibility of content has changed the world as we know it. That’s why many say that in order to succeed in today’s hyper-fast and accessible environment you must become a “content brand.” The big piece of advice though is to focus on quality over quantity. Content quantity is nearly worthless. Spend the required time to perform the proper audience analysis and content strategy needed to drive your content initiatives across all platforms.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Jay: I respectfully decline to answer. Elon Musk keeps stealing my ideas.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
Joe: I’m only 32, but I have a 13-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. I once owned seven houses when I thought I was a mini real-estate investor – that didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, but I think I came out even. I’ve also failed two to three times with other businesses, yet I’ve never had an investor or colleague walk away in any meaningful position of loss. My wins have been bigger than my losses though – I think that’s what being successful and entrepreneurial is all about.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Jay: Moz, SEOBook, and Search Engine Land should pretty much keep you up to speed in the search world. I also like the stuff Joe Pulizzi and team puts out at Content Marketing Institute… Will Critchlow of Distilled, and Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot are also favorites.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Joe: In Praise of Slowness is a book I recommend. It’s important for driven, entrepreneurial types to read because it does a really great job of reminding you of how important it is to slow down and appreciate every day. It’s hard for me to slow down and this book made an imprint on the way I think.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Joe: My son makes me laugh on a regular basis. He’s extremely intelligent for his age I believe, and some of the things he does just astonish me. He doesn’t say much – sometimes he’ll say “dada” or “mama” – I think he can say “dog-dog”. The other day, he handed my a remote control and said “here you go,” and looked at me dead in the eyes. That made me laugh pretty good.
What’s the most difficult part about running a business?
Joe: You have to extremely focused all of the time. As you grow, it becomes increasingly important to understand the finance, tax, and legal system. You must surround yourself with administrators that are qualified to advise you in those areas.