Tommy Griffith has been doing search engine optimization for more than 10 years. He previously managed SEO at PayPal and Airbnb, and now runs ClickMinded, a digital marketing training platform for marketers and entrepreneurs.
Tommy started ClickMinded as a side project while working full-time at Airbnb. He grew it until it started generating more revenue than his annual salary. Two years ago, he quit Airbnb to go full-time on it and ran into a number of problems in trying to grow the business.
Jonathon: Welcome back folks to the WP tonic show. This is episode 428. I’ve really been looking towards this interview. I say that almost every time. We got Tommy Griffin in the House. And Tommy`s resume to say is impressive is an understatement. He has work with some of the leading fortune 500 technology companies in the US like Paypal and Airbnb. And he’s a real SEO Guru. I think you’re going to get enormous value. So Tommy, can you give us a quick introduction?
Tommy: Yeah. Jonathan, Adrian, thanks so much for having me on the show. Yeah, my name’s Tommy Griffith. I’m an SEO nerd. I’ve been doing search engine optimization about 10 years. Previously managed SEO at Paypal and Airbnb and now I run a digital marketing training course called Click Minded. We teach entrepreneurs and marketers how to do online marketing. I left Airbnb about two years to go full time on it. I started as a side projects there. And now we have a small team. And we focus on big companies that want to train up their team on digital marketing entrepreneurs that want to learn digital marketing. And have been through the entire gamut of online course, WordPress plugin, nightmare mode, amazing these high highs, lows, lows and everything in between. So I’m excited and fired up to nerd out with you guys on this stuff.
Jonathon: Thanks Tommy. I have my great cohost Adrian. Adrian would you like to introduce yourself to the new listeners and viewers?
Adrian: Hi everyone. My name is Adrian. I’m the CEO and founder of Groundhogg. And we produced marketing automation and sales tools for businesses that use WordPress. Whether, you already have a membership site and LMS side ecommerce site. We have systems and processes that can help you maximize your customer retention, customer interaction, customer engagement, student engagement, all that good stuff.
Jonathon: That’s great. Before we go into the main part of the interview folks, I like to talk about our premier sponsor and that’s Kinsta hosting. Kinsta hosting only hosts WordPress websites. They’re a premier hosting provider, if you have a woocommerve or ecommerce business. If you’ve got an elearning business you need better hosting. And you need reliable quick hosting and the technical support team that can really support you 24/7. And these are some of the key things you get from Kinsta. Their actual support I feel is some of the best in the industry. They host the WP Tonic website, been hosting that for over two years. I’ve never been disappointed with the support they’ve provided. They are big enough to have all the bells and whistles but small enough to still care. They’re an independent company. They’re not a VC backed by built their business, bootstrap their business and they have become one of the leading WordPress hosting providers in the world.
Jonathon: So that should tell you the quality of the company. If that sounds interesting for yourself or for your clients, go over to kinsta.com. Look at their their plans and if you do sign up, please tell them that you heard about them on the WP Tonic podcast. So Tommy I think we started about, so how did you manage to build up your business at the same time working? I think before you left completely, it was airbnb I would imagine a rather demanding position. How did you manage to have all of those balls up without totally being honest?
Tommy: Well, I definitely went bananas. I mean, that’s for sure. Yeah, I mean my story started actually moving way back. I like a lot of other internet marketers got into search engine optimization by reading the four hour work week. Did you ever read that book, Tim Ferris?
Jonathon: Yes it doesn`t really work.
Tommy: it’s the biggest lie in the business. The title of that book is by far the greatest clickbait title of all time. We all kind of know that. But I would argue that this book really was the catalyst for a lot of people to build remote businesses, remote teams travel while you work. But even Tim Ferriss admits he’s never worked a four work week in his life. I mean we are all in agreement on that. But I got my start in the search engine optimization by also reading that book. I ended up writing a really dorky ebook and then saying like, how do I get this to the top of Google? And if I watched your presentation, would you mind sharing the name of Said Ebook for the audience? Just because I know already know what the name is. Here’s just, here’s how to throw me under the bus on this one.
Adrian: I was in one, actually, I’m actually recently coming out of one side. I thought that was kind of funny.
Tommy: Interesting. Okay, cool. So you’re like I’m like the old grandpa and you’re the younger generation having to go through all this. And in the US we have it was called Greek life. We have these things called fraternities and sororities and they’re basically just obnoxious drinking clubs. And a bunch of friends of, and I created a fraternity when I was in university, exactly as obnoxious as it sounds. And just kind of a joke when we started and by the time I left there was like a hundred guys in it. So I’m reading four hour work week. And Tim Ferriss is saying, okay, what’s kind of special knowledge do you have that, that no one else has?
I thought, okay, I’m an idiot. 22 years old. I haven’t done very much with my life, but I do know how to create a fraternity. I checked the Google adwords keyword planner and it turns out there were 1,500 people a month searching for how to start a fraternity in Google. That was enough.
Adrian: That’s not an insignificant audience.
Tommy: It was enough. It was enough. And so I wrote a dorky 60 page ebook on how to start a fraternity and try to get it to the top of Google. I started selling the book for $10 once it was ranking number one, no one bought it. I dropped the price to $5 nobody bought it. And then they increased the price to $47 and 250 people ended up buying it.
Adrian: I know it’s not really related, but do you know that if anybody who bought that ebook actually started one? I know it’s not related but I’m just so curious.
Tommy: Actually yes and tons of stuff. And I was fascinated by it because it was this book. I was 22 years old and writing about like, you know how we throw parties and things like that were very dumb. But there was all these people; like I remember this one guy, he started a very religious fraternity. Like somewhere in the Southern US and basically I sent out a customer survey email like a year or two later being like, what, you know, what did you guys think? And this guy was like, we took this book, we created this really Christian fraternity was like a hundred people in and out. Thank you so much. And I say, Whoa, you know.
Adrian: I mean, that’s all you can hope for. If you sell something $47, someone actually did something with it. So that’s awesome, all right. You can continue your original story.
Tommy: So that got me really fired up for Internet marketing. I got really, really into it. I studied finance in school and then once I did this, wrote this Ebook, I was like, nope, and I’m not digging into any of that. The first business Jonathan just laughing at my moronic life choices. Shortly after university I started a business with a friend of mine that failed miserably borrowed a bunch of money from family and friends. It failed absolutely miserably. I worked on it for about a year and a half and we basically lit all the money we had on fire and nothing worked. It was really, really bad. And I came home tail to my legs, didn’t know what to do.
But paypal at the time was hiring an SEO manager that kicked off the next phase of my career. I managed search engine optimization at paypal for two years. Search engine optimization, Airbnb for four years.
Jonathon: I am just going to ask a quick question. What was the business quickly, what was the business that failed? And secondly, how did you get that job with Paypal?
Adrian: We want to know every little tidbit.
Tommy: So the business was insane. We started a medical tourism facilitation company in Taiwan.
Adrian: So you don’t need a medical degree to do that.
Tommy: Apparently you probably should, but we did not have on the basic idea, this was 2009. In the US we still massive healthcare problems, but this is kind of pre Obamacare healthcare reform stuff. And the basic idea was there are surgeries you can do outside the US that are significantly less expensive. For whatever reason, Taiwan was very, very good orthopedic surgery, knee and hip replacement. And so we were focusing on Americans age 45 to 65 that didn’t have insurance or they were entrepreneurs that had their own insurance that was really bad.
They wanted to get orthopedic surgery abroad.
Jonathon: So that sounds like a business plan. Now reflecting back why did you think it failed?
Tommy: It was the dumbest business you could imagine. And on top of that, I did everything wrong, so yes. So the outline is sound right. This, these surgeries cost 50 to $65,000 in the US. In Taiwan with VIP accommodations, doctors that spoke perfect English and went to Harvard and success rates better than US hospitals. It was about $10,000 for the surgery. So like that value proposition for the user is great, but as a middleman trying to connect everything together, when you’re an idiot, 22 year old with no interest experience or expertise or connections in this industry, it’s a very dumb thing to do.
Tommy: There are plenty of people doing this well, but the better way to go about it now, if we want to talk about medical tourism now. The better way to go about it now is when hospitals basically set up like a western marketing arm in their hospital. And we tried to do too much. Well, what in hindsight we would have been the better move is to just become a lead generation company and sell leads to these hospitals.
Jonathon: It was the actual scope you were trying to build this whole, exactly. It was just too many boobs up in the air.
Tommy: Exactly. I’ll tell you the moment I knew I had to shut it down. And I was sitting in my underwear at two in the morning talking to this woman on Skype about the possible implications of deep vein thrombosis for her husband when he was getting on the plane after the surgery. And after I hung up the phone call, I just looked in the mirror and I was like, what are you doing? Like what I’m in so far over my head, it’s unbelievable. And I had to shut everything down.
Jonathon: So how did this lead to working for Paypal then?
Tommy: Yes. I mean that sounds like it’s a medical startup. It wasn’t, it was an internet marketing startup. The basic idea is we were trying to get things ranked, like I learned SEO and paid ads for a year and a half, right. We were trying to rank for knee replacement costs and knee replacement alternatives and medical tourism, Taiwan and that kind of stuff. Came home and yeah, it was right place, right time. Paypal was hiring an SEO manager for emerging markets, someone to focus on SEO for the non-English parts of the site.
Tommy: I had just spent, you know, two years not in non-English speaking countries and it just ended up being the right spot at the right time and ended up moving over there. And click my now business was a side project that was actually designed to pay off all of my debt from my first failed business. I was very blessed. I graduated university with no debt, but I ended up putting myself, my parents paid for it. I was very blessed for that, but I ended up putting myself into debt, trying to start this very dumb business idea with a friend of mine. And so click mine. It was like my 10th or 15th attempt at trying to pay down this debt.
Jonathon: Oh, that`s fine, over to you Adrian.
Adrian: So how did your schedule work in between working at paypal and now airbnb? In between focusing on click mining and paying off that debt and obviously fulfilling or contractual obligation to both paypal and Airbnb? Was there a certain regimen that you as difference between hours? A lot of our listeners, you know they’re probably in their nine to five job at the moment and they’re tried to have this special skill, whether it’s starting fraternities or, you know, they’re really good at, we’re woodworking, you know, they’re trying to think, all right, well what is my time implication and how long do I need to invest in this thing before I can say, hey, listen, you know, this is actually a worthwhile venture.
Tommy: That`s a really good question, Adrian. And starting fraternities, woodworking, it’s all the same thing, right? It’s all basically, no, but yeah, so this is a big question a lot of people wrestle with. Like, if you’re starting a side project, if you have that entrepreneurial itch, you’re working for someone else and you’re kind of trying to find that balance. The first thing is, and I`m always interested talking to people about this. The first thing is how cool your employer is with it. I know in the US there’s different rules that state in other countries, country by country. I got really lucky, which the first company I worked at didn’t care. And it was more like too big and lethargic to care. And the second company I worked at was very pragmatic about it.
They know that really smart people have side hobbies and they’re not going to dedicate their entire lives to this stuff. So at paypal, at the time it was owned by Ebay and I remember I was really nervous. There were other people I knew that were doing side projects and they didn’t tell their boss or didn’t tell their company about it. And whenever they talked about that, they would act like they were traitorous, like they would be like looking left and right. Like, Hey, I got this idea I want to tell you about like it’s a shady drug dealer or something like that and I always.
Jonathon: I only need $10,000 of investment.
Tommy: Right, exactly. Meet me behind this alley with a briefcase at high noon. But I always, maybe I just got lucky, but I was nervous when I first went to my boss about it and he said, oh, you have to email the legal department at Ebay and like let them know. And I thought like, oh, this is going to be so dramatic, this and that. And I like wrote the email, rewrote it, deleted it, rewrote it, rewrote it. And then when I finally sent it, the guy wrote me back and like two minutes. It took me like a week or two to write this email and someone from the legal department wrote me back in two minutes and they were like, fine, sounds good, no problem. And so I guess my point around this, I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. I do not know what your situation is, but, you know, don’t start arrival company to the business you’re working at inside the company. But for the most part, like startups are hard. Most startups fail. You need every advantage you can get. And if you’re doing everything really secretly, it makes it harder, it makes life a lot harder.
Tommy: So for me, not only was I really open about it, I used the product I was creating at work, so click mine to start as an SEO training course. I was teaching startups on this search engine optimization on the side. I eventually started using it with my colleagues at paypal and Airbnb and made it better. So everyone who joined my team, the SEO team at airbnb would take my product, they would get feedback on it right there. AIRBNB was the first real customer for it. So yeah, I worked on it on weeknights after work and weekends and found time to do it. But the two big dirty secrets I had, the first one where I love doing it. It felt more like a hobby rather than anything. But the second one was I was very open about it and used it as part of my part of my life at work, which made it a lot easier. You know what I mean?
Adrian: And also, you know, just because you say, hey listen, go and tell your employer about it. If you have another really cool employer, then they’ll probably just enable you to do whatever your side hobby is. If it’s related in some way, shape or form to whatever they happen to be doing at the moment. So that’s always sound advice. Jonathan?
Jonathon: Yeah. You might have your watch luck. We are going to go for outbreak. It’s been a fun start, the first off. I am sure the second half is going to be great as well. We will be back in a few moments.
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Jonathon: We are coming back. Adrian and I really like Tommy. Tommy, you could tell he’s been through the wars. He’s got so much craft. I am going to throw over to Adrian.
Adrian: So we’ve talked about, you has been doing this part time, you’ve been working at Airbnb, and you’ve been working at paypal. However, the last two years, you’ve actually left that entirely and you’ve gone full time. That’s right. Right, I got two years.
Tommy: That’s right. Yeah.
Adrian: How did that transition go for you? Was it was it difficult? Did you think when in your head, what were you feeling? Was it easy? Tell us a little bit about what enabled you to actually make that transition in the first place as well.
Tommy: Yeah, sure. This is another one that’s probably a lot of anyone listening who maybe they’re working for someone else and they have a side project and they’re trying to decide when to go. For me, I mean, like I said before, this idea was sort of first designed to get myself out of this hole I put myself into. And it really was one of these ideas, like I said before; I was like my 15th idea. And it was initially a very dumb idea before it was an online course. The product actually started as an offline course. So I would hold physical, In-person SEO training courses at co-working spaces in San Francisco in 2012. And it started, my first users all came from meet up, meetup.com actually started a meet up group and would physically bring users into a room. It was a really dumb business.
Adrian: I sense a recurring theme over all of your ideas.
Jonathon: It all sounds reasonably logical to me Tommy.
Tommy: I mean, I am the king of creating really bad businesses with what sounds premises with sounds premises. Yeah, I guess. Yes, sure. Well, so yeah, I mean it was physically teaching these courses on, on Saturday mornings, right? So it was like all you can SEO kind of course it would be entrepreneurs and marketers and five students maximum. It would be like $500 for all sitting down and just fixing, you know, fixing your site and trying to bring more traffic to it. You know, three to four to five person classes were great. One person classes were terrible and I had this moment. One of the other ways I’ve configured the first round of the business was I took less risk. And so I did a deal with co-working spaces where I wouldn’t pay for the room, but I do a really heavy revenue share.
Tommy: So I didn’t have to book the room in advance, but I would do a big revenue share with them. And I had these multiple situations where one person would be like, Hey, I’m, I can, I’d love to come to your course, but I can only come on this day. No one else would be booked. And I would be like, all right, fine. I’ve got this huge mountain of debt. I want to pay it off. Fine, I’ll do it. And there was this one moment, this guy messaged me and he’s like, Hey, I want to come in on this day. And it was my 26th birthday and it was a Saturday morning. It was St Patrick’s Day. It was my birthday, a big drinking day. Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. And so I’m just sitting there on my 26th birthday talk to this guy about how to fix his title tags and like all these people are running around drinking, partying, like making out with each other, having so much fun running through the streets of San Francisco.
Tommy: And then I did out the math after the course, 50% revenue share to the co-working space, $10 event fees. $10 paypal fees, printed materials are $20 I bought the guy lunch, I’ve spent four hours preparing for it and eight hours teaching and I did the math and I was making about $12 an hour and San Francisco minimum wage was $13 an hour and so it was not working. It was a dumb business, but it was the right place, right time with this online learning renaissance that we’re in now you to meet started to take off. I had this online course that I had taught weekend, the weekend a weekend back to back to back. I put the first version of it on Udemy and everything from there exploded. Udemy was an okay start back in the day. I no longer recommend starting with you. To me now I think they’ve done a lot of teacher unfriendly things and I’ve actually had some, I’ve written some blog posts that got me in hot water with them. I’ve kind of called them out for unfriendly practices. I think that they have. But we could talk about that more if you guys want, but
Jonathon: Actually I forgot his name. But he was like, you a great SEO, his specialty was paid for click. And he used unami just too as a kind of brined tool to build these initial brines for sure. But now they’re there. I would agree with you. Apart from that, you know, building a brand, building recognition, now I will certainly don’t think you can build a real business.
Tommy: Correct. And that’s, and that’s the point. That’s the problem. They could, I mean could have taken this so many directions. I can’t sit here and tell them how to run their business. All I can do is, is as a teacher I’ve now been teaching an online course for eight years and I also teach, you’ve taught at a university. I love to teach. All I can do is, is point out teacher on friendly policies and yeah, you can’t, you can’t build a business on it anymore. So that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s the big issue. But yeah, I started on Udemy and then from there I moved to my own side, tried every single wordpress LMS plugin from 2012 to 2015. Not Better now. And they are, they are, they are a lot better. Ended moving over to teachable because I, because I didn’t do well, you know, there was [inaudible 23:56] or even WP tonic back in 2015. I mean like, you know, where, where were you? Why, why couldn’t you pull me out of the mud back in the day? Jonathan? Come on. What’s going on? It’s pretty much [inaudible 24:07]
Jonathon: It’s been about over two years, we’ve decided to really specialize? I was just a general developer with a small team Tommy. I had a client that wanted to build a learning management system. We used actually learn dash that first one and we recommend Learn Dash and Lifter LMS and I’m friends with both owners. Well Lifter LMS have two co-founders. So I got into it and I thought, I wanted to find us a niche anyway, because I think if you’re going to be successful online there you’ve got to find your niche really. And it just jelled with me because of my backgrounds. I’ve always had thing with online education because I suffer from a bit of Dyslexia. When I was at school they didn’t really recognize it . The teachers seem to make it as painful exercise for me as possible. They seem to get great delight in torturing me. I don’t think they understood dyslexia at all. They don’t even know what the word meant. So I was a bit puzzled because I knew all the answers but I just couldn’t do the homework. So I’m sorry. But I think she don’t understand, you can lash out a bit, can’t you?
Tommy: For sure. That’s an interesting way to get into this space for sure. That’s really interesting. Yes, it’s great that you guys are so dedicated as I am. I think online learning is going to save the world. I’ve so many strong opinions about this stuff and it’s very cool that you’re doing it now. But yes, you’re right. I was so under-qualified to be fiddling with my LMS back in the day. I tried so many different things manually, encoding videos, one plug in would update and everything would break. I like all that kind of stuff. I think it started with digital access pass when–
Adrian: I’ve been there actually in depth and yes, yes.
Tommy: –When I was using it back in the day, they weren’t even encrypting passwords. There was like plain text passwords and things like that, right. I think they fixed that. Wooting and Sensi I’ve tried, yes so many different ones but, I think the best part about all this as we really are in an online learning renaissance time. There are so many options; there are so many ways to do it. If you want more customization using you services like WP Tonic and trying a lot of different things, that’s cool. But there are also the other ones I teach you about Kajabi, and all of these other ones as well.
Jonathon: Well Tommy, hopefully you can stay on and we can have a bit of a discussion on that because at time is gone rather quickly. I like to keep the podcast about the show to around 30 minutes. So I’ve got to give you the opportunity to ask you how people can find you now, but hopefully Tommy look like he’s going to be agreeable, and is going to stay on for our bonus content which you can watch on the WP tonic website with a full set of show notes and a transcription of the interview plus on our YouTube channel. I tend to publish everything the quickest on the YouTube channel. So if you want to hear the whole interview plus the serious part, which is going to be our bonus content, I apologize Tommy. So I just went quickly and he’s made the offer. It’s been so fast you’re going to have to come back Tommy.
Tommy: For sure, I’d love to. I.
Jonathon: It’s gone so quick. So Tommy how can people find out more about you, what you’re up to, your courses and everything.
Tommy: Yes, so we did digital marketing training for marketers and entrepreneurs. You can find it at clickminded.com on Twitter I’m at TommyGriffith and we just launched these free Retro Eight Bit Digital Marketing and SEO Strategy guides. So if you’ve ever played like Nintendo or Super Nintendo in the 90s, we have these free strategy guides that are designed like eight bit characters. You can see them at clickminded.com.
Jonathon: That’s great Tommy. Adrian how can people find out more background hold and what you are up to?
Adrian: So if you need to compliment your epic SEO skills and getting ranked with a little bit of marketing automation in order to make sure that people end up clicking through to your website. They’re getting some relevant content, you’re collecting customer data, email addresses, first name, last name and all of that good stuff, then you’re going to need a CRM and marketing automation tool. Groundhog.org allows you to add all of those tools directly into your WordPress website for totally free. You can go to groundhogg.org with two g’s in order to get that free plugin or you can go to groundhog with two g’s in the WordPress repository and download from there as well.
Jonathon: That’s great Adrian and we’ve been using it our self lately. It’s a great product. I would highly recommend it myself. Also if you want to support the show, the show has been growing lately. Been getting a lot of new listeners and viewers I really appreciate you joining the WP Tonic tribe. If you really want to support the shows so I can get excellent guest Tommy. He’s definitely has been up for it. He’s put up with our [inaudible 00:29:23]. I made this quite well. Go to iTunes and give us a review. It does really help the show and I love reading them. Even the bad ones, they make me just love. So feel free to give a review go ahead and subscribe it will changed and it really helps the show. We’re going to wrap up this part of the show. Tommy’s going to on. You’d be able
Jonathon: To watch the bonus content on their YouTube channel. We will be back next week with another excellent guest like Tommy. See you soon folks.
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