As I mentioned in part 1, we started building the software for what is now Authoritas, back in the summer of 2009. A few months later we had a hard launch planned for the October Search Engine Strategies exhibition and conference. These 10 years in the industry, have been a journey and I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned with others who are thinking of setting up their own business in a new field or industry.
Lesson Learned #6 : Hire the best team you can afford – even if you cannot really afford them
Over the years we’ve built a great team. They’re diligent, hard-working, ethical, enthusiastic, resilient, smart and lots of fun to work with.
Most of the team are based in our Twickenham HQ with the remainder working remotely from Poland. I consider it my honour and privilege that they have chosen to spend a portion of their working life working with me.
Read any entrepreneur’s book and they’ll talk about the importance of hiring, developing and retaining a great team. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’m certainly better at hiring than I was 10 years’ ago! So, here’s the lessons learned from my time running my own business:
If you find someone good great, hire them as quickly as you can. Great people don’t stay on the market long. If you cannot afford them now, try everything you can to get your man/woman. You can offer them long-term incentives such as equity or EMI Share options, flexible working hours, remote working, or even a shorter working week so they can do some consultancy or study or pursue a hobby simultaneously. I’m delighted that all our team are aligned – even self-employed consultants working for us own a piece of the business.
My one regret was Tom Anthony – I met him when he was studying for his PhD and living somewhere near Bedford. He’s a brilliant thinker, SEO, data scientist and all round nice bloke. He’s gone on to do great things for Distilled and become a big name in the industry. I wished I could have persuaded him to join us – maybe one day…. 😉
Over the years we have hired some great team members and I’m pleased to say many of them are still with us. Whilst it’s not always easy to find people with experience in your industry, it definitely helps as they tend to bring more perspective and contacts and can hit the ground running.
We’ve also made a few mistakes along the way. In a decade of hiring it’s inevitable – still I’m proud that only one new hire has fallen asleep at their desk 😉 (And before you ask they have moved on).
Upon analysing the data, I discovered many of their first names start with the letter “A”! But for very rule there are exceptions and naturally there were several exceptions to this who really did deliver for us and have gone on to bigger and better things.
If I had my time again, I’d listen to my instincts more. Let me put it this way, if you run your own business or team if one of your team comes into your office and tells you they’re leaving, what is your initial reaction?
If it isn’t, something along the lines of; “Holy crap…..Noooooooo!!! You can’t leave! That would be a disaster”; then you probably can afford to let them move on – you can find someone better suited to the role who will probably perform better.
I’ve never regretted letting anyone go – I’ve only regretted not doing it sooner.
Losing team members is always hard, if they’re good or great it’s even harder. Losing team members who are under-performing, or who are not happy, or where the role doesn’t quite fit, is not easy but it’s in everyone’s interests. Life is too short to work on something that you are not enjoying or passionate about and where you know you are not making a significant contribution to the team.
I see my role as CEO, to give my team the opportunity and autonomy to flourish and to deliver CV enhancing projects and results. It’s my role then to try and ensure the pace of growth of the company can keep up with them – if it can’t then I’m resigned to them moving on at some point in the future often to something bigger and better. I don’t look at this it as a loss, but as sending out a well-trained brand ambassador into the marketplace.
And what a fun marketplace it is to work in! Especially with a fun team like this:
Over the past decade we’ve met so many people and made so many friends in the industry across the world, many of whom became our valued clients. We’ve attended many industry events in Europe and the US, like Search Engine Strategies, ClickZ, SMX, AdTech, SXSW and my personal favourite BrightonSEO – the industry’s biggest free SEO event that started in a pub and that we now live stream twice a year.
Lesson Learned #7 : Attend an event the year before committing marketing spend
We’ve also attended the odd event speculatively, or at the last minute when we’ve taken a great deal from an exhibition salesperson. Invariably these never turn out as well as you would hope. I remember trekking to a Data & Digital Marketing Event located at an Irish Club in North West London where I ended up giving a well-rehearsed talk to a half-empty room with an audience of students. A complete waste of time and effort and no ROI on the £1,000 investment. The only upside was the Guinness was good!
Over the years we have continued to listen to our clients and innovate. V2 of the platform thankfully saw the back of the old red logo and UI design and we replaced it with the green branding and website you see below:
The application was upgraded too, but we made the mistake of trying to load one single page with many modules concertinaed together and the sections or modules would never load as fast as we wanted.
We spent a lot of effort monitoring the customer experience and optimising the UI and underlying databases to get the pages to load as fast as possible. But in the end, we decided (probably a year later) to move to the new menu you see on the left-hand side of the page.
Lesson Learned #8 : Continuously push yourselves to innovate and respond to changes in the marketplace fast
We have continued to develop our platform and now find ourselves working on V6 which is a completely new platform built on a new tech stack, primarily using APIs written in Python for back-end services, Symfony 4 and React JS for the front-end and Elastic Search as our back-end database/index to handle the huge volumes of data we now store.
Our SERPs API is one of our most significant investments. It handles a staggering amount of international keyword rank requests daily and classifies and parses more Universal SERP features than any other Keyword Ranking API in the market. As Google and other engines experiment ever more frequently with new SERP features, we can now develop, test and deploy important new SERP features in a matter of days to ensure our clients can be at the forefront of new developments.
Over the past decade, we’ve fought a long-running battle with the search engines to be able to crawl this data and provide our users with the valuable insights they need to be successful. Search engines are making this data harder and harder to acquire and my engineers can definitely relate to the robot on the excellent Threadless T-shirt I’ve just bought below.
Since 2009, the pace of technological change has been staggering. We now have to contend with a mobile-first view of the world and voice search. Rank Brain is just one of many uses of AI/machine learning that is having an impact in our industry and is likely just an indicator of what is to come. The only constant in our industry is constant change.
One of the other changes we responded to in 2016 was finding a new brand name and dropping “SEO” from our brand.
As I mentioned earlier, Analytics SEO was often confused with SEO Analytics, it was not distinctive enough and around this time several other brands had re-branded to drop the ‘SEO’ connotation (most notably SEOMoz to Moz). I’m not sure when the whole “SEO is dead” bandwagon got started – but for the record that had no bearing on our decision to re-brand. It was more about finding a distinctive name that also could be used to encompass some of our planned content marketing oriented features.
You should have seen the trouble David Bain, who was leading our Marketing Team at the time, had convincing me to re-brand and then getting the whole team to agree on a new name.
Here’s just some of the other dubious suggestions that were debated along the way! I’m so glad we didn’t pick any of these!
Thankfully, we went with Authoritas! Authoritas is a Latin word signifying authority, influence, reputation and judgment and we all felt that these were important SEO factors that we could provide insights around.
Lesson Learned #9 : Be flexible and agile so you can jump when unexpected opportunities arise
In the summer of 2018, we found ourselves with the opportunity to acquire Linkdex’s SEO platform.
This was never part of our plan.
We hadn’t raised millions for acquisitions and certainly did not see us as consolidators in the industry – although I do believe that as the industry has now matured it is certainly ripe for consolidation. (So if you are reading this whilst running your own platform then do get in touch if you see some synergies between us).
As the UK’s only two homegrown comprehensive SEO platforms we had competed head-to-head with Linkdex since 2009/10 – a decade or so of friendly rivalry.
We could see immediate synergies and an opportunity to build a brighter future sooner for our team and both company’s clients by combining the entities.
We managed to move very quickly and completed the transaction for the assets of the Linkdex business in a matter of weeks.
We’ve spent the last year managing the Linkdex platform and undertaking much needed infrastructure upgrades as well as building new features and integrating Linkdex with the new Authoritas V6 platform.
This means that we can now offer all our clients access to the very best of both worlds (two enterprise SEO platforms for the price of one) as we move to one overall integrated next-generation platform.
Lesson Learned #10 : Keep Going!
We’ve had many ups and downs over the years.
We’ve celebrated winning long-term relationships with major brands. We’ve kicked ourselves up the backside when we’ve lost valued clients because we could not meet their expectations. We’ve really tried to learn from our mistakes.
We’ve pulled our hair out when Google blocked our proxy network for a few long days back in November 2016. We’ve built new features and thrown-away old ones that are no longer relevant.
We’ve continued to innovate and listen and respond to our clients.
As a privately-held small dynamic company (where I am the majority shareholder), I think we hold one key advantage over some of the bigger, better known players in the marketplace and that is we answer only to our customers and always put them first.
This allows us to move with agility and speed where necessary to respond to clients’ requests or changes by Google or significant developments in the marketplace.
Above all – we’ve kept going! I have as much enthusiasm for the business and the marketplace as I did when I started out all those years ago. Maybe even more so, because I know much more about what we’re capable of delivering in the coming months and years.
Above all, just as I was in 2009, I’m still focused on building a great business, with great products, great customers and a great team in a great market….that’s one constant that will never change.
Thank-you to everyone who has been part of our journey over the first decade. We are all very grateful for your support and we look forward to another decade of supporting you.
The Next Decade – What are our future plans?
- More innovation and R&D – We’ve already got one big data-science-driven product live in Market Intelligence and Content Strategy – but we have plans for several more
- Consolidation and integration of Authoritas and Linkdex into one super-dooper combined platform
- A greater focus on solving the thorniest of international SEO challenges for eCommerce businesses
I am sure you would like to look ahead with me and the team, so please feel free to drop me a line – I’d love to know your thoughts on where the SEO & Content Marketing industry is going and how we can support you now and in the future. Or pop down and meet me and the rest of the team at BrightonSEO where we’ll be celebrating our 10th birthday with a cake or two.