Small Biz Buzz—110—David Freedman & Kurt Donnell—Create Great Content via Growth Hacking

Small Biz Buzz hosts Crystal Heuft and Michael Van Dusen are joined by Freestar’s Co-founder David Freedman and President and CEO Kurt Donnell, who discuss how being advocates for publishers has maximized their revenue.

Freestar maximizes publishers’ programmatic ad revenue specifically. Basically, every time you see an ad that appears on the internet, there's an entire auction that's happening in milliseconds behind the scenes. Freestar puts pressure on that auction to drive up the price to help publishers make as much money as possible and be competitive in a world where Google and Facebook continue to take a lot of the market share.

Freedman and Donnell deliver a real service that's very black and white in the sense that they drive revenue and people see it. It's also a revenue share model, so there's no upfront cost or fees for the publishers to work with them.

“We're very passionate about the technology side and also giving a voice and a fighting chance for publishers these days, because it is a tough industry for them to survive in,” said Freedman.

“Our industry is pretty much all geared towards the advertiser. Everyone's focused on satisfying them, which typically results in the publisher getting screwed,” Freedman continued. “We wanted to flip that theory on its head and go the opposite direction. Publisher first is one of our core values and kind of our guiding decision making on everything that we do.”

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Transcript:

Speaker 1 (00:00):

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Crystal (01:09):

I was just telling you guys before we started rolling about we did a Facebook Live with you about a month ago, you guys with Clate, chatting about hiring and the effective ways to make sure you have the right team.

Dusey (01:22):

I'm going to jump in here and make sure that all of our listeners know who we're talking to.

Crystal (01:26):

Yeah, that helps. Right?

Dusey (01:29):

We've got Kurt Donnell and David Freedman here with us. Maybe you guys could just give us the quick, before we keep going, quick 20 second for who you guys are.

Kurt Donnell (01:39):

Kurt Donnell [crosstalk 00:01:40].

Dusey (01:40):

Sorry, I have to tell our listeners, we've got video on and they just kind of pointed to each other like, "You? You? You?". That was great.

Kurt Donnell (01:49):

The Zoom finger guns, it's good.

Dusey (01:53):

Yeah.

Kurt Donnell (01:53):

I'll start then. Kurt Donnell. I'm the President and CEO of Freestar. I joined the company about a year and a half ago. Background, started out my career as an M&A attorney. Realized not my calling in life and switched over to the business side in a combo legal business role here seven or eight years ago. I've done a number of different things. Started out on the publishing side. Left digital media to take a [inaudible 00:02:14] company public for a couple of years. Then the allure of ad tech got me back. So, I came and joined Freestar last January, and it's been an amazing ride since then.

Dusey (02:22):

Nice.

Kurt Donnell (02:24):

David can give the company history since you started the joint.

Dusey (02:24):

Awesome.

David Freedman (02:25):

David Freedman, Co-Founder here at Freestar. Started Freestar five years ago, but started in the publishing world about 15 years ago while I was still in college and started my first website. Basically, I've identified a lot of issues and pain points where publishers demonetize their websites, which is what kick started the idea for Freestar to really kind of be an advocate for publishers to maximize their revenue.

Crystal (02:47):

That's awesome.

Dusey (02:48):

So, you guys focus on specifically helping publishers with their ads, with their websites? What does that look like?

David Freedman (02:58):

Yeah. It's basically maximizing their programmatic ad revenue specifically. When every time you see an ad that appears on the internet, there's an entire auction that's happening in milliseconds behind the scenes. We're very good at maximizing putting pressure on that auction to drive up the price to help publishers make as much money and be competitive in a world where Google and Facebook continue to take a lot of the market share.

Dusey (03:23):

Very cool. Crystal, sorry that I interrupted, but I think you were headed somewhere. I don't know if you were-

Crystal (03:28):

I mean, I was probably heading nowhere. I literally just wanted to compliment their quarantine beards, because I was saying to you guys that it's only been a month. At first when you guys hopped on, I was like, "Who is this?" I quickly knew it was you. I'm not fooled that easily. I would say that you guys should be impressed, these quarantine beards on both of you have grown a lot in a month. Our listeners can't see you, but I'm telling you, they've got a good quarantine beard going on.

Kurt Donnell (03:58):

Always putting in the hard work over here.

Crystal (04:04):

Speaking of that, I know Freestar has really blown up. So, a little of what we're going to be talking about today is growth hacking. Before we really dive into that, I did want to ask, you guys have grown so quickly. I mean, it's been an amazing journey. So, what has that journey been like? How did you notice that you were going to start growing as quickly as you did? Let's start there.

David Freedman (04:25):

Sure. The growth has been exceptional. In the beginning, it was growth the opposite way of kind of driving more into the ground than upwards to the moon. Originally, the original plan was when my partner and I started this company was to go acquire websites and flip them like real estate, put our technology in place, monetize them and sell them off. We realized pretty quickly that we're just pretty awful at creating content. It's a pretty key recipe to obviously having a good publishing platform is being exceptional at content.

David Freedman (05:01):

So, we were pretty close to actually going out of business in the beginning days. We pivoted out of necessity at the last second to keep the lights on and transition to the model where now it's a fully managed service for publishers. So, we really partner with those content creating experts or ecommerce stores that have an incredible audience already. Then we come in and do what we do best. I think that kind of specialization and focus into being the best at what you do instead of trying to tackle everything has been kind of the kickstart to this growth.

David Freedman (05:37):

It's been a wild ride. I mean, since we made that pivot, that's really when the growth started pretty instantaneously. The reality is, we deliver a real service that's very black and white in the sense that we drive revenue and people see that. It's also a rev share model, so there's no upfront cost and no fees, so to speak, to the publishers to work with us. So, it's got to be more than a good sales pitch in order to actually grow the business. The momentum starts to take off in case studies. Happy clients typically have pretty big mouths and friends that they want to help out as well, which has been a great thing as well where once you prove that you actually can deliver on the results, they start telling their friends as well as putting a lot of effort into our business development front as well.

Dusey (06:18):

Yeah. I feel like there's two things that I heard there that ... Our focus is on helping small businesses grow. So, we love seeing what you guys did and how you were able to grow. I feel like you hit on two themes, one in particular that we just hear over and over and over again, which is getting that focus of, A, who you're going after. You guys are very honed in on helping publishers monetize their content. Then just focus on the things that you do good. For people that aren't great at making content, it doesn't mean that if you're a solopreneur that you can't start to make some content and kind of get stuff going out there, but understand what your core offering is and what your core competency is and really hone in on that and go find other people that need your skill. Right?

David Freedman (07:08):

Absolutely. I think it also lies where your passion is. Our passion wasn't in creating content either. So, it's hard to become excellent at something when your heart's not really in it. We're very passionate about the technology side and also giving a voice and a fighting chance for publishers these days, because it is a tough industry for them to survive in.

Crystal (07:30):

For sure. A lot of small businesses ... I mean, we're all, I'm sure, watching the news. A lot of small businesses right now are facing struggles like you talked about, you know, bumps in the road, possibly almost closing. I think the idea of pivoting is so crucial. Clate talks a lot about adapting and how entrepreneurs are so good at that. What would be number one tip from both of you of maybe a sign that you need to pivot in your business and maybe a best practice to make that pivot quick?

David Freedman (08:06):

Well, I would say if you're days away from going out of business, it's probably a good time to pivot like we were.

Crystal (08:13):

Fair.

Kurt Donnell (08:14):

I think it really is don't boil the ocean and find the thing that you're the best at. I think a lot of companies try to do everything. In the early days when you're chasing revenue, you're going to try to service every customer in every possible way they want. Ultimately, you'll probably spread yourself too thin and you don't really execute at a high level at anything. You got to figure out the thing that you'll be the best at and go really attack that one thing hard.

Kurt Donnell (08:35):

It takes some trial and error to get there. It's easier to say that once you've had success doing it. When you take that hard look in the mirror, why are most of your customers coming to you? You've got to rid of the edge cases and figure out that one core thing that is [inaudible 00:08:50] and not just try things and try things and try things over and over again.

Dusey (08:55):

I would love to dig into that. Like you said, that can be kind of difficult. Maybe looking back is easier than looking forward. So, I'm curious what you guys did. If this was something that you heard from your clients over and over, from your customers, or if it was something that you just kind of realized that you were spread too thin, how did you figure out that that was indeed the thing that you wanted to focus?

David Freedman (09:19):

I think for a little bit ... I mean, once we did make the pivot to the model we're in today, we also started running into an issue where, we call it, we were trying to chase a lot of shiny objects. Just because there's an opportunity in front of you doesn't mean that it's what you should go be putting time and energy into and not just chasing an opportunity to make a dollar when it could take your focus and eye off the ball, if you will, of really growing that core business.

David Freedman (09:47):

I think there's a delicate balance, if you will, of you want to innovate. You want to try new things, and you don't want to be close-minded by any means. Also, it's okay to look in the mirror and just either pass on an opportunity and say, "Right now is not the right time. We truly don't have the staff in place or just the hours in the day to accomplish that."

Dusey (10:08):

That's harder to do when you're days away from going out of business, right, to say no to-

David Freedman (10:14):

It is because it's very tempting to want to jump on every and any opportunity. I think that's a little bit of that entrepreneurial spirit where you're a little stubborn at times where you think you can tackle maybe more than you can. There's just I think a realization that needs to be had and a little self-reflection a lot of times. Also listening, even if you've got an incredible staff that is all like-minded and they want to tackle the world with you, listen to them too. Sometimes they are trying to in a polite way nudge and say, "I think we're trying to bite off a little more than we can handle today."

Dusey (10:49):

Yeah, yeah.

Crystal (10:49):

Totally.

Kurt Donnell (10:50):

I'll add another thing to that. If you do find yourself, you're like, "We should go build this, go build this," see if you can go partner with somebody in some sort of trial period and take it to market on a white-label basis or licensed technology. Typically you can go build something later if you find out that it works. I think a good example in our business is, there's ad products of various different styles and sizes and everything of ads. Typically, there's a company that kind of pioneered whatever that format is. They become more ubiquitous over time and we can build them internally.

Kurt Donnell (11:20):

We will typically, with something like that, test it with a partner. Once we found efficacy of that, then we'll go build ... It allows us to be innovative by offering new things to our clients, but we don't have to go build it all ourselves, put all that capex up front. So, I would recommend partnering if you can. I mean, don't underestimate borrowing for a while.

Dusey (11:40):

Absolutely.

Crystal (11:40):

I'm sure there's a lot of small businesses out there, and they're thinking, "Growth hacking? I can't even get to talking about growth hacking right now because of the fact that I'm in the day-to-day. I'm struggling." I think it's important to call out. I love that you guys are being so open and sharing about at the end of the day, you had bumps in the road. Probably to everyone else, it looks like you guys grew over night. You came up in a year. There's lots of years that go into getting to that growth curve and lots of things that you learn along the way to figure out where your niche is and where you're really thriving.

Crystal (12:15):

Tell us a little bit more about once you started kind of hitting your stride and figuring out, "This is where we really want to focus our energy," what were some key moments in that journey of taking it from 1X growth to 10X? What did it for you guys? What signs did you notice? I don't know. Just how can we help others see those things to kind of push on?

David Freedman (12:41):

Well, kind of answer that and also one other thing to just hit on the last point too, I think there's a big difference between reality and in theory. I think that also goes into really listening more than maybe doing the talking sometimes and talking to your customers and seeing what they actually need and want. Just because you think something's a great idea or if all of the stars aligned, it could work, what's something that you're going to actually be able to deliver on that they actually want and need?

David Freedman (13:06):

Sometimes, yes, a customer might not be aware of what they really want or need. If you listen, you're going to be able to kind of figure out that path forward a lot. I think to the question you asked, that growth really started to accelerate at that accelerated speed once we started really dialing in that focus into, "This is what we're going to do, and we are going to be world-class at it."

Dusey (13:32):

Would you say that that old Henry Ford quote of, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would've told me faster horses," do you think that's a little bit overrated?

David Freedman (13:42):

I think it's just all within a reality of just kind of balancing that. I think in the beginning, we were starting to travel some paths where, I kind of joke, where we were trying to reinvent the internet and create these magical new things that just didn't need to exist versus just really fine tuning what there is. Then sometimes, just because something could potentially down the road be a better opportunity, did your customer even understand that? Are they going to be able to buy into what you're doing or are they very set? I understand that that could be a great solution down the road, but I'm not planning that far in advance either as a company. I need something right now.

Dusey (14:27):

Yeah. I think it can be easy to look at some of these huge innovations in history and model ourselves after those. A lot of those were not when somebody had their first idea and that idea was the thing that got huge. There's a lot of experimentation and trial and error and slowly moving towards making that thing a reality. That can be the same sort of thing with this. You can see that there might be that other solution that would take a ton of work to get to. You think that it would be a great solution for the people that you work with, but there are ways that you can take more reasonable, smaller steps towards building that out.

Kurt Donnell (15:07):

I was going to say the same thing, I think it's much more of an iterative process. Part of keeping your business going ... is you've got to get people to buy things now. You can have some of your greatest theories down the road. Put those on the road map down the road once you have customers that are ... a little bit. I mean, the faster horses ... it's a great quote. Obviously it gets used a lot. I think people actually wanted faster buggies. I don't think they wanted faster horses.

Crystal (15:33):

I was just-

Kurt Donnell (15:34):

[crosstalk 00:15:34] They didn't want to feed horses and clean up after horses. So, what he made was a better buggy, in reality. Right?

Crystal (15:39):

You know you're not the smartest person in the room when everyone else is like, "You know that age old Henry Ford quote?" I'm like, "Wait a minute. No, I don't." Thank you for saying it.

Dusey (15:51):

I believe Aristotle once said.

Crystal (15:55):

Oh Lord, my favorite is ... This is the kind of quotes I focus on, when it says something like, "The best quotes can be found on the internet," said by Abraham Lincoln. That's where I live with social media. You don't trust any quotes. Who knows if Henry Ford said it?

Kurt Donnell (16:10):

I actually don't think he did, in reality. I actually don't think he actually said that quote.

Crystal (16:19):

[crosstalk 00:16:19] I don't either. Some press wrote it for him.

Kurt Donnell (16:19):

There's another element and fallacy of first mover advantage. If you really look at all the really successful companies, very few of them were the first mover or the second or third mover in their space and iterated upon something that somebody was doing and did it the right way because they learned from some of their pitfalls and made it a better solution.

Kurt Donnell (16:34):

So, it's important to create markets at times, but it's also okay to be the best in a market and then start to create those other markets. So, don't forget about that. I mean, I think there's the entrepreneurial agreement, "I'm going to go start this thing, and it's going to revolutionize the world." You don't have to do it overnight. So, figure out a way to build a good solid business, and then build on top of that. I would really reiterate that.

Crystal (16:54):

Totally. For Freestar ... Sorry, Dusey, do you want to go? I was going to say, for Freestar, you guys actually hit on something that I find really interesting. What were the pain points you were kind of trying to solve for? Were there things you had seen other companies doing that you just knew weren't working for the audience?

David Freedman (17:12):

One thing that kind of stands out is there was a company that created some impressive technology for a mobile experience. At first, we just said, "Hey, let's just go create that for all of our websites and give that as an offering." The reality was, this was a 40-, 50-, 60-person company that built this incredible technology. We were at that time probably six to eight people, and we were trying to duplicate that because everything in theory seems very simple and, "Oh yeah, a couple lines of code, and we can tweak this and make it all happen."

David Freedman (17:50):

The reality was, in retrospect, and we went back to that company a little bit later and just said to them, "Why don't we partner? Or why don't we explore how we can work together? Because this is not a competitive technology. There's no real reason for us to invest all this time and money. You've already built this. You've already got the infrastructure in place. So, how do we, once again, leverage what we do best and what you've also created where the good old one plus one equals three scenario?"

Kurt Donnell (18:19):

To identifying the fit a little bit, in our business specifically, I had kind of an interesting vantage point because I was at a different company that was both a publisher and trying to do something similar, represent its websites. In all honesty, most publishers are pretty bad at tech companies. The companies that were doing it in this way, they were kind of keeping a lot of the good stuff for their own operating properties and giving the scraps to publishers.

Kurt Donnell (18:41):

What David and Chris set out to do at the beginning was really be publisher first and offer a similar service but with, I would say, all of the right intentions aligned and very much sitting on the same side of the publisher. There was a spot in the market a little differentiated for that. Most publishers don't understand the tech, and the tech changes honestly monthly in our space. It's really tough to keep up. So, the identification of, "What's a problem that somebody else is really having? How can I fix that? Let them do the thing that they're the best at," you're really just getting the correct [inaudible 00:19:10], I would say. There's real mutual benefit there. So, finding the right businesses to coexist very nicely with you, it's an important part of that too.

Dusey (19:22):

I think that's really interesting what you're saying, how some of them are kind of holding onto the best bits for themselves. That instinct I think is very natural of, "Hey, let's make sure that we keep our edge." I think there is a lot of power in exactly what you're saying of not only, yes, finding the right people to partner with but doing so in as open and transparent and just working together manner as possible. People notice that when you work with them. They notice that your intentions are in the right place compared to someone that's trying to just ... whether it's make every cent out of the deal that they can or whatever it is, they notice when the intentions are off. So, I think that's a huge important point.

Crystal (20:11):

Totally. I find it funny actually. You guys are literally buying into your clients with the idea of rev share. I think it makes it really attainable for companies and businesses to want to work with you guys. I mean, tell us a little bit more about why you decided to go with rev share and what was kind of the mission behind that.

David Freedman (20:35):

Sure. Our industry is pretty much all geared towards the advertiser. Everyone's focused on satisfying them, which typically results in the publisher getting screwed. We wanted to kind of flip that theory on its head and go the opposite direction. Publisher first is one of our core values and something as kind of our guiding decision making on everything that we do.

David Freedman (21:00):

The reason we went with the rev share model was, what better way to align your goals with the publisher than a rev share model? If you're just paying us a fee, are we really incentivized to always tweak out an extra percent here, extra percent there? Probably not in all reality. Every time we're making you an extra dollar, we're getting a couple pennies out of that. It's great for you, it's great for us. I don't think there's any business out there that has an issue sharing that upside. They're not paying that fee. We're earning it. We both have to make money.

David Freedman (21:36):

We're both also looking at this where you don't make very short-term decisions. Everything that we do here for the publisher is for the long-term health and benefit of their company, which is obviously in return the long-term health and benefit of our company.

Crystal (21:51):

It's so smart. I would definitely trust that and want to buy into that. I just think that is a brilliant way of establishing a bridge right from the beginning with who you're working with. So, kudos to you guys. It's definitely right on brand with your mission and purpose you guys talk about. I just think that's great for businesses that are looking for the help. It's hard out there to trust who you're going to work with. So, it basically says, "If you make money, we make money." I think that's such a cool thing you guys are doing.

Dusey (22:19):

I love that.

Kurt Donnell (22:20):

Anything you can do to get aligned with your customer in terms of your incentives, and often you're on other sides of the table on negotiation. In theory, somebody wins, somebody loses. If you can figure out an outcome where everybody wins together, and it's tough in certain industries where just the pricing model doesn't fit, but anything you can do to win together is going to build a much longer relationship. Your return's going to be a lot lower. Just lifetime value builds so much quickly if you're on the same side of the table.

Crystal (22:47):

Yeah. Dusey, does win together sound familiar to you?

Dusey (22:50):

Yeah, absolutely. That's one of ours here at Keap, yeah.

Crystal (22:53):

Yeah, it's one of our values here. So, the more I talk to you guys, the more I just feel like, Man, we need to do more together, you guys with Keap, because you guys are definitely aligned to the same kind of practices we are trying to make sure we do for small businesses. I just think that's super cool.

Kurt Donnell (23:10):

I think the world is changing a little bit too where it doesn't have to be quite an I win, you lose. I think people are realizing we can win together, even some of the more socially conscious ventures out there or doing good and doing well aren't misaligned. I think that's important and certainly is just ... It's much more in a lexicon now of thinking about socially conscious business, which 50 years ago probably wasn't the case.

Kurt Donnell (23:36):

I think that can go a lot of different ways. There's a lot of other people that you can say are competitive-based, but we've realized there's an entire internet to go after. We can all do pretty well, and we're better working together versus against each other.

Dusey (23:49):

Yeah, I love that. I think particularly with small businesses, there's a real opportunity to differentiate yourself that way and to make those connections, just to be really personal in the way you're talking about your business and people getting to know your business out there. It doesn't always have to be an ad campaign about, "Look how conscientious we are about working together." With small businesses that are often very high touch and hands on with each new client that they bring on, that sort of attitude shows absolutely. I love that.

Crystal (24:27):

Well, the more I talk to you guys, the more I feel like it's a no-brainer why you guys had such amazing growth. I just feel like you guys have the right practices in mind. If you're working for the people that you're working for, then there's no doubt in my mind that you're going to keep trying to succeed and do better for them. When you do that, everyone wins. So, it's not bad.

Crystal (24:50):

I did want to jump into if you guys have some tips for small businesses that are trying to accelerate their growth, if they're trying to take it from a standard two percent increase every year to, "We want to hit 20 to 30% growth." What would be some things that you think they really should be doing in their business to accomplish that?

Kurt Donnell (25:09):

Unfortunately, there's no magic recipe for-

Crystal (25:13):

There isn't? There isn't?

Dusey (25:14):

Dang it.

Crystal (25:15):

Sorry guys.

Kurt Donnell (25:17):

I think it goes back to, well, I mean, the recipe ... podcast I'm on, but really if you kind of look internally and you take care of your customers, take care of your employees, a lot of that stuff will take care of itself where people are really bought into what you're doing. You're going to get better relationships and you're going to get longer term customers. If you can minimize churn ... I mean, as everybody knows, it's a heck a lot easier to keep an existing customer than to go get a new one.

Kurt Donnell (25:41):

So, I would say that from a growth standpoint, focus a bunch on churn. Going to get a bunch of new business is good and fine, and we did a good job of that in the early days, but churn was through the roof. So, you end up sitting there maybe in a net positive couple percent, like you had said. You make sure you take care of the existing customer base, that's just as important, if not more, than the new folks. So, I would really double down on the customer service side of things, checking in on people. It doesn't take that long to shoot an email saying, "How are you doing?"

Kurt Donnell (26:11):

Something kind of fun that we've done here recently is just picked a couple of our publishers and buy them dinner on a Friday night. Not a very strange thing, but little stuff like that goes so much further than the big quarterly business review sometimes. Just don't forget about your existing customers. Then anything you do on top of that is the gravy that does add an extra point, five points, all of a sudden you're growing 30% a year.

Dusey (26:33):

Yep. Obligatory plug for Keap, if you work with ... even if you don't work with a lot of different people, setting in systems in place to do that is really, really helpful. If you only work with a handful of clients over time, then you can probably kind of keep it in your head like, "Hey, I should reach out to them now." As soon as you start to get beyond that, having some sort of system in place, especially one that can help you even if it's just a ... there can be automated ways to just reach out and just however many months or weeks or whatever is the right time for your business saying, "Hey, we're just thinking of you," or, "Hey, we wanted to give you this offer." Whatever that looks like, staying in touch with those people that you've worked with already is really important.

Dusey (27:17):

I think it can be done with small businesses that have ongoing relationships with their clients. It can also be done with ones that are maybe a little more one-off. We've come. We've done the service that we do. Then we're out. Well, just give them a little reminder, a little keeping them the back of their mind reminder that you're doing that. Sorry, I'm getting notes that I'm having mic issues. So, I'm going to look into it.

Crystal (27:43):

You can tell-

Kurt Donnell (27:47):

[crosstalk 00:27:47] It goes to the fact that there's going to be bumps in the road no matter how great your service is, no matter what it is. There's going to be bumps in the road. If built an actual personal relationship, and that's something that David really excels at, people are going to give you the benefit of the doubt through the tough times and aren't going to be as quick to go leave. That goes back a little bit to just sort of taking care of them along the way, not only when things are bad. So, it's always easy and we all fall into the trap of reactive versus proactive. If you can do [crosstalk 00:28:12], it really means a lot to them, the long-term value of the customer.

Crystal (28:16):

Totally. I feel like you're so right. A current customer that you have is, in some ways to me, almost more important. As you guys alluded to earlier, they're also your word of mouth. If they're happy, they're telling others. So, in some ways, they're almost worth more, not worth more but they're more important than getting a new lead or a new customer. If you can keep them happy, one, you know your process and your systems are working. Two, you also know they're going to tell others that could also use your service.

Kurt Donnell (28:49):

Absolutely. I mean, we talk about that sometimes. If you thank everybody and you've got happy clients, all of a sudden your sales team went from three, four, five people to 300 people. You can get every one of your customers singing your praises, and that's the best kind of marketing you'll ever get is that word of mouth.

Crystal (29:04):

Yeah. So, Kurt, just a side question. What made you want to join the team? What were you looking to bring to Freestar when you joined, you said, about a year and a half ago?

Kurt Donnell (29:16):

Yeah, it was about a year and a half ago. I actually almost joined the company almost, I guess, four years ago, something like that. There was a weekend where I was deciding between joining Freestar, which was very start-uppy at the time, or going to do something else. I wanted to go scratch the IPO itch and went and did that. It was incredible, learned a lot, but I was sort of cheering from the sideline for David and Chris and what they were doing and doing a model that I knew well.

Kurt Donnell (29:41):

I knew that publishers needed the service, but the way it was being done historically I didn't think was quite aligned. The mission they set out to do, they really executed on it and were growing like crazy. I was ... putting on the numbers there, but they were doing it the right way and focused. So, when the opportunity came, I think David and I connected back in the fall of ... it would have been '18. He sort of shared what was going on or looking to bring somebody in to help lead the next stage of growth. It was just a perfect fit.

Kurt Donnell (30:11):

I also knew several of the people working at the company, and they were the right kind of people and the folks you'd want to go build a business with. So, it was just sort of perfect storm. It's been amazing ride over the last 18 months. I am so grateful to have been here. It's been kind of fun.

Crystal (30:26):

That's awesome. David, I was going to ask you too, because I have never ... I always admire entrepreneurs, but I'm too scared to ever think about doing that. So, when I am hearing your story of being in college and coming up with this idea, it's just very clear to me that entrepreneurs are built differently than the rest of us. When I was in college, I was like, "What is my goal? How am I going to make money in a few years when I'm out of school?" I definitely was not thinking of solving these bigger problems. How do you think entrepreneurs kind of differ than the rest of us normal folk?

David Freedman (31:05):

I don't think that it's a big difference. I think it's a very small difference that is a big blocker for people. It's just probably a lot of self-doubt or overthinking. This is my third company. I've yet to write a business plan, and probably not the way to go about things necessarily. It just works for me, I guess, in the sense that I follow my gut and travel my own path and I'm not worried.

David Freedman (31:34):

I've had plenty of people tell me how any idea I've had is awful. It's just if you've got the self-confidence, and don't overthink it. I mean, as you can see and kind of alluded to earlier, what we're doing today is very different than what we started out to do. It's a matter of, once again ... If I had this probably business plan and it was A, B, C, D, E, F, G, we wouldn't be here. We'd be out of business probably. That's not, once again, the right fit for everyone. Just don't overthink it, and don't doubt yourself. I mean, I think that's the one thing I guess I've been blessed with is just a mindset of I'm too stubborn to fail, and I'm going to figure it out no matter where it takes me.

Crystal (32:13):

Clate calls that the entrepreneur delusion. He said he feels that most entrepreneurs are slightly delusional, himself included. I kind of feel, after hearing your answer, I think you might be in that same bucket with him because you definitely are different than most college students if you're planning your first big business. I guess to ask both of you as we're getting close to time here, what would be some hard questions you think entrepreneurs and small business owners in the making should be asking themselves before they attack their big idea?

Dusey (32:48):

I've just got to say, I was really hoping we were just going to end with you calling everybody delusional and then we're out. We're done.

Crystal (32:55):

I mean, there's still time, Dusey. There's still time.

David Freedman (33:00):

I mean, for me I think it just comes down to probably one question, are you willing to, A, truly give this your all and, B, kind of put it in front of anything else to make it happen? I mean, the beginning days are a battle and you're working literally all day, night, every hour. That's great for delusional people like myself, but there's some people that either aren't in a position whether it be family or different circumstances that can do that. I think if you're ready to truly apply everything and give it your all realize you might not have a great social life or put other things aside for a little bit to get this off the ground, then go do it. If you can truly commit and look yourself in the mirror and say, "I am going to be able to go do this," don't start it. Nothing is ever as easy as you think it's going to be. No matter how much you plan for something, there's going to be bumps in the road. So, you've got to be just all in.

Dusey (33:59):

That's awesome. That's awesome.

Kurt Donnell (34:01):

I was going to say something very similar. Are you truly passionate about the thing that you're going to do? Because it's going to consume all hours of your life, nights, weekends, everything. Is your spouse, or partner I guess, willing to do that with you? Another part, do they understand your passion for it? You've got to be genuinely ... all consuming if you're going to be successful.

Kurt Donnell (34:24):

I would also say, as David alluded to, don't set wild five year plans for things, because you don't know what the ... Have maybe a scale of what it could look like in two years, but I'd be hard pressed to find anybody I know that's been really successful that actually set out a five-year plan and ended up being that. So, figure out something you can be passionate about to pour your heart into for the next 12 to 18 months, because it's going to change from there. If you know that you can be that committed at the outset, you've got a decent chance of making something happen.

Dusey (34:52):

That's great. I think sometimes a lot of people who begin a small business, they might do it because they're really passionate about making the art that they want to sell or they're really passionate about making this app that they want to sell or whatever that thing is. I think that passion obviously is important, but there's the passion of running the whole business as well. There's all that other stuff that comes into it.

Dusey (35:15):

You were talking about partners before too. That can be a way to say, "Well, I'm really passionate about this part of it, but then how can I find the right people to help me be successful with the rest of it?" Fantastic.

Crystal (35:25):

Totally. Well, I really always love our chats, guys. I'm kind of glad that this time I got to ask the questions instead of Clate. So, thanks for putting up with me and Dusey here. We really appreciate you guys. We love having other awesome local businesses as well on the show. So, thank you guys so much for coming and joining us.

Dusey (35:48):

Yeah. Where can people find you guys if they want to check out more about what you guys do?

Kurt Donnell (35:55):

Come visit freestar.com. Check us out there. Then we share hopefully some good tips and tricks on our blog and on our LinkedIn as well. We're pretty active on there.

David Freedman (36:05):

Or, I will add, at 4:00 PM, Kurt does like to pass out beers in our office once we're back allowed there, and it's probably an enjoyable time too. So, come on, we have beer for everyone.

Dusey (36:13):

You've all been invited, all of our listeners, to go show up.

Crystal (36:18):

I will be there. We don't have Friday Happy Hour at Keap, but I will be over at Freestar at 4:00 PM on Friday. Just kidding.

Kurt Donnell (36:25):

Don't worry, people are still working for a couple of hours, but they're allowed to have a beer while they're working.

Crystal (36:29):

Yeah, I think that's fair. I did work somewhere before that had a beer fridge. I felt like that might be going a little far, but also there were some days that it was very enjoyable. It was good beer. It wasn't like cheap beer. So, I was very appreciative that they got the good stuff. Thank you guys so much. We'll have to have you on again. Looking forward to keep collaborating with other Phoenix companies like yourself. So, thank you again for being on.

David Freedman (36:53):

Thank you very much.

Kurt Donnell (36:54):

Thank you both. We really enjoyed it.

Dusey (36:55):

All right, thank you. This has been another episode of Small Biz Buzz. We'll see you next time.

Speaker 1 (37:04):

Thanks for listening to Small Biz Buzz. Please take a second to subscribe to the show and leave a five-star rating. It helps keep the show going. And if you need a hand with growing your small business, head over to Keap.com. That's K-E-A-P.com and get started. More business. Less work. That's Keap.



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