Launch, Pivot, Scale, Speed - An Interview with the CEOs of iAcquire - AZ Tech Beat
With more companies vying for the attention of consumers, digital marketing strategies have become a must do. With 87 percent of marketers using social media to distribute content and 42.8 percent of marketers planning on advertising on a mobile platform, businesses need to figure out the best way to spend their ad dollars for the highest return.
One fast-growing Valley firm, digital marketing services company iAcquire, specializes in social media services, content marketing and SEO for major national and international clients. I caught up with their Co-CEOs, Joe Griffin and Jay Swansson to learn more about mobile advertising, their pain points building a company and what to look for when hiring a digital media firm.
How did you get your start?
Joe: Jay and I met in 2004 – we were clients of each other at the time. I was in a leadership role at Web.com Search Agency, and he was the VP of Sales at MediaWhiz. After working together, we realized that we shared a mutual passion for Internet marketing and a strong desire to grow a business from the bottom up.
Jay: We wanted to build something special. It just so happened that Joe was thinking the same way, so we came together at the right time. We ended up building iAcquire in spring 2009 and took on our first client in July that same year. We created a business model around link building and a proprietary technology called iRank–which has evolved into a dynamic content marketing platform.
Each year, we’ve grown in size and capabilities. Today, our 100-person company is proud to service over 100 clients internationally.
I understand that you pivoted your business model within the last 12 months. Tell me about that transition and how you navigated the company through such an extreme change?
Jay: The changes themselves weren’t that extreme, but we hadn’t updated our website regularly, so when we launched our new site it looked like an entirely new agency. In reality, we’ve been servicing the holistic SEO needs of our clients for a long time. On the off-page SEO front, we definitely had to focus our efforts in areas that Google was recognizing as having the biggest impact, in light on recent algorithm changes like Panda and Penguin. That meant getting much more sophisticated in the way we practiced content marketing, and ultimately over the last 12 months we’ve totally revamped that department, and added close to 50 new employees to support that upgrade. The on-page SEO and digital strategy parts of our business have experienced significant upgrades as well.
What should a company look for when partnering with a digital marketing agency?
Jay: Companies should look to an agency that can customize a digital service plan for its business. They are not looking to use an agency that offers a similar approach for all clients–each business has different audiences, goals, and conversion points. Find an agency that can tailor a plan towards your business and doesn’t just have a canned approach for all clients.
Businesses should also consider agencies that have analytics and data to back up their game. Look for agencies that are able to prove past clients’ success through metrics and can understand, analyze, and garner insight through pinpointed data.
Joe: Finding the right culture match is an important part of working with an agency. An agency partner is an extension of your internal department, so you want to make sure the teams and cultures mesh well. If you are a conservative corporate machine looking to partner with a young, hip creative agency, the partnership may not work out. These soft characteristics are important, as you will be spending a lot of time together.
Tell me about your pain points of growing a business.
Joe: The most challenging part was developing the company and managing the growth. We built iAcquire from scratch with no venture capital or outside money. That means that we lived deal to deal, and obviously it was imperative for us to service what we sold–and get results. Doing that is very hard. Not just grow at the scale and speed at which we grew, but also keep up with the demand on all fronts. We had to balance people, clients, servicing, technology, finance, legal, etc.
Growing a business at that pace is very hard no matter how you slice it–especially if you’re not lying on the comfortable cushions provided by investment capital.
Why is Arizona tech ecosystem a great place to expand and house your company?
Jay: There is a reason why CNNMoney ranked Arizona as the number one state for entrepreneurs. From an operational standpoint, the lower-than-average property taxes make Arizona a great place to start a business. Our overall vibe here is risk-taking, tech-forward and open to challenge.
Joe: Additionally, the University of Arizona and Arizona State University breed a pool of talented young professionals–from budding journalists to business and sales graduates. From a hiring perspective, this is a huge allure for tech and marketing companies.
What is next for iAcquire?
Joe: We’re growing fast and we like the speed of it. We want to focus our efforts in content marketing (including SEO and social), and we think we are just scratching the surface. We are working on a new platform to bridge the gaps between journalism, brands, and publishers, and it will have a profound impact on our business, and hopefully the industry as a whole.
Jay: I see iAcquire growing to be among the top-ten interactive agencies, with annual revenue exceeding $50 million, or owned by one of the major ad agencies within the next five years. Businesses across the board seem to be getting excited about digital marketing, so we are excited to partner with companies to help guide their digital journey for customers.
More about iAcquire here.
Photos provided by iAcquire.
From Left to Right: Jay, Joe