Interview with Joe Griffin (iAcquire)
iAcquire provide enterprise level digital marketing for search and social.
I interviewed Joe Griffin, iAcquire co-founder and CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and fifty third in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Joe!
Describe iAcquire in under 50 words.
iAcquire is a digital marketing agency that helps large and medium-sized businesses better compete online. Specifically, we combine intelligent digital strategy with SEO, social media, reputation management, and content marketing to ensure our clients maximize their presence in search and social.
Describe yourself in three words.
Stubborn. Passionate. Resilient.
I hear you were introduced to computers by your grandmother at age 7 and went on to co-found SubmitAWebsite.com with your father at age 17, which was later sold to Web.com. What would you say is the most important thing you learned from your father?
My father taught me how to be confident, and taught me that taking risks is part of life, and without risk life is boring and bland.
What led you to start working on iAcquire in 2009? How did you meet business partner, Jay Swansson?
Jay and I go back to 2004. He was one of the original guys that started up Text Link Ads, which later became Media Whiz. Jay and I became friends, and shared a mutual passion for building businesses and being aggressive in work and life.
After my contract with Web.com ended I became restless and wanted to get started on my next project. I dabbled in a few different areas and invested in a couple companies, but ultimately my heart belonged to search, and that’s what I went back to. I wanted to build something special, and I wanted an opportunity to do it on my own – without my father or a group of corporate masterminds holding my reins (no offense to those guys). It just so happened that Jay was thinking the same way, so, we kind of came together at the right time.
How long did it take to build iAcquire?
We formed the entity in April in 2009, and took on our first client in July. We started in a 500 sq. ft. executive office in Phoenix. In November 2011, we expanded to a 1600 sq. ft. space in the same building. In July of 2010 we moved upstairs to a 3,800 sq. ft. space with a non-leased section of 900 sq. ft. available to us. We took the 900 sq. ft. over this past October with the addition of around 40 new hires in 2012.
While we filled up that space we also took on a 4,200 sq. ft. space in Manhattan. In October we tore down the walls to the adjacent space in Phoenix to form an 8,000 sq. ft. office. That space was full as of June 2012. Now we are living in tight quarters, and I’m hoping we get more efficient, and don’t have to expand in the near term. NYC is nearly full as well.
What was the most challenging part of developing iAcquire?
The most challenging part was 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.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
We made the mistake of promoting people that were really good at the job they did into a job they had no experience doing. With enough management and hand holding some of these folks could have been more successful, but in a start up environment those luxuries don’t necessarily exist. I think we took steps backwards at times by wrongfully changing people’s roles.
iAcquire were banned by Google in May 2012. What’s the story?
iAcquire is really strong in SEO, and specifically off-page SEO (which consists of building links to a particular website domain, for those of you who are new to SEO). Leading up to that point brands and agencies of all sizes including iAcquire were willing to be very aggressive to get results. The industry demanded results in a short period of time, and wanted it done on a budget. One of the best ways to do that was to procure really strong home page links on quality sites. The only problem is that getting these types of links at scale wasn’t possible across our client base without compensation.
We would pay a webmaster or business owner to link to our client, and were 100% transparent with our clients about the process. The only concern was that we didn’t overly leverage any particular site or create a “link network.” So our process was to find quality and relevant websites through an extensive process using technology and manual prowess, and create individual relationships on a one to one basis. We built a lot of great relationships with webmasters.
Toward the end of 2011 and throughout 2012, Google launched a series of major updates that year starting with Panda and then Penguin. Google took a strong stance on link building practices they felt broke their guidelines. We began taking serious measures to transition away from paid linking and began converting to more natural link building methods like content marketing. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that a reporter from Kansas would spend 30 hours exposing our process before we had completed our transition. We had started promoting our brand heavily during this transition, which I feel made us a target – in hindsight we should have waited a few more months before we began pushing our brand.
We weren’t able to get in line with Google’s more aggressive position fast enough, and because we were “outted” Google decided to make a statement. We spent a lot of time assessing our work, and more quickly transitioned away from paid links. After 60 days Google let us back in the index. That experience gave us a unique perspective, and now we consider ourselves to be one of the most Google-compliant SEO agencies out there. We’re not willing to put ourselves or our clients under that type of scrutiny, regardless of the market demands.
Has iAcquire got the feedback and growth you expected?
Yes, and then some.
Where do you see iAcquire in another 4 years time?
I see us as either a top 10 interactive agency with annual revenues exceeding $50 million, or owned by one of the major ad agencies (one that we feel would have a similar culture and that would empower us to be great).
In your opinion, are entrepreneurs born or made?
Entrepreneurs are neither born nor made in my opinion – though environment plays a major role. Entrepreneurism comes from hard work, risk aversion, and ego. You can’t be an entrepreneur without ego. You have to believe in yourself. You have to be willing to go it alone if you must, put your work first, or even be proven wrong on more than one occasion. You can’t be perfect and be an entrepreneur. You must understand your weaknesses, be aggressive, and above all your head has to be hard enough to knock down any wall.
What has been the most insane moment of running your own business?
The Google ban was probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever faced professionally. Other than that we’ve dealt with some pretty crazy clients over the years – not every client is a good one. We’re getting better at picking the best partners.
Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?
I admire Matt Cutts (you have to have really big balls to be the face of Google’s spam team – and not to mention Matt was one of the guys that started Google SafeSearch and I admire him for that too). Also George Oliveira for his pioneering role in European and multilingual SEO, Elon Musk, Bob Parsons, and Mark Zuckerberg.
What one piece of advice would you give to soon to be startup founders?
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. For me, I like to 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. Usually you go way smaller, or way bigger. Also, network like crazy, and you should move to where your scene is hot – go to San Fran for tech, Manhattan for finance- that’s where you’ll meet people that can plug you in.
Also, play the part of your business, but also look sharp. If you’re building a new electric guitar you can be the rock and roll guy but be the sharp looking version. Don’t be the dirty pants version. No one likes an overkill look, but creating a persona is important in business. I wrote a post I really love called “99 Lessons Learned as an Internet Entrepreneur”.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
The new iAcquire website is slated to go live in February. It is one of our best works. Our creative team is getting better by the day. We are also working on rolling out a new business division, which I hope you hear about. It’s going to be late Q2, but I’m really excited about it.
Can you convince the reader to start using iAcquire in under 100 words?
iAcquire does two things REALLY well: (1) strategy and (2) execution. If you have a really big team you need strategy and maybe some execution, and if you have a small team you need execution, and maybe strategy too. We’ve done our very best to hire the greatest minds in search, social, and digital marketing as a whole. Give us a shout – we’ll make you a hero.
Finished reading? Check out iAcquire!