Jason Will, CEO at Zipkick

Scaling Up Services - Jason Will

Jason Will, CEO at Zipkick

Jason is the CEO of Zipkick, which is a platform for brands to deploy a multitude of digital marketing at scale. When not in entrepreneur mode, he trains for half marathons, often is traveling and always on the hunt for a memorable food experience.

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Zipkick’s Instagram


[00:00:01] You're listening to Scaling Up Services where we speak with entrepreneurs authors business experts and thought leaders to give you the knowledge and insights you need to scale your service based business faster and easier. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.

[00:00:22] Welcome everyone this is Scaling Up Services, I’m Bruce Eckfeldt, I'm your host and our guest today is Jason Will. And Jason is CEO of Zipkick. And we're gonna learn a little bit more about him and his business and about what they do to help drive word of mouth marketing and social media and some of the tools and insights they have. So with that Jason welcome to the program.

[00:00:39] Thank you so much for having me. Bruce appreciate it.

[00:00:42] So why don't we start with just a little bit of your background. You know professionally and like how you got into this I know you've been working on Zipkick for a while but give us a sense of what you're doing how's it kept came about. And then we can talk a little bit about the business and what it does.

[00:00:54] Sure it's been quite the journey. I actually started out in Minnesota for a big corporation there and accidentally fell into technology that happened to be upgrading their entire system to the version of Oracle at that time. Not to date myself but it was many years ago and kind of fell in to technology started doing some tech consulting after that with Accenture and then joined another firm afterwards and has I've always had this passion for food and meeting people and building community. And I just fuse these things together and here we are.

[00:01:26] And so now tell us a little bit about soup kitchen what what do you do what does it do and how is that kind of evolved and changed over time.

[00:01:34] Yeah.

[00:01:34] So Zipkick actually started as a travel company that was kind of the one six and a half years ago and then we moved more into the the mobile app recommendation space for restaurants bars and cafes. So think about it as an influencer only version of Yelp and then it continued to evolve from there. And it's been a six and a half year journey of just how a lot of lessons along the way. And now today's kick really has taken on we've been working on the same concept now for over two years in terms of what Zipkick is known as today. And we're a platform where companies come to deploy multi-channel marketing specifically within the digital space.

[00:02:13] So if you want to do digital ads if you want to do anything around influencer marketing email marketing SEO our entire vision for the company is that you can come to one place and deploy all of these different channels of marketing and have the transparency and the efficiency of doing all these things in one spot. Right. So a lot of these companies go to four or five different platforms. They have four or five different people that work on these things. It's not very transparent but even more so tying out all the data and then making smarter decisions around where you spend your money is just not very easy today.

[00:02:49] Are you finding that there is you know if you kind of look single channel you know because of the lack of data and the lack of insight you. Is it that you don't have the complete picture so you can't make the right kind of are a liar or you know strategic decisions or is it just an efficiency. It's like buy by bringing the channels together you just be more efficient.

[00:03:08] Well not only that but the way that I tell people that this is is that when you go to Facebook today right and you want to run a Facebook ad it will tell you you can reach between let's say 10 and 15 thousand impressions and also that kind of stuff. OK that's fine. But the way that you look at how you define success whether it's an SEO influencer marketing digital ads email marketing first of all the metrics are extremely different.

[00:03:32] Right. But even more so how do you help educate brands around the output of how they're spending their money right. So I compare getting one hundred thousand new customers via email marketing versus reaching 10 million people on Instagram. They both have value but they value in very different ways. Right. One might hit the bottom line. One might help your branding online. You know this sort of thing. And I think companies really are struggling at least the feedback that we're getting is that they're really struggling to figure out how to spend their money. So they say oh my budgets X but how do I actually allocate that. And that's really where we come in is that now do we help with the allocation of that or we have case studies and all the ability to execute on that.

[00:04:17] After we give the recommendation and are you finding that the best strategies are are kind of multi-channel that it's not there's oh we should just stay on Facebook. But it's you should you should use a couple of these platforms strategically. And I guess how well how well you've been able to tie them together to create kind of unique strategies.

[00:04:32] It's really an educational curve depending on what the company has done historically. I think at the end of the day the smaller the businesses are the quicker they have to generate cash.

[00:04:42] So they're always saying OK you know tie this out to a sale well at the end of the day marketing is really about traffic right. It's getting the eyeballs to the place that you need them to go. But it's also on you as a business to optimize your Web site reduce car abandon meant re targeting all this other kind of stuff that has to go with that entire picture of how to sell something. So it really gets a lot more complex than this driving traffic. I think oftentimes we also have to educate businesses on what are they on the hook for as well.

[00:05:15] Yeah yeah making sure that they can actually leverage the the traffic that you generate or the users that you generate through let's talk about service based business. If you're you know bookkeeping or a lawyer or a chimney sweep or massage or you know if you know where you're providing some kind of service. How have you seen these tools used effectively or you know in a way that actually is generating demand or generating interest in an services service services businesses at the end of the day what it comes down to is building a funnel and it's so funny whenever I talk to businesses and they say well but my demographics not online.

[00:05:51] What do you mean where's your demographic in the Yellow Pages your like. I don't really understand the response of But my business isn't really online right. If you're the local dentist or something. Well the reality of it is that your consumer is online 24 hours a day and it's the cheapest fastest and easiest way to deploy marketing at scale. So if you tell me that your business isn't online then it's just that you don't know how to actually advertise your business in a cost effective way. So there's a place for everybody on social meaning your demographic is there. No matter if they're you know 15 or 20 or 50 years old they're there. So you just have to learn how to talk to them. Okay. But the reality of it is this is that for every five consumers don't really trust a brand. They trust peer to peer recommendations. So ultimately what you have to do is you have to get what I call evangelists for your brand. Right. So that can be your testimonies that can be people just really love your business in the service that you provide. How do you evangelize them and give them incentives to want to talk about your company and recommend it to more people. What I call kind of the digital word of mouth. So as a company what you really need to be focusing on is a clear articulate message of what you represent what you're branding is your identity. But even more so how do you empower people to speak for your brand and speak for your brand. Hopefully in a way that will attract more people.

[00:07:18] Yeah it's essential. It's kind of the you know being a good referral you know it's like how do you make it very easy for people to refer you you know. One thing that I think comes up in that in that conversation or in that strategy is kind of knowing what your focus is knowing what you stand for and because how do you I guess what's your take on being referral. What are some of the things that really drive being referral whether it's online or offline.

[00:07:41] What's really fascinating is is that there's a lot of companies that pigeonholed themselves with their name their company. As you look at Zipkick is very agnostic to the category or the industry that you're in. But our focus was really always on food just because I absolutely love food. And I realized how much other people do love food.

[00:07:59] And the analogy I always make is is that you can imagine two people that sit at a table that don't speak the same language somehow they can share a meal and they can connect with each other and they can communicate through their ability to share a meal which to me is incredible right. There's no other thing that you can really do. Maybe sports or something like this but there's nothing that really has the power of what food represents. And over 80 percent of our business for the first year and a half was all based on food and that it really turned into a lot more than that because living in California what I realized his is that your lifestyle your health and wellness. It could be that you're yoga across fitter but food is a big element of that. And how you train for these things. So just a downstream evolution of what Zipkick has become. You get into the health and wellness you get the fitness the beauty the fashion other things that are very complementary to food. And that was just kind of a byproduct of our focus.

[00:08:56] Yeah well I think it's a good case. I kind of have this phrase I use a lot of the faster you want to grow and fast you want to scale the more you need to focus like the more you need to zero in on our core customer and a core product or service you know really nail that because if you if you don't you're chasing too many people with too many different offers and you're just gonna get muddled and it's certainly going to chew up a lot more money or it's going to you're going to lose the power of focusing your energy and money and run resources when you work with clients and you come across that question what what are what are the I guess mistakes or what are the things that you see people getting wrong in terms of creating that focus and maybe some suggestions on where they can improve it.

[00:09:35] The biggest thing is is that you have to figure out where your business is lacking at the end of the day what you need to do is is that you need to figure out the branding strategy for how to grow the company.

[00:09:46] We always tell people Do you want to write the real estate or do you want to own the real estate and what that basically means is is that do you want to be the person that's forever buying Google ads or do you want to build an organic strategy that's going to allow you to own the real estate meaning the keywords that people are actually searching for or discover ability of your brand online. And that's what we ask companies upfront and the majority of them are OK with renting at the beginning right. It's kind of like the post college kid who rents for a little while before they buy a house but the fact of the matter is is that companies have to stay in the pros and the cons for everything that they do and everything that they say to their audiences. That's following them.

[00:10:26] Yeah. No I think that makes sense. I think that and I think it's hard for most people. It's kind of this. Well if I if I really kind of double down on this category or this you know this message then you know it does mean I'm not doing all these other things and you know on one level I think that's yes. I mean that doesn't mean you're going to stop doing a bunch of things but you know it doesn't mean you're not gonna take money from other folks. You've definitely got the halo. I mean you mentioned that once you got very well known and got really good at food other things started coming in you know other other related categories started to build around that. So I think that that naturally happens over time.

[00:10:57] So in terms of you know some of these specific channels I mean what I guess what have you learned. You know kind of technically or from a marketing point of view and what's changed in the last couple of years in terms of the platforms how they work. You know people are using them. Any particular insights you could give people in terms of understanding kind of the dynamics of the marketing space right now as the evolution of marketing continues to become something that is so digitized.

[00:11:20] Right. So for example when you take a look at the spending of how marketing is done today it's being done at a speed meaning the speed towards digital. The spending right is picking up every single day. But the point of it is is that companies need to understand that being in this space it's hyper competitive and you have to have a multi month plan in order to get there.

[00:11:46] With that also being said I believe that the day of having a full time person that is kind of who Deanie that is responsible for 12 different things within the marketing department can't continue to exist.

[00:11:58] And really that freelancer economy platform as a service software as a service that's replacing a lot of these full time roles because it allows you to spend less money but be a lot more effective. So I think that's probably the lesson learned more than anything else is is that companies are starting to realize that they can't just have a one size fits all marketing person that's responsible for the website content and when they go to trade shows and email marketing and SEO and digital ads and social content and social media management and all of this stuff because you know it's the Jack or Jane of all trades know vs. hiring people that have specialties in these verticals. Use your output is so much better than just having this kind of one size fits all person.

[00:12:44] So yeah I get the idea of finding you know best breeds and each one of these categories and or you know platforms domains. How do you coordinate them all. I mean I guess that you know there is there needs to be an overall strategy I'm assuming to to these things you can't have independent people out there doing their own thing. How do you align them.

[00:13:01] So what we actually built the entire company off of was the influencer marketing vertical.

[00:13:06] And then from there we've basically formed strategic partnerships and we had this just arsenal of people that support these verticals. So we take that burden completely off of the companies in order to actually do these services. So the point being is is that everybody can come to Zipkick as a catchall and everybody can have the data and the transparency in one place. And we're doing all the heavy lifting for them behind the scenes. So there is no interruption to their business. There is no lack of subject matter experts. There's no lack of these things that a company is going to go through right if you want to go hire those people and you want to deal with training and turnover and making sure that they truly have that expertise and even hiring freelancers today comes with its own inherent risk depending on who you hire. Are they generalists or are they specialized.

[00:13:52] Okay fine. But the point being is is that we give companies the peace of mind of coming to one place that they know that there is somebody who is an expert that is working on that vertical based on the industry that they're in. And that's why for food especially we had so many companies come to us because there really wasn't a platform for them to go to that was that hyper focused on their industry.

[00:14:16] And as a case study or just give us an example of a client and how you work with them like what I'm trying to get a sense of the nature of the engagement how long it takes what kind of results what's what's the good. Give us give us some example of some of the work even if there's there's one.

[00:14:29] I mean we're proud of a lot of the work that we've done but for example Uber Eats. We actually were selected as the first global influencer marketing partner for Uber each and we're working with them now in six different countries which for us is very exciting but for them what they're able to do now is scale their ambassador program. So like a lot of the things that they do is they're looking for influencers to start talking about who greets in countries that it might be brand new. For example we're working with them in the Philippines we're working with them in Australia.

[00:15:00] These are places that historically weren't on the radar five years ago. Right it was very much North America base but we're helping them scale. So we take out the entire discoverable piece meaning they don't have to go hunting impact online to find these influencers. Now where do we find them within our network but they're ready trusted in what is offering in order to become an ambassador. So what we're really doing is we're oftentimes the matchmaker. Yeah right. We're trying to find the right influencer for the right brand at the right time. They can articulate the right message and we're very excited about things like this because you know Uber everybody knows them as ridesharing but there's so much more than that right. This whole each thing has now turned them into kind of the GrubHub of the future. Right. And it's just really exciting to be part of that.

[00:15:47] Yeah well it sounds like I mean the influencer marketing stuff is fascinating for me because it's just there's there's so much of a kind of a network effect on this stuff.

[00:15:55] Talk to us a little bit about some of the learnings that you've seen or you know results or insights you've developed in terms of how really a strong network deploy in the right way. How did those dynamics work and what did you notice about it.

[00:16:07] So about I'd say five years ago just under five years ago I was actually on Twitter and I recruited a guy who had a lot of following online. I was a nobody within the social media space five years ago. So what I decided to do was I want to find somebody who already had a voice and already established a community that I could piggyback on. So what I did was I recruited a guy American guy based in Thailand at the time flown halfway around the world to be my brand ambassador and I said Hey you're responsible for helping us see this community. And what I'm going to be responsible for is the technology and it's the best of both worlds we both can focus on what we're good at. That's great. While he helped me build the first hundred influencers and then from there all of a sudden people started referring each other people started talking. People said OK you've got to get on top of this. And then people start putting it in their bios. People put it on their websites. People were proud to represent a brand that they had confidence in. And now fast forward to today we have something like one hundred one hundred twenty five thousand mentions on Instagram and it's in thousands and thousands of bios that they're in at Zipkick influencer. And so we get messages all the time that say what are you What do you do.

[00:17:19] My friend keeps on talking about you. I want to join. And we don't know where these people are coming from other than the fact that we're heavily branded online and we've built a highly engaged community that loves what we've built.

[00:17:32] Yeah yeah I mean it's a I go back to your your comment earlier. Do you want to rent or do you want to own it seems like you've really got into the ownership business there.

[00:17:40] We're trying to get a monopoly on it. So we're on our way.

[00:17:44] Good. I guess what else. But what else have you kind of learned in terms of you know where things don't go so well like is there any applications or use of influencer marketing and these kind of digital marketing programs either businesses or situations where it doesn't work so well.

[00:17:57] So there are certain cases where I wouldn't even recommend influencer marketing depending on what the business has articulated that they actually need. And I say that because the sales cycle can be long. When it comes to influencer marketing the reason being is is that for example we ship products to our influencers sometimes or we'll have them go pick it up in store or get it on Amazon. OK. That takes let's say a week for them to receive the product then they take a few days actually shoot the product they post about the product. Well it could be somebodies first time actually seeing your brand online.

[00:18:32] And there are statistics out there that say that a consumer has to typically see a brand if they've never seen the brand before they have no recognition they have no idea what they do. They typically need to see the brand seven times before they make a purchasing decision. So what I educate brands and say that's fine but we can't just deploy two or three influencers let's employ 20 30 40 50 influencers and give that likelihood of somebody seeing your your product seven or more time. And that's why when you see brands really go out and do full on marketing campaigns not only do they do them at a significant scale but they do them for months on end because they need you to see that brand over and over and over again because it builds credibility in your mind that this company is relevant and that you should take notice. So it really depends on how quickly you're trying to see these results at a minimum you get all the social media mentions which gets indexed by Google and that helps your brand downstream any ways. Right. That that's that's the rent versus own piece. But a lot of brands say I want sales immediately I want to see a sale tomorrow I want to see a sale in three days from now. Well if that's the case then let's just run some digital ads and then we'll build the funnel we'll put them to your Web site or whatever you want to click through. And then let's optimize from there. So we just want to help the companies achieve their goals know agnostic of whatever the channel is we just want them to be able to come to one place have the history of what they've spent that on the R Y and be able to better predict where to spend that money in the future.

[00:20:04] Yeah. That makes sense. I mean I think you know understanding the time frame and went with do they need the results and how long can they went. So let's talk about the what does a company do once they once they employ strategies or hire someone like you to kind of start driving some demand the things that either work or doesn't work in terms of you know particularly on the service based business side.

[00:20:23] Like what are people driving towards. How do they make. How did they convert those folks. I mean what have you seen effective in the industry right now to kind of leverage the demand that gets created by digital marketing.

[00:20:33] The biggest thing is the event tracking on their Web sites. I think what I've learned is is that companies do not fully take advantage of how much tracking there is in terms of what are people doing on your Web site. Each step of the way where their eyeballs going. How much time are they spending there what are they clicking on. But even more so how do you retarget them right. There are companies that are fully dedicated just to the retargeting piece of when somebody doesn't purchase on your Web site. How do you send him a text message.

[00:21:03] How do you send him an email or how do you give him a pop up or how do you do these things to re-engage them with an incentive. So what I tell people is is that digital marketing is really no different than other forms of marketing other than you can reach more people at scale for a faster and more efficient in a more fast and efficient way to do so. But it's also on the companies to understand what are those people doing once they hit the website where they liking where they stopping the flow where are they actually abandoning the cart and what can we learn from that to get them as quickly to the checkout and through that sales process as possible right.

[00:21:39] So you typically have about 90 seconds to capture somebodies attention if not even less nowadays on a Web site. So how do you quickly get somebody to the action that you want them to do and out the door so that you can take full advantage of that eyeball that hit your Web site. So it's really a collective effort. The companies that do the tracking very well and the retargeting very well we just see monumental success because we both can optimize for what we do I send the traffic in they take that traffic and then they you know what comes out the other end is a sale.

[00:22:10] Yeah interesting. So tell me a little bit about where you are with with the business. What are the next steps. What's your strategy and where do you see your future opportunities.

[00:22:17] So we really are taking a pretty significant approach in 2019 to evolve in the company. We're actually getting ready to make an acquisition here shortly which is one of our strategies this year. We're hoping to make anywhere between three to five of those.

[00:22:31] So this will be the first one of that series and we see that as there isn't a single company out there today that we've either identified or has been brought to our attention that is focusing kind of multi-channel. You have a lot of Cingular channel focused today which is fine but the industry needs to evolve and we believe that by making these acquisitions on top of what we've already built it gives us the best ability to succeed in this multi-channel concept that we've built. That's first and foremost. The second thing is is that we really believe in white labeling our platform to other companies. So there are a lot of PR companies public relations companies media companies branding agencies communication companies that don't have an in-house system. And we truly believe that by white labeling our platform and embedding it into these companies they can scale now and really that constraint of human capital that they face today. So just a little specific example is immigrants these PR companies they have account executives but ultimately the account executives can only run a handful of accounts because there's just so much work to do if they have a dedicated in-house platform that can allow that one account executive to manage two to three times the accounts that they're running today. They now solve the human capital constraint that they face because when they scale up and scale down as a company you don't want to have to quickly hire or quickly lay off. It's just a hard way to run a business. So we believe that through our white labeling this year that that's going to be a huge part of our our success. So we're trying to scale as zip kicked right. No one has a platform but we also believe in the fruits of the Labor of taking that platform and embedding it into these other companies to be able to use it as well how they see fit. So it's really a dual pronged approach for us as a technology company because that's ultimately what we are. It just happens to be that we do marketing.

[00:24:22] Yeah not smart any big trends that you see coming up or shifts in the industry or in the kind of ecosystem of digital marketing.

[00:24:31] There are gonna be a lot of acquisitions in this space. There already have been but we're talking about an industry that's less than 10 years old realistically and you're starting to see this groundswell of acquisitions and you can literally type in influencer marketing acquisitions or digital marketing acquisitions and they're all over the Internet. So the point being is is that more and more and more companies are recognizing the value of building a community. So when you have thousands of influencers that you could apply at any second there's a value that goes with that. When you have a platform that's built around those services there's a value that goes with that. So I see that the acquisitions are going to pick up even at a faster pace than they are today. But even more so these tools are going to have to start to consolidate. Companies are not going to log into four or five different platforms to run their marketing into their business. So there has to be consolidation meaning multi-channel platforms. Because companies just don't want to have to hire so many people to have to run these different platforms and whatnot for their company. So I just see a lot of consolidation and that comes not only in the service offering but that also comes within companies actually merging.

[00:25:37] Yeah no I think that makes sense. Just there has been a pleasure. If people want to find out more about you about soup kick what's the best way to get that information.

[00:25:45] The best place to find us is either Zipkick.com or at Zipkick Z I P K I C K on Instagram and my personal handle is JasonBWill and I'm more than happy to to chat about any or all of what we're doing at the company.

[00:26:01] Awesome I'll make sure that those links and handles are in the shadows so people can get through again. Justin it's been a pleasure. I really appreciate the time. Thank you so much Bruce appreciate it.

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