Known as the “Wizard of Moz,” Rand Fishkin is the founder and former CEO of Moz, board member at presentation software startup Haiku Deck, co-author of a pair of books on SEO, and co-founder of Inbound.org. Rand's an unsaveable addict of all things content, search, & social on the web.
We set out to interview him about the Moz products and the history of Moz. And we walked away with great insights about SEO for startups. Read on, munchkins …
History of Moz: how to build a startup organically
“I started Moz with my mom, Gillian.”
Moz began as a collaboration between Rand Fishkin and his mother, Gillian, who had been running a small market consultancy firm. Following in the footsteps of some of the great techies before him, Fishkin dropped out of college to build websites for his mother’s clients and began an SEO blog on the side.
That blog blew up. It became very popular in the community, and Fishkin started getting invitations to conferences and events, which resulted in more clients. Eventually Fishkin and his mother shut down the original business and began SEO consulting.
According to Fishkin, he was not looking to build a startup or a company. He did not know what venture capital was. That all changed in 2007, when Michelle Goldberg, an investor at Ignition Partners, reached out to him. She pointed out that Moz had a unique product in an untapped market, prime conditions for a successful venture investment.
“’The product looks really cool, the SEO space seems untapped and nascent. Are you interested in raising money?’”
-RF paraphrasing Michelle Goldberg
Goldberg and her team eventually invested, and you could say the rest is history. Moz experienced 6-7 years of rapid growth before eventually plateauing, but they’re trying to jumpstart growth again. Moz is a great example of how to build a startup, and we are excited to see where they go next.
Should your startup be using Moz products
“I would recommend Moz if your business has high search demand - that you know by ranking search terms you could drastically improve customer growth overall.”
The truth is that Moz products are applicable for most startups with a heavy web based presence and that thrive off of online traffic. If you are a B2C business, where customers are constantly trying to engage with you and access you online, then Moz software could seriously benefit you.
However, not all startups have the bandwidth and the dedicated SEO person necessary to effectively utilize Moz software. Rand Fishkin gave us a better idea of what a startup needs to be using Moz in a productive way.
“Few startups have a dedicated marketing person who focuses on SEO. That’s usually our core customer, either an agency or an in-house person.”
Moz software is not for lightweights and takes significant experience to use to its greatest potential. Fishkin only really recommended it if a startup has a person whose sole job is to maximize SEO or if a hired contractor or consultant has been brought in from the outside.
Fishkin pointed out that the product is built for professionals. If you are “not comfortable or familiar” with the software, SEO, its ins and outs, its nuances, then you probably aren’t qualified to be using the software, but if you are then Moz could prove to be a great asset.
“I would urge you to invest in SEO, either hire an in-house person or get a consultant, because that person would be the user of Moz.”
Fishkin’s advice for startups
We asked Fishkin if Moz was still a startup after all the wildly successful growth it has had.
“Startup refers to a business that demands high growth and that has not yet had an exit. I would put us as a mid or late stage startup, a startup until we return some funds to our investors.”
Moz is a big success story in the startup community. While we initially thought that Moz may have shed its startup label due to its age, success, and size, we were happy to find out they include themselves in our community.
“I love startups and personally help out quite a few. The demands tend to be similar. They need to acquire customers. They need to do so at scale and without great cost. They need to acquire customers at low acquisition and at high searchability.”
Our discussion then turned to how to make startups more successful and what advice Fishkin would offer to startups to achieve their goals. He clearly identified some near universal themes we find in our startup interviews:
Scale: most startups are looking to expand and quickly, being able to do this is imperative, but it cannot be done if it’s too expensive.
Price sensitivity: cost, especially in the early stages of a startup’s life, can be prohibitive to many beneficial tools and software. There is a constant balance to be struck, and opportunity cost must always be assessed.
Visibility: startups need to be visible online to attract a following or to drive traffic back to the main site. They need to be able to bring in customers at a fairly low cost.
“If you can draw people organically, you have a huge competitive advantage.”
This essential message rings true for any startup. Regardless of the tools you use, the core of the business is about solving a real problem. If you put out a good product that meets a real need, you are already ahead of the game.