Huckabuy Founder & CEO Geoff Atkinson on how we accomplished exponential growth at Overstock and what he’s up to with Huckabuy

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Episode Outline

[00:45] Geoff’s background

[02:30] How Geoff grew SEO from zero to $300 million at Overstock.com

[04:18] The series of pivots that led to the idea for Huckabuy

[06:38] How to know when you have product/market fit and are ready to expand

[07:55] Mistakes Geoff made in his career that ultimately led to valuable lessons

[11:15] When and how Geoff shifted his focus with Huckabuy to achieve product/market fit

[13:00] What Geoff is prioritizing to scale his business

[15:00] How Geoff relaxes and gets out of his own head

[16:43] Geoff’s inspirations


Geoff’s Inspirations

Patrick Byrne

Warren Buffett


Connect with Geoff

LinkedIn

Website

Twitter

Cool. All right. So today, super thrilled to have Jeff Atkinson on the line with Huckabee, uh, Jeff previously scaled overstock.com is their SVP of marketing and a handful of other roles. Um, and now as the CEO of Rock-a-bye Jeff, welcome to the show. Thanks Elias. It's great to be here, man. And now you're coming to park city pretty soon.


You're going to be in my neck of the woods. Ah, man, I'm so excited for that. Uh, Friday, today we're recording and I'm going to be done by two o'clock pack the car, and then we're going to hit the road early. So yeah. Right on, well, we're, we're looking forward to having you in town. Perfect. So yeah, let's start from the beginning.


I mean, you really Rose up through the ranks at overstock until you were, you were an SVP, so that must have been an amazing growth. Trajectory, not just for yourself, but for the company that you were part of and helps drive let's let's start there. Yeah, it was my first job. So I was really taking the job I'm from the East coast and I overstock space in salt Lake.


So it was a combination of like, kind of having a real job, but really being a ski bum started on the ground floor and was fortunate to put up some, some points on the scoreboard. You know, I did started in email marketing. We grew that like crazy. Uh, then moved into like site optimization and then heard of this thing called SEO.


We took this channel from zero to 300 million. Um, yeah, I worked on pretty much every revenue piece of the business. So marketing analytics, CRM, um, stuff like our credit card program, our loyalty program. And then eventually our analytics took over, um, Pricing all the pricing algorithms were taken out of the buyer's hands while they weren't algorithms before we took them and then forecasting and, you know, and eventually ended up running buying.


So, yeah, I really got it. It touched almost everything was fortunate to have a great mentor and the founder and CEO, Patrick Burns sort sorta hold me on up through the company and we have some crazy growth. I mean, just extraordinary, you know, we got to. I think we're at about 600, 700 million when I got there and there, when I left, it was like 1.3 billion or something like that.


So big numbers, lots of resources, kind of a dream come true for a marketer right out of the gate. Yeah. I heard you drop the, we grew SEO from zero to 300 million as a channel. So let's, let's revisit that. I mean, that, that is no small feat and certainly, um, Worth worth digging into, what did that look like?


Where did you start? You know, SEO is constantly changing and I know that this ties into what you're doing today, so let's, let's go there. Yeah. We I'd never even heard the term until probably 2007 or so. And, uh, I was just, I thought when I first heard about it, I was like, this has to be too good to be true.


Like you just change your site to help Google understand it. And then bang, you know, you get all this free organic traffic and. I told Patrick about it. And he was just, you know, we both were like, we got to give this a good, honest run. So we hired a, a guy named Paul Bremmer. Who's an awesome SEO consultant.


And, um, he basically like moved in and we built a team and did a ton of knowledge transfer. What was crazy about it is, you know, we had sort of unlimited resources. I think at one point we had over 40 people working on SEO and I think half of them were developers. So we did right off the bat, you know, we were fortunate to sort of revamp the entire site.


We just bought this internal search engine. So searching for products on overstock, we figured, okay. That connect actually power all the navigation and yeah, we just had unlimited resources. And so we tried everything, you know, you learn what works, what doesn't, you know, you grow that much. And. You it's, you know, you can, you can't spend enough to make the ROI look like any other kind of paid channel.


So we tried everything. We had bunch of stumbles along the way we, we once got, yeah. Banned from Google for six months for buying backlinks. I mean, we have, we've pushed it as bad as far as you could probably push it. So, um, but it was a great learning experience and yeah, it's led into what I do today. So what, yeah, let's, let's talk, talk us through what is Huckabee buy and you know, where did the Genesis for the idea come from?


Why is it, why is it as game changing as it is for the SEO industry? So how could I focuses on the technical side of SEO? SEO is a really weird industry and that it's ultimately kind of a technical problem, but it's driven by services. So it's about $80 billion. Will be spent this year on SEO services and that's really agencies and consultants, the SEO services industry as an NPS score, a net promoter score of zero, which is just like shocking.


You'd rather go to your dentist than talk to your SEO agency. And it's because they can't, it's fundamentally fixed a lot of the big technical problems. And it's also really hard to internally solve some of these big technical problems and some big opportunities that Google's opened up, like dynamic rendering and.


Structured data. So we solve those problems were outsourced software solution that you can install and actually get serious growth by just installing the solution. It just allows your site to sort of speak perfectly to Google. Um, the idea didn't come. Like I wish I could claim all we had this brilliant idea, but like a lot of startups that happen through us series of pivots.


So we actually started as a B to C brand and affiliate site. That was a terrible idea. Yeah. I mean, we were really swimming upstream. We didn't have, you know, any revenue. Um, but we have built some kind of cool SEO automation software that people that knew Huckabee wanted to start licensing. And I'd never worked in B2B.


I'd never worked in software. So as you can imagine, you know, we pivoted without me even realizing the value of recurring revenue and it was just the best decision we ever made. And since then, we've just built and built and built. And we were lucky early days to get some really big customers like Salesforce.


And SAP and really the product moves the needle. And so it started to just sort of naturally expand and, um, yeah, we've made a ton of mistakes along the way, but, uh, and I'm happy to get into those, but here we are today and 2020 and the company is really growing. We've been gone through a seed round of funding and, you know, we've got that product market fit, which is such a hard thing to figure out.


And now it's really like the hyper-growth time. So how everyone seems to define product market fit a little bit differently. What is it that happened that led you to feel okay? We've got it. I would say when, you know, when people start raising their hands and wanting it, you know, That's a great sign where you don't have to do as much selling.


Right. They're just like, I think I need this product. Um, I think that's a really good sign that you've made it, but also, you know, your marketing stuff starts to really get a nice return on its investment. People are understanding the message and just as important as the product itself and what the product does is can you describe it?


Can you to get out there and actually, you know, can people understand what you're doing? And that's pretty hard because something like dynamic rendering, which is a big core part of our product, it's a really complicated task. And most people don't even know what it is. So. We've, we've gotten a lot better at, at how to communicate Kate our product.


And it's starting to resonate in the market. You know, people, people want to buy it and it's selling. So that's, that's my opinion. You feel that revenue kick in and you get to, you know, over a million and, uh, ARR, um, and people are paying you and they're happy. That's when it sort of feels like it's, you've got that fit and it's time to really expand.


So one of my favorite things to do with folks who have had really successful careers and obviously yours is continuing to just build more and more steam. Lots of excitement. One of my favorite things to do is actually go back. Yeah. And do like a highlight reel of mistakes or stumblings that have led to valuable lessons learned.


So you can start wherever you want. It could be the third grade. It could be overstock where wherever, what are some of those. Man, there were so many mistakes at overstock before that I was really like an athlete. So most of the mistakes are, you know, in sports and you look back and regret those, but we don't need to get into that.


This is not a sports podcast, but, um, we're going to get into that. It's a funny one. I think it was like my son second or third year at overstock. We accidentally ran a $10 off $10 coupon instead of $10 off of a hundred. And it racked up something like $5 million with a sales in one day. And we're just like, what the hell is happening?


I mean, that was total catastrophe and other one was on black Friday. One year. Our entire site crashed for about seven hours out of the day. Um, we, we pushed some code to. To we were doing as pirates of the Caribbean. And we were giving this really good deal on a, on a DVD. And we pushed some codes to allow us to do it.


And it took the site down for seven hours that probably cost us 10 or $15 million. I'm getting banned from Google is not, um, a popular thing to do. You really have to push the limits. And we got, we were made an example of, I mean, there was a lot of sites doing this, but they singled us out and just. Put the hammer down when we were just gone, there was no rankings for six months.


So that one hurt a lot, um, with, with that, with that. So, so you get, you get banned by Google. Like, are you emailing desperately some sort of account manager or like what, what do you even begin once you realize that's happened? Did they practically tell you like, Hey, we're. Slapping you on the wrist in a major way, or was it just like all of a sudden rankings disappeared and you try not to scramble?


Yeah. We came in one morning and they were just gone. They don't give you the heads up or anything like that. So you're pretty panicked, but we did know people at Google specifically like Matt Cutts, who used to be sort of the voice of the search algorithm and they sort of let us know why we got banned.


And it was, we had to do, we had to, you know, it took us a long time to get out of the penalty box. It took us six months. So. Um, yeah, it was a really stressful time. It was all on us. Like we had made these, you know, we were buying links. We were doing all sorts of sort of black hat stuff, but it also was what got us there.


You know, it was that aggressive sort of, I look back on it and of course you can't do that stuff now, but then you actually could and get away with it for literally. So we did for a while and then we got, we really got kicked, but, um, yeah, it was no fun, you know, that's that's but it is a sort of a badge of honor, like people.


People know about that, that overstock like got banned from Google and they're like, are you the guy that's like, did a lot of that? And I was like, Oh yeah, that was a lot of, a lot of my actions. So not a great, not a great thing to have on your resume. I could go on and on about all the mess ups in my career, but that was a really big one.


Okay. So now let's talk about Hubei because you know, yeah. In the early stages, you said that you were swimming upstream on a different path. What were some of the signals that. Made you realize you needed to shift your focus to get to the point where you now have product market fit? Yeah. I mean, no revenue is a great place to start, right?


We literally, well, we launched the site and it was a sort of a comparison shopping engine meets coupon site. And it's actually a pretty good idea where you'd like aggregate all the products in the world. And instead of having to go to each site, you just see all the prices and you see all the coupons and then do the math for you.


But at the time Google had like, basically flipped the switch in their algorithm that really punished affiliate sites. And you had to have the product and stock and all that stuff. That was the original, like big mistake was just going B to C and trying to build an affiliate site. Um, it was just a path to revenue cause very like very revenue focused, very growth focused.


And I could tell this was just going to be really, really difficult. And the fact that there was some interest in buying something. Um, of ours. That was enough for me to say, all right, let's give this a try, let's start licensing this. And sort of what's wild about software is you just sorta like make up a price and you go out there to the market and you see if you could sell it and sort of like six to nine months later, we're like a million dollar ARR company.


So it was the best decision we made at HUC by that's for sure. Um, and it was a bad, bad idea, I guess, with what I started with. While you're here now. Uh, so what are your, I mean, most of the time when we're chatting with folks they're beyond or nearing the 10 millionaire, our Mark with their current thing.


And so I think what's unique about our conversation is we get to talk about what your plans are. Cause you know, you just hit that elusive product market fit. Now it's time to scale, like, how are you thinking about go to market? So in my mind, um, The real growth driver is going like the real sustainable growth drivers is going to be marketing.


So how do you get just a constant sort of growing inbound lead flow? That's qualified and like a good sales organization. In my opinion, they can grow a company and they can, you know, they're essential, but they're also. Uh, you can't scale it as much as you can scale marketing. And I think of sales is almost like the efficient point between an inbound lead and a sale.


And that's, you know, needs to be optimized to me, it's to be dialed, but especially in our area where it's technical SEO, like outbound efforts that salespeople can do are just not quite as effective as they might be in some, like if you're selling to dentists or you're selling to. And these are very sophisticated folks that get a ton of emails, ton of stuff a day.


And they're very skeptical. And so for us, it's about that sort of before, you know, and the other piece is that now it sounds like most B to B software customers. You know, they're doing 60 to 70% of their research before they even talked to you. So we have to be really good in that marketing segment. And we're, we're investing in that.


And that's, I, I think was where we can really scale. Now we do have a new VP of sales. That's absolutely killing it. I think that's going to help us a lot, but I do think it's a marketing game for us, unfortunately, that is my background, even though it's B to C and I'm excited to, you know, To, to, to try to win this thing.


Um, we're pretty unique product, so there's not a ton of competition out there right now. And I really want to try to land, grab and get as much of the market as we can. It's awesome, man. It's exciting times. So, uh, I always like to wrap these up by talking about the things that help you take your mind off of.


You know, the grind that is scaling a SAS business. Um, what's I happen to know you have some pretty rad hobbies, especially living where yeah. Let's talk about those. What, what, like. Does the best job of just getting you out of your head and relaxing? I mean, right now I have a two month old daughter, that's our first child.


And so that's probably the over, like, that's the thing, right? That's like all inclusive right now. So, um, but I love to mountain bike. I live in, you know, as I mentioned earlier, we live in park city. I love to ski. I love to mountain bike. I love to play golf. Um, this is such a great town to have a pretty good work life balance.


I mean, you can just walk outside and the trails are right there. I can walk to skiing. I can just snap into my mountain bike and go, um, there's golf courses everywhere. So, you know, like you, um, I think those things are important and living in a place where, you know, I don't have a, the commute. My house is I can see my house from the office here.


Uh, I, you know, people joke that I live in like a very, like a bubble. Like I am built for COVID I live in a bubble. I really don't go that far. And I know I'll go a week without getting in my car. So I feel very fortunate for that. I take, I intentionally set it up that way, but it helps minimize the distractions like.


Commuting and, um, stuff like that are kind of have been eliminated from my life, which, which makes it easier to focus both on work. And then when it's time to play, to be able to enjoy yourself. Nice. Who were some of the, uh, mentors who have helped you kind of shape your business worldview? Well, Patrick, for sure.


Patrick Byrne, who's the founder and CEO of overstock. His mentor was Warren buffet, which is crazy. It was actually his godfather. His dad was the CEO of Geico. So I learned a lot of like just fundamental business stuff, like really early on in my career business and leadership stuff. And I'm really, really grateful for that.


This software thing is so new to me that, um, I'm still learning, but I've had a lot of, you know, we had a Salesforce, executive hiring and Salesforce executive that was, um, sort of the first guy to help, really get me to understand software. And then we have a guy named Robinson. Who's the CEO CMO of OutSystems and he was the COO of new Relic.


And he's become a friend he's actually on our board and he's been tremendously helpful. So some new mentors now relatively new, you know, in the last three years, but certainly would say, yeah, Patrick and Warren buffet had a big impact early on and that's, you know, another one of those things that's like.


How could you imagine coming out of college to get a mentor like that, but I was really fortunate to do so. Wow. Spectacular, Jeff. Thanks for coming on the show. I am really looking forward to, uh, hitting some trails with you with any luck we can make that happen next week. So do it, man. Yeah, absolutely last well, thank you so much for having me and, um, I'm going to be tracking your career as well, because we didn't talk at all about you, but you're, you're, you're equally or much more so successful than I've been.


So I'm looking forward to picking your brain shots. You're making me blush.