Nathan Chan is the CEO and Publisher of Foundr, a business that was borne out of his passion for marketing, content and entrepreneurship. Over the past five years, he’s built a content and digital media company online. He’s also interviewed some of the greatest entrepreneurs of our generation including Richard Branson, Mark Cuban and Arianna Huffington.
What’s been important to your success at Foundr?
The number one thing would be discipline and consistency. Whether that’s every hour, every day, every week or every month, producing consistent content that compounds over time is important. If your content is perceived as valuable, then it compounds over time.
The Internet is also really powerful because it does the heavy lifting for you. It’s not like putting content in a library where people can’t always find it. The Internet makes it easy to distribute and you can use big distribution channels, like social media platforms, to help that content be found.
What are the key elements to building a brand online?
When it comes to building a brand online, there are three key elements that you need to do well.
The first is blatantly obvious, but it has to be said: have a superior product. In my experience, the startups and companies that succeed and grow at a rapid pace have a superior product. A lot of people out there want to create something just to make money and that’s well and good, but if you want to create something great, then you have to have a product or service that is superior. That’s how you get word of mouth which means your brand is spreading.
The second thing is great design. Great design is now a commodity;. It’s expected, and it can also be a unique selling proposition in and of itself. A lot of successful startups have exceptional design. They have great UI if they’re tech products or good packaging if it’s a physical product. If you go above and beyond and spend that extra money and time to develop your brand, it pays its weight in gold in returns.
When I started Foundr I didn’t have much money, but I saved and made good design a priority. I spent about $4,000 on a good designer and it hurt me so much at the time, but it was one of the best investments I ever made. It set a precedent and a cadence for what was expected from the brand. Great design actually delights people and gets them excited and that’s really important.
You can get great design on a small budget. Use tools like 99 Designs or go to Behance and find people in countries that are more affordable like South East Asia or Eastern Europe. You can use that strategy to get great design without spending much money.
The third thing is to use ambassadors. Every great brand uses ambassadors, whether you see it or not. Foundr doesn’t have an “official ambassador,” but when we get the Richard Bransons of our industry on the front cover of our magazine it showcases that we’re a legitimate brand. It elevates our credibility and authority and lets us tap into that person’s influence through association.
Go to the front page of the Foundr website and you’ll see testimonials from Shark Tank America and Gary Vaynerchuk. They’re complimenting our brand and saying this is a place where you need to allocate some of your time.
You may not be able to get great ambassadors straight away; we didn’t get Richard Branson until the 8th edition. But you never know if you don’t ask and put yourself out there.
How can businesses use social platforms to grow their online brand?
Social media platforms are very powerful, especially when you’re bootstrapping. But you can’t master them all at once. So, choose the one that is most relevant to your business to start with. Choose the one that your competitors seem to be getting the most traction on. This depends on your audience, your product and what you’re building.
Once you’ve chosen the channel, study your competitors and see what content they’re creating. I’m a big fan of the idea that success leaves clues. Look at what content is getting the most traction for your competitors. If YouTube is the channel they have most traction on then look at what their top ten most viewed videos are. You can then create a strategy to make even better content on those topics.
Also look at what other brands are on that channel. They may not be doing the same thing as you but they may be doing something similar in a different industry. Look at what they’re doing and get inspiration from their content.
Once you’ve worked out a strategy for the kind of content that you need to produce, you need to start and never stop. The moment you stop is the moment you lose. All social media platforms are content-based. They want content so they can keep as many users as possible on their platform and they will reward your consistency. A case in point is YouTube. YouTube will reward you if you post every day for a year and they will also reward you if your content gets engagement.
At the moment I’m mastering YouTube. So, I’m studying my competitors and other brands that are doing similar things in different markets. I’m setting up a content cadence and studying the best of the best to work out what moves the needle on this channel. I’ve learned that thumbnails are a big part of making somebody click on YouTube. The search engine is also important, so we’re doing a lot with keywords so we can rank for certain topics. You also need to collaborate and get others to reference your brand, so we’re looking at how we can get as many people as possible to recommend our content. We’re studying, testing and slowly but surely carving out our own space on that platform.
It’s not expensive to use social media but it does take time. It takes time to create great content. It takes time to promote that content, get backlinks and reach out to influencers. But if you’re bootstrapping and you don’t have any money you have to use time.
How important is it to build a great team as you scale?
It’s everything! You can take a business from zero to six figures in annual revenue by yourself, but you’ll hit a plateau where you need help. You can’t scale a company unless you have an amazing team.
You can start off by getting contractors involved, and that certainly works, but you get more leverage if you hire someone full-time. As time goes on and you build out a team, you can start to remove yourself from certain aspects of the business — whether it’s customer support, product, design or marketing. But that team has to be A-Players.
You need really strong talent that’s aligned with your vision. You can then use that vision to motivate them.
So, how do you find good talent?
It’s hard to find good talent, but it’s definitely possible if you’re clear on what you’re trying to build and make sure you can articulate it. Pay above market rate if you can and make sure you can promise that person that they’ll be able to do their best work if they come to work with you.
I’ve used a combination of ways to find good talent. If I’m looking to hire a role, I’ll prospect on LinkedIn. I may look for the top startups in Melbourne, search for people who are in that position. I’ll reach out to them and tell them about what we’re trying to build. I’ve also had a lot of success finding people who are already within the Foundr community. Some of my existing team have also recommended people they know.
Sometimes great talent also has to be trained. You have to double-down on your team to get better results. You can’t expect that you’ll hire somebody and they’ll knock it out of the park straight away. People need guidance and they need to know what success looks like.
The more I invest in my team — with training or introducing them to people who can help them — the stronger it makes them. This then yields massive returns for my company’s growth.
Watch Nathan’s presentation at the WeTeachMe’s Masters Series:
Rakhee Ghelani is a content marketer and writer who specialises in thought leadership in technology and professional services.