April 2, 2020
Interview with Troy Lerner featuring Booyah!

Interview with Troy Lerner featuring Booyah!


Brent: I’m Brent Weaver and you’re watching
“uGurus.” The must-watch Web series to become a more profitable and
in-demand Web professional. Today, I’m at Booyah Advertising and I’m talking
with their president, Troy Lerner. Welcome to the program. Troy: Thanks a lot. Nice to be here. Brent: So, Troy, tell me about Booyah. Troy: So, Booyah is a digital ad agency. And
we deal almost exclusively with direct response. Meaning
we touch just about anything that we thing will affect a sale or a conversion
online. So, it means lots of search, lots of banner ads, video ads, sponsored
e-mail. Anything to sell a product or a service. Brent: So, who’s a typical client for Booyah? Troy: The clients that we brag about, right?
The big names. It’s the Gap brands, so Gap and Banana Republic. Teleflora,
Fiji Water, DISH Network. Guys that are selling a product or
a service online. Mostly consumers. Brent: So, when you say the sale happens online,
the actual conversion, the financial exchange happens
over the Internet? Or is there any bricks and mortar behind that? Troy: For a lot of people, the actual conversion
happens over the Internet. But many of them are trying to push
something to happen offline, right? So, one of our big customers is Western
Union. And they want people to go in to one of their 70,000 retail locations
and wire money out of the country. So, that all happens offline, but what they
want is something very measurable to happen online. Like in their
case, use a coupon code, open an account. The guys like Banana Republic? They
want to sell you a sweater online. Period. End of story. That’s it. Brent: Now, Booyah, what size are you guys
at today? Troy: We’re about 50 people. Brent: 50 people. And where did you start? Troy: Just me. One-man band. The company Booyah
existed before I got here. Booyah had a piece of software that
they sold to other ad agencies. And I worked for a big ad agency and we were
trying to steal that software. I actually met Booyah trying to poach one
of their engineers out. So, a big agency could replicate the software
and quit paying for it. And they talked to me “We do all this software and
this is great, but we kind of want to had an ad agency, too.” And sell ad
services to them. So, they did a little jiu-jitsu and I went
to work for them as a one- man band doing the ad agency services in the
corner. The software is gone now, it’s obsolete, it no longer exists. But
the agency built up and now, we’re 50 people or so. And those old software
guys have gone on to a new software project. Brent: So, you came in to poach their talent
and they ended up poaching you? Troy: Literally. So, at the big agency I was
at, they had in the kitchen, on the bulletin board “$1,000 bonus
for anybody that can find us an engineer that does ‘XYZ.'” And I found
these ten guys called Booyah in Boulder, Colorado and I thought “This will
be easy pickings.” I worked at Razorfish at the time, which was
real hot back in 2004. And I thought it was going to be easy. But
they talked me out of it. And a couple of things at the same time at Razorfish
and it made me feel like this is too big of an agency to ever make
a difference. And I thought “Small agency is what I do.”
And so, it worked. Brent: You started as the single operator
and you grew that to 50 people. So, what, kind of, has changed in
the Web market for you guys over that period of time? Troy: Over time, we’ve added a lot more services.
I guess just advertising on the Web has added a lot more
services and mature channels. When we started, all I did was paid search.
I would just run your Google paid search account. And then your Yahoo!
account. And then your ask.com account back when that mattered. And it wasn’t for years that we got into banner
ads and e-mail and video and everything else. It just grew, basically,
from client requests. They just couldn’t spend any more money efficiently.
And they’d say “What else can you do”? And like any small business,
we’d say “We can do anything.” And we’d figure it out. Brent: So, tell me about a typical project.
You mentioned managing some ad campaigns. Are you guys also building
websites and microsites or actually designing out the campaigns? What’s
the makeup of a typical Booyah campaign? Troy: Usually, a client says something to
us, like, let’s make up a project. They’ll say “We want to sell bouquets
of roses for $25 a piece.” Meaning their cost to sell them, maybe they
sell them for $60, but they say “Spend and advertising $25 a pop.” And then they look to us to figure out what
kind of keywords should we buy and how many of them should we buy?
Banner ads, video, all the rest. And then, we don’t build websites. But we
build the ad and the landing page and the funnel that they go through. So, Booyah wouldn’t build your shopping cart.
But Booyah would build your landing page and your “More information”
page and your forum experience. We do that conversion funnel piece. So, we have developers and designers on staff.
But they work for our media people. We are media buyers and optimizers
first. And part of that is getting the banner ad and the landing page,
so we do that here on site. Brent: In terms of business model, I know
from traditional ad agencies, there’s kind of an agency fee that
you get from media buys. 10 or 15 percent or whatever it is on top of media
buys and that’s how most agencies, that’s what pays their bills. Is
that similar to what your business model is? Troy: You know, it really is. Maybe for simply
the reason that that’s people are used to. So, normally, we go to
people and we say “We are a percentage of the media that you spend.” What,
I think, is maybe a little bit different in how we do it is the level
of transparency. So, a lot of agencies, one, they mark up media
that you buy from them. So, they make a spread on the media,
plus a fee for managing that media. Plus a fee for the tracking and management
tools that they use in the project. We only make money as a percentage of media.
So, we pass through our tools at cost. We pass through the media at
cost. We only make that percentage fee. That said, a lot of clients,
after we’ve worked with them for a while, say something to us like “Do
you want to put some skin in the game”? Or we’ll say to them, I’m making up a number
here. “Hey, you’re spending $50,000 and we think you should be
spending $100,000.” And they show some heartburn “I can’t spend $100,000.”
And a half a dozen times, we’ve gone and said “We’ll spend the $100,000.
Cut us in on the upside.” And so, we have a number of relationships
where we’re writing the checks for the media and participating in
the performance. Brent: So, you’re almost getting more paid
in an affiliate type of relation? Troy: It’s like being a master affiliate,
exactly. We never start there. But when you have a client for a number
of years and you feel like you really know it, I love those projects.
I love them. Brent: A lot of Web professionals have a hard
time selling Internet marketing services. Selling search engine
optimization, selling manged pay-per-click. That’s all you guys do. So,
I’d love some insights on how you build that value prop. Troy: What’s funny to me is when I think about
selling the other things, like development and design, I have
no idea to do it. In my world, selling direct response or things that drive
traffic. It’s almost not a sale. It’s a spreadsheet of hopefully black
numbers. Sometimes, red numbers. If the number is red, it’s not sold. There’s
nothing subjective about what we do. We’re not saying “Hey, I’m going
to design a site that you think is beautiful and represents your brand
well and sparks something emotional.” I’m going to sell a bouquet of
flowers for $25 or less and it’s a yes or no proposition. So, our sale is a little bit more about, I
think, demystifying for people. SEO, especially, people feel like
“This is really black magic stuff.” And we tell them it’s not. AdWords
aren’t hard, it’s easy. And if it seems hard, we’re month to month. It’s
“Give me a chance to sell the roses. If I can’t, you get rid of me. If I
can, keep me again.” It’s that fast. There’s not a big setup. There’s
not a huge investment up front. Brent: Do you guys find you run some, initial
tasks to kind of prove that it works for the customers? Or do you
guys just kind of have your methodology and go all in on some of these
projects? Troy: Like you, we want to go all in whenever
we can, right? We try to sell the all-in. We, about a year ago,
decided it’s really hard to find somebody spending a ton of money already,
that wants to just slide it from Agency “A” to us. And so, we had to build kind of a team within
our team to handle smaller projects in the effort to grow them
to be large. Our own farm system, if you will. So, we have a group of
people that work on a little bit different scope and work on a different
pricing structure. And their goal is to introduce people to digital marketing
and grow them. We don’t take projects that we think will
remain small forever. This is us figuring out a way to prove it to somebody
before we go big. And it works. Brent: In terms of “big,” what do you guys
look for in terms of ideal customer? What’s an average spend with you
guys over a 12-month period for a great customer? You can brag a little bit. Troy: Yeah, right. So, the biggest customer
spends between $4 million and $6 million a month. And that’s beautiful,
right? If we take that guy out of the equation, the average of the rest
of the customers is somewhere around $75,000 a month. That said, we have
a lot of customers that spend $5,000 a month. And they want spend $5,000
to see if it’s possible to spend $10,000. And if they can spend $10,000, they
want to spend $20,000. They really view the work that we do more
like a sales commission, than an investment or a capital expense. They
think of it as “I want to sell some roses. I’ll pay that guy $25, a
bouquet to do it.” Brent: In terms of how you guys have grown
the business, you go in and do these direct response campaigns for customers
all the time. Is that the same methodology you’ve used to grow Booyah
in terms of one employee to 50 employees? How do you guys get your customers? Troy: This was a nice story. So, I came on
in 2005, a one-man band. And we got our first customers just from people
that Booyah was already working with. And then, people had heard I
left a big agency and followed me over. Thinking “This has got to be cheaper.”
And they were right. And for a long time, our pitch was “Hey, we’re
the guys from a big agency with a low overhead in Boulder. Not
a bunch of red type and so we’re a third of the cost. We do the same work and
use the same guys, just cheaper.” So, for the first seven years, we never even
had business development. I didn’t have anybody making
phone calls on our behalf, reaching out. We didn’t run our own ads, we
didn’t do our own optimization for ourselves. It was just word of mouth. Our contact at one company would leave and
go to another company and they’d hire us at the new place. It wasn’t
until the beginning of this year that I hired some biz dev people and gave
that a try. The reason we couldn’t do it for so long, I think, and where
it’s still difficult is, there’s this feeling I think about Internet
marketing that something is shady. Something is shady. There’s bots clicking
our traffic and there’s dudes in their underwear in their basement
doing strange things to cheat Google. Brent: Do you guys have a backroom here with
just dudes in underwear? Troy: We just have a giant basement with dudes
in their underwear. It just feels shady. It’s hard to apply salespeople
to something that already feels shady. And so, we found a lot more success
just asking our clients for other introductions and just offering. I would never turn down a conversation to
sit with somebody and just give them some advice. We’ve got our largest
client, the guy spending $6 million a month. Me, just as a friendly, connected
by Mike Gelman from Spire. Brent: Who’s on the program. Troy: I saw that, right. Everybody knows Mike
Gelman. He was just like “Hey, one of my clients is having trouble.
I think you know about it, could you have lunch with the guy”? And I’m
just helping him read his bill and understand it. And thought “There’s no
way I’d get hired.” And a month later, got a phone call. “Hey,
we have a little project, can you help us out”? Not “little project.”
It turned into a company-making project, frankly. Brent: So, with 50 folks on your team, you
obviously know how to find talent. Do you find people that are doing
great things? Or do you find people and teach them how to do great things? Troy: We struggle with that question a lot.
In the early days, our mantra was “We’ll never hire junior people.
We’re big-agency guys that have chosen to be in a boutique, but we’re just
going to hire big-agency people and that’s how it will be.” We did that because we were tired of being
the junior guys at a big agency. That’s what we used to be. Now that
we left, we’d thought we’d be hotshots. And then, we had more work than we could do.
So, we hired a class of college graduates five at a time. And tried
to train them up as a group. And that worked. I think where we’ve kind
of settled out right now is Colorado is our biggest recruiting tool. So, our industry has no shortage of good talent.
But it does have a shortage of the talent in Colorado. They’re
all in Los Angeles or New York. But they all have this dream and this fantasy
about Colorado and we use that. If we can get somebody to come out to
Colorado, then they’re thrilled to find out that there’s actually an ad agency
here moving the big dollars that they’re used to. And they’re like “Wow, I didn’t know this
was out here. I thought you had to be on Madison Avenue or in L.A. to
do this.” And if we can get them out here and get them to buy a house, then
they don’t get poached from us. That’s the problem with other agencies and
we use this to sell to our clients. If you’re working with a giant ad
agency on the coast, you’re used to a revolving door of people on your account.
It’s one 24-year-old after another. And we can tell them with a straight
face “People stay at Booyah.” They don’t leave and it’s not our intention
to move them off the account unless you ask us to move them. Or things
happen; people get married, people move. But, generally, they’ll stay. And so, we really
use Colorado as our recruiting tool. And make sure they have their
weekends free to hit the mountains and do that stuff. Brent: What’s your relationship with Web professionals
in terms of Web designers, Web developers, small, medium and
large agencies? Troy: They are our number-one source of prospects
and new business. Until we had our own resources, we worked
off of word of mouth. And such a big chunk of that word of mouth was Web developers. So, Web developers and designers; for a lot
of smaller businesses or emerging businesses, they own the relationship
between that client and the Internet, almost, right? They are there to
answer all questions Internet. And so, they will always get asked “Can you
help me with SEO”? “Can you run my AdWords”? “Can you make more sales
happen”?And we’ll get phone calls that way. Some of these come from real big agencies.
We had a guy say it to us perfectly. He was like “We have no problem
selling our client the first million-dollar website. But when we go back
to selling a million-dollar website, I need numbers.” And he was like
“That’s what you guys do. I’ll sell them a million-dollar website, you make
it work and make him enough money to buy another million-dollar website
from me.” And that’s how that relationship works for
years with that kind of a guy. So, I think we’re the guys that make
the sales happen from a new design or development. So, we’re a good friend
to the Web developers. We make more Web development happen. Brent: Do you find that that’s like a white-label
relationship that you guys try to manage with their business?
Or is it a straight-referral relationship? I know for us, when we have
press, we would ask you guys to come in. It was just like “We want to just
refer Booyah.” Versus saying trying to package as something that we’re
doing. Troy: We’ve done it all manner of ways and
we still do. It’s hard to do it as a white label. We’re always scared
we’re going to pick up the phone and say the wrong thing or send an e-mail
from the wrong account. It’s really hard to do our work completely
behind the scenes. So, we do have some white label relationships.
And we just make sure we get paid for all the hassle of building
this Chinese wall of deceit in front of it. I just really prefer “Hey, this
is Booyah. They know what they’re doing. We’ve worked with them before.”
Make an introduction, we make that worth everybody’s while and do it
that way. It’s much cleaner, I think. Brent: That’s great. So, we talked about Booyah
for a bit. In terms of you, personally, as a leader, what practices
have you done that have gotten you where you’re at today? Troy: You know, I’m a reluctant leader. Frankly,
I have a big confidence problem with my ability to lead.
So, it’s been quite a journey going from 1 to 50. Standing in front of a
room of 50 people and thinking “I’m paying your mortgages. Your family is
counting on your job here.” It’s really stressful. I think the things
I’ve picked up that have worked really well for me are to have the
hard conversations faster. Like you never can deliver difficult feedback soon
enough. And as a reluctant leader, that’s my Achilles heel. Is not giving
somebody difficult-to-give feedback soon enough. That’s been kind of the silver bullet, I guess,
for me. Has been trying to spit things out faster to people. Brent: In terms of your position at Booyah,
what are you best at? Troy: Biz dev. Biz dev. When I can get in
front of a prospect and tell them the power of digital marketing,
how trackable it is. How fast we’re going to know if we have a hit or failure
on our hands. I can get them to buy it. I can get them to buy it. In a service business, that’s where all of
our money comes from, is new business development. That’s why they
keep me around, I think. Brent: Whose decision is it to keep you around? Troy: Everybody’s got a boss. Everybody’s
got a boss somewhere. So, I think that’s what keeps the board happy. The
guys that really know how to do digital marketing now, the last time I
ran an AdWords campaign was five years ago. You don’t want me touching your
keyboards anymore. But the guys that know what they’re doing
trust me to bring them good projects. So, they want to stay and they want
to do those good projects. I think they feel good about that. That’s worked
for me. Brent: Over the last decade, what have you
learned that you think other Web professionals should know? Troy: Good question. We’ve had a lot of success
and a lot of traction with really focusing on the basics, the fundamentals.
Getting the core right. Whether it’s paid search or organic
search. There’s a lot of levers and buttons and shiny things that you can
do. But at the end, there’s good communication
to human beings, right? Where we’re working in this world where we
want our website to look a certain way to the Google computers and we
want it to do certain things technically. But we’re selling to human beings.
And I think there’s this just core, fundamental best practices to that.
To communicate clearly, to communicate honestly, to communicate quickly. That can get lost in all of these bells and
whistles. And so, I think we like to consider ourselves cutting edge
and aware of the newest thing that you can do with marketing and advertising.
But I’ll tell you that ends up being 90 percent of our conversations and
10 percent of the budgets. The budgets come from old-school stuff. Just
paid search. People buy paid search and SEO and they want to talk
a lot about social media. And they want to talk about Instagram activations.
And we can talk about it. But no many ever really flows over there. And so, we just try to do a really good job
at the core. And then, clients stay a long time. Brent: During Booyah’s history and this is
something I wanted to bring up a little earlier. But you guys had a software
platform, a product that was created. You mentioned one previously,
but you had a different one. You had the service business and then this
products business. And whenever I talk to Web pros, you’re in the
service camp or you’re trying to develop product or apps. How have you guys
traversed that path? Troy: We made a really conscious decision;
the first decision was “Let’s choose one path.” I have been in companies
that had a strong service side and a strong software/tech side. And
they compete with each other internally for resources. And there’s always a favorite child, it seems
like, in those worlds. And so, we really wanted to be on one side
of the track or the other. We chose service. Maybe a mistake. The margins
in service suck, it sucks. It’s hard to scale, I really wish I had a
great piece of technology, I really do. But I don’t think you can do
both. I think you have to stick on one side or the other. So much so that when we had another good idea
for a piece of technology, we incubated it inside of the
service team. But eventually, when it was ready, we cut it out into a totally
separate tax entity. Funded it separately, put resources on it separately,
treated it like a separate business. And I think you have to. I think a service
business and a tech business are just fundamentally different.
And they have different margin expectations and just different scale expectations.
It’s really hard to do both at the same time. Brent: I think it’s an incredibly insightful
plan. If you do have that product that gets created, to maybe think
about what that product life cycle is and what’s going to be best for the
product, not necessarily the company. And so, definitely props to you guys
on that. What trends are you and Booyah following right
now? You mentioned some of the new social media trinkets and
toys. So, Instagram and Facebook ads and Twitter ads. For you, where is the
cheese moving to? Troy: The days of media agencies, they’re
numbered, in a sense. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s like the stock market
was for our parents. You couldn’t do your own trading and buying $100
worth of stock without writing a letter to some company. And now, you can do that. The Internet activates
that. And now, the Internet has activated that for media as well.
Anybody can open a Google AdWords account and spend $50 on keywords.
Anybody can access this stuff. You couldn’t really do that on the its scale
and the television and print world. And so, for us, I think it’s not about doing
something dramatically different from every other media agency. I
think it’s about doing really expert work that’s trusted, right? So, it’s
like back to that core. We’re not trying to do something out on the
fringes. We’re trying to do what we know works; affordably, quickly,
reliably just bulletproof, rock- solid process. And I think that’s what allows
us to survive and grow, right? And then being ready to put some skin
in the game with clients. “Hey, we’ll play on performance with you once
we know.” I think that works. So, it’s a flattening of the world.
All these tools, they’re available to everybody. As a service provider,
you’re only as good as your expertise. And so, that’s what we try to work
on, is just expertise. Brent: So, you guys have grown to 50 people.
What’s next for Booyah? Are you trying to grow the entity to 100 people?
Is it about expanding around the globe? Where are you guys trying
to build? Troy: I probably have such a disappointing
answer for this. I just want to have a job for a really long time
in Colorado. I know that maybe sounds crazy, but I love Colorado. I grew
up in Colorado. Part of the reason I jumped from big agency
to Colorado was I had this manager there that loved calling Colorado
a “cow town” with no real businesses in it. And I thought “No way. This
place deserves a good agency. And I think we’ve built that. I like having
a really good reputation. I like having people that like to work here.
I want the agency to be as big as it can be inside of Colorado. We service people all over the country. We
have clients with businesses all over the world. And that’s
easy to do online. You don’t need people spread out internationally, I don’t
think. So, can we go from 50 people to 100? Probably.
Can we go from 100 to 1,000? I hope not. We’ll have to find somebody
else to run that. But I want stability. We’re not trying to build it to
sell it. We’re just trying to build it to do good work that we’re proud
of for a long time. Brent: I think that’s definitely very insightful.
We appreciate your time today, Troy. I wish you the best of luck
with Booyah and all the projects you guys are working on. And we’ll
link out to your blog, your website and any other information you want
to share with us. Troy: Fantastic. Thanks a lot. I appreciate
it. Brent: All right. Stay tuned for more great
content from uGurus.com.

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