Welcome to this week’s episode on The Radcast! Get ready for the entrepreneur, weekly columnist for Inc. Magazine, and founder of companies - MobileMonkey and WordStream Inc, Larry Kim!
Welcome to this week’s episode on The Radcast! Get ready for the entrepreneur, weekly columnist for Inc. Magazine, and founder of companies - MobileMonkey and WordStream Inc, Larry Kim!
In this episode on The Radcast, host Ryan Alford talks with guest Larry Kim about the ways to solve communication problems, and Larry shares why branding may actually be the #1 performance marketing tactic in 2021. They also dissect digital communication channels, their benefits, and the evolution of DMing.
To learn more about Mobile Monkey, follow Larry Kim on LinkedIn and Instagram @kim_larry or by visiting https://mobilemonkey.com/
If you enjoyed this episode of The Radcast, let us know by visiting our website www.theradcast.com or leave us a review on Apple Podcast. Be sure to keep up with all that’s radical from @ryanalford @radical_results @the.rad.cast
It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime. What better place than here? What better time than now?
Ryan Alford [00:00:09] Hey guys, what's up? This is Ryan Alford, Welcome to another edition of Radcast. We've got a founder of Mobile Monkey today. You may have heard of it, I've heard of it because I'm trying to get my Instagram messaging figured out. He's also the founder of WordStream, Larry Kim, welcome to the show.
Larry Kim [00:00:35] Hey, thanks for having me. Great to be here.
Ryan Alford [00:00:38] I know you've got people that can help me through customer service but I gotta get my Instagram automation. I got approved, I'm going through it. We're going to get some of the functions of a mobile monkey but is it going to be a lifesaver for me? Am I going to love it as much as I think I will?
Larry Kim [00:00:56] I think Instagram is an incredible platform for getting your content in front of people. It's an incredibly terrible platform for turning that engagement into leads or traffic to your website. And you know, what's so interesting about this new Instagram direct messaging animation that you're talking about. It's for the first time in over a decade, Instagram is allowing creators to tap into all that exposure that they're providing you and being able to turn that into leads or traffic to your businesses to grow them. From that perspective, other than Instagram ads, there really isn't any other way to do that. This is still technically an organic thing like the direct messaging animation, it's not a paid thing. So I think it is a game-changer. You can start weaving calls to action in the content that you're producing to be more deliberate and ask users to interact with you through DMs or DM automation. You can then drive them to the links, capture emails, do whatever the heck you want to do in there.
Ryan Alford [00:02:16] Yeah, it's been the biggest paying forum for me. I own an agency and I'm in the B2B space but most of my personal branding has grown through LinkedIn in the last seven years. It's been a blessing and a curse because it's not an easy transition exactly as you said, into leads for B2B just by simply the interface and everything else. I think it's going to be a game-changer. I want to come back to that and I do want to give our audience at least that, I know you do a lot with the clubhouse, I've seen you there. I know you are a busy man but I really appreciate you coming on. You do a lot of podcasts people have probably heard of you or Little Monkey, I definitely have been on the platform for a while and sing praises to all our clients. So, maybe, give everyone a cliff notes version of your background and everything you've done, I know you have done a lot.
Larry Kim [00:03:13] Sure, I'm a tech entrepreneur, I build marketing software companies. So my first company was Wordstream, which is actually the world's largest pay-per-click advertising software company. It Manages over a billion dollars of ads for tens of thousands of customers globally. I had the adventure of starting that from literally nothing and growing that to tens of hundreds of employees and eventually selling it. It did over a 75 million dollars revenue the year before the last which we then sold back in 2018 to Gannett, that's USA today company for hundred and fifty million dollars and that was awesome.
Ryan Alford [00:04:01] Please sign that cheque, did you cash it or just put it in the bank?
Larry Kim [00:04:10] Wire transfer. Big cheques are always a lottery.
Ryan Alford [00:04:14] I think they brought you to the big one. Larry Kim, is the luckiest and smartest man in the world. One hundred and fifty million dollars for you, just for playing the Wordstream games.
Larry Kim [00:04:30] Yeah, you know, when you do something like that, part of you is wondering if that was luck, like you just said, the luckiest and smartest man in the world. It's a kind of dare to myself, I started another company to see if it was possible to replicate the success. The company is called the Mobile Monkey, it's in the messaging space, it's a messaging tool for Omni chat. There are all these different messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, SMS, Instagram, Watsapp, Website chat, that marketers use to communicate with the customers and there are new ones popping up every day like Tik-Tok or even clubhouse is coming up with their own direct messaging API. The idea here is that the Mobile Monkey is just allowing you to access the messages from all of those messaging sources in one inbox and then providing automation to automatically answer, prioritize the different messages to come into your inbox. It's a kind of a platform for messaging, and I think you're interested in just new support for Instagram messaging and automation, which is kind of the new kid on the block because Instagram has been around for over a decade. Their direct messaging capabilities are really crap. Just going back to what you said earlier, you were talking about how you do LinkedIn and it's valuable for business from a business perspective but can you imagine doing LinkedIn, if they didn't have the inmail and the ability to reach out to people in an easy way? You know how crappy that would be and how difficult it would be to actually do business on that platform as a business operator or an entrepreneur, just like a vanity network for the business people who wouldn't be able to easily communicate and suffer like that. This is an exciting new development for Instagram and I think this is something that people need to understand, it's not changing the Instagram interface that you use today. The app experience that you have in terms of messaging will just be as crappy as it was before but what is changing is that Instagram is allowing third-party tools developers like Mobile Monkey, the ability to access those messages and to process them and to send on your behalf through a third party tools platform like Mobile Monkey. So by using that, we can now create automation as we do for Messenger or SMS, or Webchat. So that's what is changing.
Ryan Alford [00:07:49] A lot to unpack there, I want to, at least for our audience because of the success you've had. We could devote the entire episode to this but I do want to provide value to our audience around you. You scaled Wordstream to a gigantic company, yet 150 million to sell, you built Mobile Monkey. I'd love it if you could speak about any of its growth, pains, gains, suggestions for people out there scaling the business, and what seems as though one definitive success and what looks like another home run happening with Mobile Monkey? Any tips or ways to condense that into some suggestions or even just the pains of it, I'd love to hear a little bit more about it.
Larry Kim [00:08:41] Building these businesses is very rewarding in the end but while you are in it, it's the most frustrating experience of your life. I think what helped me a lot was perspective. So my perspective on this company building and entrepreneurship is that you are usually wrong. Most of the ideas, campaigns, and initiatives that you bring to the table, maybe one or two or three percent of them will actually work and be successful and 95, 96, or 97% of the time, they'll go nowhere. You have to view all your failed initiatives from that lens. It will be unrealistic to believe in a sort of one campaign-and-done theory. You have to try out so many different things, you have to change so many different angles like, what are you building? How are you marketing it? Who are you selling it to? The idea that you're going to be correct on any one of those things initially is totally impossible. Sometimes you get this kind of crazy success story, where they crashed their car into a gold mine and they don't really realize how lucky they were. Like Twitter, this is one of those examples of such crappy management, where they just crashed the car into a gold mine and they didn't realize how hard it is to come up with an idea like that but it's a perspective. Once you have that perspective, most of the things aren't going to work, only a few things are actually going to work but it forces you to think a little differently. You have to be a little more skeptical about the time and effort that you're putting into different projects and initiatives knowing that it's likely going to work. So one of the challenges I find, one of the foibles of people who are less successful is that they overcommit to futile endeavors. Maybe they're engaging in some marketing tactics, it's not hurting the company but it isn't really helping the company and they might continue to pursue that campaign. This is an example, they might continue to do that work regardless of whether or not it's making a meaningful impact on the underlying business. So, if you have the perspective of being very suspicious of the value of the different company initiatives that you're bringing to fruition, then one of the positive side effects is that I have a tendency to kill, what I call the donkey projects, the projects that just suck up a lot of time and energy and really don't move the ball forward at all. Conversely, it focuses your attention on a few initiatives that really do move the ball forward. If I'm thinking about my last business, Wordstream, there's really just one or two campaigns that really made a difference in terms of making the company, the company it was. The rest of the features and functions and marketing campaigns and sales campaigns and support campaigns that we did over a 10 years period was just noise. So it's just being able to find leverage, kill the donkeys, and the perspective that most of the stuff that you try is unlikely to be the winning idea.
Ryan Alford [00:13:07] It makes a lot of sense. I followed your marketing approaches, unicorn versus donkey and I see you applying it in real life as well with your businesses. It seems to transcend not only campaigns but also potentially broader things within the company, if I'm hearing you correctly.
Larry Kim [00:13:27] Take any company or just think about your life. Every minute is the same in terms of time but certain moments are much more valuable and impactful than other moments. The same thing with the companies like Amazon, they're just known for three or four bets, Prime, AWS, and Kindle, these are a few really killer unicorns that they discovered and the rest is sort of the seller marketplace.
Ryan Alford [00:14:14] I think they detour quickly off those behind the scenes.
Larry Kim [00:14:20] Exactly, I think they're practicing this kind of mentality of trying a lot of interesting ideas but failing and finding the leveraged ideas.
Ryan Alford [00:14:36] Let me ask you this, I've been very curious. I grew up in the ad game for 20 years. I worked in Manhattan in large accounts, Verizon, at the NFL like huge accounts. Now we work with small to medium businesses for the most part. I kind of grew up in this brand era, big brands, branding. I know you don't market yourself but I think of you as a performance marketer in some way or more with all your testing and multiple variables, you are a true digital marketer. You're a scientist in a lot of ways, that's what I see from you in your content, reading, and all those things. I always want to ask people like you, how you feel about branding, building a brand versus what is driving your sale today, like what is your ROI and how do you discern those things? Is branding just a waste of time to you like overtime activity? I am always curious when I talk to someone that is down the path of science and metric and all those things.
Larry Kim [00:16:03] Great question, I think my thinking on this has evolved tremendously since starting out. Today my opinion is that there's nothing more important than your brand, it is a powerful growth hack. Our experience is totally meaningless and all that really matters is the brand. This has become more and more important over the last five or six years because it used to be two different worlds, there was a branding world and a digital marketing world, and you could do well in one area without having a strong brand or you could do well in digital growth marketing without a customer. In fact, that's what so exciting about it, you could do these crappy SEO tricks, and then suddenly you'd outrank The New York Times and you know how ehow is outranking, these are really authoritative websites, even though no one really knew who was the creator of this content on ehow. There's SEO or email marketing, online advertising, all the stuff would go direct and it didn't really matter what the brand was, as long as you got there first. I think what has changed is that all of those algorithms have now been fully augmented with machine learning, artificial intelligence, which now takes into consideration consumer preferences. Take search engine optimization, for example, do you know what the most discriminating factor is in terms of whether or not someone is going to click on your link or not?
Ryan Alford [00:18:09] Awareness, I don't know
Larry Kim [00:18:12] We did tests. We ran ad tests to remarketing audiences versus Vanilla audiences, who have not heard of your brand versus who have heard of your brand. People were disproportionately three, four times more likely to click on your links if they had heard of you before in the past. That's a sign of brand affinity, brand experience, brand awareness. I think what I'm trying to say is, it's very hard in 2021 to be running digital advertising campaigns or SEO campaigns or social media campaigns where the success of those campaigns are based on user engagement scores, like clickthrough rates when the single greatest prognosticator of whether or not someone will click and engage with that content or that ad is if they've heard of you in the past. So, if there's one thing that you could do, that would instantaneously improve the performance of all of your digital marketing campaigns, whether it was SEO organic, paid ad words, organic social, paid social, even email marketing, the visibility of your email whether or not it gets displayed to you in your inbox or in your spam filter. That's a whole machine learning, it's whether or not you were engaged with that email in the past. So the single biggest thing that would help all your campaigns is to have a strong brand because then that would dramatically increase people's propensity to engage with those campaigns, which would then be recognized by those visibility algorithms that dictate whether or not people will see the stuff that you're producing or not, which also has this additional interesting impact, which it then says, if Larry engaged with this thing, it's got to be a good show this content to all of Larry's friends, this is the only way you can do this. The biggest growth hack in 2021 for direct response marketing is to grow your brand. Are you following me here?
Ryan Alford [00:20:48] Yeah, I'm following you. Yeah, if we're going to be installing a soundboard, I'm going to have you, I probably didn't know much about Southern Baptist Church but I have you, Amen. It's like when the pastor in the pulpit says something really amazing, the deacons in the choir would go, hallelujah, from behind. As a long-time brand marketer, nothing is more golden to my ears or to what I've been preaching for 20 years. And now, having someone as an authority like yourself, saying that the biggest growth hack in 2021 is branding, goes down in the Radcast Hall of Fame. Whatever that's worth, it might be a t-shirt or a coffee mug but it is something.
Larry Kim [00:21:44] I did this weird experiment the other day, where I artificially created an enormous influx of people searching for my brand. I can't tell you how, but the experiment was to get real people, not bots, like thousands of real people around the world to conduct searches for the word Mobile Monkey, which is my company, and that increases the kind of the volume of searches for that term. So here's the crazy part that increased my SEO traffic for non-branded terms because it was a signal to Google that this must be a brand site because so many people are searching for that query, like that, branded term. So this must be like the New York Times of the messaging space as opposed to the ehow of the messaging space. So it's just crazy little examples like that where you build your brand, you'll build your trust.
Ryan Alford [00:23:06] Let's get back to the Mobile Monkey mode. I know it's yours, maybe so you probably don't mind talking about it a little bit. Through its lens, I feel like the messaging space particularly SMS, definitely Instagram which you guys are cracking the code on, which is so underserved, underutilized, under magnified as the channel of communication. I think people think of social media and the power of social media content, your engagement on content, but the holy grail of all is the communication flow with customers and prospects and all those things that messaging and direct communication enables. Talk about how much or how underserved you feel like, particularly SMS and in other channels are?
Larry Kim [00:24:04] First of all, I would estimate that only six or seven percent of companies even do any form of messaging in terms of a core marketing channel. So, if you compare messaging with email marketing, which is kind of the opposite end of the spectrum where everyone does it, or content marketing, which I feel is also pretty well represented. Messaging, on the other hand, is still in its infancy and you need to understand, why on earth would that be, if people spend so much time on their mobile devices, so much time on WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, more so than social media. And the answer is because it's just a pain in the ass. Just imagine if I told you, Guys, we need to have a website, a mobile website, and now we also have to have a kind of a messenger experience, an Instagram experience, a Webchat experience, an SMS experience, and so on. It's just so much fragmentation with these different channels, they're all very important. It's not like advertising on bing, which is sort of a check the box kind of thing. These are bonafide-like real messaging channels that are used by gazillions, literally billions of people. It's just hard for marketers to cover all those bases, so, what Mobile Monkey does, which is so interesting as a platform. It intermediates the underlying chat platform. It just provides a messaging interface and you can talk in an automated or manual way with your customers, whether it be on SMS or Webchat or WhatsApp or Instagram or Facebook Messenger and we keep adding more in communication platforms, hopefully, several more over the next few quarters.
Ryan Alford [00:26:24] Do you think we've reached this point? The text message inbox was kind of like the sacred cow. I feel like five, ten years ago, people just didn't want anyone to touch it other than who you texted with. It was very different from the email inbox. Right? It was very much more personal. I feel like we've started to cross this threshold or maybe we've broken right through it that there's more acceptance from consumers now with brands and with that communication approach through the text messaging box. Is that safe to say?
Larry Kim [00:27:06] I think overwhelmingly people would love to hear from the brands and individuals that they care about. And conversely, they really get these very emotional reactions to receiving content information from the brands and people they don't know or don't care about. Hence going back to our original growth hack of the century, which is to build brand affinity. So there's plenty of evidence to suggest that this is true because the open rates on these things are remarkably high, an order of magnitude higher than email engagement. So, if people really hated it so much, why are they opening it?
Larry Kim [00:27:59] You could say, well, maybe it's because we're tricking them by triggering a notification on their phone and they need to know, they've been trained to check those notifications. Then I would just say, then why are the subsequent engagement rates like click-through rates and read rate so high, also an order of magnitude higher than email marketing? So, yeah, I think you're right. I think people are open to receiving messages through texting or through the various messaging platforms with the caveat that it's from the businesses and individuals that people care about. So, from that perspective, I would not be looking to develop a top-funnel kind of awareness campaign on the backs of SMS or Instagram marketing. This is more of a lower funnel, a kind of conversion greasing type of communication channel that is substantially more effective than anything else out there.
Ryan Alford [00:29:09] How are you building the Brand for Mobile Monkey? I know you said the test you did, and you can't share exactly how you did it. What do you think about branding for Larry Kim, for that matter? You're getting more engaged, it seems like with some of your Dm tests and things like that, maybe that's just by the nature of the business. How do you go about thinking about building a brand for Mobile Monkey?
Larry Kim [00:29:36] You really have to. There's direct response marketing and there's this other field of brand marketing and it's just a different school. It's not an area that I necessarily consider myself to be an expert in but we do bring in people to examine, sort of how we're treating the brand and what we want to be known for and then amplifying those messaging through display ad campaigns, through social advertising campaigns, etc.
Ryan Alford [00:30:14] Would you ever consider mass media
Larry Kim [00:30:19] That's really the next logical space. In reality, these digital marketing platforms have become way too expensive for top-of-the-funnel brand advertising. The cost per click on Facebook ads or Instagram ads or Google ads, grows by double-digit percentages every quarter. So, if the economics of those ads haven't broken down for you yet, they will most certainly break down maybe a quarter from now and two quarters from now. I guess, what I'm saying is, we come full circle. It used to be that I was so excited about these digital platforms because I could get my brand out there for nothing and it was so much more effective and targeted than the sort of more traditional, like radio or television or even billboard or just conventional non-digital advertising. That's been the case for the last part of a decade but over the last five, six years these costs have gone so bananas. You absolutely have to be considering these other radios, typical satellite radio, etc, to bring rank down is advertising on CNBC or on Sirius XM Radio. You absolutely have to be considering this because it's like the economics for trying to create new brand affinity among people who don't have a pre-existing affinity with your brand through digital marketing is incredibly futile.
Ryan Alford [00:32:27] I got two letters for you P and R, PR is the Holy Grail in 2021. I know, you're doing some of that with your magazine by other things coming on this podcast in a way. I'm not ready to say that TV is coming back alive because it's changing so much but I connected the TV to other resources. I'll leave you with that.
Larry Kim [00:32:53] That is so interesting. The way that Wordstream got on the map was one PR campaign and that was around the time of the Facebook IPO in 2011, you can Google this. The whole world was talking about the Facebook IPO. I just published some data showing that these Facebook ads were kind of crappy. It was like your page and I compared the return on investment for these ads versus other more powerful Google search ads that existed at the time. It was a head-to-head matchup comparing these crappy Facebook ads, which have gotten a lot better with search ad technology at the time and it just showed that Facebook was a joke. I published that story three days before the Facebook IPO and it got something like eleven thousand press pick-ups. If you search for that, it was on AFP, Reuters, CNN, Fox Business, NPR, BBC, talking about how these ads aren't that great. It generated a total of six million links from reputable sites to our website over the course of two weeks. From there the strategy was just to monetize those links by publishing content. So, you're absolutely right, when you're thinking of the ultimate way to build your brand is PR but as I said earlier, 99% of the stuff goes nowhere. So it's this one in a million or one in a thousand kind of PR campaign that really sticks. When you are there at the right time, at the right place with the right story, that can really change your fortunes forever.
Ryan Alford [00:35:23] Winding down here, Larry, I really appreciate your time and your insight. So, what does the future hold? I'm sure you've got a crystal ball behind your back but where are we headed? We're just growing mobile monkey, we're adding new platforms, we're taking it to new realms, we're going to sell it for three hundred billion dollars at some point or whatever. Where do you want to be in 20 years? Where is Larry Kim? Are we going to ride into the sunset or are you just going to keep building things?
Larry Kim [00:36:01] It's hard to say, I can see on one hand a great future ahead for this company, and on one hand, there's a company called SemRush. They hustled for a decade and they just went public earlier this year and it's like a publicly-traded multibillion-dollar business, and I think that would be a really interesting journey. On the other hand, all I can see is that this is a valuable piece of real estate in terms of just messaging functionality, which appears to have been forgotten by a lot of major marketing and sales platforms. We do get a few inquiries about a partnership or acquisition, so that could also happen. It's just you never really know. I'm just happy doing work for this Instagram stuff and I'm hoping that this could be a really valuable communication platform for individuals and businesses that leverage the platform for getting their content out.
Ryan Alford [00:37:22] Where can we keep up with all things, Larry Kim and Mobile Monkey.
Larry Kim [00:37:27] We do a lot of email marketing, we send out a lot of emails and newsletters, including all the content that I produce. So, just going to the website and signing up for that newsletter would do. We curate that but we don't send emails for each of the articles, it's like only the good stuff that's kind of proven itself to do well. We publish stuff and see how it does and then we round up the best stuff. I'm on all the different social media platforms and I have a messaging business, so, all of the messaging channels are tied into my app. I get all messages through messenger or Instagram. I would be happy to chat.
Ryan Alford [00:38:25] I can speak for him, I reached out to him on Instagram, he had his messenger set up and then he agreed to come on our podcast. I'm a fan of the platform. I'm excited about where it's going to go with Instagram, having the following that we have there. I really appreciate all your insight and coming on today, Larry.
Larry Kim [00:38:46] Awesome! Thank you so much for having me.
Ryan Alford [00:38:48] Hey, guys, you know where to keep up with us, we're at theradcast.com and at the.rad.cast on Instagram. I'm Ryan Alford on all the platforms, even on Tik-Tok, you can find me there. Well, see you next time on the Radcast.
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