Benji Hyam: The Real Story Behind Grow and Convert

Benji Hyam is a growth marketer who accepted the challenge to grow his site Grow and Convert to 40,000 unique visitors in 6 months. He started the business November 2015 with my partner Devesh Khanal. Previously, he lived in San Francisco for two years where I ran marketing for two different venture-backed startups – Everwise and Thinkapps.

Today's inteview is a behind the scenes look into how content marketing and storytelling can grow a site from scratch.


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Alzay Calhoun: Well hello everyone it's Alzay Calhoun with Coveted Consultant, and today I'm here with Benji Hyam. Benji is in the field, he is boots on the ground, he's really doing this Content Marketing thing. We're going to let him tell us all about the project that he has going, and the how and the why and the what. I think it's going to give some clarity around what it means to really use Content Marketing as a business driving tool. First let me welcome him, hello Benji, how are you today?

Benji Hyam: Good, thanks for having me, good to be here.

Alzay Calhoun: Glad to have you. I always start with the same intro question. That question is, tell us a story on when you understood that Content Marketing and story telling was valuable in the first place.

Benji Hyam: Yeah, that is a good question. I think it actually came in my first job. I got a job right out of college as a Social Media Coordinator. I knew nothing about online marketing at that point, and a lot of it was just me doing research, reading articles online. I never really considered myself a writer, especially a blogger. I knew nothing about Content Marketing at that point but I had a director of communications at my company who was a writer, a journalist, and she always pushed me to write.

It was very, very difficult for me. I was like no one wants to read my stuff, I'm not a writer why are they forcing me to write. I remember I wrote my first article, actually about Snuggies, it was like, why are Snuggies exploding. That post got like maybe 300 views, I was like, alright this is pretty cool some people are reading my stuff. The real post that did it for me was I wrote a post on how to set up your LinkedIn profile. The reason I did that was because I was spending maybe 20 hours per week teaching people how to set up their LinkedIn. I was like, there's got to be a better way to do this. If I just write down the step-by-step process that I would teach someone over the phone, maybe I can just send this to them and cut down some of my time by doing this. That post blew up and got 20,000 views. I was like, all right this is really cool for me because I could talk to 20 people or I could write 1 post and hit 20,000.

I think that was one that really clicked for me, okay there's something here with this writing stuff. I could go give a talk to a 100 people and be in front of a 100 people or I can just share my stories online and hit thousands. That's kind of what I chose to do, is do the latter, and focus on sharing my experiences through my writing.

Alzay Calhoun: Along the way, you're doing what you're now, but there's a lot of different things between the story you just told and what you're doing now, so kind of fill in some of the gaps with some of the major career milestones you hit along the way here.

Benji Hyam: Right after that business, I was at a company called Vistage and they did [inaudible 00:03:15] for CEO's. Right after that I did my own company which was a contact marketing and social media agency. Only ran that for about 6 months, and it was a really good learning experience running my first business, I think. I made a lot of mistakes in that business, specifically as you probably know running a business is very difficult. You have to go acquire clients do all the work, there's a lot of pieces to put together and I think the big learning there was that I needed to offload the stuff I didn't like doing to someone else, and focus on the areas that I was really passionate about. I think the co-founder that I had in that business, we very similar and had a lot of the same skill sets, and so we couldn't really divide and conquer and so it was hard for us to scale.

After that business I decided I really knew I wanted to be in start-ups, I was really passionate about marketing and so I was like the best place that I could go for my career is San Francisco, so picked up and left San Diego where I was living for 16 years. Went to San Francisco and decided I want to work in really early stage start-ups to figure out how to grow them from the ground up. I ran marketing at company called Think Apps when I first arrived in San Francisco. They sold software development, so basically what they did is they're a company that helped business build and launch apps. From wire framing design, development and even helping launch them and it was a unique business model though, so what we did is develop long-term partnerships with different design and development studios all over the world. We were basically the project management layer between the client and the studios to insure everything got built. We would take on the risk of actually building the product.

That was a really interesting business for me as well because I'm not technical at all, so I knew nothing about software development before coming into that business. Even from a marketing perspective I had to learn how to market something I really didn't know a lot about. The path we actually chose was Content Marketing. I ended up growing their blog from zero to 35,000 unique visitors in 6 months and the blog ended up becoming the biggest revenue driver for the company, by far. I'd written a couple posts on this as well about, we didn't really follow the traditional conversion methods where you get people to opt into an email newsletter and [inaudible 00:05:52]them over a period of time, nurture them. What I experimented with there was converting visitors directly off the blog. That actually ended up leading us to close 5 and 6 figure deals right off the blog.

That was a really, really interesting learning experience for me, as the 4th employee in the company. I didn't really have a lot of resources to work with and there was a lot of things that I had to figure out from a content perspective, like how to hire writers, how to promote this type of content, how to get technical articles from an audience. I think that was probably my biggest learning curve from a content perspective. Most recently after that I went to a company called Everwise, where I was running a growth for them and focused a lot on Content Marketing and paid advertising.

What led to what I'm at now was, I'd written a story basically on why I quit my life, which is basically why I quit the corporate world. For me I was just following the money for a long time instead of really focusing on what I was passionate about. I had always enjoyed writing and sharing my experiences with others and I had a personal blog that I had kind of just let go. I was always trying to, I think, find a job to fund my passion projects and so I wasn't happy in the last road that I was in. I had started Grow and Convert last November, and it was starting to get some initial traction, and so I just decided to go all in on this.

A way I was able to do that was actually by going abroad because I was able to lower my cost of living. Living in San Francisco was extremely expensive and living abroad is really cheap. Even traveling, buying plane tickets is still, maybe 1/3 or a 1/4 the cost of living in the states and so I picked up and left. Now I'm working on Grow and Convert full-time.

Alzay Calhoun: Interesting, so where are you now? At the time of this interview.

Benji Hyam: I'm actually in Bali, Indonesia.

Alzay Calhoun: Indonesia. Okay. All right, so how you are certainly not in the country right now.

Benji Hyam: I am not in the country.

Alzay Calhoun: You are not in the country. You have started a new project called Grow and Convert. I am personally interested and excited about this story because there is so much realism in it. There's so much reality in it, there's so much application in it and we're way out of the theory. Where should we start, right?

Benji Hyam: That's a good question.

Alzay Calhoun: Let's start with how, with you and the co-founder of Grow and Convert and the roles that you have, that might be a good place to start. Tell us about that divide and conquer of those roles.

Benji Hyam: Yes, so again my background is more on the content strategy side, so having done this for a lot of business, it's really helping business figure out what type of content to write about and where to promote that stuff. Davesh my partner, runs the Conversion Optimization Agency. He works with really large sites and pretty well known people in this space, like Brian Dean, Bryan Harris of Videofruits, and typically works on sites that have 50,000 to 100,000 unique's a month and figure out how to optimize them.

How we met, we met at a dinner in San Francisco. At the time he was actually wondering how to use content marketing to get more clients for his agency. He was kind of questioning the viability at the time, whether he could use content to get to VP's of marketing, CEO's even. He was just like, I don't know if those type of people read content, and I just come from growing Think Apps blog and getting in front of that exact audience and so I was just like, I know it works, you're probably just going about it the wrong way. I was kind of questioning what I was going to do next.

I was going to write a book on content marketing because I wanted to share everything I know. He questioned me on that, "Why would you write a book that you're going to spend months writing it and you don't know if it's going to do well. Why don't you, instead of writing a book, just write everything you know in the form of a blog and maybe if you do that over time you will have enough material to put that together in a book, but at least you can start getting traction just putting things out there." I was like, "That's a good idea, why don't you just do this with me then? You have a very different skill set that I don't have."

I've done a lot of conversion stuff but he's very left brain, methodical, has a process for everything and I'm very right-brain, creative, do not have a process for anything, I kind of just do and then when I figure out something that works, then I build a process around it. He's very process oriented first, and I'm only process oriented when something breaks. We're just very opposites, but I think that actually meshes really well for our business because we hold each other accountable. I think I know I can do this without him, and he is the same way with me. I do all of our content promotions, so I'm always finding places to promote our content, networking with people, and he gets to focus on the things he likes to do, like link building, all of our conversion on our website, most of our emails as well. It's a really good split between the 2 of us.

Alzay Calhoun: You got this project and you have a challenge that you've given the business of 40,000 monthly unique's in 6 months. Let's be honest, there are a lot of blogs that can't get 1,000 monthly unique's in a year. Let alone 40, so where did that goal come from?

Benji Hyam: It was a very selfish and kind of stupid goal I think in the beginning because it was basically me competing with myself. All right, I've already grown a blog from 0 to 35,000 and to me, I guess, having lived it I just didn't really think about how hard it was to do it all over again. To me I guess, it just didn't sound like that much, but I think to put things in context, even when we started people were impressed with us growing to 1,500 the first month and then 3,000 the next, then 5,000... I didn't realize that so many people have challenges just even getting to their first 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 visitors. It's a really, really, really high goal and it's going to be really hard to hit.

I think one of the things that really helped us hit it when I was at Think Apps was, we also grew [SCO 00:13:27] traffic from 0 to 12,000 in 6 months, and so we were getting repeat traffic by the time I hit that goal. Which is very important, and right now we're trying to do it with any [SCO 00:13:39] traffic because we created a completely new site. It's a constant hustle and tell you the truth, I don't know if it's going to be viable long term, sustainable because this type of traffic that we're generating, we're building a really good audience and a lot of repeat visitors on a month-to-month basis, but in order to really hit that goal and for it to be sustainable over time, we're kind of pivoting right now and focusing on [SCO 00:14:10] traffic.

Alzay Calhoun: Okay, now I have to ask this because what you just said, if people could see me, my head just kind of popped, what you said was that you're driving X number of 1,000 visitors per month without [SCO 00:14:24] traffic.

Benji Hyam: Yes, completely without, so what are we doing?

Alzay Calhoun: Where are they coming from? Please help us out, if you don't mind sharing.

Benji Hyam: Yes, so a bit thing that I've ... so this is a big piece of my promotion strategy that I've kept through every single business, especially when you're starting out with a new blog, to develop your own audience is very difficult. This is why I think it's really important to focus in on a very narrow target market that you're going after from the very beginning. We made a conscious decision to focus on marketers inside of companies when we first started our blog. There's a lot of marketing blogs out there that are helping solo printers, that are helping people who their business is blogging grow. What we realized is there wasn't a lot of help for marketers inside of companies, who have to scale content for their business, when the business isn't their blog. When a product whether it's a sauce company, whether it's an e-commerce website, there's just not a lot of helpful advice out there for those people.

Having lived in that space before, where I went through so many struggles, just developing our content strategy, hiring technical writers, figuring out where to promote this content. There just wasn't a lot of helpful resources for me. That was the first step, just identifying a very narrow market and then that really informs the rest of the decisions for the website. We knew that we wanted to go out and find marketers inside of companies, so then you have to back into it. Then you think, "Okay, for me to go build this audience myself is going to be very difficult, but I'm sure there's a lot of other people who built communities around these people already." Your goal is to do a lot of research and find out where marketers inside of companies would live online.

For us, there's a website called Growth Hackers, there's a website called, that's made up of a lot of practicing marketers. There's a bunch of Facebook groups that have marketing professionals, LinkedIn groups, Google+ groups, and so instead of reinventing the wheel and going to create a group like that on their own, what we're doing is tapping into an already existing communities. For any type of business, there's communities like this that exist. I'm sure you for there's a bunch of agency professionals that are in a group. There's e-commerce people, you're target market is already in a group somewhere online so it's about researching and finding those and then just being part of the conversation in those groups. That's been a big piece of the strategy for us.

Alzay Calhoun: Excellent. Where I want to go next, there's a part of what you shared so far that folks may have missed, I want to highlight that for just a second, there is as you build, Grow and Convert there is an adherent story being told in the growth of the company, so the story of you meeting your partner is on the website. The challenge of the 40,000 monthly unique's is on the website and the status of where you are with that challenge is being written about on the website. There is an embedded story, the target market that you've chosen and why you've chosen that market is content that's written on the website. I know this because I read it myself. The story that Grow and Convert is trying to tell isn't one that's hidden behind the scenes, on some whiteboard somewhere in a fancy office. It actually lives and breathes on the website. We just found story telling without having to brow beat people, or scream at people, or make something up. Everything that we have here is authentic. Any response to that?

Benji Hyam: Definitely. That's a core piece of our business. Story telling is huge, people connect with stories 100% and so I guess what I kind of realized about the space, it actually started from me studying Digital Nomads. I kept seeing headlines come up in Business Insider about "I Built a 3 Million Dollar Business Abroad, and Here's How You Can Do It," even Tim [inaudible 00:19:10] book, The Four Hour Work Week. There was an article about "I Quit My 6 Figure Job to Go Sell Ice Cream" and I kept seeing a trend in these stories and they were cool, you would read them and be like okay that's great for that person, but I personally can't connect with them in any way because they either are in a different situation as me they had more resources available. For me those stories was cool to read them but it wasn't really relatable. I think it was because you're not able to follow along with how they did it, you're only seeing the success stories but you're not seeing all the struggles, and pains people went through to get there.

When we first started our site that was a big piece that I wanted to play up with, the transparency component. I think in business these days it's so important to be fully transparent and there's so many things that people are always wondering and so far there's been no reason why we shouldn't share anything. We put all of our traffic stats publicly. There's this story line that people can follow from day 1, when we first launched our blog to whether we're successful with the end goal, people are getting to the real stuff. They're seeing the struggles that we faced, the success that we had, people through our story feel like they're part of our growth. I think that's the big reason why we've been able to attract such a large audience very quickly is because people connect with the story that we're telling. It's real, there's nothing hidden here. We're not coming out the end of it saying look we got 40,000 visitors, people actually get to see everything that happened along the way. Get to see things that we're testing and learn from our successes and our failures.

I think what I kind of realized about the marketing space in general was that a lot of websites out there just kind of cover the basics but they don't really go into detail. That was a big difference in our content strategy, is it is all story telling. If you look at almost any article on our website, it's all from experience. They're all real case studies that practice marketers have done and it's the process of how they were able to be successful in whatever they did. We have an article about growing to 2 million views on Slideshare. My personal story about how my media post went viral, so almost every article that we're writing as a case study, is a story about how somebody accomplished something. I think that's what people have really, really resonated with.

Alzay Calhoun: For me personally, there are experts that I respect because they are thought leaders, because they have ideas and concepts and they are forward looking, forward thinking in ways that I am not. Then there are other, I'll call them experts that I respect, because I really identify with what they're going through, with what they're working on, with what they're trying to accomplish. Depending on your strength and weaknesses, maybe you belong in one category or another, but the point that I'm trying to make here is that the authenticity is so important and that's why I'm honestly excited to speak with you because I really appreciate the story that's being told on your site versus it just being information you offered. Salute to you, I wish folks could see me, because I'm saluting you right now.

That is just an awesome concept that you're proving value in it. The value of it is being proven as you take each step, so really, really strong. Very good. What is the plan, just so we can kind of close the loop, what is the plan to monetize the site. Is there a plan at this moment, are you growing into a plan, where are you as a business with that?

Benji Hyam: Yes, so sort of, I guess when we started this website what was really important for us was to test the viability before we were to go all in on it. For anyone who is familiar with Growth Hacking, I spent my last 2 years in [inaudible 00:23:56] early stage start-ups really studying growth and so a big piece of growth is getting user feedback, really narrowing in on your target market, and finding a repeatable channel of growth. For us, even especially for me coming from Think Apps, I'd seen so many people building products and then after they had a product completely built, then going to try to figure out how to market it. It's extremely hard for any business to do that. You want to have growth built into your product and you want to start building your audience before you're building your product.

With our site, we're actually building a business in reverse. We're building out a massive audience first of people in our target market, and then we're figuring out products that we can build to add value to that audience. When we do launch products or services, or whatever it may be, we already have a built in audience of people that trust us and so that was kind of the goal with the business end of it itself.

In terms of where we're at now, we actually just built a software products. The software products makes it easier to format posts and word [press 00:25:18], should be launched in hopefully a month or so. The big thing that we're working on actually is creating a full course on context marketing. We just did the outline on Monday, actually, for our course. I think the goal with our site is to build a lot of trust and to give people a lot of help, and then this course should outline everything that we do. How to figure out who the narrow audience is to how to figure out what kind of content is going to be interesting to people, how to do the research on what the customers is pain points are, so that you can write content that actually solves a pain in someones business. Then how we think about promotion.

I think when it comes to content marketing, inbound marketing there's a lot of articles out there that say here's an exact process, you go create content, you create landing pages, you go create the premium content like white papers and eBooks, and build and conversation, I don't know. I think that leads a lot of people down the wrong path. I don't think there's any set process, I do think there is a mindset and framework you need to be in, in order to be successful and that's kind of what we're teaching people. It's the why behind all this stuff and yes, maybe you use some of these elements like landing pages, maybe you used an eBook as an acquisition tool, but you don't need to use all of it. Every single business and blog is going to be completely different, so we're teaching people how to think about content in a way to help them be successful, and I think that's kind of what's missed in this whole space.

We're just kind of taking everything that we learned and putting it into a course. I think that's going to be our first product. We don't really want to stop there. I think the end goal is to become the most engaged community for marketers. It'll probably expand beyond content marketing at some point, but I think it's important in any business to start really narrow with one vertical and be the best you can be in that vertical. Then once you've done that, then you can expand into other areas. That's kind of what we're doing, we realized that there's a huge pain with content marketing, there's a lot of people talking about it right now, it's becoming a hot topic. We realized that no ones really helping people the way that they should be helped and so we capitalized on that opportunity. We're just proving it out right now and we just want to become the best in content marketing and then hopefully expand into other products for different areas of marketing as well.

Alzay Calhoun: Very, very good. Again you are flexing a fundamental that folks may not be totally connected with, you said we're building a business in reverse. We've got peoples attention first, and they trust us and like us and they respect us, so then we can simply ask how else can we help you. When they tell you, that's what you make. It's so much easier.

Benji Hyam: It's huge. It's huge. We have an audience of let's say 20,000, 40,000 people, and we just ask them a simple question. A core piece of our business too, is just open communication. We respond to every single email that we get. We respond to every single comment, and that keeps the open dialogue with all of our readers. That's really important, I think, that shouldn't go understated. When it comes to monetizing the business, if we send an email to our audience and say, "Hey, we've helped this far along, what could we build or what service could we offer you that you would pay for." I'm sure we would get a ton of different ideas and then if there's commonalities amongst the responses, that gives us an idea of what to go build or what to do next. We already know that if we go create this, there's a built in buyer. That's huge.

Alzay Calhoun: There you go. As a quick status check for the listener, hey listener, are you sure that the next thing you're going to make or the next thing that you're going to release has a built in buyer. If you're not sure, then the answer is no. If the answer is no, then this whole conversation is an opportunity to shift your thinking. Thank you Benji for being an active example of that. One question I normally ask to close is what big project are you working on, but I think you just told us, didn't you?

Benji Hyam: Yeah, we're focusing on building our course right now, I think we're focusing on increasing our [SCO 00:30:17] traffic, that's another big project. We started a new site 6 months ago. We've actually done really well just getting natural links, we haven't done any link building so far, I think we have over 120 links from domains such as Huffington Post, Sumome, there's a lot of big sites that are linked into us, but we want to be more methodical about out actually building links so that we start ranking for some of our content.

The other thing for our blog is to keep finding interesting case studies and stories to tell. I'm writing a post right now on, well I'm writing a couple posts right now, I'd just written a post on why marketing has become the hardest position to hire for, and so that was basically taking my learning of how to hire a marketer, being a marketer, and realizing how tough finding really good marketers is because there's a lot of bad marketers that give good marketers a bad name because they're doing a lot of reading and they're not practicing. A lot of they're knowledge is based on theory instead of practice and it's very had to distinguish who actually knows what they're talking about versus the people who sound like they know what they're talking about. That's a core piece of that article.

The next article I'm writing is actually helping the marketers who want to get a job. Having interviewed over 40 times over the last 5 years for a different companies, I'm just kind of taking my learning's in terms of how to go find a job these days, because times have changed. It's not as easy as sending a resume into a company and hoping you get an interview anymore. I kind of want to outline a process that I think will help a lot more people find jobs these days. Then the last article that I'm writing right now is really going to be outlining the course in the form of a blog posts and really getting the thought process behind narrowing a very defined target market, doing research on pain points, building out a content strategy promotion and conversion. That's kind of everything that's going on right now.

Alzay Calhoun: Got it, strong. If folks want to follow up with you, where would you send them? Where should they go?

Benji Hyam: On our website so, I think our contact information is all over our website, so, Twitter, I'm very active on Twitter, BenjiHyam or you can reach out to AtGrowandConvert on Twitter and I'm the one who handles that as well. If you read something you like and you want to comment, just know I'll respond, if you questions, I'll respond. Any questions or any advice anyone is looking for, we're here to help.

Alzay Calhoun: Thanks, thank you. Well Benji, great job, you got a great project going with Grow and Convert, and I want to wish you best of luck.

Benji Hyam: Thank you, and you as well. Interested in following what you're doing as well.

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