Failures are part of the business journey, but it’s nice to avoid them and even better to learn from the mistakes of others. In this podcast you’ll hear how one man is using his experience at the bleeding edge of digital marketing to help shape the startups of tomorrow.
Kristen Holden is the Startup Manager at MYOB where he helps founders to skill-up before they scale-up. He cut his teeth in digital marketing in the late 1990s before spamming was frowned upon and the holder of the most domain names controlled web traffic. Kristen explains the mistakes he made in his early career and describes his hopes for a new wave of startups.
Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. Similar sounding words that can lead to them being deciphered wrongly and hence transcribed likewise.
Serpil Senelmis: For WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series where industry professionals share their secrets to business success. I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded. One thing we consistently hear from founders on the Masters Series is that whatever your business is, somebody’s probably done it before. This is especially true for things that go wrong. And in this podcast, you’ll have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others.
Kristen Holden: So those guys invented affiliate programs, I mentioned extra controls. These are things that they came up with, they innovated these things. I learned how not to conduct my life. Literally, these guys just went off the rails, most of them. I think three or four guys are in jail, or something happened to them pretty much because they just went too far. So I learned not what to do very quickly. But just learning how that mindset of what can we do what’s different. I didn’t learn from the university. I didn’t learn from somebody who’d come before me it was ready to go on visit whatever you want. Just have a crack. There’s no rules. Just think of something you can do it.
Serpil Senelmis: Kristen Holden is the startup manager of MYOB and has been working in the digital space for over two decades. He’s worked with some amazing success stories including 99 Design, Five Point, Commbank, and Sanitarium. And he’s worked at the bleeding edge of digital marketing at the turn of the century was revolutionary. In this fireside chat with WeTeachMe’s Wayne Lewis. Kristen reveals it’s tough to balance looking after yourself and just going for it.
Kristen Holden: That’s how I got into this stuff was I met some guys from Brisbane who were making like $5 million a month each does about five of these guys that were just killing it. Man just went wow, this internet stuff, make some money. I was doing graphic design school. And I started doing graphic design for them. And that was pretty wild. 20 something-year-old guys unlimited money. Late 90s was pretty wild in every sense. Very different orders today is no such thing as ecosystem, or no such thing as a startup really nothing like this framework that just today that was there, there is no rules. There was no guides, there was no PR any of this stuff. It was running really successful on my businesses.
Wayne Lewis: Yeah. So no morals either then?
Kristen Holden: Yes. They’ve been questioned many times.
Wayne Lewis: What were some of the things that you were taken out of that at the time and absorbing off those guys?
Kristen Holden: So those guys invented affiliate programs, they invented exit consoles. These are things that they came up with, they innovated these things. I learned how not to conduct my life. Literally, these guys just went off the rails, most of them. Yeah, I think three or four guys are in jail, or something happened to them pretty much because I just went too far. So I leart not what to do very quickly. And then I just learning how that mindset of what can we do what’s different. I didn’t learn from the university. I didn’t learn from someone who come before me it was because do whatever you want. Listen, whatever you want, just have a crack. There’s no rules, just think of something and you can do it. Which I think is just always forward on. From that, that mentality of not oh, well, this is the way we do it. But what should we do?
Wayne Lewis: And how did you evolve your skills from the graphic design? And then how did that take you into the .com era?
Kristen Holden: I wanted to make money from what I was doing, which was better than just doing design. So the .com era let’s talk was ICQ first funny enough? I built an ICQ spammer.
Wayne Lewis: Yeah, I don’t even know an ICQ spammer is?
Kristen Holden: This is before like all the crazy bots for doing Russian stuff. And there was heaps of spam going around. And I just built something that would literally fire off marketing messages to randomize ICQ numbers. This is before there’s any kind of spam filters or anything and promote some these affiliate programs. So there’s guys that I knew and, you know, pretty quickly, you’re making two grand a day from doing something like that, because there’s no one else marketing to this channel. That is literally no one else doing it. It’s like I’ve got a message. Oh, cool. I’ll click on it. It wasn’t like oh, this is crap. And it’s Viagra spam or something. Which is pretty common with like Hotmail or whatever you use these days. There was no one else doing it. It was great cut through. And then it came down to SEO. It was like wow, this Google thing, what can I do with it? So I’ve got a big background with domain names at the time. And we’re talking, maybe 99 2000, I probably had 5000 domain names. So I’ve got 1000 of them and ring-fenced them and built this not a spammer, but like a tool, which would link them all together automatically and create pages based on content, algorithms and interlink them all and pretty enough I have 20 million listings per domain name. So you’d search for anything and it would matter what the domain was, because there’s no domain relevance back then, it didn’t matter whether a domain authority was about a certain topic or not. You bought an expired domain name, it had some juice associated with it, and you’ve loaded with content and rank for everything. So I do think I was still the very first person to ever get a manual penalty on Google and the first I’ve ever heard of to get them all deleted because I sort of took the piss I guess you could say, I was just always pushing the edge with this.
Wayne Lewis: I was gonna say go down the boundaries is…
Kristen Holden: Because there wasn’t rules. Literally. No one have done it before. The rules don’t say you can’t have 20 million listings per domain name. There was just no guides, there’s no map outs out there telling people what to do or not do and there was no blogs about what to do. And there’s no one certainly saying it, the people that knew were doing it themselves and making money.
Wayne Lewis: Soon after that, didn’t the guidelines come into play after that?
Kristen Holden: We started slapping people like Google start deleting people changing the rules like trying to focus on search quality, versus just delivery of traffic. So it became clear pretty quickly that you had to build quality stuff. Two ways to run the business. One is you run it very quickly, and you just go screw it, it’ll get deleted at some point. And the second way is you build it from the start, but the idea of it being quality content that matters to people, and that came in mid 2000s, roughly.
Wayne Lewis: Now you’re all with MYOB. And obviously taking on the challenges with MYOB. And obviously, the ecosystem. And some of those businesses that you’re interacting with on a daily basis. What are some of the common things that they’re struggling with at the moment? What are some of the hardships they’re going through that you’re able to assist with?
Kristen Holden: So it’s a strange one because I think people have a pretty easy these days relative to back in the day, all the crap we used to have to go through in terms of starting a business like access to they say money’s pretty good now, things like WeTeachMe exists. People can learn stuff, stuff like side points, they can skill yourself up. It’s a matter of just execution in your ideas, I think from in terms of getting off the ground. I think financial literacy is a problem as well. In the female entrepreneurship space, there’s still a big problem with the stigma of a lot of our white men have the money, unfortunately. So getting access to capital, raising that early money is very hard. So we do support a lot of female entrepreneurship programs and a lot of things like that, because I think it matters, and someone’s going to do it. I think people just have to stop overthinking everything as well. A lot of people come to me with this 12 month crazy big MVP they’ve been working on then they’ve built like a marketplace platform from scratch. So why wouldn’t you use marketplace like ah, or why didn’t you build in WordPress and test the idea or why didn’t you that a lot of people just get caught up in this bullshit idea of it’s going to be perfect or it’s going to be this amazing brand or I’ve got to have this Instagram profile doing this. So instead of just doing stuff, when people just get caught up In that public version of it now, instead of like just launching businesses and trying them out,
Wayne Lewis: If you could go back and think about the mistakes that you’ve made, what would you tell yourself today?
Kristen Holden: Treat it like a business, like when I was a kid, I choose to waste a lot of money and waste a lot of time. And I think my biggest mistake was after 99, I was a bit cocky. Everything was coming pretty easy in terms of clients coming on whatever. And the grass was always pretty green. And it was sort of like not planning for the future. Being pretty plaza, and that kind of stuff was a stupid mistake.
Wayne Lewis: But in terms of when things actually go wrong for you, how do you deal with it? Are you somebody that dives into it head on, is somebody that needs a little bit of time away and come back to it? How do you tackle these big problems?
Kristen Holden: There’s been times I’ve done both of those to be honest. I’m generally pretty upfront and head-on, but there’s been times where I stick my head in the sand and ignore it. To be frank. I’ve always been an optimist. It’s probably my biggest problem. I always assume I’ll fix it or whatever happened. There’s this holy shit, the sky is falling and fix it. So I guess it’s probably a fault and a positive for my character. Just being an optimist.
Wayne Lewis: So, are you now somebody who thinks, okay, well people have got to be doing these long hours. Are you an advocate for people thinking, okay, work smarter, not work less hours that you know?
Kristen Holden: I’m the exact opposite work, work as many hours as it takes you to get the job done. Yeah, that’s another mistake too, as well. I learned by crashing my own soul by working 20 hours a day. That doesn’t matter. There’s always more stuff to tomorrow, there’s always another email is gonna come in, there’s always another 20 there’s another whatever that’s gonna happen. So that was actually what taught me to have work life balance. My wife hates it, she thinks I’m lazy because I sort of can shut off and just not decide to do it. But I had to learn that very hard lesson. Literally learned the hard way. There’s always more.
Wayne Lewis: So do you have certain types of rituals or habits that you put in place to get that balance? What’s some of the easy things people can implement in their life?
Kristen Holden: I think it’s just picking something you’ve done or awake or whatever. Just having a certain amount of stuff you want to do and not just always looking for more to do like having a set goal. You Want to achieve? And Gary Vee talks a lot about there’s always more, there’s always like another 50 years like you’re 20 what’s gonna happen if you’re 24 and you haven’t made your first $10 million, or whatever that mentality of takes time, work a bit slower work a bit smarter. To me, I think just having that mentality with founders 67% of founders have mental health problems in Victoria was like a snapshot, I think I remember hearing, it is always pressure. There’s always everything’s measured everything’s about shipping code, or launching a product or doing whatever, and just taking the time to actually have a laugh as well. I think it’s important, realizing that there’s more to life than work.
Wayne Lewis: Do you try and stress that to the people that you’re working with now? So these new businesses, are you having these open conversations with people around that?
Kristen Holden: Yes, is very straightforward answer with thinking of a program at the moment, which would focus on people’s mental health. And just figuring out how we can do that or how we would help them or whatever, we’re just trying to figure even things like childcare, trying to figure out how to mums and dads can go and do work, some things like that. would make a big difference which is coming online now, just in terms of stress levels.
Wayne Lewis: Guys, can we have around applause, Kristen Holden of MYOB?
Serpil Senelmis: How lucky for startups today to have access to the knowledge that comes from Kristen’s experiences, particularly that philosophy that no matter how long and hard you work today, they’ll still be work to do tomorrow. Just pace yourself. Thanks, Kristen. Next time on Masters Series, creating a business out of the world’s problems. Solving people’s problems sounds like a great premise for a business. We’ll meet a founder or two who are fixing the world, one customer at a time. Until then, I’m sad to Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded, and for WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series.
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