In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Fernando Angulo, Head of Communications at SEMrush, an online visibility analytics software. As an all-in-one marketing tool, SEMrush not only offers solutions for SEO, but also provides support for PPC, content, social media and competitive research. Listen in to hear how SEMrush has grown in the past decade and the ways Fernanado’s team works remotely.

Topics Discussed and Key Takeaways

    • What inspired him to join SEMrush nine years ago, when the company began their marketing efforts
    • How SEMrush collects feedback from their community to improve the software
    • How his team is effective at working remotely before and during the global pandemic
    • What the future of SEMrush looks like

    Links

    Sponsors

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    Transcript

    View this episode's transcript
    Roy Morejon:
    Welcome to Art Of The Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, President of Enventys Partners, the top full service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over a hundred million dollars for our clients since 2010. Each week, I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding. Art Of The Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by Gadget Flow.
    Roy Morejon:
    The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now, let’s get on with the show. Welcome to another edition of Art Of The Kickstart. Today, we’ve got a really special guest with us. Today, we are talking with Fernando Angulo, head of communications at SEMrush. So, SEMrush has been around since a long, long time. We at Enventys Partners have actually been clients of SEMrush since 2012. So, eight years of utilizing this service and tool. So, I’m really excited to be speaking with Fernando, because he’s been in SEMrush since the beginning of the company’s marketing efforts.
    Roy Morejon:
    He’s built an all star marketing team. So, we’re going to talk about remote work a little bit along with launching SEMrush. He’s definitely one of the most recognized faces for the brand out there, speaking at conferences all over the world, everywhere. He specializes in the B2B marketing side, e-commerce, as well as influence marketing, and he’s trained some amazing teams in companies like Expedia, T-Mobile, PrestaShop, and Bing. So, Fernando, thank you so much for joining us today Art Of The Kickstart.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Hi, Roy. Thank you for having me here. It’s great to be here today.
    Roy Morejon:
    Yeah, and we’re really excited to have you on. We’ve been big fans of your software and really are excited to talk to our audience and startups and founders out there in terms of how they can potentially be utilizing your tool set and this all-in-one marketing platform for their startups. So, to begin with, usually, we always like to start at the start, in terms of what inspired you to begin working at SEMrush and get into the marketing field as a profession.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Fantastic. As you said, you were using in your company SEMrush in the last eight years, right? I was entering the company, I was being part of the company nine years ago. So, we are kind of at the same time starting with SEMrush, but my story starts working for a company called Travel All Russia. I was a sales person there, but I was not just a simple sales person. I was working a lot with CRMs, specifically with Salesforce, and with a beautiful integration with Marketo. So, we were doing a lot of automatization and we were working with tons, tons of leads every single day.
    Fernando Angulo:
    So, I was doing really well at that time, let’s say 10 years ago, working with Salesforce in a travel company. We were really, really innovators at that time, but it was a company that I was really interested on that it was called SEOquake. If you, or any of you who are listening have ever worked an SEO, you should recognized the name SEOquake. So, it’s a toolbar that allows you to see many, many metrics such as keyword density, traffic links, how many pages you have in indexes, and it’s a free tool that everybody can use. It’s still free till now. So, that was the one of the first projects of SEMrush.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Actually, I was part of the SEOquake. Then, we started doing the marketing for a project called SEMrush. At that time, we only have two features, two main features, which were domain analytics and keyword research. Domain research and keyword research. At that time, of course, we wanted to help SEOs with some basic tasks, such as doing the keyword research, creating the content, analyzing what is happening with your competitors. Having all that knowledge help us to build more features. Talking with customers, help us a lot, creating more, more interesting features.
    Roy Morejon:
    Yeah. I remember SEOquake back in the day on the toolbar, maybe it was on my Mozilla browser.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Yeah, that’s there. We have, right now, more than 40 million downloads.
    Roy Morejon:
    Incredible. So, let’s talk about initial marketing strategy at SEMrush, when you were joining in. What was that process like in terms of deciding what features to include, what benefits to highlight, and how you were able to drive longterm retention for agencies like ours in the beginning?
    Fernando Angulo:
    Yes. When we started with the marketing, the first strategy that came to our mind was to create a community around the brand, because we already have that community, but the community was growing very organically. So, people in the SEO community, mostly everyone, I can say this, are really friendly and they are really open to share all the knowledge, all the information they had. They were using a lot tools like SEMrush. Remember at that time it was Moss as well. We were trying to take a look into all these people that are sharing their positive feedback about SEMrush. So, we created this influencer department, and I was working there.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Well, I’m still working there, where we were creating the social media team. We were creating this atmosphere where they can have access to our product owners through interviews, through webinars, through educational events. So, we created, well, the community was created organically, but we kind of managed that community in a certain way that it was beneficial for both parts. So, we were developing the tools that the community needs and they were using it a lot. They were providing us with feedback and we were really happy about to, “Okay, we have our backlog of tasks from here till 2015.”
    Fernando Angulo:
    Then, we have, right now, we have so many requests from our users, but they were the ones that help us to build all the features that we have now. We started with this two main features, the domain research and the keyword research. Then, we moved to create a site audit tool, then to a tracking position tool. Then, we moved a lot into what is PPC knowledge, how you can recognize how much money your competitors are expending online through the CPC that Google is providing. At that time it was Google ad words. So, we were improving a lot of tools. Right now, we have around 48 tools that are working really, really well.
    Roy Morejon:
    Yeah, it’s impressive. I always loved the fact when companies dive into their customers and ask for that feedback. So, I’m really interested in how you went about collecting and getting feedback from your community. Then, how you parse out from your development team in terms of what features to roll out.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Oh yes. That’s a good one, because at the beginning, we’re going to figure it out what is the best way to collect feedback, and who are the people that we need to reach out in order to say, “Hey, can you tell me what are the things that we can improve in the tool?” But of course, we started doing that to our most active customers and the people who were most active in social media. So, we selected a group of at least, I will say at the beginning, 200 people and we open to them our beta testing options. Of course, we shared with them all the new features. We had a really great communication.
    Fernando Angulo:
    We still have with most of them saying, “Okay, these are the tools that most of the people were asking. Please try this one, or try that one.” So, the first strategy was just selecting a group of people. Okay, 200 hundred people sounds like a large number, but at that moment, we already have around 100,000 users. So, we needed to increase a little bit the number, and we integrated a tool that is called UserVoice. We still have that tool in our main platform. You can go there into UserVoice and it’s a forum where you can create the main ideas. You can specify what exactly you want.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Other people can go there and vote for that idea. Our product owners will see the idea, the topics that has more votes, and they will take them. The communication will be from there saying, “Okay, we need a couple of weeks to create this, or to add this feature to an already existing tool.” Or, “We are taking this tool into our [inaudible 00:10:22] development text flow, and we are going to be starting working with this.” So, with the second option, integrating a software or a forum into this communication process, that was even more helpful. Because all the people who use SEMrush at that time could just enter there and left their opinions, their features that they wanted.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Of course, it’s working really well right now. From 100,000 users that we had the first two years, right now, we have more than 5 million. So, it’s something that is still working, but we really love to do the small groups. We are gathering, we’re still gathering a lot of influencers. Well, this year no, obviously, but last year we got most of our influencers in Portugal. A couple of years ago was in Finland. So, we have some fun with them, but we also request a lot of their feedback on our tool.
    Roy Morejon:
    Impressive. So, I know a lot of our startups and founders would love to not only have a community of a hundred thousand, but maybe a couple thousand to get and solicit feedback from. What were some of the initial challenges that the company went through to get their first hundred or first thousand, or 10,000 customers into that community?
    Fernando Angulo:
    Well, I openly can say that at the beginning, of course, we needed to give access to our tools for a lot of people for free. So, we were a freemium platform and, of course, we don’t know … Well, we didn’t know at that time how big we’re going to be, how we need to approach other strategies, not only SEO, because SEO was the core of our platform. But at some point, we saw that, “Okay, SEO is growing well.” But most of the people are into content creation, because that’s something specific that an SEO can do, which is content creation, modifying all the structure of the content put in there, all the text, all the keywords.
    Fernando Angulo:
    So, we went more into content creation tools, into content marketing tools. That was something really difficult because you are talking with SEOs, but there are other type of users that are mostly copywriters or in some other cases are journalists. They are not talking the technical language that SEOs are used to talk. So, we changed a little bit the way we were approaching different audiences. Then, we understood that, “Okay, you have content, but you need to promote that.” We integrated also social media tools where you can post in whatever social network that you want.
    Fernando Angulo:
    You can promote there. You can do Facebook ads as well through SEMrush. So, we were integrating all the major strategies, step by step, just understanding how people were needing that, or other feature. So, that was the most challenging thing, understanding how these different specialists, these different type of users are consuming content. I believe we kind of got it. We created different tools for education. We have our own academy, where if you want to learn SEO, technical SEO, advanced SEO, or you want to understand how the fundamentals of content marketing, how you need to promote your content.
    Fernando Angulo:
    So, we have all those courses there and they are really are accessible. Actually, they’re free. The only need that you need to invest there is your time.
    Roy Morejon:
    Absolutely. So, with all of the marketing efforts that you’ve put forth over the years with SEMrush, where have you seen the biggest ROI? I know you’ve mentioned working with influencers recently, but certainly that’s kind of an add on marketing element to having a community of 5 million paid subscribers. What were some of the things that you did very early on that drove the most significant traction?
    Fernando Angulo:
    Well, I believe influencer was a really good, still is a really important part, but we also have this affiliate program since the beginning and it was and it still is working really well. I believe in our industry, well, in search marketing, we are a domain company who still have this affiliate program, which is our own. We don’t depend from another companies, and we were offering, since the beginning, for all our referrals to have these earning of 40% for all the time that a user will acquire a product of SEMrush.
    Fernando Angulo:
    So, 40% is very exciting to have. We have, right now, I don’t know how many affiliates, I believe more than 50,000 all over the world, but that was something that helped us to grow a lot in non-speaking countries. Actually, that was a really good point for us that we didn’t stay only in the US market and the UK market. But we also, when we saw that, “Oh, my God, there are people in Spain, in Italy, in France that want to use our services.” See what are the numbers in their own languages and in their own locations.
    Fernando Angulo:
    So, we immediately, after three years of start in SEMrush, we moved to Spanish, then Portuguese, then Italian. Then, right now, we have, I believe, more than eight languages and databases in more than 145 countries.
    Roy Morejon:
    It’s truly impressive. I saw on the blog that you kind of control, or at least post all of the Spanish content on a separate sub-domain, specifically, tiered toward that audience, which obviously is as you grow and scale the company, needing to target localized language and make it feel a little bit more at home for those customers. So, it’s great to see that the platform that you guys have and the user base that you have continues to drive the overall direction in terms of where you’re seeing growth and where you’re able to go and get and find more customers for the platform.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Oh, yes. Let me add something to that. When we started working inside of those countries, we didn’t have an office in Italy or in Spain, or we didn’t even have an office in the UK, or in Australia. But when we started visiting those countries for conferences, for product meetings, for workshops, people from those countries, they were having the feeling. So, this perception that we had an office there and we are local. So, we were locals in those countries. I believe that was something fantastic, and that any brand would love to have. You are a global company working in different countries.
    Fernando Angulo:
    The perception of the people of those countries were, “Oh, yes, SEMrush. Yes. It’s something that we are producing because we know,” for example, in Spain, “Fernando,” or in Italy, “oh, we know Mario. We know this.” So, people from the company became very visible for those markets. When I was in Australia a couple of years ago, people from there, they are very sure that we have offices there. We never say that we have any office there. We have country managers, but our main offices are in Boston, in the United States.
    Roy Morejon:
    Yeah, no, it’s impressive. Again, in this global world we have, I know SEMrush has been a remote team for over a decade. Considering the way the world is now, you definitely have some experience in terms of how to work remotely and keep staff engaged during this pandemic that we’re in. So, what are some of the things that startups, entrepreneurs, founders, new companies that are just launching, look to remote work as potentially the overarching future of work, and how have you guys been able to do it so successfully at SEMrush?
    Fernando Angulo:
    Oh, yes. That’s a good portion of our story, because we were working, well, I was working from Saint Petersburg in Russia. We have colleagues in Philly. Then, we have other colleagues in Cyprus, then in Prague because we are expanded all over the world. We have colleagues in Brazil. We were working with them since, I don’t know, seven years ago. Well, with Philadelphia was from the beginning, but with other regions, we had colleagues in Japan. We have colleagues in, well, basically, in every country in the world.
    Fernando Angulo:
    But we thought that having this people inside a company will keep us very engaged with our different communities. Well, remote working for us is basically trust with the employee, needs to have a high level of collaboration, discipline, and of course, for us, it’s a functional system. It’s something that is working. Actually, I’m working from Prague right now. We have an office with about 200 people here. One of the messages that we receive a couple of weeks ago from our CEO, it was that, okay, situations in the world are really different, and different parts of the words are different right now with the COVID-19.
    Fernando Angulo:
    For example, for other company, no matter where you are, you can work from home till the end of this year. So, no matter if the situation is better or not improving, let’s be sure that you are comfortable. Let’s be sure that you are not worrying about when I need to go back the office. So, it’s a functional system to have people working remotely because we are very flexible. Our internal infrastructure is based on, basically, trust within each other, because we are presenting our results not to the C-level, basically, but inside to the whole company.
    Fernando Angulo:
    We have these demo sessions team by team. When we had, for example, 100 people, it was really easy to do. When we started growing to 500 people, it was kind of complicated. Right now, we’re about a thousand people, it’s really hard to do. So, we change from one structure of working, which is agile, and we were working basically with KPIs. Then, we moved to OKRs, objective key results. Right now, we are working with something that is called Rhythm that Spotify started three or four years ago. We integrated that approach, that workflow into SEMrush.
    Fernando Angulo:
    We call it SEMrush Rhythm, that is sending you, “Okay, you are part of this big structure, but everybody has the possibility to know what you’re doing, and they can collaborate with you.” So, everything is really transparent with this structure. Having that, having remote teams, even having employees that are contractors, that are not part of your team working, is really easy to manage. I will say. As I was telling you from the beginning, I’m here in Prague, but basically, all the team that I have into my manage are basically in the US. Some of them are in USA, sorry, in Russia, while others are in Estonia.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Then, I have others in Latin America, for example. I need to have at least one hour bridge every day to speak with them, to say, “Okay, what are the things that you are doing today and what are the things that you were doing yesterday?” Basically, we have this bridge of communication every single day. It’s really, really transparent and it’s working.
    Roy Morejon:
    That’s great to hear. It’s interesting as marketers today, I think, our goal is to always continually try and add value, creative thinking, and truly just problem solving for our clients and try not to lose our focus in the process given what’s going on. A lot of people right now are doing work with pajamas on and six year olds running around screaming in the background. I know we both have daughters. So, hopefully, that doesn’t change our overall capacity for our great thinking and output. But we are fortunate that we’re living in a mobile world first.
    Roy Morejon:
    So, I’m really interested to see your insights or take on what is the rest of this, not necessarily year, but maybe decade of marketing look like? I know it’s not potentially appropriate maybe to try and look that far ahead, because we’re dealing with all of these issues now. But what does the rest of, let’s say, the decade look like for 2020 to 2030 for marketers or the marketing industry in general? Any take on that?
    Fernando Angulo:
    Yeah. I was thinking a lot of about this situation. Well, not for the next 10 years, but at least for the next five years, but I think we can spread our imagination here. We can expand our imagination. I have this vision that all marketers divides into three different categories. The first categories of marketers are the ones who are doing the same things that we did, SEMrush, at the beginning. Those marketers are focusing and they will be focusing for the next five years, at least, into users.
    Fernando Angulo:
    So, they will be working in this user centric model, asking users what they need, solving user’s problem, asking what they want. This is something really good when you are starting. Of course, after that, when you have more than 500 employees, you’re growing a lot, you still need to be doing that, but into a different way. So, that’s the first category of marketers, user centric users. The second category are the ones who are going to be entering the digital marketing world from offline experiences. Well, during the last three months, we have so many newcomers to this online industry.
    Fernando Angulo:
    We were not expecting for them, at least for the next five years, but most of them are already part of us. This search queries, for example, how to sell online, is really popular right now, how to create a web page, how to build your eCommerce online is really, really trendy, still is now. So, all of these new marketers, new people who are coming are going to be just copying what the first category of users are doing. So, the first category of marketers are doing. So, trying to identify user’s problem, but doing the same thing that other marketers are doing, just following the trends.
    Fernando Angulo:
    So, they’re going to be the followers. Ones are going to be the ones with these 200 people asking questions. The other ones are going to be just trying to identify by copy pasting, which is not bad, but that’s the beginning as well. The third part of marketers are going to be the ones who are going to be using data. They’re going to be using user-behavior data. They’re going to be analyzing user intent. So, they’re going to be part of big corporation, big brands who are already working with first party data, trying to identify what is the next big thing for your user.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Anticipate in their search queries, working a lot with artificial intelligent, machine learning, trying to get those ads in the place where the users are automatically with large budgets. So, those are the next gen marketers that are right now working in most of the biggest brands. They are not doing these focus groups because they don’t need to, they just need to look into their big data databases.
    Roy Morejon:
    Absolutely. So, keeping in line with what does the future look like, I’m interested to hear, what does the future of SEMrush look like? Where are you guys going direction wise in terms of the amazing tools and tool stacks that you guys have built for marketers around the world?
    Fernando Angulo:
    Oh, yes. SEMrush, and SEMrush founders, not because I work there, but because I know them, they’re really smart. They are diversifying the line of products that they are creating. When we started diversifying from SEO to content marketing, to social marketing, that was a really smart move. Then we introduced promotional ads. That was really good. But right now, we’re working a lot into a new project that is called Sellerly. It’s a different product powered by SEMrush data that is entirely working 100% in Amazon.
    Fernando Angulo:
    You can go there. It’s a free product right now. We have this AB testing for your product listings in an Amazon. So, if you are a new seller on Amazon or an old seller with a big, big list of products there, you can just enter all of your products and do AB testing with real users, of course, and have the knowledge about what is the best content that is working. What is the CTA that is working, the description that is working, the images that are working the best for your Amazon products? With all that knowledge, well, we’re trying to build more useful tools, more useful features for the next year, well, for the years to come
    Roy Morejon:
    Impressive. Well, Fernando, this is going to get us into our launch round, where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. You’re good to go?
    Fernando Angulo:
    Ready to go.
    Roy Morejon:
    All right, so what inspired you to be a marketer?
    Fernando Angulo:
    Oh, yes. I really love to talk to people, but I really love to influence into people’s minds.
    Roy Morejon:
    Impressive. So, if you could meet with, let’s say any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
    Fernando Angulo:
    Oh, that guy will be … Actually, I already did. That guy is the writer of the GTD philosophy, which is Getting Things Done. His name is, oh my God. I don’t remember his name, GTD, yes, David Allen.
    Roy Morejon:
    Ah, yes. David. So, what’s your favorite marketing blog besides SEMrush? Of course.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Oh, I really love Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land, but the one that I was following a lot the last couple of years was SEO Round Table by Barry Schwartz.
    Roy Morejon:
    Yeah, Barry is a solid marketer out there. Any business books that you’d recommend to our listeners, or intro to marketing, or SEO books that you’d recommend to some startup founders and entrepreneurs?
    Fernando Angulo:
    Oh, yes. Actually, most of the books of Seth Godin are really great. I really love the Purple Cow. Then, when you are working with different projects at the same time, of course, Getting Things Done, GTD by David Allen is really easy to implement. If we’re talking about SEO, I have this book that I was reading like the second time written by Aleyda Solis, the Fundamentals of SEO. It’s in Spanish. Everybody is waiting for the English version, but it’s really, really great.
    Roy Morejon:
    Impressive, last question, and I’m very interested to hear your take just because you’re at the forefront of this. What does the future of marketing look like?
    Fernando Angulo:
    Well, I believe that during the last five years, when all the startups were trying to identify their most valued product, their unique selling propositions, they wanted to get more investment. There are thousands, I will say, hundred thousand of them out there. So, there are just a few that reach out to their desired goal. Right now, during the next years, the years to come, they will need to be more visible. So, if you want to do anything online, you will need to promote that through marketing tools, with marketing tools, through marketing strategies.
    Fernando Angulo:
    So, the future of marketing here will be to promoting any brilliant idea that these innovators from startups had during the last five years, they are implementing right now, but they don’t have the ways to promote that. To promote anything for those startups, well, all the startups that are running right now, future marketers, they will need to implement most of the automatization tools. Most of the tools that requires less human engagement but more data mining. That’s the knowledge that you will need to have. So, I will say marketing will become more technical, more, more technical.
    Roy Morejon:
    Absolutely. To keep on this knowledge base of giving, you’ve been kind enough to give all of our listeners two weeks of free usage, no credit card needed, go to the website, we’ll include the link and use Art Of The Kickstart as a code, so you can get started on your knowledge and learning, and see how SEMrush can help your startup grow. Make sure that you’re targeting all the right keywords and seeing what your competitors are out there doing, and all of the other amazing tool sets that they have built.
    Roy Morejon:
    Thank you, Fernando, audience, obviously, thank you again for tuning in to Art Of The Kickstart. Make sure to go check out the website for the links and everything we talked about today. Of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow, and product type. Fernando Angulo, thank you so much for joining us today on Art Of The Kickstart.
    Fernando Angulo:
    Thank you, Roy.
    Roy Morejon:
    Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Art Of The Kickstart, the show about building a business, world, and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our kickstarter guide to crushing it. Of course, if you loved this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business.
    Roy Morejon:
    If you need more hands-on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on EnventysPartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.