CEO of Goozmo, Tyson Brawley sits down with me to discuss CMS, business partners, and getting involved with the local chamber of commerce.
In 2000, Tyson co-founded Goozmo in a Boulder, Colorado garage with the goal of creating a driven, passionate web agency. Later, in 2005, Goozmo jumped all-in to the Boulder Chamber of Commerce and used the available resources to grow the business. After showing us around their purple-themed office space, we sat down to talk about what brought Goozmo to where they are today.
For more information, visit Goozmo online or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Brent: I’m Brent Weaver and you’re watching uGurus, a must-watch web series to become a more profitable and in-demand web professional. Today, I’m in Boulder, Colorado with Tyson Brawley at Goozmo. Welcome to the program.
Brent: Tyson, what makes Goozmo unique?
Tyson: What makes us unique? I would say, our passion behind it. We have a lot of drive that we inject into all of our projects. We treat this as a relationship with our clients. We tell every client going into any project that we want to be their web partner, their web go-to to everything, to be part of their goals, to be part of their passion. With that, we then put that into the work we do for them. We treat everything as an ongoing relationship with all of our clients. With that, we find that to be unique with us and how we approach it.
Brent: Does ongoing mean that you have some kind of recurring relationship with your customers?
Tyson: Yes. We have an ongoing support plan, I guess you could call it, where it extends to anything from just general questions, consulting, new ideas, help with their websites, particularly content management system, like WordPress, Joomla, any of those applications. We’re there. On call, so to speak. They can pick our brain or just ask us anything, and that is recurring. And that’s an extension to our relationship with them.
Brent: Give me an idea of the scope of Goozmo. How many clients do you guys currently have?
Tyson: Right now we’re supporting between 450 and 500 clients across multiple different platforms. Some are websites or even services that are not technically on a platform, but we’re supporting them in terms of search engine optimization, campaigns such as social media, possibly blog writing, even just graphic design. They’ll come to us on a recurring basis and we’ll perform graphic changes or even print material and that kind of stuff.
Brent: When did Goozmo start?
Tyson: We started in January of 2000. In the beginning we were literally working out of a garage.
Brent: 2000. That’s 14 years ago. You guys have been around for a little while.
Tyson: We have. We’ve weathered all the changes and seen the industry completely shift in that amount of time. We saw ourselves getting more professional around 2005. We thought we probably should put together a business plan and move out of a garage and become more professional to our clients.
Brent: Garages can be hip.
Tyson: Not this garage.
Brent: Did cars park in the garage?
Tyson: No. But it was definitely not hip. So we hunkered down and put together a business plan. We got really involved with the Chamber of Commerce in the area, and business resources. Finally got ourselves some small office space so we could have a nice place for clients to meet. We were doing the coffee shop thing for awhile, which is not bad, but we thought it was time to have a home base. Then, everything just went from there.
Brent: When you started Goozmo, was it a freelance thing or did you start it with the intent to have a business?
Tyson: In the beginning, actually right out of the gate, it was an intent to have a business. Our business model was completely different from what it is today. Back in the day when we started, the idea was to custom develop our own content management system, even before the word content management system existed. And to create an easy-to-use platform that was actually Flash-based, so that’s kind of dated, way back in the day, so that clients could easily manage their website. They make the changes, they update it, and actually a do-it-yourself model.
Brent: Is this system still in play today? Are you guys still using your own CMS?
Tyson: Yes. The system is definitely in use today. We still build our web projects on it–not all of our web projects on it, but–it has evolved, of course, over the years. It’s completely different from where it was. It’s a lot more powerful than what it was. But yes, it’s definitely still active.
Brent: In terms of lessons learned with that–because at least a lot of web companies kind of have the t-shirt that says ‘I Built a CMS’, right?
You guys are still actively using your own CMS. What lessons have you learned in offering that kind of product to your customer base?
Tyson: That’s a good question. A bunch of lessons. The first one we learned was having that our primary business model, our goal was to just have everyone build their website and we would benefit from the recurring fees. The lesson there that we learned fairly quickly was that a website is very vital to businesses of all types and sizes. And although there is still today the do-it-yourself model, which is very strong, it was kind of conflicting with our values and our mission statement which was to be that web partner. Them doing it themselves just wasn’t working. So we ended up offering design services, doing the web design, and that quickly evolved into becoming our primary business. It was interesting because we had a whole model planned out and it completely changed.
Another lesson was the type of support we offered. You have all different types of levels of technical support. You’ve heard the horror stories. It’s a little bit different especially with websites because there are so many pieces. We’re dealing with a technology that still a lot of people are not familiar with. I mean, HTML, we still have clients today that are scared of it. So supporting that was interesting. It was a learning experience. We had to kind of shift the way we did that, to one, make it somewhat manageable in terms of being interesting, but effective, because these business would be focusing on what they do best which is running their business rather than worrying about putting in a link on their website. So we had to extend our support where instead of just throwing them some video tutorials to figure out how to do it, we actually either do it for them or walk them through it.
Brent: A lot of web pros are seeking this whole recurring revenue treasure chest, right? They’re trying to figure out how to create recurring support plans, hosting revenue, etc. It sounds like you guys have kind of figured out a way to do that. What percentage of your revenue today would you say is recurring revenue? And I’m not going to hold you to this number, or do an audit or something.
Tyson: That’s a good question. It’s about just a little under a quarter. It’s not a huge part of our revenue, but obviously it’s important. And again, a complete difference because our whole goal was to have that 100% of our revenue. But I don’t think that will ever happen.
Brent: Sure. Cash is cash. It’s nice to have different types of revenue coming in, so that’s good.
Brent: In terms of your ideal customer, who is the type of customer that is good for Goozmo?
Tyson: Small businesses are what we focus on. From sole proprietors to fairly larger small business, like small hotels. Our target audience would not necessarily be big business just based off what we focus on. From single artists, life coaches, to small retail shops and even hotels. That’s what we focus on.
Brent: In getting 500 customers, what has been the one trick that you’ve learned to grow a customer base in terms of marketing or strategic partnerships? How have you gotten 500 clients?
Tyson: Focusing on our quality. Again, going back into our whole ideal of being their web partner or generating that relationship. Word of mouth then, of course, sparks from that. So that’s one part. We have actually partnered up with other companies that are good complementary companies, services that can complement what we do or even within other industries that can refer business to us, is the two. And then just being involved, again, with networking. Definitely getting involved with the chambers in this local area. We have tapped into some other chambers outside of Colorado, too.
Brent: Can you give me a little bit more specifics about what getting involved in a chamber means?
Tyson: Yes. Just taking advantage of their resources. Anybody can join a chamber. But really, you’re going to only benefit from it if you take advantage of what they’re offering and utilize it. We did that when we first started back when I was mentioning in 2005. We took advantage of all their networking meetings. We tapped into the small business development center. Learning about all aspects of the business more than just learn about websites, but just operational stuff. That generated conversations. Those conversations, to our surprise, were actually really relevant to our business and people looking for our services, and then them knowing. It was actually really interesting. That kind of just spread like wildfire.
Brent: Do you guys ever go in and teach classes at the chamber, or is it just attend events and networking?
Tyson: Yes. After we were involved for awhile we actually did start teaching classes with the chamber. Basically kind of like Web 101, or get an idea how to get on the web easiest. We did actually then pick up a class with a company here that does educational stuff in Boulder for Google AdWords, actually, how to run an effective campaign. So yes we have ventured into that a little bit. And that was fun. It was interesting. It was fun to see people get excited about something that most people probably wouldn’t. But that just makes us more excited to do our job.
Brent: Sure. I think I saw a 40 Under 40 placard in the other room. What practices have you done that have gotten you to where you are today, that you can achieve awards like that?
Tyson: Staying true to our values is the first one. Passion, again going back to that, and ambition. Always striving to deliver the best service or even product to your customer and getting them excited for what you do. I think being happy spreads. I’ve always held true to that. Every day. Every time I come into work, it’s a new day. It’s always exciting even though maybe it’s not. And I’ve done that forever and I love what I do. I think that must have shown. That was based on a nomination, and that was really exciting.
Brent: Very cool. Over 14 years as a business, has their been any dark time moment? Some time where it was like, maybe we’ll just fold this thing up and walk away?
Tyson: Absolutely. That’s a lot of years. We definitely experienced like most businesses the economy. I can say that maybe was a dark time. That definitely hit us. I would say that specifically was really hard to see us shrink, lose team members of ours that we absolutely loved. It was very difficult to go through. But, unfortunately, we kind of had to do that. It’s funny that you mention dark times because we call it the Goozmo dark ages during that time. It’s never fun to see that happen. But of course you have to think of the company. It’s always hard to say when you’re dealing with people. That was very hard to weather that. And honestly we’ve seen this industry kind of shift from 14 years ago when the web industry was nestling into like the IT realm, where if someone thought you knew computers, you knew how to build a website and also set up your home wireless network. And we still get questions from clients to help them with their home wireless network. And we’ve seen that transition where now the web industry, we’re now in marketing. It’s like a different world. Seeing then, I wouldn’t say that was a dark period, but that transition was interesting. We had to learn and evolve with that, and honestly kind of around the time that the economy was kind of shaky. So that whole era was. Another thing too, in terms of business, we had to change our management structure. Just evolving, with having multiple owners, and that had to dissipate and change. That was difficult too. Any changes like that is stuff that we have to weather.
Brent: So you guys had another partner at Goozmo and now you don’t.
Brent: Was there any specific catalyst, like they wanted to go off and start surfing for the rest of their life, or was there just disagreements?
Tyson: I think it comes back to passion and ambition, where I felt I had that and my business partner at the time didn’t. And that’s fine. I guess the breaking up was amicable. It was fine. It was nothing negative. Even though it was a hard transition, it was a good transition. Do I look back and say, do I regret ever bringing on a business partner? I don’t regret it because I wouldn’t have known what I was in for with that. However, if I knew what I knew back then, seeking a business partner has got to be one of the most difficult things. Of course, there are a lot of unknowns going into it. There’s always that risk. But there are flags that you can hone in on, I think. If I had known what those flags are, because many people have gone through business partner relationships and they’ve gone sour, and I wish I would have known that then. Because I would have seen those flags I think. But it was hard. It was hard because working with my business partner, it was always kind of a duo, and then all of a sudden I felt like I was completely on my own when it happened. It was kind of frightening, I have to say, for the first six months. But it was definitely worth it.
Brent: What are you best at?
Tyson: I would say, communicating what we do and getting folks excited about it. I love talking about it. Sometimes I’ll go into a strategy meeting and it might go way too long than it should. Because I love it. I love talking to business owners, and talking about their business, and brainstorming. And I tend in meetings to switch to “we” as if I’m part of the company. And I love that. I love hearing about what they want to do and then sharing my ideas as if I’m part of their team. And I hear feedback from that. I think I do that well. Again, I think the reason why is because I love it. I’m always thinking about other people’s businesses and what they could do. Or showing them what they could do and getting them excited for something that they might not necessarily want to do. Like a website, or web marketing. Where they feel like it’s a burden sometimes. Which is hard to hear sometimes. But I love always at the end of the meeting, they’re ready to go for it and they’re excited about it. So I think I communicate that well.
Brent: 14 years of Goozmo. What have you learned over that period of time that you think other web professionals should know?
Tyson: Learning how to really work with your client in the most effective way. Businesses come in all shapes and sizes. From knowledge, that’s the same. You have businesses that have absolutely no knowledge of what they’re asking for in terms of this technology or this industry, to some that think they do and they’re kind of savvy and you always have to go into any client communication always assuming that they’re not experts in that. And that’s been difficult. Because we know we’re the experts, we’re the professionals. They’re hiring us for this job and sometimes we forget that aspect and we’ll start talking about stuff that’s just Whew! And that’s hard because then they’ll lose interest. And everything falls flat. That’s been a hard thing to finally hone in on and then perfect. Of course, nothing’s ever perfect, but improve that delivery, if that makes sense. Back to the relationship again. You’ve got to kind of think of it as a relationship. In the beginning, the first meeting is like your first date. Trying to get to know them, and trying to go through that process, and not saying the wrong thing. It’s interesting how that’s evolved to where when we first started we were just, Let’s sit down and get down to business and start throwing stuff out, and it was not always effective.
Brent: So a little foreplay is good?
Tyson: Yes. That’s a way to put it.
Brent: What trends are you following right now on the web?
Tyson: The biggest trend that hit our industry pretty hard recently is definitely the shifting to mobile. It’s been around, of course, for awhile. But it’s almost where when we’re designing websites, where before you’re designing the full website and the first focus is to make sure that it’s operating and working well on your desktop. Of course, even saying that word almost sounds outdated. This shift has happened so fast. It’s amazingly fast. Of course, coming into 2014, we have to almost change our mindset where now we have to build everything from websites, applications, in that mindset that it’s going to be viewed on a mobile platform, a mobile device, first. And that trend, we’re all forced into it. If you’re a web company and you’re not following that trend right now you’re going to fall behind pretty quickly. And that’s been aggressive, that timeline. Because there are other trends that we’ve followed in the past, even changing to certain content management systems, for example like WordPress, and that really exploding and becoming that buzzword. That kind of trend. But mobile, it’s changing our entire strategy, especially with user experience. It’s been a challenge, but if we don’t do it, we’re going to be left behind. You said that, and that’s the first one that popped up.
Brent: Talking to various folks, pretty much universally everybody is following that trend, is definitely keeping after that. In terms of what’s next for Goozmo, what do you guys have planned? Are you continuing to try to grow the business? Are you just keeping it where you are? What are your big plans for the future?
Tyson: Yes, I definitely want to grow the business. We want to keep improving our services. We don’t think we’re ever the best, so we want to keep making that so. Improving existing services like SCO, search engine optimization. Researching and experiencing new technologies. What’s coming up. And maybe injecting that into our service line. Our goal is to keep growing steadily and improve our services overall, and then even improve our own website. We’re a website company. We’re always thinking our website is out-of-date, or we don’t have time to do it. But that’s in the works for the very near future. That’s going through a whole new revamp. Just continuing on an upswing.
Brent: Very cool. Well, Tyson, we appreciate you hanging out with us today on uGurus. We’ll definitely welcome you back to the show sometime in the future. It would be great to get an update.
Tyson: Awesome. That sounds good.
Brent: Stay tuned for more great content from uGurus.com.