SureSwift Capital acquired MySiteAuditor, an SEO lead generation SaaS business, back in June of 2016. Company co-founder, Marvin Russell, sat down with us recently to share the story of how he grew MySiteAuditor from a tool for his own digital agency to a fully-scaled platform with a global customer base, why he ultimately sold the business, and what he’s up to these days. Marvin is an inspiring entrepreneur, and we’re proud to have him as part of the SureSwift Capital team, acting as a Growth Advisor for other companies in our portfolio.
An Interview with SaaS entrepreneur, and MySiteAuditor Co-Founder, Marvin Russell
What was the #1 reason that you decided to start your own business? Were you doing it as a side project, or was it your full time gig?
A few short months after graduating college I was making what I considered to be a mind-blowing amount of money at my first corporate job, at CareerBuilder. I was pulling in about $3,000 every two weeks and my rent was only $450 per month. I had no student loans, no car payment, and very few other bills. In the eyes of a recent college grad, I was rich.
But I wasn’t happy.
I woke up at 5:30am, sat in Chicago traffic for an hour, dealt with confusing office politics all day, went to the gym, and got home at around 8pm. Every night I remember laying in my bed knowing that this wasn’t sustainable for another 40 years.
My job consumed my life and I soon realized that the money was not worth my freedom. One Saturday afternoon, while sitting in a room with friends, a friend of a friend mentioned a new company he started. He was building websites for local businesses. After talking for a few minutes, he pulled out his business card. He had obviously made it himself, but I was still blown away. This guy wasn’t smarter than me. I knew how to make websites. I made a few in college for fun.
I could do this!
The next week I opened the phone book and started calling any business that didn’t have a website address listed. Keep in mind, this was 2003. Within minutes I landed my first meeting and my first customer. Fast forward a few years. I had 30 employees in a 10,000 square foot office on Michigan Avenue, providing digital marketing services for some of the biggest brands in the world, and CareerBuilder was one of my customers! Eventually my agency was so successful, it became a target for acquisition, and it was successfully acquired in 2014. The timing was perfect, because I had already begun working on a little side project called MySiteAuditor, and that was beginning to take off.
What is MySiteAuditor?
MySiteAuditor is a lead generation tool for SEO service providers and digital marketing agencies. It was a tool born out of necessity. During my days running an agency, I wanted a better way to capture leads on our website. So I built a tool that instantly audited your website in exchange for your contact information. It worked so well, I gave it a name, built a website for it, and sold it to digital marketing agencies all over the world. While most contact forms converted just 2% of visitors, MySiteAuditor converted up to 30%.
When you were deciding on the tools that you were going to use to run MySiteAuditor, how did you pick those? Was it totally through personal research, groups of peers, cost based, a bit of all the above? We’d love to hear more about this.
That was all research. I didn’t have a successful SaaS mentor so I Googled everything. You have to filter through a bunch of crap to find the best answers, but it’s all out there. That was a few years ago though. Today there’s an online community or group for everything. You can ask your peers which tools work best for each situation. With so much competition and noise online, I highly suggest finding a community or group of your peers. And if you can’t find one, create one on free platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn or Reddit.
How did you know it was time to make your first hire? What role were you looking to fill, and where did you go to find that person?
Because I wasn’t very technical, I knew that I needed to partner with a developer. Early versions of MySiteAuditor were built quickly overseas, but I was starting to get real, paid monthly customers, and I needed to find someone who knew how to scale up the operations.
I ended up reaching out to the developer, Brock, who built the membership platform that MySiteAuditor was using to handle all of its billing, because I knew he would understand some of the issues we were facing. After initially doing some consulting on scaling up the platform to handle the spike in growth, Brock ultimately joined as a partner in the business and architected the next several generations of the platform.
Once you had money coming in and you knew this product just might work, what was your goal? Was it hitting a certain Monthly Recurring Revenue number, was it selling the business? Tell us a little about what your plans were once you saw that MySiteAuditor could generate real revenue.
Every entrepreneur dreams of the magical $83,333.33 MRR figure. If you can hit that, your company is doing 1 million per year. That was my dream early on at my agency, which we eventually hit.
But MySiteAuditor was different. I didn’t really have any overhead. No employees. No offices. No desks. No computers. No anything. Just Brock and I. At these margins, we could generate a lot of profit without hitting 1 million in revenue.
Once we hit about $40k in MRR, my new goal was to relax, breathe more, and enjoy life. I told my wife to quit her job for a couple years so she could work on her dream, writing a book. We would rent houses in different states for a month at a time to see what it was like to live there and work out of coffee shops.
I always wanted to live in Florida, so we tried that for a month. We rented a cozy little spot in Delray Beach, about an hour north of Miami. We also tried Nashville, Tennessee, which I loved. The moderate weather combined with amazing food, coffee, and culture was perfect. We’ve been back several times since, and it’s on the top of my list of places we may move to.
It was great. I was free.
At what point did you know it was time to sell MySiteAuditor?
I was ready to try something new. I love MySiteAuditor, but it was in good hands, and I was ready to move on, if the price was right. So once we hit that $40k MRR number and our growth rate was around 12%, we decided to test the water and see what offers we’d get. We were hot. No overhead, cash pouring in, and a fantastic growth rate. Before I knew it, we had multiple offers.
Tell us a bit about the process of selling your business. What were you looking for in the selling process? How did you know who to trust?
I really care about MySiteAuditor and our customers. I couldn’t hand it over to just anyone. I wanted a humble company who listened and respected our vision and our customers. And, to be honest, we weren’t selling unless the offer was seven figures. We wanted that number on our resumes. In all, it was easier to sell than I thought. It wasn’t much different that buying or selling a home.
Now that your business has been acquired by SureSwift Capital, what were/are you hoping for with the future of MySiteAuditor?
My main goal was for SureSwift Capital to take care of my customers, which meant listening and taking care of the product. Overall, SureSwift Capital was 100% the right choice. I could not have picked a better buyer and we had many options. They respected my customers because they were humble, they listened, and they were open to our input and advice down the road.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m splitting time between a new startup and actually working with SureSwift Capital. A year or so after SureSwift acquired MySiteAuditor, I came on-board to share my experience and knowledge to help grow MySiteAuditor as well as other properties at SureSwift Capital.
My new startup is Checkli. As an entrepreneur with severe ADHD, checklists were always my way of organizing the chaos in my mind. Checkli is the simplest way to make and share checklists online. At of the end of 2018, we were just shy of 1 million checklists made and shared on our platform. We just introduced a paid version that we’re really excited for in 2019.
Why go back to work for SureSwift, vs. retiring, consulting, or just focusing on your entrepreneurial projects?
Retiring was never an option. If I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t retire. Doing nothing is literally a death sentence. Your brain and body wither away if they’re not used. I’ll hopefully work until the day I die. The goal is to work on something I love.
If I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t retire. I’ll hopefully work until the day I die. The goal is to work on something I love. Click to Tweet.
I decided to work at SureSwift again because many of the freedoms I was seeking as an entrepreneur are offered at SureSwift Capital. For example, they fully support my remote lifestyle, which means I can still move from city to city, and I can still wake up and work when I want. In addition, I continuously get to work with new entrepreneurs on new projects, as a Growth Advisor.