I was never academic

Posted by kdow on Aug 30, 2016 1:18:32 PM


Academia was never my forté. Without sounding like a complete arsehole: I’ve always been smart enough to be lazy. In college I arguably did the bare minimum to pass my exams and end up with a respectable GPA. In my first few jobs I manage to do the same.

Until, I think about 5 years ago, when all of a sudden I took up a few new habits that got me to appear academic (I’m still definitely not academically strong; I’d fail every exam I ever took were I to do it now). The biggest is reading. I read nearly every day, and get through a few books a month. I try to balance some fiction with some business-ey type books to expand both my horizons & world view with my knowledge in some field.

However, today someone called me “decidedly academic.” Decidedly! My response was, and I quote verbatim, “my balls.”

The reason was that I was asked to review some materials related to someone who wants to buy marketing software to help grow their business. Their business generates a lot of leads: 100k per day (!!), but that’s not turning into solid, predictable SaaS-y (as in, monthly recurring) revenue.


My initial question was that the cost of the marketing growth engine they’re going to buy should be measured with a simple metric: €n per contact generated. To get solid ROI, enough contacts need to convert into paying customers to cover the cost. 100k per day is an absurd number and not realistic given the business model of free stuff, with some for-pay stuff. In other words, loading millions of contacts every month into an expense marketing suite isn’t going to return ROI.

So I decided to dig in with a reply to this email asking what things to consider. I looked up the website on Alexa, SEMRush, Quantcast and a few others that do similar things. Which is to say I tried to gauge how popular the site is, without believing the idea that this website generates 100k solid leads a day, which is the only real information I had… outside of the domain name and some cursory meta data.

Digging in I found some interesting stats:

  • Organically, via SEO channels, the site gets about 25,000 hits per day. However, those visitors bounce at an alarmingly high rate (between 40 & 60%). Of the rest, most of them stay for 8 minutes. This site is an online learning platform, specifically for languages. 8 minutes to learn a language? Doubt that’s a real contact that’ll deliver ROI.
  • Most of the traffic comes from mad places like Nigeria. 10% comes from the US, and this doesn’t account for Google bots & the like. 15% comes from India.
  • Most of the search terms are obvious for the business of online courses. But nearly all of the top search results for this site include the trigger word: free.

Coupling a huge volume from India with the SEO trigger free equals unqualified leads. Considering the paid product they want to sell is up against lots of free alternatives, those 100k daily contacts aren’t real.

Cursory research lead to a simple suggestion: don’t buy into the marketing suite all-in. Spend some money on a middle-man software that digs into some triggers to find product qualified leads from the 100k per day. These leads could be folks who visit a pricing page for more than n-seconds, complete some high value free courses, or similar. Then, and only then, shift those leads from some data store (a big free CRM, even if it’s just Google sheets), over to the marketing platform to actively market them towards a paid-tier product.

Even if they manage to tap into 1% of their organic free leads from India to convert them to paid users, the €n per contact tier pricing for the marketing growth engine would return huge ROI per annum.


So what the hell was that post about? Marketing? Academia? Both.

I still hold true that I’m the least academic person in my business. Hell, I’m the least academic person in my team. But you know what? Being academic doesn’t mean you can’t pull an MBA-level analysis based on some corpus of data fairly handily.

Everyone can bluff academia. Just don’t get cocky!