Episode 59 — Growth Hacker Scott Herren (Part 1)

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Geoff Wood: Welcome to the Welch Avenue Show, episode Number 59!

Today we’re talking with Scott Herren, a young entrepreneur in our community who I’ve known for a few years. First when he was a student at Iowa State, then he started hanging around StartupCity and most recently as a member here at Gravitate. He’s a growth hacker by trade who was considering moving to San Diego when we recorded this and has recently made that move. We wish him the best and I’m sure you’ll listening to his story.

In the meantime, help us out and consider pledging a small amount to keep this showing going through our Patreon on at patreon.com/WelchAvenue. You can give $1 or 25 cents, it doesn’t really matter — what does is your support. Thanks to everyone who has done. There are 33 of you right now and you are my favorite people

Speaking of my favorite people, enjoy episode 59 with Scott Herren.

Geoff Wood: At some point we need to get actual audio equipment, we were talking about that. Mics that are out here in stead of down here

Scott Herren: That will make the live reording a lot cooler. They pick up a little bit better, too

Chris New: These pick up a little too much room noise. I like the way that the condenser mics sound.

Geoff Wood: Is that what those are called?

Chris New: They're called diaphragm mics. The big radio mics. they give you the nice big boom

Geoff Wood: thats what I want to sound like

Scott Herren: That's exactly ... We watched that.

Chris New: You should probably get on the metal.

Scott Herren: All the different kinds of metal. Matt and I watched that.

Geoff Wood: Is that what was playing today?

Scott Herren: I was cracking up.

Geoff Wood: Scott, let's talk a little bit about your story

Scott Herren: For sure.

Geoff Wood: I met you through ... I don't know ... Did I first meet you at Startup City or at Iowa State?

Scott Herren: It might've been the SPN Job Crawl or Startup City shortly after that.

Geoff Wood: Because you were an Iowa State student at that point and used the Job Crawl to get involved in the startup community. Where did you go? What was that story?

Scott Herren: That's one of my only regrets about going to community college before going to Iowa State was that I didn't get to do those clubs all throughout. I got into the entrepreneurship club almost as soon as I got to Iowa State, and then that was how I got plugged into coming down to Des Moines and doing the startup events. That had to have been when it was because I came down for one of the job crawls and met everybody and was like yeah, this is awesome.

Geoff Wood: Did you know that entrepreneurship was where you wanted to go or were you just testing?

Scott Herren: Yeah. My parents had started a couple different businesses and none of them have necessarily worked out, but I've always had that….

Geoff Wood: Sounds like entrepreneurship, yeah.

Scott Herren: I've always had that drive to find out what I can build and who will pay money for it and not necessarily ... I've gone through with the get rich quick scheme phase so now I've gone on to a lot more sustainable, how can we make everybody's life better instead of okay, how can I get as rich as possible as quickly as possible.

Geoff Wood: When you say you went through that phase, were you trying shortcuts that you thought would get you there?

Scott Herren: Basically, when I was learning some web stuff and was getting ... Dipping my toes in the internet it was kind of like “oh, you can learn how to make $5,000 a day online without leaving your home”, and I was like “this sounds awesome, let's do some of that”.

I bought a few different little programs that I thought would work out for me and they obviously didn't.

Geoff Wood: They didn't work out?

Scott Herren: No.

Geoff Wood: How much do you think you spent on that stuff?

Scott Herren: Oh not too much. I made a good amount of money at Godfather's when I was not having a lot of living expenses, so maybe a thousand bucks or something like that.

Geoff Wood: Nice. My most embarrassing one of those ... I think I only tried that once. I was right out of school before I even knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but you know there's a guy that has a book of free resources from the government that they pitch in infomercials, it has like ... I forget his name.

Chris New: I don't remember his name but he's got the green tie with the question marks?

Geoff Wood: Yeah, he's got ...

Chris New: Looks like The Riddler.

Geoff Wood: Looks like The Riddler, yeah.

Chris New: I wish I remembered his name.

Geoff Wood: Yeah, so I bought that book when I was 22, like $50 or something, maybe a hundred, I don't remember what it was. It was not useful at all, but it was like “if you're a Native American woman living in Montana, there's a grant program for you”. I was like what about a white dude in his 20s living in Iowa. No, there's nothing for you.

Scott Herren: No scholarships for those people. There's already too many of those.

Geoff Wood: It wasn't even scholarships, it was grant programs to start businesses and things like that.

Scott Herren: Oh really? That's awesome.

Geoff Wood: The whole commercial was like ... The government wants to give you money, and they did not want to give me money.

Scott Herren: Yeah.

Geoff Wood: I get that. You went through that phase. 

Scott Herren: Then my parents, I kind of helped them with what they were trying to start up and that really got me kick started into wanting to start my own business and then that pretty much dove me into ... My parents are really nerdy so I don't want to go to school for computer science even though I'm pretty nerdy. Now that I'm realizing that I wish I would have gone for computer science but I got my finance degree instead and so I knew I wanted to start a business eventually so I wanted to help somebody start their business so I could learn from their mistakes and go from there. I think I've done a pretty good job.

I helped Christian with Present.io when he was a principal at Startup City and then I've helped Jay out, with Jobsite Unite a little bit, and then just got out of Zipments out of New York.

Geoff Wood: Zipments kind of led into this growth hacking, right, is that area that you're focused on now. How do you define Growth Hacking?

Scott Herren: Alan, Lyndsay's husband, wouldn't define it as marketing. It's a lot of experimental marketing and there's ... The analytics world has opened up in marketing and you can take anything and as you tweak a button, which isn't going to give you significant results, but as you tweak different things with content and different campaign strategies you can see the results.

It's really analyzing those results and making better decisions about your marketing in the future. I really like that approach to it where you can apply data to your marketing and figure out what your customer looks like, especially with all the different crazy things that you can do with targeting on Facebook. The guy that targeted ads at his roommates and creeps the crap out of him because he can get that specific, where it was like one male in this zip code with all of these different interests.

Geoff Wood: I remember when I was in grad school reading the Harvard Business Review article on a guy who did that to his girlfriend to propose to her in a Facebook ad, because he could get down to one person and he knew it fit the criteria. If he was wrong on that, ...

Scott Herren: That'd be a little scary.

Geoff Wood: Would be a little scary. Can you get down to one person now in Facebook? I feel like they don't let you.

Scott Herren: You're supposed to only get down to a group of 10 as the smallest but then you can use phone numbers and exclude 9 out of 10 people.

Geoff Wood: Oh really, okay.

Scott Herren: You can get pretty granular and it's kind of crazy, especially when you know all the different likes and dislikes and targeting people that like similar pages to you is a good way to steal competitor audience. If you target them specifically and use remarketing with those guys it usually is pretty effective.

Geoff Wood: How have you ... You obviously didn't go to school for this because you said finance, so how did you figure out this path? How did you figure out what growth marketing is and decide you were interested in it?

Scott Herren: A lot of online resources. A lot of ... We were talking about the one month class and I wish I could take that just because it looks like one of the better courses out there.

Geoff Wood: It's onemonth.co or something?

Scott Herren: Yeah I think so. Onemonth.co ... They've got rails and all the web frameworks and then growth hacking and then I think they just came out with iOS and one other one. They look like Mattan looks like a really good ...

Geoff Wood: Onemonth.com, sorry.

Scott Herren: Onemonth.com. Mattan seems like a really smart guy, puts out a lot of good content. That's really the key to marketing at this point, is putting out content and appearing to be at least a thought leader and navigating the space and even when your competitors are doing things, you might in like an older business sense might think oh we shouldn't write about those kinds of things but it's still activity in your space and you want to present the fact that you know that that's going on and how you're not necessarily dealing with it but just the fact that the industry is progressing, that they're taking those actions.

A lot of it was a lot of reading online, a lot of watching videos, probably got scammed into a couple different courses that I didn't necessarily need, but ...

Geoff Wood: Is the next step to become a thought leader creating your own course or your own materials to show what you know?

Scott Herren: Probably, or building technology to assist it and bringing on people.

Chris New: It's not all hacks.

Geoff Wood: I always thought that way, reading the Tim Ferriss books, the 4 hour Work Week-type thing. Step 1, have mild success with the product. Step 2, write a book telling other people how to have mild success, and then make all your money on the book. That type of thing.

Not that that's what you're doing but it feels like that's really tough to start in that field. Even with Gravitate, I want to get more people to come in on a First Friday. How do I growth hack to build a list or whatever the piece is that brings people in. It's really daunting, even for somebody that feels fairly technically up to speed on things.

Scott Herren: A lot of it is you've done a really good job with all your content and taking over for past news sources and providing that outlet for all the different startup news that goes on and especially with Gravitate and being the center of that where you have a lot of different things going on with the ... What's their name, the bitcoin guys ... Learning ...

Geoff Wood: Leverage?

Scott Herren: Leverage Consulting and then Jeff just came out with his Android app last week and so kind of things are just spurring up through.

Geoff Wood: Yeah, that's been interesting to find that ... We'll talk to Jeff on the podcast at some point, Jeff Shinrock about what he's building, but I didn't know he ... He's a member of Gravitate because he's doing something else and it's a side project. It's been fun to see that ...

Scott Herren: It's been awesome to see him doing things outside of his regular job that he can share with everybody. It seems like a really nice app that shows different daily deals that are going on in town and a lot of the apps that are providing that source of information aren't very reliable and so he's got a nice feedback system installed on it.

Geoff Wood: Is it Waze for ...

Chris New: Kind of, yeah.

Scott Herren: Yeah, you can add or flag or verify different deals, so yeah definitely would be a good analogy for it.

Geoff Wood: He just mentioned today that he wanted to do a podcast talking about it, so it'd be interesting, I think we're going to wait until the IOS app is out so more people can try it, but it does feel like it's the oldest app idea out there, like 1998 maybe, in Ames, I was a sophomore and some guys in my fraternity built a website to do that in Ames. That's been around that is longer ago than it should be. I remember that was ... They hired me to go check with bars because everybody wants bar owners to input that stuff.

Scott Herren: There's no way that they're going to.

Geoff Wood: Back to your topic. Growth hacking ... You do a lot of interesting things, though, you've been helping Welch Avenue doing the job posts, recruited you to maybe help with some podcasts too. What's the next step for you? I know you have big plans for the future.

Scott Herren: I want to take a little sabbatical for a little while. I've been a fish for a long time, I swam all through high school and at Iowa Central so I want to try my hand at surfing for a while. I learned about 6 years ago in Hawaii and ...

Geoff Wood: It's snowing outside, where are you going to surf?

Scott Herren: There's not a lot of opportunity to do it here in Iowa so I'm going to go to San Diego and see if I can find somebody to work for and find a nice place near the beach that I can go surf once in a while.

Geoff Wood: Yeah, that's a big step.

Scott Herren: Yeah, it's quite a transition. A lot of my family is a little scared for me but I think we'll be able to do it.

Geoff Wood: How's the community responded to that here? I'm in a position ... If I give a title it's usually community builder, so it's hard to ... We want to grow the community and have people been supportive in getting you out there, or are people like why are you leaving?

Scott Herren: Actually people have been really, really supportive. When I initially had the idea I asked everybody I ran into if they had somebody I could connect with out there. A lot of people gave me one or two connections that I could reach out to and a lot of them have worked out. I don't think that they did it resentfully either, so I think they've been pretty supportive as far as that goes. They definitely don't want to see me leave and other than the weather I don't necessarily want to leave ...

Geoff Wood: And, the surfing.

Scott Herren: The surfing, yeah. I built a lot of good relationships with the community here and I really like the Des Moines community and Juan said in his lunch and learn the other day just how well we do business here and how we ...

Geoff Wood: Juan Santiago from Santex?

Scott Herren: Yeah, absolutely. We have our own nice culture here that I like to be around, but it gets cold and shitty in the winter. It's hard to surf, so I'm excited to get out there a little while and then I'll be happy to come back after a little sabbatical.

Geoff Wood: We moved away from Iowa for about 5 years and didn't get outside the Midwest we went to Indianapolis. I kind of had that itch to go do something else. Where we wound up seemed to be a lot like the place ... It was job opportunity, went for that, but we found ourselves ... I was driving back every weekend for football games and to see my friends and that type of thing. We gave it a good run for 5 years but finally got to the point where we want to be around family, just had a kid, it's not like we're in London or New York that's the culture is completely different, so it was time to come home when we did. I think that'd be cool for you. It'll be very different, for sure.

Scott Herren: I'm very excited but we'll see. When I'm ready to settle down or something then I'll definitely be looking back toward the most affordable state in the US.

Geoff Wood: Is that a list that we're on?

Scott Herren: That was one of them. It was right after I bought the tickets, I saw this list of the top and Iowa was on the top of the most affordable and California was at the bottom.

Geoff Wood: Nice. We were talking when Juan was here earlier this week that they have an office there so you asked him about where should you go eat, and he's like well ... I think Gas Lamp district, which I've been to before is really cool. He was like there's 150 restaurants in the Gas Lamp district alone, I'm sure none of them are particularly inexpensive.

Scott Herren: He was describing the one across from the Grand Hyatt so I'm sure that's the cheapest one down there.

Geoff Wood: Yeah, yeah, good point. That'll be awesome. What's the Gravitate experience been like for you as one of our founding members here that has started?

Scott Herren: It's been really good. It's one of the things that has kept me in my job at Zipments as long as it did because if I wasn't coming in to … not appease you by any means but at least in my head, I thought well if I don't see Geoff today then he'll think less of me, and obviously you wouldn't. You wouldn't do that but kind of ... 

Geoff Wood: Well maybe ...

Scott Herren: Exactly. It was just something that I used as a motivator and so that was a big thing for me was if I just stayed ... I have an office at my place, I could just stay there and work and be by myself but that's boring. I like all the guys around here so the community aspect is a huge thing for me and just being around everybody has been awesome and being able to use the conference rooms is great when you have web calls and stuff like that.

Geoff Wood: You and Zach, I know you guys work pretty closely together on various stuff, have also mentioned that there's pieces that are missing here and people aren't necessarily working the hours that you guys want to work. Talk a little bit about what you'd like to see Des Moines grow.

Scott Herren: A little bit more activity I guess in the evenings. A lot of people, even some of our entrepreneurs that we have are daytime workers and they don't necessarily make it down to the office during the day. It would be nice to see a few ... A lot more friendly faces down there at night when I'd like to stream the Iowa State games every time they're playing, it's a nice opportunity to be in the office and be together and not feel like you're working at home by yourself.

I guess that would be the big thing for me was to continue into the evening. A lot of people like to drink a lot of alcohol, so that inhibits continuing with the productivity into the evening, but at the same time we can have a few beers, kick back a few beers and work on some stuff or create something new like Zach and I did between the holidays.

Geoff Wood: Can you talk about that product?

Scott Herren: Sure. It's in semi-production. Zach's really passionate about social media and he's been looking for any way that he can automate his social media interactions and we set out to take one of the apps that I went to a workshop for and we were going to try and transform it into one of these social media automation tools. We started with Twitter and basically it goes out and favorites a bunch of tweets that are very specific to your industry. If you favored all these tweets you're likely to get those people to follow you back. It helps you build your audience ... Not necessarily organically but more organically than buying a thousand followers on Twitter that doesn't help you at all because then you're broadcasting a bunch of tweets to people who aren't relevant.

This helps you grow your market or grow your audience and who you influence and still give you a good number of people that are willing to talk to you and spark that interaction.

Geoff Wood: Is there a name for it?

Scott Herren: Duco.io, that was the best. Duco means influence in Latin, so that was what we started with and we'll see if it iterates.

Geoff Wood: Cool. Be interesting to see that come out and it's interesting because you guys met through Gravitate, right?

Scott Herren: Absolutely.

Geoff Wood: It's been cool to see that collision of people coming together.

Scott Herren: We'd been making lunch there for a while.

Geoff Wood: That is probably the biggest complaint that I have that Scott had this awesome idea when we announced Gravitate. He wanted people to eat more healthy and you didn't want to go out to eat necessarily.

Scott Herren: It gets expensive when you're spending six to seven dollars a meal and I really wanted to provide a healthy meal. I was already making goulash every day and I would make it on Sunday and eat it throughout the week and that got kind of old but I'm pretty boring anyways so I can suffer through it, but if I can make you guys a bunch of lunch and then maybe eat it for dinner that really helps me out because then I don't have to go home.

Geoff Wood: We were all contributing to the fund for the ingredients and your time and everything. I don't know that it was officially a business at all.

Scott Herren: No, just helping everybody out.

Geoff Wood: It was great. It was awesome. It went through Thanksgiving, we had a big Thanksgiving meal and then it just went away.

Scott Herren: We got busy, the holidays crushed it and it is pretty time consuming just to get out because Zach and I were working late and it would be an hour or hour and a half to go down to HyVee and get the ingredients for the next day and then I would usually have to do ... Make and clean up and so it got a little bit cumbersome with that.

I don't know what I would do differently to make it better.

Geoff Wood: I think a good goal for you before you move would be to find somebody to take that over. Make sure that we have that. It was super awesome.

Scott Herren: It should be a rotation almost because that would make it a lot easier. Maybe it's not like an individual's rotation, maybe it's a Bawte does it one day, Hatchlings does it another day, and then maybe the bullpen does it two days and then the Bunchball does it the last day or whatever.

Geoff Wood: That would be cool.

Scott Herren: Then it's not on one person, they have to delegate amongst themselves on who gets to make it or how they're going to organize it. That seems like the best option because ... That was why I didn't want to do it when we originally started with Gravitate, and Zach brought the idea back up. Actually I think Brad brought it back up because ...

Geoff Wood: He wanted to eat it.

Scott Herren: He really wants it. Then Zach asked me about it and I was like I'm not going to do it because it's a lot of work, and so it helped having 2 people by far. Just kind of running it solo is super tough. Maybe if you guys could do it in a rotation I think that'd probably be pretty slick.

Chris New: Sounds like almost having a fraternity mother.

Scott Herren: That would be the best option.

Chris New: Is that what they're called? I know there's like ...

Geoff Wood: House mom. We do need a house mom. We could do dinners, we could ...

Chris New: For the record it was Matthew Lesko with the green tie. Pulled that up a little while ago.

Geoff Wood: I wonder if he would give me that money back.

Chris New: Sorry, he spent it.

Geoff Wood: Is he still selling it? Have to check and see. If the government wants to give you money ...

Chris New: We'll see what Wikipedia says.

Geoff Wood: Ah, Matthew Lesko.

Scott Herren: I'm on a 2007 Macbook Pro so don't count on it having the answer very soon.

Geoff Wood: Hey there its Geoff again. Our conversation with Scott ran long so we decided to break it into two shows. I know we had a three-parter last week but we don’t do this very often I promise. Stay tuned Thursday for the second part of our conversation with Scott Herren.