Posted by randfish
Last week, Mixergy’s Andrew Warner interviewed me about the founding of SEOmoz and our trajectory to date. It was a very personal interview about the background of the company, but turned out to be a great experience. I’ve posted it below for those who might want to watch over the weekend and if you prefer, there’s also a full text transcript on the Mixergy blog post.
After the interview, I noticed the Mixergy chatroom had dozens of questions I wasn’t able to answer and I’ve been receiving a fair number of emails and tweets about it as well. Thus, I figured it was time to put together a post on SEOmoz’s history and offer to formally answer questions in the comments of this post.
1981: Gillian Founds the Company that will Become SEOmoz
When my parents moved from New York to Seattle (so my Dad could work for Boeing), my Mom opened up a small marketing/print design/consulting business. Over the next 20 years, she’d raise three kids (myself, my brother and sister) and maintain the solo operation.
1999: Rand Starts Working with Gillian
At the time, I built mostly static Flash + HTML websites for local small businesses around the Seattle area including small banks, dentists and even a retail clothing store. Knowing nothing of SEO or the power of search engines, most of the pages I build are completely inaccessible to the bots.
2001: Rand Drops out of School
I’d been pursuing a degree at the University of WA, but left two classes shy of graduating to devote 100% of my time to the company, which was struggling to make ends meet thanks to the dot-com bust and the dropoff in demand for website construction. Our company starts going into deep debt, which will continue until late 2005 / early 2006.
2004: SEOmoz is Founded
Although I started trying SEO in 2002, I’m still pretty awful at it. In an attempt to grow my skillset, I participate vigorously on half a dozen SEO forums and eventually build SEOmoz.org as a site to host my thoughts, struggles and discoveries. Google’s sandbox, in particular, had been vexing me and I kept hoping to stumble onto the secret of getting a site "released."
Feb. 2005: First SES Conference
Thanks to the generosity of Danny Sullivan, I attend SES New York (and take a ridiculous quantity of notes about every session I attend). I’d later pitch to speak at SES Toronto, scrape together the money to go and, following on that first experience, get invited to attend many other future shows.
Dec. 2005: Newsweek Covers SEOmoz
Newsweek magazine writes an article about "the shadowy world of SEO" using SEOmoz as the "white hat" example. I author the first version of the Beginner’s Guide to SEO as a resource for those seeking to learn more (figuring the Newsweek traffic will be curious – instead, it gets Slashdotted, which sends us tens of thousands of curious webmasters and developers).
2006: SEOmoz Turns Around Financially
Although 2005 had been a reasonably good year financially, my personal debt hovered close to 0,000. In 2006, Gillian works with debt collection agencies, banks and creditors to eliminate most of the debt and build repayment plans. By July of 2007, we’ll be completely debt free (though even in 2010 my credit history will still prevent me from renting an apartment or leasing a car). We post our financials at the end of the year and for the first time, I have a salary, and don’t need my girlfriend (now wife) to pay for everything
Feb. 2007: We Launch PRO Membership
Although consulting has been a growing source of revenue, we decide that it’s not as scalable or as far-reaching as a recurring revenue model. PRO membership is launched after 3-4 months of development on tools, resources and guides. The initial price is just /month (and we still have a solid handful of folks who are grandfathered in and continue to pay that rate!)
Nov. 2007: Investment Capital Comes Our Way
Ignition Partners & Curious Office co-invest .1 million in SEOmoz to help us scale our software, build our web index and grow the team. Michelle Goldberg from Ignition and Kelly Smith from Curious Office join Gillian and I on the board of directors and things get a bit more serious and focused (in a very good way).
We posted financials for 2007 just after taking the investment.
Oct. 2008: We Launch Linkscape
After 10 intensive months of work, we build a scalable, sizable crawl of the web, conduct processing of metrics and launch our first tool to expose that data – Linkscape. Unfortunately, launch day coincides with the collapse of Bear Stearns and the beginning of a very rough period for the world’s economies (and somewhat dampens our press coverage).
Dec. 2008: We Return to Profitability
Despite a tough environment, SEOmoz returns to profitability in December of 2008 and has been profitable again ever since.
June 2009: A Second Attempt at Fundraising Fails
We decided in 2009, after exciting growth in Q1-Q2 to seek a second round of outside funding. But poor timing, unoptimized metrics and a subpar pitch eventually yield no results. Tragically, this costs the team many months of product progress. On the plus side, no dilution of shares.
January 2010: Open Site Explorer Launches
Our most exciting project to date, Open Site Explorer, a product to help SEOs and marketers better see into the web’s link graph, launches. We follow up with a new Keyword Difficulty tool, our SEOmoz toolbar (Chrome version is just a few weeks away, BTW) and improvements to the Linkscape index.
August 2010: The Next Big Thing
Since diagramming a new direction/product for SEOmoz in January 2009, we’ve been working to grow our engineering team, solidify our process and scale our backend to handle something new & exciting. I previously leaked a design mockup at the bottom of this post, but here’s another:
Today we are:
I can say without hesistation that the most exciting times are definitely ahead of us.
As I noted above, I’m happy to answer any questions I can about SEOmoz’s founding, past or growth. Feel free to leave them in the comments below (though I may be a bit slow to respond depending on the timing).