Rand Fishkin is not one to keep helpful insights private. If they’re going to improve people’s websites, he is sharing them. It’s a mentality that ruffled a few feathers when he entered the SEO world in 2004 as the founder of Moz, a company he started after leaving his college two credits short of graduating. At the time, it was a secretive world where the masters tried to keep tricks close to their chests. But with his new approach, Rand became a force to be reckoned with.
He helped grow Moz to make 40 million in revenue. Throughout this journey, he was dealing with a much more personal struggle relating to his mental health, and along the way he learned what brings him energy as a leader. Today, he shares those insights with you.
Transparency is Key
As he started speaking at conferences and with potential clients, industry leaders took notice of how many insights Rand was sharing. And some of them weren’t so happy about it.
“I got plenty of people who said ‘Rand, you gotta stop writing about this stuff.’”
In spite of these warnings, he trudged forward, realizing the value he was bringing to his audience and the following he was amassing. Plus, deep down, he knew the service was helping people – which was what he cared most about.
“I thought that the right way was to be transparent. I thought that that would create a more competitive, open, level playing field where it wasn’t the best connected people who would win but the most talented.”
When he started launching products with Moz, these loyal followers showed up in droves, propelling the company to enormous profits. Rand said it shows that having a mentality of transparency and providing value to customers truly does pay off.
Seeing your customers as people you want to help and not just potential sources of cash is the best way to build and lead a business, Rand says, not just for the bottom line, but for your own mental health.
“It’s a wonderful way to live your life. It’ll help you go to sleep at night, it’ll help you wake up and look in the mirror in the morning, but it is also a phenomenal business tactic. Especially in a world where you are counting on repeat visits, references, amplification.”
Industry research suggests it costs 5x more to get a new customer than to retain an existing one, so why not invest even more in those existing relationships? And in time, those customers will draw others to your platform, and your positive reputation will create a greater web presence, propelling that attraction even further.
Find Your Own Path
Rand has been forging his own way in the business world since the early 2000’s, and he’s been careful about whose advice to take to heart, especially as he’s noted things about the SEO world he didn’t want to replicate in his companies. His advice after founding two major companies? Don’t think you have to follow some blueprint to success. Create your own.
While writing his book Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World, Rand took an intense look at startup culture and identified a few themes.
1) We’ve glorified the young, male college dropout as the archetypal startup success story. In fact, in the technology world, the average age of founders is in the mid 40’s.
2) Having a diverse team, including women, people of color and LGBTQ+ folks is strongly correlated with more successful businesses.
3) You don’t need to raise outside institutional capital to succeed. The pressure imposed by venture capital can be crippling as a founder, and there are other ways to drum up the funding needed, Rand says. Consider SparkToro’s funding system. The company is an LLC that raised about $1.3m from about three dozen angel investors. Rand and his co-founder Casey Henry fixed their salaries until they pay back that $1.3m. At that point, everyone in the company will be able to participate in the company’s profits pro rata.
They’ve made the legal documents they created to innovate this model available to other startups, in true Rand transparency.
In forging his own startup path, Rand said he also learned some immensely valuable lessons about himself: his strengths, weaknesses, and what brings him energy.
“I think self-awareness is a superpower.”
One of the most important things Rand learned in his career is he did not enjoy managing large teams, and really when it came down to it, managing as a whole. So, he dedicated his team elsewhere, and stepped out of those major management roles, enabling him to be a better leader and happier person.
Addressing Mental Health
Rand has been open about his struggles with depression, and even said it was one of the reasons he stepped down from his position at Moz. For the longest time, he felt his mental health was something he just needed to push through, and that he was a failure for not doing so. Then, he made an important realization.
“I don’t know that anxiety, depression and mental health are sort of a hurdle that one overcomes, I think, rather, it’s a force in your life that kind of stays with you throughout your existence.”
It’s been something he’s had to remind himself in 2020 as he’s faced episodes for the first time in several years. And now, just as if it’s a muscle, he’s trying to build strength around that part of himself, and stressing self-awareness in his work with SparkToro to ensure he’s building a happy team and life. Sleep, exercise, healthy foods and decreasing alcohol consumption are all pillars of maintaining mental health.
Aside from that, be kind to yourself when you fall down.
“We all do,” Rand said.
Connect with Rand
Rand recommends you read: No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy.
Rand’s Twitter: @randfish
Buy Rand’s book here.