Recently Phil Laboon spoke on Pittsburgh Tech Council’s techVIBE Radio on 1360 AM. You can read though his notes or listen to listen to the podcast here. (Full list of techVIBE podcasts available here: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/TechvibesCommunityCall)
- Give us your professional background
I have basically been a serial entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. Even in high school I wanted to start a business so my freshmen year I started selling pop and snack cakes to other students. I ended up getting told only recognized sports teams could “fundraise” so I founded the Baldwin Ultimate Frisbee team and kept selling snack cakes out of a portable cooler for 4 years.
After high school I figured out quickly 4 year schools weren’t for me so I went to the Pittsburgh technical institute and got my associates degree and in 2001 went straight to building my own web design/ web marketing firm. At the time I was literally knocking on doors trying to sell websites for $200-$500 a pop. I was embarrassed at the time and didn’t really share it but looking back now I’m pretty proud of it. It could be snowing, raining, or 90 degrees and I would be out around Pittsburgh selling in the days and doing the work at nights.
- Tell us all about your business
Eyeflow is very unique because we are so targeted on our core business which is organic internet marketing. Basically what we do is get sites to rank in search engines by manipulating various factors in search algorithms so the search engine feels you are the best fit for a search – i.e. free traffic. Well it’s not free because you have to pay us to write the content, build back links, etc but the search engine doesn’t charge for the traffic. Depending on when you walk in we have anywhere from 8-15 employees – We have in-house programmers and developers, link builders, content writers, project managers, and of course new client acquisitions which I handle solely.
We are probably one of the only internet marketing firms in the US that is as focused on one branch of internet marketing. People are always asking why we don’t branch out into other fields like pay per click or web design but I think the reason is there is no mystic to them. There is something about taking a small site and getting it to out rank competitors 10 times their size that just gives you this incredible feeling. Although we are dealing with larger companies every year most of the time it’s a David verses goliath situation.
As far as web design that just isn’t really our thing. Most of us have web design degrees but are more into the marketing and analytics then design and development.
Who are your competitors?
This probably sounds like a copout answer but the truth is we don’t really have one. While many companies say they do internet marketing but that’s usually just a side service for them. The larger companies in this industry are Impaqt and Elliance but both are very different then us. Impaqt is more of a full service marketing agency that also offers internet marketing and Elliance is more web design focused. As far as competitors we compete with in the search results that’s another story. Almost all the companies we compete for or searches like “Pittsburgh internet marketing” are mostly small one person shops working from home. Not that I have anything against that I did it for 3 years before I got my own space. It’s funny because Google Local recently started adding street views of their local listings and we were shocked how many of our competitors show residential addresses.
- Who are your partners?
Since we are so focused on one aspect of internet marketing we have developed relationships with many different companies ranging from media buyers like Hoffman Murtaugh to SEO software developers like Sheer SEO. If we see something we like instead of trying to copy and duplicate we just refer clients directly to the vendor. I’m a big karma guy and really do believe it all comes back in one form or another.
- How is the economy impacting your business?
We have been fortunate enough not to be impacted by the recent market. I think there are several reasons for this.
1. We are still a relatively small company dealing with small and midsized businesses. Some clients have said they needed to take a break because of tightening budgets but for the most part if they are making money and we can prove we’re partly responsible the last thing they want to do is leave.
2. A lot of companies are telling us they are cutting their traditional marketing and moving it towards internet because it is somewhat permanent and cheaper. If they spend some money with us to promote articles, back links, or additional pages that increases traffic (and leads) every month for years opposed to a print ad or bill board that might get exposure for a month max.
3. We are a referral based business and the more clients we get the more referrals we get. It’s kind of like a snowball where we don’t really do much advertising but get a constant stream of calls or emails daily.
- How does your product or service help folks save money, make money, save time, etc., etc.?
In the internet marketing industry there is a huge amount of trial and error and in regards to search engines a small error could ban your site and throw away everything a company has built to date. We guide clients through the optimization process and help them based on our experience and eliminate the chances of a potential snafu
- Who’s been your biggest influence/inspiration?
I’d have to say my family. Each of us are so completely different but talented in our own ways. My dad is a union plumber works more hours then I think is humanly possible but when you talk to him you’d swear he just got done with a 2 week vacation. My Mom who is an employee is a retired Air Nation al Guard Senor Master Sergeant just doesn’t let anything get under her skin and gets the job done. While everyone in our office is freaking out she is the voice of reason keeping us on track. Lastly my brother who also worked for me for a bit is able to sit, read, and digest new information on ANY topic which is something I have never been good at. It’s weird to think one family can have such vastly different traits but it works/.
- What keeps you up at night?
This is funny question because my brain never stops. I’m always thinking of new ideas and fleshing them out in my head and the sad by product is no sleep. One of the biggest things that keeps me up is responsibilities. It’s really scary sometimes knowing that so many people rely on me. Especially because I don’t feel like what I do is work half the time. I guess it’s a blessing and a curse. Ha, I’m sure everyone that knows me well is laughing that you asked “what keeps me up at night”.
- How are you meeting the challenge?
The only way you can. Nose to the grindstone and try your best. All I can do is my best and I realized as long as I try things typically work out.
- Biggest lesson learned so far?
Never trust anything that sounds too good to be true. When I was younger I dedicated huge amounts of time to various start ups where I put in huge amount of time where I would get worthless shares or they would sell the company and I’d get nothing. I know some people think I am pretty jaded by these experiences but I think I just learned business at a young age and most people are taken back by it.
- Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
1. Never get a partner unless they truly bring something to the table. When I was younger I thought I needed a partner just to help in general but I realized through some trial and error that a great partner is someone that brings a unique skill set to the table.
2. Stay determined and keep focusing on your end goal not on short term pitfalls. I see so many businesses fail because people just don’t put forth the effort for it to succeed because of small setbacks.
- What do you do for fun outside of work?
My secret vice is video games. I went to the Pittsburgh Technical institute originally for gaming and it’s always stuck. Right now I’m really getting into Modern Warfare 2.
- Any other business/ personal passions?
I’m talking with a friend now about opening a Japanese Karaoke bar. It’s basically a place where you can rent a room and do private karaoke with your friends. We’re still in the planning stages and it may or may not happen but we’re both excited and we’re the type of people that feed off each other’s excitement. If you have ever seen “Lost in Translation” it’s very similar to that.
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