AMA: Mark Josephson

AMA: Micha Hershman
May 12, 2016
AMA: Dixon Jones
August 23, 2016
The Mark Josephson AMA is happening on Wednesday 10th of August at 10AM PST (1PM EST)
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Mark Josephson is the CEO of Bitly. He was previously CEO of Outside.in, a hyperlocal media company that was acquired by AOL in 2011 where he then served as a senior vice president. Prior to that, Mark was president of Internet marketer Seevast, and, before that, general manager and executive vice president of About.com. Mark served as an Account Manager at Cone Communications and was a founding member of the agency’s Interactive practice. He lives in New Jersey where he and his wife are trying to raise their three boys as Red Sox fans.

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Mark JosephsonCEO of BitlyTranscript

 

Mark Josephson is the CEO of Bitly. He was previously CEO of Outside.in, a hyperlocal media company that was acquired by AOL in 2011.

The AMA with Mark was held on July 27th, 2016. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.

Hey everyone! very happy to be here and try to answer some of your questions.

For starters, let me get a few things out of the way….

1) Red Sox, not Yankees

2) Bruce Springsteen, not anyone else

3) Chocolate chip cookies, always

4) Three

OK, let er rip!

I’m sitting four feet from your Denver office; they are all telecommuting currently. What’s your best tip on effectively managing telecommuting?

Say hi to the team — I know they’re on an all company product review right now… or should be!

They look engaged, don’t worry!

We have offices in SF, NYC and Denver, with remotes in a bunch of other places. Will find a blog post we did about this in a bit. But OVER communication is super important, as is video whenever possible. We try to default to video whenever possible.

Here’s the blog post on remotes: http://mbj.im/remote

What do you think makes for the best homepage experience for a company/brand? And what are some cutting edge ways to make the homepage more interactive for prospective clients/users/browsers?

Do people visit homepages that much anymore? 😉

Speed is the #1 concern for me on homepage or first-page visit. Then trying to balance what you want to communicate vs. what visitor wants to know.

I’m a believer in solving the immediate problem before trying too hard to sell the other stuff. This has been a constant discussion here, as we have been building an enterprise paid product when we still get 10mm people each month coming to create simple links.

If Bitly would get acquired, who would be the buyer?

Our vision here is that you should be able to see clear across the internet. So much innovation, fragmentation and walled gardens (i.e. FB, Google, Apple), have made it harder for marketers to actually see and own their customer relationships. Our links can and do help them get control of customer experience. Long way to say that any of the big companies that care about making marketers more successful in an increasingly complex world are potential partners for us.

Why do you think Bitly survived over and above other URL shorteners who have faded away?

I joined @Bitly three years ago, four years after it was founded. The initial team was exclusively focused on scaling alongside the hyper growth of Twitter and the initial use case (“links were too long…”). We were the first official link shortener on Twitter and that allowed us to blow waaaaaayyy past anyone else. We are so big and own so much of the market, that it has allowed us to innovate alongside that growth. Frankly, nobody is anywhere near our size nor has our advanced functionality for this piece of the internet<humble>and, lastly, we focus on serving customer needs, not resting on our laurels.

Can you share the story of the first year of Bitly?

See above — rocketship and a one-page agreement with Jack. Seriously.

What’s the hardest part about running a business?

The hardest part of running a business, after actually having a product that, um, works… is getting really talented people to believe in the same visionand getting that team to execute as one. It’s the hardest part for sure, imo, but also the most rewarding when it clicks(hah, clicks, didn’t do that on purpose).

How is the marketing team at bit.ly structured?

Our marketing team kicks ass.

What are some new and innovative ways in which you are helping the company cultivate more lead generation of users?

We focus very heavily on content and educating our customers. We have a digital team that does demand gen, a content team that creates content (see our kick ass blog), a social/community lead and product marketing. I am a marketer by trade — first job at agency — so nailing the story, positioning and math is super important here.

In an interview with ReadWrite, you seemed so calm in your role, taking a quarter by quarter approach rather than a stressing daily. https://youtu.be/9DBmQ7eLPKI?t=530

What would you say for someone who is just getting their business started?

HAH! Some days are more calm than others, for sure. I am not young anymore (Springsteen reference), and have lived through a bunch of cycles at work and in life. Shit happens. Your best days are not usually as good as you think, nor are your bad days as bad as you think. Finding some rhythm and focusing on the big picture is what’s really important. That’s the advice.Perspective helps, as does a family and some bourbon.

What has been the best source of new customers for Bitly?

Our best channel has always been our free product and our inbound engine. We get ~5k free account sign-ups every day, and there are always big opportunities in there to mine and grow.

What’s your outreach after they sign up?

We try to help them to actually use the product and see the full value of Enterprise. And if we know they are a target account or real biz, we’ll reach out to them and see what their needs are and if they’re better served with more advanced product.

Is there a book you’ve read recently that you’d recommend?

I try hard to find time to read fiction… not sure that’s what you’re looking for. Love me some Jack Reacher (old stuff) and other high body-count spy shit. I get enough work advice at work. Also reading new Harry Potter with my boys.

When you say digital and demand generation, and it’s split from your content team… what does that mean? Do you have a web team and designers on that team?

Digital/DG is more paid and metrics stuff. Content creates the pieces that flow through that team. And yes we have dedicated design and shared eng. (Is this question from @bitly marketing team to get more dev resources?)

Hey Mark, which part of the business do you enjoying working with the best?

I like working with every part of the biz. Honest. I figured out early in my career that the days I liked the best were when I got to touch multiple parts of the biz. While I may geek out on one particular part (this quarter it’s sales), I’m really not as effective past the first meeting or two. Just being honest. I figured out that my time and skills are best focused on setting direction, recruiting/supporting the best team and making sure we have enough $$ to execute plans.

What’s the most clicked Bitly link?

I’m going to check that out and get back to ya. Maybe Denise Chan can find it in the background! 😉

I bet it’s some esoteric link used in some marketing campaign or other channel, not an obvious one. That said, it’s so cool to see people like LeBron, the Queen of England, even Trump, use our stuff every day… so rewarding to work on something the whole world uses every day.

From Denise Chan: I don’t have the most clicked Bitly link readily available, but LeBron James’ tweet announcing his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers is up there. Here are some of the incredible insights we saw on the backend: bitly.is/lebron

What are some strategies that bit.ly plans to implement over the next six months for earned media, and what were some of the things that influenced these decisions?

The biggest thing we’re doing in marketing right now is transitioning from an “inbound only” focus to a more hybrid “inbound + outbound account-based” plan. Tactically, that means better targeting of our efforts and more middle and bottom of funnel stuff.

What metrics do the marketing team live by?

Our marketing team looks at a variety of metrics across the board – our content and social team looks at traffic (clicks and visits), demand gen looks at leads and retention. The end goal is to bring in the highest quality leads possible and partner with sales to drive ARPU and ROI. The Bitly marketing team has gotten so good at inbound, they were goaled on closed/won revenue. Building that muscle on outbound now.

Favorite Springsteen album?

Easy, Wild, Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle

At some point, you made branded links an enterprise-only feature. Fair to say enterprise is the big driver for the business now?

Branded links are 100% available in our free product. It’s an important part.We did, however, start to put some limits in for how many links (branded and total) you could create for free each month. Gotta pay those bills…Enterprise is 100% of our revenue.

I remember when Bitly was just a url generator to shorten and keep track of your links – not much data though. When did someone notice this was a potential analytics business? 😊

https://web.archive.org/web/20090228030358/http://bit.ly/

The founding team knew from day one. Honest.

<<<fingers starting to cramp…. must….keep….going…..>>

What is the Bitly link database like (how many URLs, do you prune 404s, anything else you can share)? Have you ever considered partnering with a backlink index service like Moz/Majestic/Ahrefs to improve their link indexes?

It’s huge. Believe me, it’s bigger than any other link database out there. Many people say it might be bigger than even Google’s! Love me some Rand Fishkin and Moz, and we have worked with them a bit because, as you deduced, it could be really cool stuff but, not really our focus as a biz. Hard to say no to those sorts of opportunites, but if we do something, we really want to be able to commit to it.

What’s the biggest marketing challenge for bit.ly these days? Audience, enterprise awareness, product fit, conversions, etc.?

There are lots of tactical things that we’re working on… see inbound v outbound above. But, the biggest thing remains getting the world to think of us more as a platform to help marketers own customer experience and not as “short links on Twitter.”

What are resources you use (internally and externally) to plan an outbound strategy?

For starters, you need to have targets and a plan. Who are you going outbound after?

We start by looking at the biggest marketers in the world, knowing key verticals and then our existing database. Then you need to fill in with leads and contacts. That’s where marketing comes in.

What’s the future of Bitly look like?

Thanks for the softball. See above for our vision (internet you can see across), and our mission is to optimize the link so marketers can own the customer experience. When you think about it,every time you click, tap or swipe, there’s a link. You don’t need to see it for it to be there. We obsess over that link b/c it sits in between each step of the customer journey and decides where you go next, how you get there and what data you collect. We think it’s a massive biz opportunity.

First question: when can we put emoji into custom Bitlys? Actual question: Would there ever be a space for using Bitlyas a means to plant remarketing pixels on devices? Or, you know, something similar for us paid media types… 😉

Actually think we had a hack week project on this… emoji in bitlinks, lemme check…

I went from joking to real excitement in about 7 seconds.

As to your other question, we drop cookies on every redirect. >5bb uniques each month. >60% on phones, all first-party. We have always believed there’s another biz that is complementary to our original one that leverages that space for paid marketers. I could say more… because I wish we were further along and for competitive reasons, but stay tuned.

That all sounds super promising!

My first 20 years were selling ads, more or less, so I know there’s a huge opportunity.

What do you feel like best prepared you for your current position?

Best prepared by having two parents who were both entrepreneurs AND therapists. 😉

OK, did I miss anyone’s question? If so, let me know. This is fun.