GE 259: How Brandwatch Gets 80% Leads via Inbound by Focusing on Improving Their Product AND Their Website (podcast) With Giles Palmer

Giles Palmer Brandwatch

Hey, everyone! In today’s episode, I share the mic with Giles Palmer, who is one of the co-founders of Brandwatch, a social listening service that lets people track their brands and perform market research.

Tune in to hear Giles share how he went from working at Sky TV to launching Brandwatch that has raised $50M and has 440 employees, how they turned their mantra “Now You Know” into a conference, and the story behind their acquisition of BuzzSumo.

Download podcast transcript [PDF] here: How Brandwatch Gets 80% Leads via Inbound by Focusing on Improving Their Product AND Their Website TRANSCRIPT PDF

Time-Stamped Show Notes:

  • [00:46] Before we jump into today’s interview, please leave a review and rating and subscribe to the Growth Everywhere Podcast!
  • [01:30] In 2000, Giles was working for Sky TV.
  • [02:00] He left Sky and tried and failed at his own business venture. Still, it increased his passion for entrepreneurship.
  • [02:33] He built another business creating OSS. He and his partners were “guns for hire”.
  • [02:55] They started out saying they would all make the same, but over time, people argued over who had more value and deserved more money.
  • [03:15] In 2006, there was a social media platform explosion.
  • [03:50] He came up for the idea for Brand Watch.
  • [04:05] This became a Brand-tracking search engine.
  • [04:15] Brand Watch has been his business for the last decade.
  • [04:55] When they started, “social listening” wasn’t a thing.
  • [05:25] It took him six years to start Brand Watch after striking out on his own. Now, the company raised $50 Million and has 440 employees.
  • [05:43] However, December was the first month in five years that they actually made a profit.
  • [06:02] Brand Watch is a subscription service that companies can use to track their brands, competitors, market research, etc.
  • [06:20] The cost depends on the amount of data the client consumes.
  • [06:31] Average cost is $2500/month.
  • [06:43] It is not an enterprise-wide solution. It is not a workflow tool.
  • [07:20] They sold the first subscription a month after launch. They didn’t sell the second one until five months later.
  • [07:40] To acquire customers, Giles was doing a lot of face-to-face pitching.
  • [08:01] There was a lot of customer education involved.
  • [08:14] The early adopters tended to be digital agencies, who tend to be more advanced in their thinking compared to brands.
  • [08:50] Eventually, they hired a few people to be a sales team.
  • [09:05] They gradually built up the marketing side of the business.
  • [09:20] The most successful salespeople tend to be recent college grads that they train over the course of a year. Their most successful salesperson was a 24 year-old woman who worked for them for two years. She sold over 100 accounts in 1 year.
  • [09:54] Today, they get 15,000 unique visitors per day.
  • [10:20] Having the website translated into multiple languages is helpful in achieving success.
  • [11:00] They are constantly evolving their website.
  • [11:12] They branded “Now You Know” and named a conference after it. It has since become an internal mantra.
  • [12:09] NYK is now a 2 day conference.
  • [12:30] Masterclasses, webinars, etc. are important to gaining and retaining customers.
  • [13:20] Brand Watch acquired BuzzSumo.
  • [13:45] Giles thought BuzzSumo was an amazing product.
  • [14:32] When they acquired the business, they didn’t have an office or a single salesperson. It was a very efficient business model with a great product.
  • [15:05] BuzzSumo has scale.
  • [16:03] Giles wanted to have a self-serve product for years, but his team didn’t understand why.
  • [16:46] There were so many reasons acquiring this business made sense for Brand Watch.
  • [17:10] They have a part-time COO for BuzzSumo, because she is the VP of Strategy for Brand Watch.
  • [17:55] They bought BuzzSumo for less than $1 Million (they never went public with the sale and prefer to keep it that way).
  • [18:30] The “internationalization” of the business is usually a company’s biggest struggle.
  • [18:55] Brand Watch didn’t have too hard a time with this expansion, but it wasn’t lacking in difficulty.
  • [19:45] Really nailing the long-term strategy, while also being nimble and agile has proven a challenging balance.
  • [20:09] Scaling up the product and engineering departments has proven a great challenge.
  • [20:50] The most challenging thing is evolving as a company.
  • [21:10] When no one had faith, Giles had to have it and push the positivity.
  • [21:40] As they have scaled, he has brought in a senior team.
  • [21:55] With each step as a company, his role changes and he tries to step up to each new challenge and phase.
  • [22:32] Giles has been coached by 2 different business coaches.
  • [22:47] He has deliberately put more time on his calendar for reflection, as the company scales up.
  • [23:00] He is trying to be a better human in order to be a better leader.
  • [23:36] Giles recommends the books Antifragile, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography.

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Full Transcript of The Episode

Show transcript
Eric: Love it. Okay. Here's the flow chart I'm hearing. You weren't happy at your corporate job in your late twenties. You ended up leaving, and then you guys started like an agency. Is that correct?

Giles: That's right. Like a tech agency. Where we were all just kind of hanging out talking about open source software.

Eric: Okay.

Giles: Trying to figure out whether there was a business model in there.

Eric: What was the time line from there to starting Brand Watch again?

Giles: Six years.

Eric: Six years. Okay. Got it. Then you started Brand Watch and now you guys, $50 million plus and 440 employees, right?

Giles: Exactly.

Eric: Cool. Wonderful. All right. How do you guys make money?

Giles: Well, actually December was the first month in about five years where we actually have made money. We've been burning money for the previous five years. We've raised $50 million.

Eric: Okay. Got it.

Giles: Yeah, actually even more than that, but round about that number, but we've still got enough of it left and thankfully we're into the black now, so how do we make money? It's a subscription business, simply. Customers use Brand Watch to track their own brands, their competitors, do some market research around cohorts of consumers. They pay a subscription for that service and the amount they pay varies on the amount of data that they consume.

Eric: Got it. What does the average pricing look like?

Giles: I think the average pricing is 2,500 pounds per month.

Eric: Got it. Cool, so you're mainly talking kind of [inaudible 00:06:40] market to enterprise.

Giles: Yeah. Exactly right. We tend to be, it's not an enterprise wide solution, because it's reasonably targeted to a specific set of use cases. I mean, it does get used across multiple departments, but it's not a work flow tool, so I don't really think of it as an enterprise system, but we do target professional users because it's a pretty significant application. It's not a toy sort of thing, so it's not cheap. You're absolutely right, mid market to enterprise grade customers in a variety of departments, but mainly marketing and around market research.

Eric: Wonderful. In the early days how did you go about acquiring, let's just say, your first hundred and fifty customers.

Giles: Yeah. We sold the first subscription in the month after we launched, and we launched in August 2007. We didn't sell the second subscription until January 2008. On that rate the business was not going to last very long. Back then it was primarily me going out and meeting people face to face, multiple times often, and showing them the product, and them saying, "Oh, this looks really interesting, but we don't have budget for it," Or, "I've never seen anything like this before," or, "I'm not quite sure how we would use it."
There was quite a lot of, I don't know what the right word is, but education probably, customer education, which in hind sight was horrifically kind of quite painful, but at the time, you just do it, whatever it takes. Then, what we found was the early adopters tended to be agencies, like digital agencies in the UK, who tended to be, back then, and still to a degree today, a little bit further down the road than the brands in the work that they do on digital.
They would give us a project. They would say that we want to do a piece of research here or there, and we want to understand this market or we want to understand how consumers are behaving over there, and we would use our own product to do that research and then write a report for them. It became clear that our product wasn't flexible enough, so we built version 2, it was a much more flexible product. Then we started selling it to kind of within inside sales teams. We hired a couple of very cheap sales people, that's all we could afford, and we started to get a little bit of inbound to the website and we would convert roughly one in ten of those inbound inquiries.
Then what we did was gradually build up the marketing side of the business. I would speak at events, and then we would hire the sales people, and they would nearly always be the most successful sales people we've had, even today, have been grads that we've trained up over the course of a year or two or so, and the most successful sales person, or sales year that we've ever had was a 24 year old, or 25 year old young woman, who'd been with us for two years, and she sold over a hundred accounts in one year.

Eric: Wow.

Giles: We got this machine of inside sales demos, and then sign ups, and free trials, and then paid subscriptions. We got that machine kind of working over the first three or four years, and then we started wrapping kind of community managers around it where we do outbound targeted outreach alongside the inbound stuff on the work site. Even today we get 15000 unique visits to our website everyday and over a hundred demo requests. There's still a large inside sales engine which drives most of the new customer acquisition.

Eric: Got it. Wonderful. What's working? You guys have this sales machine right now. What's effective, or what's working really well for you in terms of marketing today?

Giles: What's working super well in marketing is big long term programs. The website in multiple languages. When [inaudible 00:10:25] four or five years ago, the first thing he said almost was, "The most valuable asset that we've got in this company is the product and the second most valuable is the website and there's no question our website is responsible for so much of the performance of the marketing team. Something like 80% of our leads come inbound, which is amazing for a B2B SAS company. That's been a long term investment, so we have content writers, we have an internal web dev team, the website is in four different languages, and we maintain it all ourselves.
The website worked really, really well and we're constantly evolving it. What's also worked well, and it's only worked well because we've got to the scale that we've got to and we can afford it, is this user conference that we put together, which we branded, Now You Know, NYK, it's a thing internally, people talk about. Are you going to NYK, and you know, as a kind of an internal kind of question, and people put Now You Know at the bottom of their emails. Now You Know is kind of an internal mantra within the company, because we're a research company primarily, or we're a research application. We get something like five or six hundred visitors, but last year to each of the two events we did, we did one in the US and one in the UK.
They came off the back of what we call master classes, so for the first four or five, well, actually more. Probably seven years, we did these master classes, which started off with webinars and then we would gather groups of people together for an afternoon and teach them how to use the product and they would share stories with each other, and people love them, our users love them. Then we kind of rolled it out into a bigger one day conference called Now You Know and now there's a two day conference both in the US and the UK.
That's been amazing for brand awareness and retention of customers and education of customers, but it's really expensive, so I think it depends on where a company is in it's journey. In the early days I think master classes and webinars and how-to's and educational services and marketing [inaudible 00:12:33] customer based is so important because as you scale [inaudible 00:12:40] becomes the big hairy monster that will stop you getting to where you want to get to.
Building in processes and educational systems that helped customers get the most out of your product, right from day one, sets you up for long term success. Or, at least with hindsight I can kind of look at it that way. At the time, we didn't quite realize that was the main method, that was the main purpose of these education seminars, but it has been super important as we scale the business.

Eric: Love it. Okay. You guys acquired Buzz Sumo, is that correct?

Giles: That's right. Yeah.

Eric: Neal and I, Neal Patalla and I talk it about a lot on our other podcast, marketing school, and about how we use it so much. I guess, what was kind of the reason for acquiring Buzz Sumo, and I guess, yeah, we'll start with that first.

Giles: Yeah. Pretty much what you just said, actually. It's very rare that, I don't know about you, but I find it quite unusual to come across a product that I just think is amazingly good, and Buzz Sumo is amazingly good. I had been speaking to- It's an unbelievable story. Really it was three people that built that company. I mean, when we acquired it there were ten, so there were lots more involved and those guys were important to the scaling of the business, but actually the underlying business was kind of founded by three people. Two built it. One front end engineer, one back end engineer, and a marketer.
One of these guys was in New York, one was in London, and one was in Brighton, which is where we are, on the south coast of the UK. They didn't met each other very often. They had never met each other before they started the business together, in fact, the marketer found the other two guys because they'd put together a beater system in their spare time. I'm not even sure they'd ever even met face to face. When we acquired the business they didn't have an office, they didn't have a single sales person. It was unbelievably skinny, modern, efficient, all of those kind of good words. It was a business with an incredible product, great, great people, very lean, absolutely no wasted time or energy inside the business, and just really and example of how to build a fantastic self serve tool, which is used by 3,500 customers and has 400,000 premium users. It's got scale, this thing.
I'd been speaking to one of the founders for a couple of years, because he's local, and I know him a little bit, and I've been trying to convince him to sell his company for two years. Eventually, he said, "Look, Giles, we've got to either professionalize this and hire lots of sales people or customer success people and take it to the next level and possibly raise some money and bring in a professional CEO." Because he didn't want to do that job. Or, we join up with somebody else and do it under their umbrella.
They'd had lots of different offers. They were looking for a culture fit, and I think that's what they found with us. They found a company that was going to value them, was going to allow them to carry on building what they were building but with our support, and with some of the things that we've learned with our marketing and our sales engine behind it. We came to a deal very, very quickly, like in a week or two, and then just did it.
The other reason from our point of view as I'd been wanting to have a self serve product for years, but all of our developers and our sales people were like, "Why on earth would we want to build a self serve product when we're selling to medium to large organizations who don't really give a damn about that kind of thing, and we want to be building more things which are going to be useful to them, not building self serve products?"
I'm not sure that the two are mutually exclusive, but I just thought I was more scared about being attacked from below, and I also wanted to have an engine like in marketing, a scaling engine that was product driven. I just thought, this is perfect. This tics so many boxes, and it actually extends our product as well, because they've got the most incredible data on shares of any product on the web. There were just so many reasons. What's most pleasing for me actually is I think from our side we haven't screwed it up, which sounds a bit weird. We were most worried about actually screwing up this great company that we'd bought and pissing off the people that were working there, so we've put in one of our absolute rock stars to be a kind of a part time COO, so she kind of like runs it, or, general manager. She kind of runs it and is the conduit between Buzz Sumo and Brand Watch. She's also VP of Strategy for Brand Watch, so she's very embedded in our business.
She and the guys at Buzz Sumo get on really well, and so, so far, so they've beaten all their targets since we acquired them and I think they're pretty happy with the way things are going, and we're not going to, our task is not to interfere too much, but to gently support them in their ongoing journey.

Eric: Love it. Giles, could you give us a rough range of what the sales price was?

Giles: Didn't actually go public with it, so it was not single digit millions, and it was not high tens sort of thing. So that's the kind of range.

Eric: Cool. All right. Great. Yeah. I mean, hopefully-

Giles: It was a great result for their founders and a terrific acquisition for us, so I think it's a win-win, but it did take out a bunch of our cash, that's for sure.

Eric: Well, Neal and I can only hope that we get to keep our comped accounts, so here's to that. Anyway, we use it a lot. Anyway, tell us about one big struggle you faced while growing this business?

Giles: Yeah, sure. The internationalization of the business. For other people, I've heard is always, has been a big struggle. For us, it's actually not been the biggest issue. We had an amazing guy start up our US operation, Sam Hampstead, and he took it from zero to a million dollars in one year, which was pretty incredible. Our product market fit has been good in other geos as well, so our [inaudible 00:18:58] business is going well. Our business in France and in Singapore is good too. The geo expansion's been not, there have been bumps but it's not been super difficult.
I think coming up with long term product vision and strategy for the company to give everybody a sense of where we're going, whilst being nimble and agile, adding things as quickly as we can, that's a challenge. Making big bets and being disruptive and building really interesting software is not easy. You have to take risks and often if they don't go right, then there's a sense of, oh, well, you guys are falling behind, but, so I think for me personally that really nailing the long term strategy but still being nimble and agile, that balance I find incredibly difficult. I think we're getting better because we've hired people to help me with strategy and they've put more structure around it and we report on it more regularly.
That's been a massive challenge. Another challenge has been scaling out the product and engineering departments. Hiring product people in the UK has been really tough. We've home grown a lot of people, but it's a new discipline, I would say in the UK. Software SAS product management. It's not easy. You have to be across lots of different things. Product market research, competitive research, you got to understand technology, you've got to be a bit entrepreneurial, you got to be a marketer. I mean, it's not easy. Finding great product people has been very challenging. Getting the engineering team to scale has also been challenging.
So, all of the kind of classing things around building a software business. For me, personally, I would say the most challenging thing has been evolving myself at a rate that was necessary as the company grew. In the early days I would describe myself as the chief belief officer, so I had to believe everybody. That nobody thought we were going to, none of the staff really thought we were going to get there, and I just relentlessly was positive and had this kind of sense, well, I don't give a damn if nobody believes, I do, and we're going to do this.
Then it started happening, and then I had to move to a chief, I don't know what at that point, but probably somebody who tried to get money in the door and make sure we didn't make too many mistakes and work on the product side with our engineering team. Then, as we scaled, I've brought in the senior team to surround me who are all terrific, and now I'm finding that I have to evolve again and become a collaborative coach type leader. I'm just not very good at that, so I'm really having to kind of work hard on myself to level up. To become the leader that the company needs through the next phase, and I hope I can do it. But it's not easy.
I think that there are different times when different things have been challenging. Right now, I'm finding personal evolution being the most challenging bit of everything, because the business is pretty stable and doing really well, so it's like, "Okay, Giles, how are you going to become your next level leader?"

Eric: That's a good segway actually. How are you getting better, personally?

Giles: Yeah, I've had some coaching from two different coaches. That's been helpful. We're getting a coach to work with our senior team because a couple of them are reasonably new and we haven't worked together for very long, so that's critical. I'm deliberately putting more time in my calendar for reflection. I'm trying to be more mindful. When I can I join in the daily meditation sessions here and they're early in the morning. I'm just trying to basically be a better human being, which I think ends up making me a better leader, and it's a journey right. It's not easy, and I'm not in my twenties any more. I'm in my forties, so it's kind of ...
Yeah. I look in the mirror more than look around, look around to my team, and think this is on you mate, you've got to level up, you've got to improve yourself before you can expect the company to go to the next level.

Eric: Love it. Okay. Well, final question. What is one must read book you'd recommend to everyone?

Giles: I normally like, the book I'm reading last because my memory's so terrible. The book that I'm reading right now is great. I would totally recommend it. It's Antifragile by Nicholas Talub. I think that's a really interesting book. What did I read recently? Five Dysfunctions of a Team, I think it was called. That was interesting, especially when you're looking at team dynamics. Yeah, those are my two recently. Before that I read Bruce Springsteen's autobiography which I loved as well, but that's not very business orientated.

Eric: No worries at all, we'll drop all three of those into the show notes. So Giles, or Giles I should say. Giles what's the best way for people to find you online?

Giles: Goodoo9, which is the name of my five year old daughter's imaginary friend back in the day. There's another story behind that. Or I'm [email protected]

Eric: All right. Giles thanks so much for doing this.

Giles: Pleasure. Good to talk to you. Cheers.

Eric: Thanks for listening to this episode of Growth Everywhere. If you loved what you heard, be sure to head back to for today's show notes and a ton of additional resources. But before you go, hit the subscribe button to avoid missing out on next week's value packed interview. Enjoy the rest of your week, and remember to take action and continue growing.