GE 161: How Content Marketing as a Growth Channel Propelled BuildFire into a 7-Figure ARR SaaS Company (podcast) With Ian Blair

Ian Blair

Hi everyone, today we have Ian Blair who is the CEO of BuildFire, which provides the easiest way to build mobile apps in under five minutes. It’s a no-coding-required app-building platform where people can quickly build their own mobile apps and it works in any industry because every brand can benefit from an app.

Today we’re chatting about how BuildFire grew to a seven-figure ARR by using content marketing rather than paid advertising, the main factors that got them there in the very competitive SaaS industry, the reason keyword research is essential, and why you must have a methodology for creating and tracking your content’s progress and success.

Download podcast transcript [PDF] here: How Content Marketing as a Growth Channel Propelled BuildFire into a 7-Figure ARR SaaS Company TRANSCRIPT

Episode highlights:

  • [06:00] – Content has been an amazing traffic driver. They find out what is ranking and crush it. Bring value and rank.
  • [6:51] – They track how many come to the site, convert to free trials, and sign up to the mailing list. It’s a matter of building the audience and getting free trial sign ups.
  • [7:52] – Keyword research is a forgotten piece of the content marketing puzzle. Keyword research isn’t easy, it takes time.
  • [8:22] – To be successful in business, you need to have a plan and strategy and measure what is and is not working.
  • [9:32] – Paid advertising isn’t the best method for this startup, for now, they are sticking with the content marketing, the potential is exciting
  • [11:02] – The mobile app space is a very early market
  • [11:18] – They use CoSchedule for their content marketing calendar, keyword, opportunity, how to measure success, what does the next month look like, research planning and a team of writers work on the piece, they have five writers but work with about 15
  • [12:35] – Work with successful writer contractors that have worked for them
  • [12:52] – Weekly output is 2-3 articles a week
  • [13:05] – They are just under 6 figure mark with content marketing numbers
  • [14:48] – Biggest struggling when first starting a company, you have to wear every hat, as you grow you have to hire people, the biggest challenge is transitioning from a small team to a bigger team, you want people to have autonomy, but it needs to be done effectively and quickly and monitored. How to scale teams is a challenge and a great learning process
  • [16:31] – Always be learning, best advice, Ian loves the online marketing space and learn from successes and failures of others

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Disclaimer: As with any digital marketing campaign, your individual results may vary.

Full Transcript of The Episode

Show transcript
Ian: What's really cool about the online marketing community is just how much people are willing to share with others.

Speaker 2: Do you want to impact the world and still turn a profit? Then you're in the right place. Welcome to Growth Everywhere. This is the show where you'll find real conversations with real entrepreneurs. They'll share everything from their biggest struggle to the exact strategies they use on a daily basis. If you're ready for a value packed interview, listen on. Here's your host, Eric Sue.

Eric: Before we jump into today's interview, if you guys could leave a review and a rating and also subscribe as well, that would be a huge help to the podcast. If you actually enjoy the content and you'd like to hear more of it, please support us by leaving us a review and subscribe to the podcast as well. Thanks so much.

All right every body, today we have Ian Blair who is the CEO of Build Fire which is the easiest mobile app builder available with over three thousand apps. Ian, how's it going?

Ian: It's going great. Thanks for having me on the show.

Eric: Yeah, thanks for being here. So why don't you tell us a little bit about who you are and what Build Fire does.

Ian: Sounds good. Basically what Build Fire does is we provide a no coding required mobile development platform for people to quickly build their own mobile app. We work with nearly like every industry, almost and like everyone in this day and age can benefit from a mobile app so we work with restaurants, events, Fortune 500 companies, the list goes on. Think of it almost like Wix or Square Space but for mobile apps so no coding required solution. That's what we do.

Eric: Okay. What would be an example of this? What's an example of a big company using Build Fire?

Ian: I'll take a really really large music festival. I'm not going to name names yet but they have a staff of over five thousand and they took our platform built in app for all the staff to be able to get directions, stay up to date with what's on the schedule, be able to send out push notifications, et cetera and they use that like as an internal communication app, right? It was like massively valuable for the success of their event and making sure the staff was all on the same page.

Eric: Interesting. Would this festival have been in the desert?

Ian: Quite possibly....

Eric: Cool. All right. In terms of how you guys are doing, you have well over three thousand apps now. I mean what are ball park revenue numbers for Build Fire?

Ian: We definitely crossed the seven figure mark and it's been really fun getting there. SaaS is an incredibly tough business to compete in but you know once you hit those major

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major milestones it's really just figuring out how to scale. SaaS is just an incredible growth engine and it's an exciting place to be in. You know SaaS has just absolutely exploded over the last I'd say like five years. There's a SaaS tool for just about everything. It's really cool to just see how the industry has progressed and I'm just so stoked to be a part of it.

Eric: Great. You talked about the seven figure SaaS number being kind of the magical number. That's when things really start to speed up. What do you think were the main levers that got you guys to that seven figure ARR mark?

Ian: Yeah. I think first it starts off with just finding effective channels to grow. It's always a daunting task when you're first starting your company because no one knows about you. You have zero revenue in the door and it's just like a behemoth task. Like how on earth am I going to get there? It just first starts off with like bite size chunks and you've got to let the world know that you're out there. For us, we chose content marketing as our initial growth channel and it's been phenomenal for us. It's really propelled us to where we're at today.

We also started off with a little bit of PR in the beginning. I'd say every company gets a bit lucky when you first get started and that was definitely the case for us. We did a PR release I think with like business like News Wire, one of those. We actually got featured on Business News Daily and what was awesome was there was people would search for like best mobile app builders out there. Since obviously you know Business News Daily has been around for a long time, they have great domain authority and we were at the top of the article. Basically we were pretty much dominating the search results because anyone would click on that, we'd be right at the top and we'd be just driving so much traffic to our site. That was just huge for our initial growth and initial traction and that was able, we were able to catch up with our own organic rate things and building our own domain authority so sometimes you get lucky and that was definitely the case for us in the beginning a little bit.

But it's just a lot of hard work and determination trying to figure out what are the most efficient levers for you.

Eric: Yeah so PR, obviously PR can be a huge spike kind of a boom or bust type of thing and I think what I want to focus on a little more is the content marketing aspect because that's what a lot of people are talking about and obviously we know it's the consistency that gets you there. When you're starting from, I guess I should start first by asking, what's working well for you in terms of content marketing right now and how are you promoting the content?

Ian: Yeah absolutely so I think content marketing really starts off with having like efficient and smart key work research. You want to know what you want to go after and where is it realistic for you to rank. There's so many tools out there for doing keyword research. You know Mods just came out with a great new keyword tool where you can see like what the opportunity is, what the relevancy is. For us, it really just started off as what are great terms that we might able to rank for that are relevant to our audience? One of

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our highest preforming articles has been a free app promotion so I think we have like ... I don't know, at this point we've just been growing and growing. It's probably like over fifty creative ways to promote your app and that's like we rank number one for app promotion, that's been like an example of like an article that early on there wasn't much competition for.

We saw that we could rank for it and we just wrote an amazing piece of content and it's been a consistent driver of traffic for us. We have lots of those examples where we find and it's almost kind of like Brian Dean's method of building skyscraper content. You go out there, you find the keyword you want and then what's ranking at the top and then just absolutely crush that piece of content and you know, you're bringing a lot of value to people, that's going to rank. It's just kind of like a methodical, if you kind of take like the approach of like paid advertising for example. Where you get data really quick and you iterate, kind of take that same methodology and bring it to content marketing. I think a lot of people, they just put stuff out and they're like okay maybe like what's the actual results on it.

I think having like a methodology to be able to track progress and success is hugely important. For content marketing, that's been one of our main approaches to it.

Eric: What are the main I guess KPI's for your content marketing efforts?

Ian: Really we're looking at, I mean at the end of the day, we want people to sign up for free trials for app builder so we're tracking how many people are coming into our site, how many of those are converting to free trials and also like how many people are signing up for our email list because we want to have an audience. As you get bigger and having an audience it's really helpful for putting out a lot more content. It's really like just a matter of building your audience and how many free trials are we signing up.

Eric: Right. I think something, you know I think those metrics are perfect. Right? A lot of people are like oh you know let's get more visitors, let's get more page views but I think going with emails on free trials, that ties a lot closer to the bottom line at the end of the day.

Ian: Yeah.

Eric: But just rewinding a second I should say, I think a lot of people, you talk about people producing content just for the sake of producing content because everybody is talking about content marketing right? But a lot of people tend to forget about the research portion. Like you actually have to do the keyword research, you have to actually look at what the market is doing at the same time, maybe even look at Google Trends. I think that's a forgotten piece of the puzzle and I think the fact that you guys are covering that aspect and you guys are succeeding just adds more validation to that.

Ian: Yeah. The whole keyword research process isn't easy. It takes time and it takes a lot of brainstorming but I think with the wealth of information and tools out there, it's been made easier. I think everything in business requires planning, right? If you want to be

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successful, you've got to have a plan, a strategy and like the ability to measure if it's working or not working. I think if you just take those fundamental principles, like it can be massively successful. If there's any information gap, like okay I don't know how to plan content really well or I don't know how to write great content or where ever you have a deficiency, there's other people who have you know closed that knowledge gap.

I think it's really important in the whole online marketing space just to like stay super relevant, see what you know people who are really successful, like what are they doing, how can we take some of their methodologies and bring them into our own company? Right? Yeah I mean everything just fundamentally starts from that initial planning phase.

Eric: Right. You mentioned Brian Dean. You talked about the skyscraper technique. I think that's something everyone can pick up from, right? You just look at what's already preforming out there and then you just kind of ten x it.

Ian: Yeah.

Eric: Yeah I mean there's absolutely nothing wrong with that and it certainly works. But I guess another question for you would be, since content marketing is working well for you, why aren't you driving or are you driving I should ask, are you driving paid advertising to that content if it's converting well?

Ian: Yeah that's a good question. We've experimented a little bit with paid advertising on some of our posts. You know doing like promoted posts on Facebook. I'd say as a start up we have limited bandwidth and I think as we grow more and I think like just have the ability to focus on more channels, we'll probably look into something like that and I know some people have been super super successful with that. Like the whole paid Facebook advertising, you know posts might do well or you could be attracting people through a lead magnet. I've seen some other companies doing like really really well with that and I think that's exciting to see the potential of Facebook.

I'd say the difference between Facebook advertising and Google Ad Words is that Google Ad Words is fulfillment. Right? People are going if you're going to try and rank for something or you know have ads for something, people are already searching for it. People already kind of know what they're looking for where like Facebook is really unique because there's demand generation. Right?

Products you might not have ever heard about and you know we can target people who might be interested in it. I think the mobile app building space is a very early market and not too many know that you can actually go online and build a sweet app for your business or if you have an idea, turn that into app right? I think it's going to be really cool once we start to fire on all cylinders in that space but we just haven't gotten to the point where we're like all right, let's go full bored and have a huge effort towards that.

Eric: Right. Okay. Now, I think you know a question people might have also, because content marketing is such a big channel for you guys right now, how is your content marketing team organized first of all?

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Ian: Yeah so we actually started using a really cool tool lately and I think it's helped a lot with our organization. We use CoSchedule and basically it allows us to have our whole content marketing calendar, right? Basically the way we start is we have like okay, what's the keyword we're going to go after. Right so kind of back to that initial finding like what's the opportunity for it and how are we going to measure success for that and we plan those out on the calendar and it makes it pretty easy to get like a big picture, a quick picture of like you know what's the next month going to look like in terms of content.

We basically manage and schedule all of our content marketing efforts through there, with the research and planning. Then we have a whole team of writers that we hired that will work on the particular piece that they're most qualified to write about.

Eric: Got it. How many writers did you say you had again?

Ian: We have about five right now but we worked with probably fifteen writers. I think you've got to test along the way. You can see like past results and what they've done. They might be a good fit for your organization but you might want to test them out for three to five articles and see how it performs and one thing we've always tried to do is just weed out the lowest common denominator and work with just writers who have been really successful with us.

Eric: Great. These are contractors?

Ian: They're all contractors correct.

Eric: Got it. Okay. What does the, you just talked about the team right now, what does the weekly content cadence look like? What does your output look like?

Ian: I'd say it's generally two a week. Sometimes we're pushing out three. But it's for the most part two a week.

Eric: Got it. Okay and just rough ball park, are you guys five figures, six figures a month in traffic because of content marketing or ...

Ian: We're just under the six figure mark at the moment.

Eric: Got it and that's super impressive because I mean you guys have just started a couple a years ago and the fact that you guys are already at the six figure mark is insane so that just shows this content marketing stuff takes time. Right? I guess a question to kind of put some perspective into this, when you first started doing content marketing, let's just say like six months in, what were you at traffic wise?

Ian: So I actually have a really good answer for this. Early on when we first started the company, I wanted to ensure how can we be as successful as possible when it came to online marketing so I was like I can find hands down the best person who can help me

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out. I came across this guy by the name of Barbie, Mathew Barbie and he's the global head of SEO at [inaudible 00:13:48] now. He was working in an agency called the Wyatt International so this is you know early on when we had absolutely no one. Or no traffic. He worked on our campaign for almost a year and he put together a really good blog post called Zero to a Million Page Views. It outlines step by step everything we did to get our blog and traffic to where it's at today.

Eric: Perfect. That's great. Thanks for giving that resource. We'll definitely drop it in the show notes. I think it's something I read before and I remember it being really good and I know Mathew Barbie, I should probably have him on the podcast but anytime he would write something it's usually world class.

Ian: Yeah it was on Growth Hackers like must read and you know it preformed pretty well so it's exciting to have a piece of content that's written that well and it kind of outlines things step by step on our company and it's pretty cool.

Eric: Awesome. Okay. Switching gears here Ian, tell us about one big struggle you faced while growing this business.

Ian: I'd say one of the biggest struggles is when you first start a company, it's like you have to wear every hat. Right? Like you're the garbage man, you have to be everything. As you grow, you obviously get stretched too thin. You got to hire people who you know are good at customer support, who are good at marketing, who are good at sales. It's how do you go from you doing everything or just having a very small team because I started with one other guy and it just first started off as us and we slowly started to build a team. But it's really just going from that small team to the bigger team. Right? You want to be able to give people enough autonomy within you can't micromanage when you're just a small team so I'd say one of my biggest challenges is just like how do you do that effectively and quickly.

Because if you hire incorrectly or if you're not monitoring each employee's KPI's for example, like you don't have a clear picture of what's going on and your growth isn't going to be as exponential as it might be. For us, it's just been really figuring out like how do you scale teams, how do you scale a sales team, how do you scale a marketing team and just do it efficiently and it's been a great learning process for me and I absolutely love like every bit of it. I'd say that's probably been our biggest hurdle, is just figure out how to scale.

Eric: Awesome. Great. For those of you listening if you're looking for any type of hiring or like onboarding checklists, we have a ton of that content on the site so you can check it out. It's Ian, how old are you right now?

Ian: I just turned twenty-four earlier this month.

Eric: Twenty-four okay. What piece of advice would you give your let's just say nineteen year old self?

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Ian: Nineteen year old self. Yeah because actually I started the company when I was just twenty so it was kind of fun to be able to look back and thinking on that I was pretty young but yeah I would just go back and I would say just always be learning. That's been, I just absolutely love what I do. I love the whole online marketing space. I would just go back and consume as much information as possible because that's what I think has prepared me to get us to where we're at today. It's just being able to learn from the success and failures of others. What's really cool about the online marketing community is just how much people are like willing to share with others. You have companies like Buffer for example who like they literally share their employees salaries. Or you have like Groove HQ. They're journey from zero to a hundred k in revenue or now I think it's a hundred to five hundred k in MRR. You know it's just great to able to learn from those examples.

Eric: Love it. Okay. On the subject of learning right here, what's one must read book you'd recommend?

Ian: I'd say From Good to Great. That's probably been my favorite book. Basically they look I think it's fifteen companies that beat the stock market by like three times for fifteen years consecutively. They basically like look at those companies and compare those from like other companies like for example like Disney. Like Disney didn't match that criteria so they do a deep dive into what really makes a company great and I think maybe they just have like years and years of research. It's just incredibly detailed and there's just so much to learn from it, to see what truly makes a great company and I'd recommend any business leader or anyone in business to read that book because there's just so much knowledge to be garnered from it.

Eric: Awesome. Fantastic book. We'll definitely put it into the show notes. Ian, this has been great. What's the best way for people to find you online?

Ian: Yeah just go to and you can sign up for mobile app. All it takes is a few minutes and you'll be building an app in no time. It's free to build. You only pay when you publish so definitely check it out and hopefully you can build something cool.

Eric: Awesome. Ian, thanks so much for doing this.

Ian: Thanks for having me.

Speaker 2: 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.