GE 195: How Crew President Michael Sacca Grew A Startup By Leveraging His Podcast (podcast) With Michael Sacca

Michael Sacca

Hey everyone, in today’s episode, I share the mic with Michael Sacca. Michael is the president of Crew, a website that connects people with writers or designers for hire.

Listen as Michael delves into the reasons why relationships are key to building your startup, how starting a podcast ( helped him successfully grow his new business, how he grew Unsplash by 30% MoM, and the challenges of building a marketplace.

Download podcast transcript [PDF] here: How Crew President Michael Sacca Grew A Startup By Leveraging His Podcast TRANSCRIPT

Time-Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:42 – If you enjoy the content, leave a rating, review and subscribe to the Growth Everywhere Podcast
  • 01:02 – Eric introduces Michael Sacca
  • 01:30 – Crew connects freelancers with vetted projects and builds trust between project donors and freelancers
  • 01:45 – Michael used to work in San Diego and Crew was a natural fit for him
  • 02:11 – Michael became the president when Crew and Unsplash split up
    • 02:12 – Unsplash is a free, stock photography website
  • 02:37 – The idea for Unsplash came from a photo shoot that they were doing to boost Crew
    • 03:03 – They had over 10,000 downloads of the images and people wanted to get featured
    • 03:28 – Unsplash grew by 30%, month over month, and that’s when they decided to have different CEOs for the two companies
  • 04:00 – Crew had 4.3 gross merchandise volume
  • 04:23 – Crew and Unsplash had two different business models and funding sources
  • 08:23 – The agency used to make half a million a year and invested a 150,000 in their flagship project
    • 08:40 – The project did not work out the way they wanted it to
    • 09:08 – Michael decided to have a podcast because he wanted to ask for advice for their startup, Brandisty
  • 10:02 – Michael had 167 customer interviews to learn from and inform their product when they launched Brandisty
  • 10:31 – They got their first thousand customers through cold reach outs
  • 11:23 – Michael learned what needs to be done through the podcasts
  • 12:07 – They learned that people struggled with brand distribution and addressed that need
  • 12:16 – The price was too low and this might have contributed to the first thousand customers
  • 12:38 – They always had beer for the people who came to their office
  • 13:17 – People do want to help others especially when they feel they are valuable
  • 13:55 – Businesses always hit plateaus
  • 14:16 – Crew is now piggybacking on the content they have in SEO and search engine marketing
    • 15:19 – Paid ads can be used to learn the strategies for SEO
  • 16:10What’s one big struggle you faced while growing Crew? – The hardest thing with Crew is hiring the right people and they struggled with remote teams
    • 17:30 – Remote working is for people who are proactive
    • 18:10 – Michael does a one-month trial before having someone join the team
  • 19:21 – What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your 24-year old self? – “To worry a lot less”
    • 20:08 – Amazing things do happen when you take steps
  • 20:26 – What’s one new tool you’ve added in the last year that has added a lot of value – Klipfolio
  • 21:31 – What’s one tool you can’t live without everyday? – Slack and Excel Spreadsheets
  • 22:32 – What’s one must-read book you recommend? – The History of the Machine Gun
  • 23:50 – The problem is not automation, but how do get people to eat
  • 24:07 – Find Michael on Twitter or shoot him an e-mail or go to his podcast

3 Key Points:

  1. Look for mentors and find a way to make it a win-win situation for the both of you.
  2. Make people feel valuable and they will gladly help you out.
  3. It is the responsibility of tech people to address the problems of other people.

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Full Transcript of The Episode

Show transcript
Michael: And I think a lot of people, no matter where you are, they do want to help. You don't have to give them money but if just give them a good feeling at the end of it then they feel fulfilled that their opinion was heard and that their opinion matters. If you make people feel important, they'll do a lot for you.

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. So if you're ready for a value packed interview, listen on. Here's your host, Eric Siu.

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 everybody, today we have Michael Sacca, who's the president of Crew dot co. What it does is it connects you with the vetted freelancers or designers for hire with over a 99% on time completion rate. Michael, how's it going?

Michael: I'm great, thank you so much for having me on here.

Eric: Yeah, thanks for being here. Why don't you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Michael: Right, you described it well, president of Crew. Crew connects freelancers with vetted projects and we really try to bring quality into the market place and build trust between project owners and freelancers, where notoriously, sometimes, there hasn't always been inside of the freelance economy. I ran a small agency out of San Diego for five years, we worked with clients like GE, Scholastic, Nike, and then when I stepped away from that, Crew was a natural fit, where I really wanted to get into a startup but I could still use a lot of the expertise that I had from running an agency inside of a startup. I started with Crew about two years ago and now since we've split Crew and Unsplash, I stepped into the president's role.

Eric: Got it, and what is Unsplash?

Michael: Unsplash is a basically free stock photography website. Photographers submit their work, people go there, and they can use this creative commons covered photography in anything they want. So it's like a free Shutterstock dot com.

Eric: Awesome. So you had the agency and then you moved into Crew and then where did the idea for Unsplash come from?

Michael: Early on, where there were just four people, Mikael, he was looking for different side projects to do to boost Crew. So we found ... They did a photo shoot for Crew, part of their marketing, and they had this B roll that looked pretty good and he put it up on a Tumblr blog and let people download it for free. Someone put it on Hacker News and it Eric: Got it, makes sense. A lot of people that listen to this, they are aspiring agency owners or they are agency owners as well. For you to have clients like GE, how was the agency doing before you decided to step away? Because I know of some people, agency is a really good cash flow and they use that cash flow to fund other things and some people will shut the agency down. I'm just wondering where you were at before you decided to go in a separate direction.

Michael: Yeah, the agency cash flow was great. We were doing really well. Personally, I had gotten very interested in startups and one thing from the agency ... I started off as a designer and I really wanted to not just do the first iteration of a project but the second, third, and fourth, and continue to make it better. We started building projects inside of the agency, we built one, Brandisty, which was recently acquired but at the time it was a platform where you can help distribute your design or your branding assets. You'd upload your vector file and then we'll convert into a JPEG or a PNG in whatever size that you need whenever someone need to request your logo, it was a brand storage platform.

We invested a lot of our money into it and in the end we didn't have a lot of cash left over. The product didn't pick up at the pace that we needed it to and it was really a decision of, do we continue to do the agency or do we go all in on this one project? That's what we did, we took the risk and it doesn't always quite work out as you want.

Eric: Did you guys sell the agency or did you guys shut it down and decide to put all your chips in the middle for Crew?

Michael: No, the agency and Crew are different, I'm the president of Crew not the founder. I stepped away from the agency and I let the people who were running it continue. I took my experience to Crew when Mikael reached out and he had an opportunity to run our partnership and sales. Yeah, so that's kind of ... I personally stepped away because we hadn't turned the corner in terms of developing a product that would have enough revenue to pay us and at that point I wasn't ready to continue to do the agency kind of grind.

Eric: What were the ballpark revenues for the agency? You don't have to give an exact number. I think this would be helpful for people that are looking to make this kind of transition.

Michael: Yeah, we did about a half a million a year and we invested about 150 thousand into that flagship project over the course of about a year and a half.

Eric: There's a lot of people that are like, "Yeah we're going to use the cash flows to build a product." And then it eventually, slowly shut the agency down, which is kind of what you guys were trying to do but it didn't work out that way.

Michael: Yeah, it didn't. The product was only generating $1000 a month after about a year, year and a half, which isn't terrible but it wasn't enough to really warrant investing more Eric: And this is spelled with a ... It starts with K right?

Michael: Yeah, yeah. Let me see it's -

Eric: Klipfolio, we're dropping a shout out, I've seen it a couple of times.

Michael: Yeah, Klipfolio, fantastic. Really, really powerful and the price point is great for smaller teams.

Eric: Awesome. I'm going to add on a question because I have a feeling you'd have a good answer for this. What's one tool you can't live without everyday? It could be a droklar for example.

Michael: The obvious one is Slack, we're all on Slack everyday. I find myself, these days, I'm in Excel spreadsheets which is the lamest answer but when you run the company you have to run the numbers and so doing my sheets -

Eric: Dude, I'm the same way man. When you get older that's what happens.

Michael: Yeah. I'm in Google sheets all day with our financials and our projections. We forget how powerful a CSV or an Excel document is. The stuff it can do, I haven't seen anyone be able to replace it and it's so simplistic, it's so ... Well not simplistic, but it's rudimentary at this point for a computer to have some kind of spreadsheet program, but the power of it is absolutely incredible. I know that's probably not what people are looking for but -

Eric: Okay, what's one book that you recommend to everyone?

Michael: One of my favorite books ever, being a designer, is The Social History of The Machine Gun. It's a book ... It makes you think about things that we create and the impact of humans and civilization. When you look at the history of the machine gun, you look at all the lives that you were able to take very quickly on the battlefield. That used to be a much more labor intensive effort and with all of the ... Obviously with the machine gun now we have nuclear and atomic. It really is a testament to what we create as humans and what we bring into the world and the impact that it can have on our lives.

Eric: Wow. That's deep. First of all, when you first said it I was like, "It must be some deep title." But it literally is about the machinegun.

Michael: Yeah, no, no it literally is, but the thought process behind why we develop it, is I think ... When we're in business it's usually not as critical as that but when we look at the extreme example, it makes you think about what we're building today and is it better? I think for us it's the conversation around A.I. and robots and jobs and automation. We can build those, we can go there, but what is the impact on society and how do we solve it? Because the bigger problem isn't automation, the bigger problem is how do we get people to eat? Those things, I think, are interesting to think about and in the tech community we do have ... It's now in our court to solve some of those problems. Eric: Right, okay, Mike this has been great, what's the best way for our people to find you online?

Michael: Yeah, I'm on Twitter, Michael Sacca, or just shoot me an email. Michael at Crew dot co.

Eric: All right , awesome, and everyone make sure to check out his podcast as well. It's Rocketship dot fm. Mike, thanks so much for doing this.

Michael: Thank you, thank you. I really appreciate it.

Speaker 2: Thanks for listening to this episode of GROWTH everywhere. If you loved what you heard be sure to head back to GROWTH everywhere dot com 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.