How a $79 SEOmoz Membership Changed My Life Forever

I’m a lucky guy. My current job as Chief Marketing Officer for PlaceFull, a startup in Seattle leads to many amazing opportunities. Don’t get too impressed by the title. Like many startups, we give out titles like we give away free t-shirts. That said, it’s a great job and it’s fun building a marketing campaign from the ground up. None of it would have been possible without a $79 membership to SEOmoz.

This is the story of how it happened.

You see, three and a half years ago I had a different job in downtown Seattle. I was a waiter in the world-famous Pike’s Place Market.

How did I go from a waiter to CMO of a funded startup in three and half years? The reality is I benefited greatly from the generosity of others.

Me and Roger

From Waiter to Internet n00b

Back at Pike’s Place Market, not far from the original Starbucks, I quit my restaurant job and told my wife I wanted to make a living working with the Internet. At the time I didn’t know Jack Squat about anything. I figured my first step was to learn how to build a website. So I bought a book – yes, a physical book, on HTML and another on CSS. Like an old-school version of Codecademy, I worked through all the lessons.

By summer I was flat broke.

Undeterred, I borrowed cash from my parents, my wife’s parents, and even my credit card’s parents. I learned the Expression Engine framework (rookie mistake – should’ve gone with WordPress) and build my first student website. Then it came time to learn marketing.

The Best Way to Learn SEO?

I knew I wanted to join an online SEO community to support my efforts. Because I was broke, any amount of money spent represented a huge investment. The choice was narrowed down to two membership sites: SEO Book and SEOmoz. Both offered a wealth of knowledge and impressive tool suites. But one just seemed… more like home.

$79 later, I was officially a paying member of SEOmoz PRO. Damn, doesn’t that PRO badge feel good?

But success didn’t knock at my door right away. My site sucked and so did traffic. I made about $100 a month. I couldn’t build a link to save my life. This stuff was hard!

Get a Paying Gig

Around this time my wife got a job working for a wine accessory company. The company did good business, but their website needed serious work. Wanting to help, I asked my wife to arrange a meeting. The next week IĀ  presented a list of 10 simple things they could do to improve their SEO – easy things like unique title tags and crawlable navigation.

Then, at the end of the 45-minute meeting, the VP of Marketing offered me a job. My only qualification was that I knew more about SEO than he did.

Over the next year, I worked part-time as the in-house SEO. We started off with online sales of $500,000 and total yearly sales of about 4 million. By the time I left, and thanks to a great team, online sales tripled and total company sales reached 10 million annually. Even with this success, the wine company was my only client, and I still considered myself a novice SEO.

The Job That Changed Everything

Not surprisingly, my first SEO job didn’t pay well. While researching SEO salaries, I stumbled across a job posting for a customer service rep at SEOmoz. It paid awesomely! I figured my restaurant experience was more relevant than my SEO work. So a quick resume and several interviews later, Sarah Bird – one of the greatest bosses in the world – offered me the job.

The next few months I walked on sunshine. I worked the early shift, so I would often ride my bike to work at 5:30 am. Upon arrival, I unload the official SEOmoz dishwasher (we all pitched in) and set to work answering customer service tickets. The best part? (aside from the great people, free lunch, and all that stuff) My SEOmoz monthly membership was now free.

One day, Tom Critchlow asked me to lunch.

Be warned: I’m always wary when marketing folks ask customer service folk to lunch. It usually means extra work is coming.

Tom said he had a proposal: How would I like to be the SEO for SEOmoz?

I kid you not. My mouth was full of Chinese noodles when he asked this. I kept chewing, nodding, and thinking “don’t screw this up.”

Two years and two blocks away from where I quit my restaurant job, I was promoted to Lead SEO for SEOmoz.

Path to SEOmoz

(path to success)

A Culture of Serendipity

You know who I haven’t mentioned in this post yet? A guy who makes serendipity part of his lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong. I was a huge Rand fanboy before starting at SEOmoz, and even more so after I worked with him. My first elevator ride with Rand was like a bad episode of Seinfeld – I was so nervous. I’ll never forget when he spent the day in customer service with us answering the phone, just so he could understand the customers better. He spent the day helping people reset their passwords and resolve billing issues, and they had no idea who they were talking to!

Rand talks about serendipity, but it’s most evident in the company that he built. Every day I got to work with my heroes like Jen, Jamie, Joanna, and Casey. But working at SEOmoz, every day you got a sense that good things were just going to happen. You couldn’t explain it, but serendipity was in the air from the ground up.

When you attract serendipity into your life, into your career, it finds you. That’s what SEOmoz meant to me.

Cyrus Shepard

The Road Undiscovered

Eventually, I left Moz to pursue other interest, but it hands down the best job I ever had. We don’t know where our marketing career will take us next. I can’t promise you that an SEOmoz membership, or any membership, will turn you into a Chief Marketing Officer at a startup. But if you keep your heart open, and align yourself with the right people with awesome values, good things are always possible.

For me, it was the best $79 I ever spent.

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27 thoughts on “How a $79 SEOmoz Membership Changed My Life Forever”

  1. Amazing story and an inspiration to anybody who thinks they are stuck in a dead end job. I think the most fundamental lesson to be learned from reading this is that old proverb: you make your own luck. That must have been unbelievable to have been offered the SEOmoz job – I mean, how did that actually come about? If you were working as a customer service rep, how were you able to manoeuvre yourself into a position where you were the most suitable candidate in a company full of SEO experts?

    All I have to say is, “well done.” I love to read these stories, they remind me that it’s time to kick myself up a gear and make the most of my own potential.

  2. A very good inspirational story Cyrus.. though i think success has no end… i m sure that u’ll achieve much more than what you have.
    My best wishes always with you and thankx a lot to motivate me and i hope so many others.. šŸ™‚

  3. An awesome story thanks for sharing this very personal insight in to your life and journey. Makes me think about my path to SEO and the path ahead and smile šŸ™‚ Great to have good folks like you and the regulars on SEOMoz to lead the way and show us how it’s done! Hard work, passion and honesty.

  4. I love this story, Cyrus. You’ve come so far and your journey and successes have been awesome. So cool to see how your culture of service (both as a waiter and at Moz), have prepped you for your current CMO role. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you and am looking forward to hanging out again.

    BTW, I just +1ed Globe Student Discount. šŸ™‚

  5. What a lovely post, Cyrus, and inspirational too. Now, I’m on my way of becoming a good SEO (just starting) and the reading of stories like yours propel me to not stop in working hard and fight for my dreams. Thanks, really, thanks so much.

  6. Great post, Cyrus. I love these types of posts – finding out the path people took to get into SEO and to get to where they are now.

    Also, your “path to success” map made me LOL. Do you still go to the restaurant you used to waiter at?

  7. Fantastic story Cyrus. I think becoming an active member of the SEOmoz community (pro or not pro) has had a similar affect on a lot people. Not everyone who joins the community will end up with a new job title or opportunity. Instead, you read about how being around a group of positive minded people who aspire to do great work leads to a mind-set change and alters the way so many of us do business everyday.

  8. Awesome story Cyrus. SEOmoz must have been a killer place to work. The culture, the industry, everything about SEOmoz screams cool. How cool would was it to be SEO for SEOmoz? That’s like being the Chef for set of Hell’s Kitchen! Congrats and good luck on the new gig. Serendipity++!

  9. Cyrus, I always respect you for what kind of talent you posses but literally after reading this i have to say that my respect for you is double or may be even more…

    for good things happen to you, you not only have to have to heart open but have to be extra hard worker and should have a believe in yourself!

    great story! and RESPECT for you sir!

  10. Thanks Cyrus. I loved reading your story. There was a time when I too was looking for SEO tools and didn’t know which one to choose. I actually belong to a group at LinkedIn that discusses SEO topics so I posted the question there: “Which paid SEO tools are worth the money?” It was almost unanimous for SEOMoz. Fortunately, by that time I had been hired to do in-house SEO for a great company with a very progressive CEO. He encouraged me to go for the Pro membership and within a month I was asking SEOMoz if they had a 2,000 keywords level…..still waiting on that, but definitely getting the most out of the Pro Plus membership. It’s worth every single penny. Thanks for being an inspiration!

  11. You’re a living example of the following math equation, Cyrus:

    Hard work (learning frameworks from scratch)
    + Tenacity (keeping at it when the going was tough)
    + Innate skill (You’re a people person and know how to make the right connections)
    + Luck (Right place, right time)

    Once people identify their innate skills and what they want to accomplish, the rest will eventually fall into place. Great reminder when the going gets tough, too. šŸ™‚

    Here’s to many more years of success!

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