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.
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 I 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 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.
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.