Learn how it takes blood, sweat and sacrifices to truly scale a business.
Looking to grow your business? Want to hear what it takes to achieve revenues of $100 million a year and make it onto the AFR Rich List? Fred Schebesta, co-founder of Finder.com shares details of how he grew a simple blog about credit cards and home loans to one of the world’s most popular online comparison sites.
If you’re an entrepreneur or business owner who’s keen to make serious waves online then listen to this video interview. Fred shares advice on pushing through setbacks, getting out of ‘Google Jail’ and using quality content with digital smarts to monetise niches.
Click below to watch the video.
Following is the video transcript.
I’m excited today to be with Fred Schebesta. I’ve known Fred for around a decade because we both work in digital and product development. Fred has a wonderful story to tell about his comparison site, Finder.com (you probably know the jingle) and today we’re going to find out more about Fred’s journey.
Making it onto the AFR Young Rich list
Fred this year you made it onto the AFR Young Rich list. Can you tell us about what that means to you?
Look, it isn’t just about me. It’s an important recognition of Frank Restuccia (co-founder) and the team who’ve come on this journey with me and how much we’ve all achieved together. I’m only one small part of that. In a way, we’ve been sort of underground for a while and kept quiet and now everyone’s like, oh, there’s this finder thing, which I think is kind of cool.
So from the beginning, were you on a journey to build wealth? Because in the real estate industry that’s why people come into property as professionals. It’s because there’s no ceiling to what you can earn. So was that your objective from day one?
I think I had a lot of skills in digital marketing that I’d built up while I was running my marketing agency. I call it trading time for money. Ultimately I wanted to build a company that could scale up with no limits.
So for an agent, it’s similar in that you build a client base and a reputation and find your niche. I say that, for us, our knowledge is ‘an inch wide and a mile deep’ in terms of how we specialise.
In the end, I wanted to take those digital marketing skills and use them to build a company we could scale.
Right. And do you mind sharing what your public wealth has been reported as being?
I don’t know the exact number. I think it’s $298 million, which is phenomenal.
Excellent ‒ and you’ve achieved that in 13 years with Frank.
Business partners or partnerships are key to scaling
Yes. Frank and I have been working together longer than I was married (and that’s neither here nor there but I have a great relationship with my ex-wife as well).
With Frank and my relationship, we have a real partnership, which is something important to scaling your business.
It‘s my belief that as an individual you have a lot of skills but you always need someone else to balance those out.
So you complement each other. And what was the tipping point for you in your business? How many years was it before it really took off?
It started from nothing and it really started as a blog so it was very simple in the beginning. We just talked about credit cards then we branched out to home loan finder and personal finance finder.
We had these different websites, then we aggregated them and made finder.com.au. I guess that was when it really took off, then we launched the international business and now we’re setting our sights even higher.
I think the key to our success was we started with something small in a tight niche we could master and then we expanded. I think there are a lot of people out there who want to do everything all at once whereas I’m not sure that’s the best approach. We found the better approach was to put all our focus on being the best in that niche and then expand from that.
Taking the Finder.com business global
I love the fact that you started from a blog and then had all these different sites that you then aggregated. Can you tell me how many countries are you in with finder.com and what your annual revenue is now?
We started launching new sites into the US about three years ago, the UK about two years ago and then Canada last year.
We have an office in Poland and in Manila as well where we don’t actually market locally apart from a little bit of content.
However, there are some verticals we market all around the world. So we’re in about 73 different countries and we’re adding more countries all the time.
I think we’re on track this year for $100 million-plus in revenue.
Well done! That’s an amazing achievement in just over a decade.
Forging your future as an entrepreneur
So tell me about what you need to operate as an entrepreneur. How is working for yourself different from working for someone? What do you need to give every day?
The sacrifices that you need to make are extraordinary if you want to build a great company. It’s the time, the friendships. You need to explain to your family and friends that you’re committed to this project completely because I believe if you don’t say, “I’m going to commit to this wholly and solely”, and do it, you’re not going to get there.
So you’re saying you need to make sacrifices and that’s very similar to what property professionals go through. They’re on call 24/7, they’ve invested in their business, and you’re saying it’s necessary to go through this to provide a great service, build wealth and get your family into a great position.
Did you have any setbacks along the way that you had to overcome as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome those?
Oh, we had lots!
One of our big challenges was that we got penalised by Google. We didn’t get a fine or anything or go to Google Jail! What it means, though, is they take your search ranking and move you down about 200 places.
You end up buried in the back of Google, which is kind of brutal. We lost about 70 to 80 per cent of our traffic overnight and for three months we had to campaign through it. We were concerned that we might never recover.
But eventually we dug ourselves out. We found a way to recover and we bought a ninja sword ‒ a proper ninja sword that sits on our wall and you see it when you walk in. It’s a symbol of that moment when we came back, but also the struggle we went through to get there.
I should say that you’ve got to be careful with your marketing tactics. You can push it too far and go over the line (and we did) but still your marketing tactics need to be really sharp, like ninja swords, but remember that sword can also hurt you if you aren’t careful.
So what did you do that got you put into Google Jail?
We had a lot of content that wasn’t the highest quality. We should have overhauled that whole process.
The other thing was we got certain websites to link to us that maybe weren’t that legitimate and Google caught on to it, which is fine.
Back in the day, those techniques were normal but these days we know them as ‘black hat’ tactics and you have to expect to be penalised.
Great things come from marketing experimentation
That’s your background isn’t it? Your first agency was SEO focused? So you were pushing the boundaries on what you could do to get website visibility through search engine optimisation?
That’s right. We didn’t push it too far with clients because we couldn’t risk it. For our sites, they were experimental sites in the beginning so the risk wasn’t as high.
Great things come from experimentation. That’s where I try to do things.
We’re experimenting again today with creating this new app that is a totally different standalone business, which is quite fascinating.
What will the app do?
Well, it will enter your bank account and help you to automatically compare all your products for you and continuously monitor what you’re spending money on.
So it will look at what I’m spending on insurance and my home loan and my electricity bill, my gas bill and my pet insurance, correct, and then it will tell me where I can save some money?
How do I sign up?
Exactly right. It’s in the App Store or you can just type finder.com.au/app and you’ll find the app there. It’s on Android and iPhone and it’s a great service.
About this video series
Hoole.co’s video series brings together the best digital and social media minds in the real estate industry, to share the wonders of the web and magic of mobile. Subscribe to Hoole.co or follow us on social media (below) for free tips and tricks to grow your reputation and attract prospects, digitally.