Paul: Welcome to The App Guy Podcast. I'm your host; it's Paul Kemp. This is the show where I help all entrepreneurs, anyone who wants to know what it's like to work in a startup, or the startup scene, entrepreneurship, helping people - this is the podcast to give you an insight into what it's like to get into the scene and to help other out and to live a pretty awesome life with regards to entrepreneurship and startups. Do stay tuned for this episode, I have got a great guest. Actually, I've known this guest for quite a long time digitally, in the digital world, and it's the first time I've had him on the show. His name is Hans van Gent, and he is the creator of Inbound Rocket, but he's also got a full-time job in the fifth largest agency in the world, which is Havas and he can talk us through digital advertising, content marketing, a lot of stuff. So we're going to learn a lot from Hans. Hans, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.
Hans: Thank you for having me, it's a great honor to be part of the podcast series. I've been listening to the podcast, for some time already, and it's always very helpful.
Paul: It's great that you've come on. Now, we have a history together; we've known each other in various Slack groups, and we've been helping each other out, and that's the wonderful world about digital now, that you can build up good relationships with people that you've never met. Tell us about your full-time job first because you are doing advertising. How did you get into advertising? Talk us through how you started working in the digital world?
Hans: Well, it's a bit of a funny story, I think because to be honest I don't have any background in advertising. I studied computer sciences when I was still at university, and I was working happily in that scene. I was working at a small internet provider in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. At one point I had a girlfriend who was working in advertising, so I got to see a bit of the trade, and I helped her out with things that she got stuck on, and at one point I was thinking to myself, "You know, maybe this advertising world is something for me. Maybe I can switch to this world." But of course, having no official background in advertising and no education in there, it might be a bit difficult to get on board; so then I was thinking to myself, "What could be the easiest way to get onboard?" And that was actually through project management. I thought it doesn't matter if you don't know the trade; as long as you can manage projects, then you can work in any company, so that was sort of my step in the door into advertising, four or five years ago. I've been growing in there, I've been learning a lot from the industry and currently, I'm working at Havas Worldwide in Brussels, where I'm the Client Service Director for the digital department; I'm responsible for the entire digital business of the agency there.
Paul: Hans, the most inspirational thing, which will be very appealing to those listening, is the fact that you're working full-time, but you have a secret passion for the startup scene, entrepreneurship and helping people out. Because when you get home, you start doing all this work in content marketing, and you're the creator of Inbound Rocket, so maybe we could focus on that. Firstly, how on earth do you find the time to do all this stuff that you do online, outside of your job?
Hans: Okay, advertising is not really that much of a normal job, like a 9 to 5 job, although there are some similarities. You work a certain set of hours during the day and then in the evening when you come home, you can either sit on the couch, watch some mind-numbing TV and basically waste your entire evening, or you could do something useful with your life.
I'm a very strong believer that if you know something yourself, and there are people that don't have that sort of knowledge, then you should try to help out those people. I have got a lot of friends who are in the startup scene, so that's how I got introduced into that part of the world.
In 2012, I ended up being a contestant in the StartupBus in Europe, and that got the ball rolling a bit more. I ended up being the director in 2014 of the StartupBus in Europe, again next to my main job. We've been organizing weekends where we teach people the basics of entrepreneurship. Through all these different types of events that I do next to my main job, I started to see that most companies fail not because they don't have a good product - they might have the most brilliant product in the world - but they fail because they end up not having any customers.
One thing is, of course, are you really solving a problem that is big enough that people are willing to pay to use your product? In the end, though, even if you are solving a problem for people, if people don't know about you then you're still not doing any business. So from that learning and from what I saw happening there, I came to the conclusion: Okay, how can I help people in that space? I ended up looking around and seeing that a lot of these startups use WordPress as their content management system for their website. They end up installing a lot of different plugins, like 20 or 30, all doing their own little thing. They delete a couple, install some more, and in the end, it's all little islands not working together.
There are a couple of big companies out there who help with marketing automation, but those prices are just way too high for startups and small, medium enterprises. So then my logical conclusion was, okay, if these small, medium enterprises and these startups are running on WordPress and they still need to get customers, why don't I try to help them with that? So I had the idea for Inbound Rocket. Having a technical background, I started validating the idea and working on the first version. But at one point - you know how these things go - if you're not a hardcore developer, it's really difficult to make big steps. Via my network I approached this amazing guy in the U.S. Funny story, I never met the guy in real life; he's an awesome guy, but I never met him in real life, and we're trying to build a business there.
Paul: I know what can help... I mean, if you can imagine that someone listening to this is maybe working for a startup, or they've got their own app and they're really struggling with discovery, you've got a great way of helping with discovery because you do a lot of stuff with content marketing. I see you posting all the time, you're writing, you're posting on various websites, and you even share a lot of the traffic that that generates... What's been the best thing that's worked for you with regards to content marketing?
Hans: I think the mistake that a lot of people made in content marketing is that they first have the idea: "Content marketing is big. I should do something with content marketing." They might start off good; they might produce a couple of articles, but, in the end producing content is really difficult. You have to take the time to investigate your market to be able to write some good stuff. A lot of companies, in the end, their blog, it turns into some glorified status update, and they say, "Look, we hired somebody" or "We've got a new release" or something like this. But content marketing is just a different way of solving the problem you're trying to solve with your product or service. If you look at it from that sense, it becomes a bit easier to come up with articles on how you can help your customers. You have a product, you have a service, you have an app, and you think, "Okay, I can help people with this", but the app is just one part of trying to fix somebody's problem. With content marketing, you can expand that reach, and you can expand on helping people, trying to solve their problems.
Paul: Yes... This comes on the back of an episode, and if you haven't actually heard this episode I do encourage listeners to try to go back and listen to Janet Murray, episode 386 where she said, "No one really wants to read about a new hire, or a new release, or a new update." It's a completely boring subject. Obviously, very relevant to the company or the startup, but not to the world. It doesn't matter. So having a story and having something compelling, or... She mentioned having something that helps the reader know that there's something in it for them. So what I'm learning from you is that you write things that help people, help people achieve or get answers to that question, or just with that knowledge. Is that right?
Hans: Indeed, I once read somewhere online or heard it in a podcast, this brilliant anecdote: Someone said that the big problem is that even if you're thinking that you're on the right track, a lot of people, when they start writing, they are approaching it in a way that is way to difficult. Because what happens is that if I know a certain subject, and I know a certain subject well, automatically your brain thinks, "Oh, the rest of the world knows this", and then you don't write about it because you think it's useless and nobody cares about this. But the anecdote I'm referring to is that, okay, look at it like this: if you go to high-school or you go to university, the first day that you arrive at the university, indeed, you don't know anything indeed. And after four years of being at the university, you know everything: you know where the toilets are, you know which teacher you need to approach for whatever subject, etc. But on the other hand, every day there's a new bunch of freshmen arriving, on the internet. Just like every year, there's a new bunch of freshmen arriving at university. Even though you might think, "Okay, I know the world, I know everything," because of the fact there's always a new bunch of freshmen arriving, even with something that for you sounds very mundane, and you think, "Sure, I know this subject. Everybody know this", there are always a lot of people out there who still don't know this, and you can still help them. Even by just writing out those kinds of things, you can get a good grip on the market and educate a lot of people, and thus attract a lot of traffic.
Paul: I'm going to encourage everyone listening to this who is getting inspired to go and write something. If you're listening and you're an app entrepreneur and you haven't written anything, or blogged about anything, or posted anything, right now. It's great traffic; it's great for your profile. Let's talk about what we do. We met through a Slack group, and we do help each other out. What have you learned over the year of posting things on various sites? Have you got any good recommendations for us?
Hans: Well, it all depends on your market, on the app. Of course, if you have a certain project and if you have a certain product, then that product is solving the problem for what in advertising we call a certain Buyer Persona, somebody who is your ideal customer. And your ideal customer has certain spots on the internet where he or she hangs out. It could be on Facebook, but your ideal customer could hang out on Reddit, or on all sorts of forums, websites or communities online, I think before your start writing if you try to define - just like you defined who is your ideal customer for your app - if you know your ideal customer, then you know also in what tone of voice you need to start writing, what type of content you can start writing, and you know where those people are hanging out. So if you want to start promoting your content, go to the places where your customers are. That could be anything, ranging from Quora to Reddit, to LinkedIn or Twitter, it doesn't matter. It's very difficult to say, "Okay, go to this website," because what might work for me doesn't necessarily have to work for somebody else.
Paul: How about this, then? How about we do a case study, and we treat you as a consultant? So in the previous episode, just to kind of link this show together, the previous episode was a video app; it was a unique video app that's got a unique proposition of changing the way we edit, in real time editing. If I was to try and promote that video app - because I'm sure that's very similar to a lot of people listening to this - where would I go and what would I do?
Hans: I think, for starters, for somebody working with video it's very logical to go to video places like YouTube or Vimeo, instead of writing something. Because content marketing is more than just writing; it can be the creation of visuals, or in your case, what you're doing here with podcasts is a form of content marketing by itself. So it could also mean that content marketing for this person when trying to attract an audience could happen by creating useful content on a YouTube channel, or on Vimeo; Twitter would be suitable - you can tweet a video, as well. In this case, it makes more sense to go into that direction and see where the audience is there.
Paul: Yes, and it also can be a complete waste of time if you don't get it right... Because I've spent years on the web, and it will suck up huge amounts of time, and if you spend it posting to various places where nobody is going to read it and nobody is going to watch it, it does consume a lot of time. How can we ensure that we can get discovered with our content, as well as the apps? Should we partner with people who have already made audiences? Give us some advice on that.
Hans: What is always really helpful indeed is writing on different platforms, guest-writing, for example. When you know there's another company out there who has a bigger reach than you; maybe you can swap an article, saying "Look, I will write an article for you guys, why don't you write an article for me?" Another good way is approaching the thought leaders in your industry. What I've seen happening on our blog, at Inbound Rocket, for example, is some post where in one week, I created a post about a certain subject, and in the following week, I did a follow-up post where I let in the opinion of industry thought-leaders on the website. I think you were part of one of those posts, as well. And one, it's very easy, you can just create a Google Form and stalk these people, send them a tweet, "Hey, can you give me five minutes of your time to fill in this form and be featured in my post?" A lot of people are helpful, and you know, five minutes of their time is nothing. On the one hand, if they help you with these five minutes, they get more exposure as a thought leader, so it's like an ego boost for them; and as soon as the post is online, they are always really eager to share, of course, because it's their face on another website, and it's their opinion, so it helps them in the ego again. But on the other hand, as soon as those industry thought leaders start sharing that content, of course, they have a lot of followers, so it ends up having a lot of traffic for you again.
Paul: Okay, I love this strategy, and I'm just going to try and break down what I've learned from you. So this is a post that you put together, that had all the different thought leaders that you knew had some influence, and you wrote about them individually and what they were advising.
Hans: A concrete example in this case - at one point I wrote a post about how you can optimize your landing page. There are different things like social proofing, etc. to make your landing page more convincing. On the other hand, for startups, it's really difficult if you're just starting out to have the social proof because nobody wrote about you yet, you don't have user reviews, so the case for really early startups is a bit different. So I approached a couple of industry thought leaders and said, "Okay if you need to start a new business right now, and you need to create a landing page, how would you make sure that it will help convert?" I asked them just this one question, I put it in a Google Form and just stalked a bunch of people on Twitter. From the 30 people I ask, I get maybe ten responses, and I include those responses in a new post.
Paul: It's absolutely genius, Hans, what you're advising. It's a great strategy for anyone who's thinking about trying to increase their discoverability for what they're doing. So there are two things we need to do before we say goodbye. One is that I love to try and tease out potential new ideas for disruptive apps. Now, we can either just ask you outright if as you're going about your business - and I'm assuming you're incredibly productive - do you have an idea for an app? If you do, great; if not, we can explore another way of doing this.
Hans: Well, I have an idea already, for some time, and I was listening to one of your podcasts the other day and I think somebody already mentioned it a little bit.
Paul: That's the thing in the app world - everything's already been done.
Hans: Well, it's not being done yet at the moment, so this is a golden opportunity, I would say, but I just really don't have the time for it. The fact is that a lot of times... I'm from the Netherlands, but I'm working in Belgium right now, and I don't know when these public holidays are in Belgium, so it's always a big surprise for me; like one week from now we have a day off, and I never know these kinds of things, and that makes it really difficult for me as well to, in advance, plan a nice weekend away, like a city trip with my girlfriend, for example. So what would be ideal for me, if there was just a website or application where you could say: okay, two weeks from now, in that weekend I can leave on Friday evening, I need to come back on Sunday evening; this is my budget, tell me what I can do. Because right now you go to ten different websites to get your plane information, then you might find some cheap flight but you still need to find a hotel, you need to find activities, and it would be awesome if you could just tell me, "Okay, two weeks from now you could go to Rome, you're sleeping here, you can visit this concert. Or you could go to Berlin, you visit this museum, and you're staying here." Just give the budget envelope and give me my options.
Paul: So Hans, for everyone listening who has the ability to develop apps, they need to take this guidance. When you hear these stories, time and time again, and these needs, we're definitely on to something. I was only talking about this the other day... We need someone, as a family here, to curate our weekends, curate our life, in a way. Because I don't want the hassle of booking, all these different options. I just want... Here's my budget, and I want them to tap into my Facebook feeds so they can see what I like to do, and I want them to tell me, I want some service or app that tells me what to do. I pay the app, and it just takes care of everything.
Hans: It costs so much time that by the time you find a decent flight, the hotels are too expensive; and you just want to get a small weekend away, and I don't need to spend two evening or three evenings trying to find something nice to go to.
Paul: Hans, it's a perfect idea, so I want someone listening to this to build that because that is a genius idea. All the best apps that are massively successful are doing some curation, and what about curating the one most important thing, which is our lives; taking especially the weekends, curating it so that we don't have the stress and hassle of booking all these different things individually. It's a genius idea. Okay, the final thing then... This is a show about apps, so do you have an app or two that you think we may not know about but could be a good recommendation? Please don't close the recording, as well. This is usually the bit where I lose the guest.
Hans: Well, on my desktop I've been using Grammarly lately a lot, especially since I'm writing more. As you might have guessed from my accent, I'm not a native English speaker, so writing in English sometimes, even if I think it's correct, it still might give some weird stuff and especially if you're doing content marketing, you want to be correct in your English or in the grammar you're writing, and Grammarly has been a major help for me, trying to spell all the different quirks I do wrong in my writing.
Paul: Okay, I love Grammarly. You introduced me to that a while ago, and I've been using it and I love it. I think it's great. I haven't yet gone for the upgrade. It's basically for anyone, you need to go and check it out; I'll be putting links on the show notes. Grammarly gives you a free and then a paid version. You have these critical issues, and then you have the advanced issues. When you pay for those advanced issues, are they worth it?
Hans: Yes. So I've got a paid version indeed because I love the product, and if I love something, then I will reward the people who made it and I will always pay for it. So that's one of the reasons why I wanted to pay for it, but the other thing is indeed the options to have some more in-depth knowledge about your writing, it's awesome.
Paul: You're making me feel guilty now. After this, I will go and pay for it. You're right, there is a maker behind these things, and there's no better endorsement of the product than actually paying for it.
Hans: Indeed. A couple of years ago I wanted to start using an application for my coding called Coda, and in the AppStore it's not possible to do a review, test it out for two weeks and then decide to pay for it. Maybe it's changed by now, but I'm not sure. To be honest, what I did have I torrented the application, I used it for three hours and them I said, "Okay, it's good." I deleted the application, and I still bought it.
Paul: Wouldn't you wish that every app user is a bit like that? I mean, look at some of the reviews that you get for free apps... I do feel like we're living in a society where sometimes there's no appreciation for the creators. But when you're a creator yourself, then it gives you a huge amount of appreciation for the things that are created for us. Do you feel like that's fair?
Hans: Exactly, that appreciation is important; the guy needs to pay for his lunch as well, and he needs to pay for a roof above his head, so it makes a lot of sense to help out. And because of the free economy, a lot of these things are so cheap nowadays. It doesn't really matter... I'm a paying customer for example for Evernote. I love Evernote, as well, and I'm more than happy to pay for it, it's only a couple Euros a month. Of course, in the end, you always have to be careful that you're not paying for a hundred different things a couple Euros a month, because then it's still expensive, but...
Paul: Yes, I can confess I am a paying customer of Evernote. So, Hans, that is great, I will put links to that in the show notes. So for everyone listening, it's Episode 394. To get to that, you just need to go to theappguy.co and just type in 394 or Hans van Gent. What's the best way of getting in touch, Hans? What's the easiest way of reaching out to you?
Hans: Well, if you're looking for me just type my name; I think by now in Google I'm occupying the first couple of pages.
Paul: That is the best answer I think I've ever heard on this whole show. Just google me.
Hans: Yes, well if you're active online for more than a couple of years, you start to occupy that first page, for a bare minimum. So it's way easier than handing out business cards... Just search for my name. But you can always find me on... I think the easiest is reaching out via Twitter, that's @jcvangent, or with that same username basically on every social network.
Paul: You have just proven to anyone who has maybe a slightly unique name that they need to be content marketing because the benefit of that is that you google the name and you will be everywhere on the first two pages. So that's almost a justification for that time and effort into the content. Hans, this has been a great chat. I'm so glad that we could get you on the show finally, and all the best with Inbound Rocket. I do recommend people to go and check out inboundrocket.co, and thank you for coming on.
Hans: Thanks a lot of having me. After listening to all you episodes, it's been a real honor to finally be on one myself.