Building a great company requires inspirational leadership and a willingness to get your hands dirty. Anyone can be an entrepreneur, but in order to succeed you have to be creative, motivated, and possess an ability to simultaneously think about the big picture while paying attention to the details. Loyalty matters. And, looking good helps people trust you. That’s how I would sum up what I learned from Neil Patel during a recent interview.
It seems Neil is everywhere. You can read his advice on SEO and digital marketing in popular publications such as Moz, HubSpot, and Quick Sprout, his own blog which generates over $1MM annually. What’s more, he’s just 29 years old and has already been recognized by Forbes as a leader in digital marketing. Not to mention the fact that he’s built 5 multimillion-dollar software companies.
I met Neil last year when I first started at Digital Telepathy. He was working remotely from our office and sitting right behind me. I recognized him but didn’t have any clue why he was there. He chatted me up and told me about Crazy Egg’s purchase of Hello Bar, a DT Product. Turns out, he’s really friendly… and wears amazing shoes.
Now, let’s dive into the mind of this entrepreneur and learn what makes him tick…
We’re going to start with some word association, and you just tell us the first thing that comes to your mind…
Search: Engine, Innovation: Apple, Success: Elon Musk, Failure: MySpace
Neil, what about business do you love the most?
Anyone can succeed. No matter what cards you’re dealt in life, you can still overcome competition. You can do better than them. You can grow your company.
It’s not the ones that have the most resources that succeed in business – it’s usually ones who are great executors and have creativity that do well. You don’t have to be born rich or be the smartest person to succeed.
What drives me is the fact that I enjoy it. It’s like a drug; it’s an adrenaline rush. I love the risk-taking. Plus, it’s fun!
As a serial entrepreneur, what do you think is one of the most important lessons that you have learned?
Execution is very important. It doesn’t matter if your product is not as good as the best. It’s just really about getting shit done, and I think that’s what some people lack. They’re just not able to get shit done, whether it’s pushing it live or working to finish it. They bail.
Company culture is something we’re really passionate about here at Digital Telepathy, so I’m interested to hear about what you see the value of culture as. What do your organizations look for in terms of a cultural fit when finding employees?
If someone isn’t a good cultural fit, eventually they’re going to churn. They’re going to cause chaos within your company. They’re not going to get along with people. They’re just going to be a problem. So we look for people who are very like-minded. They can bring something different to the table, but they’ve just got to get along. You need to have very similar morals and values, right? All that kind of stuff is very valuable.
You obviously know that DT does design since we helped you with your website. We were wondering, how has design played a role in your success and in your business’ success?
Design is marketing, and if your design sucks, and it’s not usable, then no one is really going to stick around. If your design is ugly, people probably aren’t going to want to pay you as much as they would if you looked professional. If you have a design that represents a good-looking brand that’s big, powerful, etc, people are probably more likely to want to stick around, come back and tell others about it, versus something that looks a bit sketchy.
How often do you like to change the designs and iterate on optimization of your websites?
We iterate and optimize as much as possible. As for changing designs, I hate changing designs. I try to avoid that. I’m all about adjusting and testing. When you redo without tweaking, you can actually lose quite a bit of money.
Your blog definitely seems well-trafficked. Are you testing on 100 percent of your audience or do you test like 10 percent?
Well, you just have to get some statistical significance. You can test with ten percent of your audience, that’s fine. But you’ve got to keep testing for statistical significance. So I just test 100 percent and the company ends up winning or losing faster and that’s OK because if I had a 10 percent audience to test, it’s going to take forever. If I can get the test over in like a week, I’m happy.
You are obviously a very ambitious guy. Do you have a path for early retirement or are you going to work until you’re gray?
I think I’m going to retire. I’m hoping within the next 10 years, but my version of retirement is also different than most people. My version of retirement is don’t work 60-hour weeks, maybe work like 40 hours. So I don’t think I will like fully retire. I also get bored too so I know I will do something – I’ve tried taking a vacation and then I’m like, “Oh, this sucks. We should get back to work.”
I want to make hundreds of millions of dollars. I don’t know if I will ever get there. It’s not because I want to spend that money, but instead I want to give it away because I think if you can make enough money, you can change the world with it, right? I don’t know which cause I’m going to pick yet. I’m still young. But once I do, I hope that I can actually make enough to make a difference.
What did the early stage Neil Patel look like? How did your career start?
I went to college at Cal State Fullerton, but actually started my career when I was like 16. I started doing marketing for my own sites. I met some people in college and they gave me a contract job and it grew from there.
I didn’t know what I was going to be. I thought maybe I would be an engineer, like maybe work at Boeing or something like that, like a mechanical or electrical engineer. I had no idea specifically what I was going to do when I was growing up.
So Neil, what do you do for fun?
Party. [laughs] I live in Las Vegas. I go out with friends. I watch a lot of NBA and NFL football. And, I run a lot.
Who are your NFL and NBA teams?
NFL: Seahawks… I used to live in Seattle.
NBA: Lakers, although they’ve been sucking for awhile.
That’s loyalty right there. . . so, we have a question from our CEO Chuck: What’s the deal with your shoes?
Some people have bad habits. Some are drugs, some are alcohol. Me? I spend too much money on clothes and shoes. I usually only wear dress shoes because that’s all I have. I only have – I think I have one pair of sneakers and these running shoes that I wear to the gym. Other than that, I don’t have like casual shoes… I’ve never really thought about it.
If you’re interested in hearing more insights from Neil, follow him on twitter.