This episode is a story of success about a guy who was studying information sciences, but suddenly his life changed – he got into SEO and been in love with it ever since. Today’s guest is Steven Van Vessum – the co-founder and chief customer officer of ContentKing Company, an app that offers a real-time SEO auditing and content tracking solution since 2015.
He had been working in SEO for 3 years before starting his agency. Most of all, together with second co-founder they sold successful SEO agency to make a much bigger impact on the industry and create ready-to-use software, rather than just being an agency and building websites. And now ContentKing is a real-time SEO auditing and change tracking solution with 3000 users and 75 million pages monitored on a daily basis.
However, he had been working hard in website building and optimization before he decided to sell off the agency and focus on ContentKing. And it was not an easy decision to sell a successful business, but he wanted to do something else and develop different skills.
So, after a 18 months of development, they launched their app which gives you insight into issues and changes in your website from a technical and content point of view. On top of that, the application sends alerts in case of big issues and changes. Moreover, now his company 14 people on board. Isn’t it awesome?
Using their experience and skills in the right way, Steve is creating something new, extraordinary and fresh for SEO – Saas business with a strong team and energetic people that attracts more users every day.
This is an inspiring story which gives you some important lesson that if you think you can and keep pushing yourself, you can do things that you never thought were possible.Click here to Read Transcript
Katia: [00:00:36] Today’s guest is the co-founder and chief customer officer of ContentKing Company. They are for real time auditing and concentrating solution. Since 2015. Have you thought as a project officer your agency became popular for allowing businesses to dive into the smallest details of even the biggest websites and see changes in real time. Now it’s the company we’ve 14 people on board. And I’d like to welcome Bayer co-founder and digital interpreter with 20 years of experience Stephen even when Bassem said Welcome to the show.
Steven: [00:01:10] Thank you very much Katya.
Katia: [00:01:11] Thank you for taking your time! So let’s start with your roots and background. What is your basic timeline of how you got to where you are today.
Steven: [00:01:23] Yeah so let’s start at the beginning. I studied information sciences and which were basically between business science and a computer sciences. So I was basically working with both fields of expertise and trying to translate their conversations. And I got into SEO and it turns out it was a lot about making technical stuff easy to understand for non-technical people and the other way around. So I got around in 2006 I got into SEO and you know been in love ever since.
Katia: [00:02:07] Right! And can you expand on your passion? What attracts you to this industry?
Steven: [00:02:16] Well one of the things that I find really interesting is that it’s not very a lot of it is not very well documented by search engines like how do the search engines work. They for instance Google they document quite a lot of stuff but they don’t give away the secret. So it’s a constant challenge to keep up with changes and figure out what works and what doesn’t. So I find it really interesting as well as having the ability to basically make a company using organic search.
Katia: [00:02:51] Yeah I see. I agree on point where Google changes things quickly without confirmation or anything like that. And can you expand on your previous company previous experience with SEO or what have you done before Content King?
Steven: [00:03:13] So I worked in two agencies before before starting my own one. I am joined by my business partner Vincent in 2009 his agency and we got really into building as he optimized sites. So we did that from 2009 till like 2000 15. And then we switched to content King. And the reason we were able to do that is because we develop countersuing internally within the agency because the lines were continuously making unwanted changes to the site or there could be constant changes or technical changes regardless. We weren’t happy with it and the changes were were hurting their results and in turn they were holding us responsible. Which is the odd thing with with clients and agencies. So they were breaking stuff but they were saying yeah you got to check this and prevent us from from doing this. So then we we developed content and it turned out there was a lot of other people that were very eager to get their hands on it besides us. So we decided to sell off the agency and focused on ContentKing..
Katia: [00:04:40] I see, and how long it took you to go from like launch of Content King to selling your SEO agency?
Steven: [00:04:52] I think about a year year.
Katia: [00:04:55] Was it a tough decision?
Steven: [00:04:57] Yes. Yes. In a way like from an emotional point of view it’s kind of strange to sell off something that’s making you money good money. Yeah. Yeah. Basically selling a successful business because you don’t want to do something else. But it was necessary because you got to make choices you got to keep focused. You cannot do both at the same time and excel in both if you’re you’re risking basically doing both and not excelling in any of them. And then yeah. What do you have at the end of the road.
Katia: [00:05:38] Yeah yeah. I think in a way it’s like killing two birds with one stone in some way.
Steven: [00:05:44] Yeah that’s it for me. It feels like a very organic way of ending up doing Content King because we it we call it stretching your own edge. We created something that solve their own problem and it turned out there was a lot more people with the same problem. And now this way with counting King We can also have a much bigger impact on the industry rather than just being an agency and building websites. So yes and advising about SEO.
Katia: [00:06:27] So do you ever regret your decision to switch to content totally or you are like you stay with your decision and no regrets?
Katia: [00:06:42] No regrets! No no I’m very happy. We we made a decision to do it like this for me like after. I don’t know like be an eight year on the agency side. It was a very welcome change as well. I guess some people are made for a agency life. But for me personally like after eight years it got demotivating. After a while I wanted to do something else and develop better skills. I say happy yeah.
Katia: [00:07:20] So since we got to content King, how long it took you to develop the app, tool?
Steven: [00:07:34] We’ve been developing for about three years. And I think we we launched like the first version. After about a year and then the bad version after like one half year. So that means there’s a lot of development resources going into that. But it’s not surprising to be honest because there is a lot of Aecio tools out there and we really wanted to build something that’s different. And that’s a lot better than what’s out there. Not an incremental improvement but something very innovative and you’re so very yourself funded yes yes we will use the agency revenue basically to pay for the development of constantly. But after a while we we sold the agency and we got some outside money into this well.
Katia: [00:08:34] So for people who are not familiar with. Can you tell us more about what your company does?
[00:08:44] Yes yes sure. Goalkicking is a real time CEO auditing and change tracking application. So that means when you fill in your website encounter can we start crawling the Web site and we don’t stop because search engines such as Google do the same thing. They’re continuously crawling your website to look for content and if they encounter any issues you want to know about it. And as it happens basically. So we try to mimic the Google search engine behavior as close as possible and providing you with the insights of what you can prove as well as the changes we’ve detected. And when we’re talking about change tracking managing changes. We’re touching on a very neglected part of the process because a lot of people even like veteran Nassios think that there isn’t that much changing in Web sites. And it turns out like we build an application that keeps track of the changes we see a lot of changes going on. So especially when you’re doing large updates a lot of things change and often we also see that there’s changes include that that people didn’t want to release yet or a day accidentally released it or they broke existing functionality. So that’s something we really focus on with the King giving you insight into changes in a Web site from a technical point of view and a content point of view across your entire Web site but also on a page level.
Katia: [00:10:31] I see. So we have the switch from SEO agency to a fast company I believe within the agency you don’t have. Usually you don’t have any interaction with the government was this for you being like more on SEO and marketing side of things so it’s hard for you and your business to switch to a Soest company from like service to software from a like a technical and development point of view.
Steven: [00:11:07] I don’t think it was such a big turnaround because we like from the get go at the agency we were building applications and that went well beyond like a corporate WordPress Web site or an e-commerce platform so we had a lot of experience with custom build applications so we were able to apply all that we learned with talking. I think the biggest change was basically that instead of focusing on a couple dozen customers as you do in an agency often creating something that can potentially be used by a hundred thousand people basically yeah. So it’s a very different approach very different company and it required a very different mindset as well.
Katia: [00:12:05] Yeah. Yes I totally agree with you that it’s a different markets in a way that a sauce company you can expand without as many efforts as this as a business and in this case. How do you work out a price for a SaaS business for content king? have you tried many pricing models or have you got any development in the pricing yet.
Steven: [00:12:40] We when we first started it off we had a we tried one size fits all model so we basically had four or five different plans per website. You had to select a plan per website. So for instance if you were an agency of 25 Web sites you had to look at the sizes of the websites and select the corresponding. And basically that pricing worked out well for users not for the agencies. So again we’re always listening to our users looking for feedback and improvements or whatever and we pass it on to the product team. And we basically rework the pricing so that we now have two models. We have an end user model as well as an agency model and the agencies can just buy an x amount of pages they want to monitor and divide that over as many websites as they want. Giving them the ultimate flexibility. So I think that’s something we launched the first Freising model and pretty early on as soon as the feedback came in we had we changed it and were very happy with the change. We’re getting a lot of positive response on it. So what’s the saying like if you fail you’ve got to fail fast and adapt. So I guess that’s what we did.
Katia: [00:14:16] Yeah and how long it took you to realize that it doesn’t work.
Steven: [00:14:22] A couple of months. It’s important to gather enough feedback and make sure you you make the right call to basically changed the business model.
Katia: [00:14:35] So regarding the feedback I believe for your first customers are your clients in SEO agency. But apart from that how did you start to expand and attract new clients and first customers outside your agency.
Steven: [00:14:55] So the first customers were some of the agency customers indeed. And then there is basically we activated our network. So all of the people we know we basically told them what we were doing. And that’s how we got started. And after a while you kind of deplete that resource because every one that you could potentially tell what you’re doing like her while you’ve reached everyone that you can reach Gobion on that. So now like on a daily basis there are as new customers signing up that we don’t know. And that’s that’s great. It’s one of a very different feeling from the agency as well because at the agency it’s a lot about building a personal relationships and visiting clients in real life. Yeah. And of course that happens as well when we’re for instance next week we’re going to be in London and we’re going to be visiting some existing clients and some potential clients. But the SaaS business is built to scale and if you visit everyone in real life yeah that doesn’t scale unless you employ a lot of people. But there beats the purpose.
Katia: [00:16:18] Especially if like how many clients and customers do you have now (users)?
Steven: [00:16:24] So we’re currently we have around 3000 users on the platform. We’re growing pretty fast. And there’s a couple of thousand domains that we’re monitoring off the top of my head as well. And I think somewhere between 50 and 75 million pages that we’re monitoring on a daily basis yes that’s huge. Yeah yeah definitely.
Katia: [00:16:53] So it would be hard to visit 3000 people and greet them in person so with internet and SaaS approach It’s like a lot more easier. And what marketing activities work best for you in this case? If you if you are not visiting any person to sell them your product.
Steven: [00:17:19] Yeah so what works well for us is leveraging content marketing. So we’re putting together a lot of in-depth content pieces about Aecio related topics and we promote them and share them and that yeah that drives the majority of the new customers on the platform.
Katia: [00:17:48] I see content marketing in a way of blog articles on your blog?
Steven: [00:17:55] We also have an academy section in which we basically write down all that we know about certain topics. So for instance about Kroll budgets controlling crawling and indexing but also about doing keyword research investigating ranking drops but actually yeah we try to cover everything that you encounter or want to look up when you’re doing SEO.
Katia: [00:18:23] Yeah. So and you mentioned that SEO business is pretty competitive and you know it is hard to establish new SaaS offering on the markets I think. And so from your perspective for what it takes to define your specific company Content King solution in such a competitive market.
Steven: [00:18:54] I think the most important thing is that you explain very well how you were different from what’s out there. And of course to be able to explain it you need to be different as well. So I think that’s important. Why can’t you see for instance all in one CEO suites. Starting there is quite some SaaS companies being started in Eastern Europe for instance. And then you ask yourself Is this what what the SEO community really needs. But they find a niche. So for instance some of the existing all in one SEO stay really focused on the U.S. and U.K. for instance whereas the new ones popping up they focus on the markets that are kind of neglected by the existing ones. And they are gaining market share that way. So the product is very comparable to what’s out there. But the the the company strategy is just different.
Katia: [00:20:11] I see and with Content King you wanted to start as a SaaS business because you wanted to step out of agency or it’s like essentially a product that you think will benefit masses on the long run.
Steven: [00:20:30] I think both actually We were looking to transitioning into a product company rather than an agency as well as creating something that could have a large impact on the SEO industry. We’re basically the world that turned out to be the industry but we wanted to create something that could improve the the Internet could help people create better websites and so on. So we were able to combine that in in content.
Katia: [00:21:09] Yeah and with 3000 users and 14 people on board I think you’re doing a pretty good work so far. And for like 3 or 2 years on the market I think without any experience in leading a software company do you think you could avoid any mistakes you made within this period of time if you had more knowledge or experience.
Steven: [00:21:43] Well I think we actually have quite some experience in as a software company because of the agency work we did a lot of it was I think the it was like 50 percent as you know consultancy 50 percent development we did really large projects regarding the development. So we had quite some experience there and we closely work together with multiple heat mapping and mouse tracking service from Denmark. So we already had quite some experience regarding development and building companies. And I think that put us in the position to start contracting and hit the ground running because we didn’t have to make a lot of the mistakes you make early on when you’re starting a business. So I think that helps us. Obviously we made plenty of mistakes along the way and we keep doing that. That’s how you learn. I think yeah we did really urge the older knowledge and experience we already had when we started building the company.
Katia: [00:23:05] I see and now with your users that do have an ideal customer profile like or a marketer you want to target your offering.
Steven: [00:23:20] I think the if you look at the current customer base and what we’re focusing on it’s some agencies. It’s a no brainer for an agency to have content because it saves you so much time and you can really keep a good grip on your client’s websites. So that’s one. And the other one that’s e-commerce and for them their platform is their company. If their platform has a lot of issues it’s hurting their business. So for those to target audiences. There is a great fit.
Katia: [00:24:00] Yeah and what defines you from your main competitors on the market.
Steven: [00:24:07] Well I always jokingly say that we don’t really have a competitor because we’re doing continuous monitoring of Web sites using this algorithm. It’s not like like a scheduled crawl. OK I’m going to crawl my web site every week or every month or whatever or we’re continuously crawling. I think traditional SEO tools are old fashioned in that way. And we keep track of changes and no other application can do that at scale. So like in summary I think we don’t really have any competitors. Sometimes we do encounter like for instance Atrus is a very popular only one suite. And people ask me hey like I’ve got eight drafts too. How does it work to get there or do I have to cancel the traps and I tell them no it works very well. Side by side because Ahrefs has strong suits and content King does as well. So it’s just part of your your toolbox.
Katia: [00:25:11] In a way of do have a plan to integrate some for example maybe a majestic or a Ahrefs API or a solutions to combine it with your Content King solution because they are more focused on vectoring and your focus on the internal website optimization. Right. So do you think they should work separately or there are some maybe ways you can integrate those back link audits or backlinks count with your solution.
Steven: [00:26:03] So from a user point of view it would make a lot of sense to have that information in contracting as well as be able to research all sorts of stuff just outside of the King. For instance if you want to do competitive research majestic that you’ve got to do that in their application but basically pulling the amount of babblings the Trustflow score and the citation flow score for instance for your own pages. Yeah that would make sense to integrate at some point. It’s something we’re now that we’re entertaining the idea to do that in the food chain.
Katia: [00:26:42] Yeah. Well can you share some of your insights or vision for Content King for a year from today.
Steven: [00:26:53] Yeah. I would say a year from today you were one of the established as you tools out there and people really know where to go when they’re looking for real time as you are honoring and change tracking so that the people that right now that hear about us they think oh hey that’s cool I’ve got to try that. Thankfully a lot of them can sign up as well. But I guess the biggest challenge for us right now is reaching the bigger audience. So that’s like any year from now. I think we all have made a lot of headway there. The application is going to be significantly expanded. I can see two and integrations with Google Analytics school search console in the near future. We’re going to be adding SEO alerts as well. So you get an alert as soon as something big or or it goes wrong or we detect a large change in a Web site. There’s a lot of cool stuff in common and the applications are only going to get better and more extensive.
Katia: [00:28:15] Yeah this is great. And with regards to expansion of artificial intelligence. Do you think your products can be even more optimized in any way. Enter into which way you people will be not necessary in the future as they are now plan.
Steven: [00:28:39] So something this topic comes up every once in a while yeah. But when you’re looking at the contents of titles and descriptions havings held like contant pages it’s still something that needs to be done by a human being for it to be done. Well sure. Artificial intelligence is coming a long way. Machine learning is applied in a lot of different areas and it’s working pretty good but when it comes to really creating good content. It’s something that I don’t I don’t see people getting replaced by machines in the foreseeable future something that would be that you could automate to a certain degree. It’s basically fixing technical issues. I think you could apply artificial intelligence there to phrases for us to create an even smarter crawling algorithm or propose technical changes on the fly. But it’s something that’s I would say it’s very experimental and I think that’s really something for a future right now. I think what people need most is something that they can start using right away. And that has to be very specific like oh hey these are the issues on your website. I think even with self driving cars people are reluctant to get in and basically transfer control to a machine. I can see people having the same reservation with their website.
Katia: [00:30:35] Yeah, I think it’s an interesting topic and maybe before for other talk. And with regards to building a SaaS Company How do you think like what do you think it takes to establish a software in the modern world where I think everyone heard about SaaS and it gets harder and harder to position yourself as something unique from your experience.
Steven: [00:31:06] Mm hmm yeah. So yes there are like the US space is getting more and more crowded but I think like the ecosystem itself it’s just like self managing some companies will make it on her will not. I guess it’s as important as always to have a very clear positioning and strategy and having a good team that can come up with something new and execute that. So building a company isn’t that much about ideas. It’s about how you materialize those ideas. So there’s there’s plenty of people out there that have great ideas for products or services or whatever but if they’re not making the jump to really doing it the ideas are worthless.
[00:32:08] So yeah it takes a good idea but what’s even more important is having a good team to be able to execute on that idea. So building that but also marketing it.
Katia: [00:32:19] Yes all about ideas. How do you think how hard it is for a person for example who has an idea and she wants to build it. Soest company 2 she has something to offer but he doesn’t have any technical skills to do that. In your opinion he should start if he wants to act.
Steven: [00:32:46] I would say do research. Basically try to create some kind of prototype or even if it’s just a clickable prototype God does what you want to build basically in a Kashaf conceptual kind of way. So if you’re not in the position to develop something like a proof of concept or a prototype then I would do it that way to support explaining what your ideas about and what you can achieve and then basically see if there is a need for what you thought of and take it from there. Like if you don’t have the ability to build it yourself would make sense to find partners or investors or other co-founder that can help you with that. If you don’t know how to share you’re not able to multiply either. So yeah.
Katia: [00:33:47] So and so on the point of expanding and growing your business. Do you think it is possible to grow without investors and purely on self-funding?
Steven: [00:34:04] Yeah I think it’s possible but it’s like in our case France would lead to less growth if we hadn’t gotten the investment. So we we had a good team and we wanted to keep the whole team on board and start building this and marketing it. Sure you could start with without. You could build a company without funding. But yeah you would have to leave certain stuff. Why not hire extra people to speed up development or marketing or sales etc etc. So it’s generally when you get more funding you can increase the speed of building and execute me.
Katia: [00:34:59] And you mentioned a couple of times and I feel like the core of the company and the successful company are people who work in this company and how do you think what it takes to get such people who will go the extra mile with you and who you can rely on and who will grow with your company together?
Steven: [00:35:26] So you’re right. I think what really makes or breaks a company is the people that the people need to execute and work like work together like a well oiled machine. So to say it’s hard to find the right people especially as a startup where you cannot offer like top salaries that you could get at other companies. But I think it all comes down to having a good vision for the company and being able to attract a experienced and talent people with that vision and that leadership and that’s something that you do as a team. So if you have a strong team strong people in the company that attracts other people. So I believe that good people are attracted by our good people and someone is really good at its job. We’ll be hasn’t done to work at a company where he or she’s not being challenged and there’s not that much to learn from them.
Katia: [00:36:50] Yeah thanks. And I think the last question would be is how do develop your vision as a leader? Do you think it is something you can learn or it is just there already. It is not there?
Steven: [00:37:10] I think to a certain degree it’s something you can learn. If you’re like a natural leader. It’s something you can kind of awaken. Like my business partner and I have different roles in the company. And a lot of the the leadership and the vision it’s something we do together. So I guess it’s for some people it comes more more natural than than for others. But it’s something that you can definitely learn and that’s who you try that do that you’ll you’ll find out soon enough whether it’s something that’s always been part of your DNA or whether there’s other people that are that are better in that regard. So for instance my business partners better in this but I’m better at other stuff like working together with our customers to basically help them improve their science and listening to their ideas and trying to brainstorm come up with good ways for them to get ahead of their competition.
Katia: [00:38:37] Yeah I think it’s with a vision. Something is like food for thoughts. All right so Steven thank you, I really appreciate you making the time to join me today and share your story and to follow or listen I want to get in touch and get more information about your company Conten King. They can go to contentkingapp.com right?
Steven: [00:39:05] Yes. Yes correct. Contentkingapp.com.
Katia: [00:39:09] And what is the best way to get in touch with you?
Steven: [00:39:14] Well if you have any questions you can send me an email at Steven@contentkingapp.com or you can just head over to the Web site and use our chat. It’s at the bottom right corner. You can just send a message and me or someone else from my team will get in touch with you right away.
Katia: [00:39:35] Amazing, Steven thank you! It’s been a pleasure to talk to you!
Steven: [00:39:39] Great. Thanks for having me Katia!
Katia: [00:39:41] Thank you!
Katia: [00:39:42] Take care!