Matt Watson is the Founder & CEO of Stackify based right here in Kansas City.
He has been a developer and hacker for over 15 years and loves solving hard problems with code.
He sold his first startup, VinSolutions, for $150 million and started Stackify to solve the biggest challenge he had as the CTO of VinSolutions. Matt skilled in the areas of SEO and content marketing.
Stackify receives hundreds of thousands of monthly visits as a result of Matt and his team’s successful content marketing.
You know it’s going to be a great interview when a guest of this caliber says:
I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone that before.
Matt Watson, Stackify
Where You Can Connect with Matt and Learn More
Questions I asked Matt Watson
- Before your success, you were just like one of us…can you share your story from your first steps out of college?
- What things do you love about Kansas City? Favorite places, food, teams, characteristics, etc.?
- What is working for your company today in terms of lead generation?
- What do you tell would-be entrepreneurs with day-jobs that need the paycheck and benefits?
- The $10k Question: if you woke up tomorrow with all your knowledge, but none of your business assets or connections, what would you start working on today?
Matt Watson Kansas City | Stackify
Phil Singleton: 00:04 – Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the local business leaders podcast.
Phil Singleton: 00:09 – Today we’ve got a very special guest, I think I probably always say that but I really mean it this time because Matt Watson he’s the founder and CEO of Stackify based right here in Kansas City. He’s been a developer and hacker for 15 years and loves solving hard problems with code. He’s co-founded VinSolutions and sold it for 150 million dollar, and then started Stackify. His current startup solves the biggest challenges he had as the CTO of Vinsolutions. Matt is skilled in the areas of SEO and content marketing – we’re going to talk a little bit more about that today. Stackify receives hundreds of thousands of monthly visits as a result of Matt and his team’s successful content and digital marketing efforts. Matt do you want to fill in any gaps here?
Matt Watson: 00:57 – Yeah glad to be here you know all this stuff sounds really easy when you say it like that but I think we all know that stuff is hard. None of this is easy.
Phil Singleton: 01:08 – Exactly. So on that before your success with VInSolutions that was a major home run one I think a lot of us think that we’d like to achieve someday – but for your success and of course now you’re started Stackify and now that that has legs of its own and is another successful story you. But before your success I think you were probably just like one of us, right?
Phil Singleton: 01:32 – When you came out into the world and were trying to figure out your way and what are you going to do and what are you were gonna be passionate about. And at the same time trying to figure out how to make a living and provide for your family right or start one. Can you share a little bit of your story from kind of your first steps out of high school or college in the real world and maybe some stumbling blocks that you had especially getting your first career and start up off the ground?
Matt Watson: 01:52 – Yeah I think I’ve always been kind of an entrepreneur or always been a problem solver you know. I don’t mind doing extra projects and side projects and different things. So even when I was you know I don’t know really told the story of many people but like when I was in high school or I’m sorry when I started college I actually was doing like multilevel marketing online where we were selling like supplements or whatever and you get someone else to buy the supplements. And I was fine I found like e-mail list. I was like spamming the heck out of like hundreds of thousands of people to get them to buy these things.
Matt Watson: 02:35 – I did it. I did some dumb stuff.
Phil Singleton: 02:39 – Well that’s not really that dumb because at some point you probably saw that somebody was making some money. Yeah. Try.
Matt Watson: 02:44 – So do you ever got any of those e-mails to that would say send five dollars to this person and five dollars to that person or whatever their guy lost like a hundred grand trying to save some guy in Nigeria for years. Right. I put my name on that e-mail and I sent it to all these people and then randomly I was getting five dollar bills in the mail. And no joke I did this and then the post office at some point in time told me that I probably shouldn’t be doing this.
Matt Watson: 03:14 – So I’m just a little hacker.
Phil Singleton: 03:14 – Right.
Matt Watson: 03:19 – But you know even when I had a full time job as a programmer I was doing side projects just doing different things like always just kind of out there and doing things and very entrepreneurial. And so for me it all started the venture for Vinsolutions really started. I was selling computers at Sears while I was in college. And every time someone would come in and buy a computer and ask them what do you need a computer for what are you going to do with it. Which one am I going to sell you. And one of them just handed me a card, a car dealer, and told me a story about the software he used and the guy who wrote the software ran away and he was scared to death. Here was this database. You know he was going be in trouble. So I said maybe I can help you with that.
Matt Watson: 04:01 – And so I sold the computer got his information and rewrote his database for him. I had no idea what I was doing! It was the first real computer programming project I ever worked on that had any legitimacy of a software program. I just figured it out. I was in college at that time and a couple of years later somebody else had a business idea was looking for help on how to upload photos of course of the Internet to syndicate the data to all the different marketing channels that they would advertise on and basically car dealerships. The first guy said you should talk to Matt. Matt Watson can help you with the technology. And I was just the technical co-founder who got recommended and so me and so the guy just started a business that became VinSolutions.
Phil Singleton: 04:53 – You took it. I mean the one thing I love about that because it kind of I think echoes some of the things I’ve actually done for myself. You had an opportunity come in front of you and you weren’t afraid to make a promise your weren’t sure you could keep. You didn’t really have any business saying you could build a database like this but you knew you could figure it out.
Phil Singleton: 05:11 – You said “yes” and you weren’t scared of the opportunity you made the most of it.
Phil Singleton: 05:14 – That’s really inspiring.
Matt Watson: 05:15 – Yeah. Nothing to lose. Right. So like why not let’s try it.
Phil Singleton: 05:20 – Exactly. So before we get to some of the other parts of the questions I’d like to ask because you are also here in Kansas City. I’d love to hear some of the things that you love about KC.
Phil Singleton: 05:32 – As a fellow Kansas Citian in terms of places that you like to go and things that you like to eat are restaurants teams anything that you love about this city anything that’s an outsider would like come in and you’re going to show them the town for a few days? I mean what is what are Matt Watson’s Kansas City favorites.
Matt Watson: 05:47 – Well you know the probably the best thing is that you’re centrally located and there’s kind of a lower cost of living. And you know anybody who lives by the mountains or lives by the beach or whatever they don’t really appreciate those things because they see them every day and because we don’t see anything I think we appreciate all those things when we get to go visit them and we’re short you know two or three hour plane ride to get anywhere in the Country which is awesome. I think the low cost of living is a big strategic advantage as a business owner but you know personally I’m a huge fan of Sporting Kansas, Kansas City Chiefs the Royals and all that stuff. And of course KC barbecue. I was lucky my first programming job I traveled all over the country installing software and have been all over the place.
Matt Watson: 06:43 – At the end of the day I think he can do just about anything anywhere you can get a drink, watch a movie go out to a nice restaurant whatever into all those things. Anywhere….but Kansas City’s been home for me for 30 years.
Phil Singleton: 06:56 – Sweet. Are there any particular places like if you’ve been gone for six months might have to come back as I’m “Jonesing” for this barbecue or this restaurant or anything like that.
Matt Watson: 07:05 – Oh probably. You know my favorite it’s got to be Joe’s Barbecue and Jack Stack I mean that’s two of those. So yeah.
Phil Singleton: 07:14 – And you mentioned some of the sports teams. I mean obviously it sounds like you’re into all of them, but is there anything that you feel particularly connected with in terms of a team like this is kind of where if I had to pick one I’d have to follow this one type of deal or is it.
Matt Watson: 07:25 – Well so growing up I was a huge KC Chiefs fan and I think I just got that from my dad. But these days I’m much more of a soccer fan than anything. And I don’t watch that much NFL anymore. I’m kind of as part of that demographic I think that it’s slowly dying on and I’m a huge soccer fan. Season ticket holder for sporting for over seven years now!
Phil Singleton: 07:49 – That’s awesome. I think part of it too is I know for me it’s like once I started a family I had kids it was like I could spend as much time watching as much sports as I did. And then you know kids get into soccer. You get into soccer a little bit more so that happened a little bit for me but sometimes that family kind of changes your sport priorities a little bit. It does. It’s cool.
Phil Singleton: 08:11 – Then I want to get a little bit more drill down a little bit in terms of what you’re dealing with your company now and in particular what you guys do in terms of B2B lead generation and getting your ideal clients and where you’re focusing your marketing investment dollars. I mean you’re doing anything like traditional marketing in terms of TV, radio, trade shows that kind of stuff are more heavily focused on digital and that’s digital like art.
Matt Watson: 08:35 – So yeah. So it’s only first explain kind of what we do and who are audiences and will make more sense to how we reach them. So you know I started to build a set of tools for developers because I was challenge I had before my old company basically to help them know when they do a software deployment if their software works or doesn’t work and if there’s problems with it. We solve how to fix the problems. And these days developers do software deployments every week every month every day. I mean it’s a frequent thing. And so they really have a lot of confidence that when they ship that product they update you know think of Facebook of these things it’s not going to break them on and be mad that it’s broke, right? So we help developers with that. And so our customers are software developers and software development is a very much an international business.
Matt Watson: 09:26 – Only about 40 percent of our customers are in the United States. So traditionally in I.T. it’s pretty much a third Europe a third North America and then a third everywhere else. So we fit that model. And so because our focus is software developers they are the most finicky people in the world. They are the most likely to hate spam and file spams reports for spam. They’re all they all use ad blockers. They know that kind of traditional stuff does not work and you can’t call them on the phone either. They don’t have phones they don’t answer the phone. So. But there’s one universal truth. And I think this goes to everybody not even developers if they have a problem and they’re trying to solve it. They go to Google and they search for it. So for us content marketing is what works really really well.
Phil Singleton: 10:20 – Nice.
Phil Singleton: 10:21 – And if you break that down with things you are actually work on as a company and obviously you’re working on. You go to your Website. So you try and optimize is for Google. It sounds like you’re also blogging right. I think the last time we spoke before this podcast is I know you’re a you and I believe your company is very active in terms of blogging and is it monthly weekly daily. What’s your content marketing calendar looks like from that standpoint.
Matt Watson: 10:49 – Yeah so we. So blogging is really critical to us. We first started doing it back in 2014 and had some good success with it will we have one blog post that we did in 2014 that wasn’t even super relevant to our product or what we do. But we wrote about topics that just drove like 10,000 people a month through our website for this one blog post. And every week we’d get one or two product trials from this blog post and we cannot stop doing blogging like a lot of people you get you know busy and it’s not a focus and it just kind of went to the back burner. But we always keep looking on our staff and say and me on this blog post we wrote three years ago still drives a bunch of traffic it’s crazy. So about this time last year we decided you know what we need to get back to doing blogging need to double down on this and really make it work.
Matt Watson: 11:38 – And last year about this time we had about 40,000 people a month that would come to our website. About 10,000 of them were for that one stinking blog post. Today it’s over 500,000 visits to our website per month. And so what we’ve done is really ramped up our efforts and we write new blog post every single day. And then we just started. We actually released a podcast this month and so that’s going to be a new piece of content for us as well so that it’s for developers It’s a podcast called Developer Things. And so that’s a new piece of content for us as well. So you we when we think about blogging you know there’s there are certain topics we want to cover that are truly like product marketing so if somebody is searching for this term and they find us we’re like a perfect fit or a buyer but then there’s no other type of content that we do that is more just trying to reach that same persona trying and reach that same person.
Matt Watson: 12:33 – Maybe they’re not looking for our product today but we’re going for branding and awareness and so we you know we kind of use a mixture of those kinds of strategies to drive traffic.
Phil Singleton: 12:43 – That’s awesome. So basically the majority of your efforts and investment when it comes to marketing sounds like it’s almost all digital.
Phil Singleton: 12:55 – So you’re doing content marketing and you’re doing podcasts. Great. And we’ll make sure we have that info the show notes.
Phil Singleton: 12:55 – So people listening can check that podcast out and subscribe. Do you do any other types, I mean do you do any other type of like social posting, paid click advertising, AdWords, re-marketing, any of those types of digital marketing channels as well?
Matt Watson: 13:15 – So we’ve played with all of those things so, over the history of the company, we have tried at work multiple times and never had a lot of success with it. We actually just over the last 90 days kind of really went “all in” and tried to optimize it to the nth degree. And ultimately we’ve turned off 90 percent of it. It just doesn’t work for us. And part of it is our we have some competitors that aren’t scared to pay like exorbitant customer acquisition costs and our average customer is smaller so we’re much more you know lean on our customer acquisition cost. So that that’s part of the struggle but we do some retargeting so you can imagine we get 500,000 people on her. You would think a few of those would be high intent people that we could do retargeting to.
Matt Watson: 14:06 – So we’ve been doing that we’ve had some mixed success with it. And that’s one we’re trying for a lot of effort into the dial in and that’s still a challenge we’re still trying to figure that one out. But yeah I mean at the end of the day it’s mostly just been the blogging. Nothing else has really shown a higher return for us.
Phil Singleton: 14:24 – That’s awesome because you’ve reached a level of entrepreneurial success that is like you know….. even for folks like myself I think I’ve been able to achieve some level that I never thought I would but….
Phil Singleton: 14:37 – Obviously you’re in a whole different field. So for you to come back as someone of your caliber to come back and have a new startup here because we started targeting you know a niche and then come and say hey you know we’ve tried all this stuff and blogging is what works the best.
Phil Singleton: 14:48 – You know I mean you’re now you’re a digital native for one and two, I’m assuming your experience within Vinsolutions I mean same type of stuff….you guys probably experimented with all sorts of marketing tactics to get out there maybe even more. Right. I mean usually they probably do some traditional trade shows you know getting to auto dealers and that kind of stuff is probably a wide range of things in the beginning I’m guessing here. Tell me where I’m wrong here….
Phil Singleton: 15:12 – But I guess what I’m saying is that you’ve seen a lot in th last 10 years.
Matt Watson: 15:17 – Well, so Vinsolutions was completely different. 90 percent of what we did there was cold calling. It was easy to call a car dealership up and say I want to buy a car. They answer the phone right. No big deal. And you say hey I can help you sell more cars.
Matt Watson: 15:30 – You got 15 minutes for demo? It was easy and it worked. I can’t do that to software developers. It doesn’t work.
Phil Singleton: 15:41 – So cold calling to some extent maybe even if VinSolutions was maybe started now it might be a little bit harder to even reach those people just because the way that you know reaching people in the new era of B2B sales. You could breakthrough at that time frame and get it through to folks so cold calling was 90 percent of the selling strategy – that’s interesting.
Matt Watson: 16:00 – Yeah and then we did a couple of trade shows a year that were really critical, so for Stackify on the developer site there are software development conferences for training and different sorts of trade shows nonstop. I mean we could do one every week somewhere. They’re everywhere like we have a regional one here in Kansas City. But then there’s giant ones from you know Amazon Web Services and stuff like that. And Gardner like there are some big ones but there’s regional ones everywhere. But again we just don’t have a lot of high ROI with them.
Phil Singleton: 16:00 – Gotcha, interesting…
Phil Singleton: 16:33 – Okay let’s switch gears here and talk to the guys that are listening to this podcast right now that are you know kind of “would be entrepreneurs” that have a day job you know a lot of us these days kind of have a side gig you’re thinking about a gig. I think everyone to some degree has got that kind of a dream. Some people act on it right, some don’t.
Phil Singleton: 16:54 – I know a person like you obviously gets pitched all the time but once you’ve got a….I think part of that when you’ve reached your level of success, you probably have to reign yourself in from all the other ideas and focus on just a few of them. But you got one right now. What’s your what’s your main side gig? Can you talk about that one?
Matt Watson: 17:10 – Yeah. Since we do so much with content marketing we spent a lot of time looking for different tools to help us do that and ultimately we couldn’t find what we were looking for. So I actually got a little side project I’m working on to kind of build a tool to help basically measure the performance of the content marketing we do and give us ideas on how to improve it. It’s basically what the technology is designed for. So it’s still in the development phases.
Phil Singleton: 17:38 – That’s awesome – So You’re making an almost kind of help yourself first and are going to be some commercialize it – solving your own problem. That’s what it all comes down to.
Phil Singleton: 17:46 – So what do you tell these guys that are like….
Phil Singleton: 17:48 – They’ve got kind of a side dream but you know they’re obviously like OK I can’t put too much into it because it’s like can affect my livelihood right. But I still want to be able to pursue it. So what kind of advice can you give these guys and gals.
Phil Singleton: – 18:03 – I mean so I can tell you what I did in the early days of Vinsolutions right so that when I started Vinsolutions I was 22 years old. I had a full time job. But I was working 10, 20, 30 hours a week. In addition to that, writing code…I wasn’t making any money from it, but I was writing code trying to build this product and we got a basic version of it going with a little bit of traction. We had a few customers. And then eventually I changed my work schedule at my full time job. They let me come in and work 6 a.m. to noon five days a week. So I was working 30 hours a week and then I would go home and work until 10:00pm at night probably on my side project which was Vinsolutions and then I did that for probably over a year and then eventually was able to make just enough money from the company that I could leave in full time.
Matt Watson: 18:58 – But I took a pay cut to do it. I made more money at my full time job that I had. So you know most people don’t realize I mean it was a year or two of not making anything from it and then taking a pay cut to do it full time and just trying to make it work.
Phil Singleton: 19:15 – Wow. So it also sounds like I mean you’re doing the same thing you were doing then…so you’ve got something successful in Stackify and it’s rolling. You almost always kind of have at least one side passion or side project. Is that kind of what you’d recommend? I mean have people pursue it or try it?
Phil Singleton: 19:29 – I mean to me, you know when I get out of school, it was like… we didn’t have all these things you could actually go online and get people to maybe help you with a side gig. It was a lot cheaper to try things do things either on your own or even to hire somebody to help you.
Matt Watson: 19:41 – Well and so I mean one of the best things I think you can do if you’re a first time entrepreneur is to have a co-founder because that helps keep you in check and keeps you motivated….you know when you’re trying to do it all on your own, it’s so much more intimidating. And so I don’t know the guys from Ag Local?
Phil Singleton: 19:41 – That sounds familiar.
Matt Watson: 20:02 – One of the one of the stories I heard about them and I’m pretty sure this was true is one of the founders there decided to literally sell like every single thing he had and go all into this like he reduced all of his expenses you know everything. And I think I want to say like his wife and his family went and lived with their in-laws or whatever. So that they could they could save every single dollar they had and invest all of their time and money into the business to make it work. I mean he was all in! And maybe he went a little too far? But you know it at some point in time that’s what you got to do, like you’re going to do this you’ve got to go all in at some point right.
Phil Singleton: 20:43 – I hear that a lot. It sounds like for your son you kind of made at some point you’re making a little bit of a jump where you got to sacrifice one for the other. And then it’s just like when does that happen? I go to you in your case you had enough you took a pay cut, but you probably needed some pay to make sure you could pay the bills….
Matt Watson: 21:02 – We have another podcast called Startup Hustle. And we interviewed Ben from Bungii and Bungii is a Kansas City startup that helps do like on demand pickup truck right. And so when they first started that and were validating it they were doing the deliveries themselves and they did like I think you said something like 300 or maybe 3000 deliveries over a summer. Him and his co-founder. They were just hustling and hustling and hustling to prove the business model – whatever it took! And I mean ultimately that’s what you have to do is it takes that hustle. If you can’t put in the hustle you’re just never going to work.
Phil Singleton: 21:42 – Love it. I’m going to end this up with what I call the ten thousand dollar question and that is you’re going to wake up tomorrow with all your knowledge none of your assets or connections. What…
Phil Singleton: 21:52 – Things would you be working on today with that little bit of money that I’m getting. It’s actually kind of a lot to some folks but to start rebuilding an empire. It’s not a whole lot. What would you what would you do. I mean literally what would you start working on?
Matt Watson: 22:04 – Well you know part of me thinks I should just invested all in crypto currency. Yeah. OK. I mean if I would have invested that ten thousand dollars in LiteCoin a year ago it would be worth eight hundred thousand dollars today!
Phil Singleton: 22:34 – We’re not talking about speculative reinvestment (laughter)….noted though.
Matt Watson: 22:39 – I would probably start out doing consulting and start my own little software development consulting and help other people build products then cash flow myself, make some money be able to hire a couple of developers, you know create that business quickly and then be able to take some of the proceeds from that and be able to invest it into something else. As I slowly grew it is probably what I would do.
Phil Singleton: 23:05 – So you start to use that money to start the company.
Matt Watson: 23:07 – You think you would cold-call for clients, or would you try to build a website, do you think you’d start blogging every day. think about well software developers are in such high demand that it wouldn’t be hard at all to work as a little freelancer or consultant and just go around everybody else who’s looking for developers and say hey I can do your project work for you I’ll do it. Yeah I could I could sing some code I start my own little software consultancy and then eventually cash flow enough out of that that I could hopefully get started a product that would take a year or two probably to build a product but have a way to pay the bills in the meantime.
Phil Singleton: 23:54 – Interesting. That’s how you’d start it all over. That’s probably what I would do. OK I can totally put you on the spot there but that’s very insightful. So it’s either that or LiteCoin. Right next time I ask that question and make sure nobody gets me out.
Phil Singleton: 24:12 – Now that we’re wrapping this up, where are the best places to learn more about you, and connect with you online to learn about your company.
Matt Watson: 24:20 – Yeah so Stackify.com. You know it was our business and you can check out our blog and our podcast and all that stuff is all on Stackify.com. We also have a podcast about startups specifically called The Startup Hustle. That’s myself and Matt DeCoursey are the hosts of that. It’s pretty cool show if you like startups.
Phil Singleton: 24:44 – Awesome and is there a particular social media channel that you like to connect people on…Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter….I mean what are you most personally active on?
Matt Watson: 24:51 – LinkedIn. You can find me on LinkedIn pretty easily. You know Matt Watson and Stackify.
Phil Singleton: 24:56 – Hey man it’s been a blast! Thanks so much for spending this much time with us and sharing some of your story and some of what’s working for you and your business.