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The Secret to Attracting Qualified Leads

Host Jon Penland, 

Since 2015, Credo has helped 5,000+ companies find the right digital marketing firms for their needs. Founder and CEO John Doherty joins our Reverse Engineered podcast to discuss some of the right ways and wrong ways to grow a business (he’s experienced them both) as well as some of the things he swears by like calendar organization, playbooks, and automation.


58 minutes



Episode Summary

In today’s episode of Reverse Engineered, Jon Penland welcomes John Doherty, Founder and CEO of Credo and EditorNinja. 

Credo, a company dedicated to helping businesses hire the right digital marketing agencies, is John’s primary focus. Credo is completely bootstrapped (like Kinsta) – in fact, John spent 6 months doing consulting work in order to build up nine months of runway in the bank. 

To keep costs low and profits high, Credo uses a lot of automation. With this approach, John was able to cut out almost 25% of his tasks and focus his energy on more important areas. Automation also helps keep his team small and focused and removes unqualified leads from his marketing workflows.

John’s overarching personal reason for all this? He’s working towards being able to have free time freedom, calendar freedom, and money freedom. 

Tune in to the latest episode of our Reverse Engineered podcast to learn more about dealing with difficult clients, managing several projects at once, and some of John’s favorite business resources.

Key Insights:

  • If you’re getting too many unqualified leads, you’re getting nothing. According to John, not all leads are good leads. He suggests companies set certain conditions to decide who is qualified for their service and who should seek other providers. “At Credo, we require you to tell us what your monthly marketing budget is. If you’re under $2,500 a month, there’s no option for you because you’re not qualified for that level. You need to be willing to say, ‘These people are not a fit.’ Put in a funnel filter on your form and then drop them to the calendar so they can book automatically.”
  • I live and die by my calendar. John strongly believes in good time management, which is why he relies on his calendars to organize his time and stay focused on high-value things he needs to do. “My calendar is packed. It’s categorized in blue, orange, green, and red. I like that my calendar is busy. It’s purposefully busy because I’ve done the work to eliminate the things that I don’t need to do.”
  • Just because someone is paying you doesn’t mean that you have to let them keep paying you. John and his team like to work with good people, and this is one of the requirements agencies must meet to work with Credo. “We believe that if we can get the right agencies, that are good people that deliver good work, we can sell anything. When looking for agencies, we have a three-step vetting process –  results, professionalism, and culture. Do they have proof or evidence of getting good results for clients? Are they professional? Are they good people? We talk to them on the phone, we work very closely with them, and we don’t work with jerks.”

Today’s Guest: John Doherty, Founder and CEO at Credo and EditorNinja

At the end of 2012, John was looking for someone to take over some of his clients. At the same time, he wanted to help some of his friends whose businesses were negatively impacted after hiring bad SEO agencies. John knew that he could help businesses match with agencies and saw the earning potential in lead generation. Out of this came Credo.

Episode Highlights

Founding Credo, EditorNinja, and Balancing Multiple Projects

“When I was rolling out Credo, several years ago now, I funded the business by doing my own SEO consulting and digital consulting. The way I thought about that was, ‘I need to pay myself.’ Six months later, I had nine months of runway in the bank. I then decided to stop consulting for three months to be able to build the first version of Credo.

Credo is the main business. What we do is help companies find and hire the right digital marketing agency. We started the company eight years ago out of my old apartment in Brooklyn.

I’ve been a blogger since 2001, 20 years now. And I love to write. I’m a writer before I’m anything else. But I don’t like to proofread. So I was like, ‘I need someone else to do this.’ I launched EditorNinja and said, ‘Hey, let’s get some editors on board and then start getting some people that need editing.’ We’re currently able to process individual docs, single docs. I’m working on building out the MVP product to do the subscription and all of that.”

Automation Can Save You From Getting Lots of Unqualified Leads

“Tools like Zapier and Calendly are amazing. One thing that a lot of agencies do is they have a contact form on their page. And right on their page, there should be an embedded Calendly calendar that someone can book on. And if you’re getting too many unqualified people booking, you need to adjust your form to have a funnel filter, where you can qualify them in and out.

We at Credo require you to tell us what your monthly marketing budget is. If you’d like to be matched up with top agencies, you have to have at least $2,500 a month in your marketing budget. And if you’re doing paid ads, you need to have at least 5K. For example, we qualify out the ones that are not based in the US, Canada, or the UK, and we qualify out anyone that has under $2,500 a month in marketing budget because they’re not a fit.”

The Ability to Clear My Schedule and Have Freedom is What  Defines an Ideal Life

“What would a perfect day look like for me? My wife and I share a pickup and drop-off of our daughter, and I love to be outdoors. So it was a perfect day, a perfect week. Being able to say, ‘Hey, it’s winter, and it is dumping in Breckenridge, and I want to ski; it’s Thursday, and I want to ski tomorrow. Clear my schedule. I’m going up to the cabin.’ Having that ability is my ideal life. That’s my perfect week right there.”

Why Am I Doing This?

“Ultimately, I am asking myself, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I going through all this pain and struggle to build Credo, to build the team, to level up as a leader, to level up as a founder and become a CEO, to start another company, and have a parent company that we’re going to build out multiple companies under?

I’m doing it to be able to have free time freedom, calendar freedom, money freedom. You’re never going to have all of those perfectly. But it’s something to work towards and say, ‘How can I take some steps towards that right now?'”

I Work with Good People and People Worth My Time

“Just because someone is paying you doesn’t mean that you have to let them keep paying you. I’ve fired so many agencies because they were jerks. I had one guy that was struggling to close, and he was passive-aggressive and a jerk. I refunded his payment that had gone through three weeks before and said, ‘I just refunded your payment and deactivated your account. I wish you luck. I’m sorry, I don’t work with people like this.’

We are not going to put any time into your project if you are not trusting, not listening, and not willing to pay us to help you manage you through the process. A client took probably three hours of his time going back and forth with me over email. He would have spent half of that having the frequent calls and would have found an agency. I don’t know what to do with people like that. So we just get them out of our way.”


[00:00:04] Jon Penland: Hi, everyone. My name is Jon Penland and Reverse Engineered is brought to you by Kinsta, a premium managed hosting provider. In today’s episode, I’m speaking with John Doherty, founder and CEO of Credo and EditorNinja. John, welcome to Reverse Engineered. 

[00:00:20] John Doherty: Thanks for having me, Jon. It’s always good to talk to another John on these things. 

[00:00:25] Jon Penland: Well, thanks for being here, and as we get started, can you introduce yourself to our listeners? 

[00:00:31] John Doherty: Yeah, for sure. So, as you said, I’m John Doherty, founder and CEO of Credo and newly EditorNinja as well. So, Credo is the main business and basically what we do is, we help companies find and hire the right digital marketing agency. So, we’ve been around, started the company eight years ago out of my old apartment in Brooklyn.

[00:00:48] I no longer live in Brooklyn, I’m in Denver now, did a stop in San Francisco for about three years, and I’ve been working on the business full-time for, it’ll be, we’re recording this in July 2021, so in September it’ll be six years that I’ve been working on the company, basically full-time. Bootstrapped team of about seven, mostly based in Denver and we’ve about doubled in the last year during the pandemic. So, you know, we finally hit a growth trajectory, so I’m excited to talk about the lessons learned and you know, and all of that and how we do what we do, and how Kinsta has helped us do that as well.

[00:01:19] Jon Penland: Awesome. So, as you mentioned, you’re involved in a couple of different projects. So, there’s Credo and there’s also EditorNinja. Anytime I see somebody involved in multiple projects, I’m always curious how they manage those kinds of dueling commitments because for myself, I’ve always struggled with that and I’ve actually really focused down on just Kinsta ’cause I struggled to manage having multiple things going at the same time. So, I’m curious, how do you manage being involved in multiple projects and making sure you’re moving forward on both of them? 

[00:01:51] John Doherty: Yeah, good question. And those also aren’t the only ones that I have. I have other websites, affiliate sites. I have which is an outdoors-industry gear review site and affiliate site. There’s a WooCommerce instance that automatically imports gear that’s on sale. So, you know, kind of an SEO-driven business, plus I’m a husband, I’m a dad, I have a dog, you know? We were talking offline that I live in Denver because the outdoors life, you know, about biker, skier, fly fisher, et cetera. So, you know, there’s lots of going on and also, let me say that EditorNinja is still in the early days. We’re building the MVP, getting initial interest, right? I’ve had a number of people, you know, that are interested and are basically like, “Let me know when you launch because we want to do it.” So, I’m kind of doing with that, I’m kind of, that’s my evening’s and weekend’s project right now. Credo takes up, you know, it takes up my days, though, I basically haven’t worked a full Friday in about two years, so you know, very much tried to build a sane, profitable, growing business.

[00:02:53] Did it all by myself for about the first three and a half years got us to about 300K in revenue and then ended up meeting my now business partner and CTO. He’s also my business partner on EditorNinja. We have kind of a parent company that we’re starting services like that under. So, he’s my 50-50 partner in that.

[00:03:09] He’s also a minority partner in Credo. But, basically, how do I manage it? So, Credo is my main thing. It pays the bills, it pays the team, et cetera. It’s one I’m best known for at this point. And so, I work on that, you know, during the day, Monday through Thursday, for sure, some Friday mornings, otherwise some Fridays I’ll work on EditorNinja as well, but basically, my focus is still Credo and then, but the way I think about it, Jon, and I actually did this when I was rolling out Credo six years ago now, right? I funded the business by doing my own SEO consulting, my own growth digital SEO consulting, right? So, and basically, the way I thought about that was, I need to pay myself, right? I got laid off from my last job. We live in San Francisco, a six-figure tech job, got laid off from my job and had three months of runway from severance and was like, “Okay. Within three months, I need to be able to support my half of our bills in San Francisco,” right? One of the most expensive cities in the US.

[00:04:05] This was 2015. It got way more expensive after that, but I needed to pay my half. So, basically I picked up a bunch of consulting, I padded my runway, I got myself about nine months’ worth of runway. So, by March, like, six months later, I had nine months of runway in the bank. I was like, “I’m going to stop consulting for three months to be able to build the first version of Credo.”

[00:04:23] So I did that, right? I started that going, but then it wasn’t fully paying me, right? It wasn’t paying me what I needed to get paid, so I basically did about 50-50. So, I was half on Credo, half on, half consulting, and basically, as Credo grew, I cut back to consulting, and once Credo got to the point where it could support me, I stopped consulting. So, I haven’t really, I haven’t consulted in, like, a pertained, ongoing kind of what you think about traditional, like, SEO consulting manner since end of 2018. So, it’s been about three years now. I still do some occasional clarity calls and that sort of stuff, but yeah. So, basically that’s how I think about kind of rolling out, you know, new projects.

[00:04:58] It’s like, as it proves to me that it’s going to work, I put more time into it. I put enough time into it to get it to the point where it can prove to me that it’s going to work and then as it proves to me that it’s going to work, then I can justify putting more time into it, and I’m also, with Credo, working to hire myself out of a job to eventually, right now I’m like, “I’m CEO, but that’s 20% of my time”, right? I’m still the Head of Marketing, I’m the Head of Pro Success, I’m the Head of Sales, right? So, eventually I’ll hire those roles, so then I’m truly the CEO, I’m driving the vision, I’m driving the business strategy, that sort of stuff, Monday catch ups with the team, that kind of thing, but each area of the business is owned by somebody else, so then I can focus on doing other things. I’m best about 5, 5K to 25 K in revenue, that’s my sweet spot. Credo, we’re almost double the top end of that. So, like, I’m growing into that. I am enjoying it right now, but I really love the, like, yeah, you know, get something about 5K and then kind of grow it, grow the team, et cetera.

[00:05:52] Jon Penland: Yeah. And I do want to ask, something you said early on there is that you have been focused on building a business that is sane and profitable, right?

[00:06:01] And that that’s been a part of what’s allowed you to have another project that you’re working on, like EditorNinja. And, I feel like I’m hearing in your answer that you actually did something similar, even as you were transitioning from consulting into Credo, where, where you’re like, “Let’s apply this sane and profitable paradigm to the consulting I’m doing, as it allows me the space, I’m going to work on this other thing.”

[00:06:27] Is that something that you have always maintained as a goal, whatever I’m doing professionally, sane and profitable is going to be kind of like a guiding priority or is that something you learned over time because things got out of whack? 

[00:06:42] John Doherty: It’s definitely something that I’ve learned over time. Things did get out of whack for a while. I was working a ton, churn was out of control, and yeah, so I’ve learned it over time. Honestly, I hired a couple of coaches. I’ve two business coaches that have helped me out a ton, and so I really learned, like, I mean, honestly, Jon, until like three years ago, I didn’t even know how to manage a P&L, you know? And I’ve been running my own business for three years at that point, it was just like, “Well, I’m doing it myself. It’s making enough money that I can still pay myself,” right? And there’s money in the bank. Okay, great. But, once you have people and you have to think about investing into things, right, once you get to a certain point, you’ve kind of grabbed all the low-hanging fruit, the early adopters, et cetera, and then you need to figure out, how do we operationalize this stuff? How do we scale it? How do we reach new markets? You know, that kind of, and when you do that, you have to manage budgets and you have to, you have to give budgets, you have to make, you have to have the cash to invest into it, and then you have to invest into it and you have to say, “Okay, like, I’m, you know, I think that this is the missing piece and so, I’m going to carve out, let’s say 5K a month for the next three months, so, 15K, and that is what is going to get us to, you know, and we’re going to know after that, then we’re going to look at the results, right? We’re going to adjust as we go, and then if it works, we’re going to keep investing in it because it’s making us money. But, if it doesn’t work, we’re going to cut it out,” right? So, I’ve really had to learn to do that. So, I actually have a spreadsheet that I manage my whole business through. We have QuickBooks, I have a bookkeeper, accountant, that kind of thing, but I have a spreadsheet that I basically manage the whole company through and say like, “If we’re, if we’re hitting our profit target, which is 15%, then, you know, we’re good, so I can project that out.” And then every month they go back through and say, “Okay, how much did we actually make? What was our revenue? What are our expenses? What do we make? What percentage profitable, where were we? So, how much did we add to the coffers?” Right? And I kind of manage the business that way.

[00:08:29] So, I’m going to manage EditorNinja the same way. I did not manage my own consulting that way ’cause it was a means to an end. 

[00:08:33] Jon Penland: Sure. I’m going to ask a follow-up question. Something that you said early on there is that you, as a CEO, you’re trying to hire yourself out of a job.

[00:08:45] You said, what you do right now as CEO is like 20%, and then you’ve got all this other stuff that you do. What I’ve observed is that, if you are a manager in a growing company, it doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO or not, if you’re a manager in a growing company, that’s a skill that you have to develop, is the ability to see these responsibilities blossoming or, or just increasing in scope as the company grows and figuring out how to work through that.

[00:09:15] And I’m just curious, what, if you have any strategies or what your approach has been to trying to hire yourself out of these different parts of your job? Like, like, how do you say, “This is something I’m going to hand over next?” And then how do you successfully hand that over? 

[00:09:29] John Doherty: So, I’ve done it well, and I’ve done it badly throughout the history of Credo. So, basically the way that I do it now is, so we are all about playbooks here at Credo. So, if someone is doing something, we have a Google Doc created about that this is how it works. It’s company documentation is what it is.

[00:09:51] So, along with that, something that I’ve realized is, you know, as you kind of go through building a business, right, this is my first business that I’ve really built, and with each new layer of growth, new things are required. And so, you know, we realized that we thought about success, just overall was client side, buyer side, and agency side. We realized nine-ish months ago that that’s two jobs.

[00:10:19] So, I have someone on the client side, but no one was really owning the day-to-day agency and basically account management for the, for the agency side, and those are our customers, that’s who pays us mostly. 

[00:10:30] And so, about two months ago, we are having some churn issues, some customer issues, and I was just like, ”This is a preventable, why is no one owning this?” I was like, “Wait, because I have not delegated it to anybody.” And why had I not delegated to anybody? Because I don’t know what’s actually required. So, I stepped into that role. I said, I told the team, “Okay, I am now owning pro success, this is what I’m going to do.”

[00:10:53] So, I’ve been kind of establishing that playbook over the last couple of months, and that’s probably the next role that we’re going to hire. So, I think part of your question, though, was how do you determine who to hire? So, you know I actually did draw out what does an ideal org structure look like, right?

[00:11:10] What are the individual roles? So, and it’s no different from any other business, there’s sales you know, within that there’s SDRs, there’s AEs, right? There’s marketing. So, lead generation, you know, it could be on both sides. So, mainly we just do it on the buyer side. You know, there’s finance, there’s ops, there’s development, there’s product, all that stuff, right?

[00:11:28] And so, basically I drew that out and said, “Okay, what am I still owning?” Like, I still own the things ’cause we’re still a small team. I still own things that we don’t have someone dedicated for. And then, what I do is basically say, “What do I enjoy? What do I hate?” Right? And, and there are zone of genius, zone of competence, whatever those four layers are.

[00:11:46] And so, the very bottom ones, it’s like, “They have to be done, right? But I hate them,” right? So, that’s why I hire first. Playbook it, hire them, and then I kind of just knock it down like that, and also what I do, Jon, is something that I implemented about three years ago, is I do a time audit every quarter. It’s been about six months now, so I actually need to go back and do it. But basically, I do a time audit where I look back at a couple of weeks and I go through and, I live and die by my calendar, as I think anyone that is going to get anything done should, live and die by my calendar and I go back through and I have a day in a spreadsheet. I have days Monday through Friday, what did I spend my time on in 30-minute increments?

[00:12:24] And then I can go through and assign that to, “This was product, this was marketing, this was sales, this was management,” whatever that is, and then I literally spin up a pie chart and see, “What did I spend my time on? You know, what’s taking my time?” And, you know, and, and the ones that are taking up the most, right, it’s like, “All right, this is a full-time job for somebody. I’m only spending, I was spending 25% of my time on it, which is a lot, but it needs a hundred percent of someone’s time, so how do we basically tie that back to business success?” So, how do we tie that back ultimately to revenue? So, is it decreasing churn?

[00:12:55] Is it increasing leads? Like, is it increasing velocity for sales calls? Whatever that is, and then basically, and then what, what are the knock-on effects of that going to be? So, it starts knowing my numbers, what am I working on? What needs more time that I can’t give it and so, then, how do we tie that back to business success?

[00:13:10] And then basically say, “These are the things that are going to do based off of the playbooks,” and then we hire that role.

[00:13:17] Jon Penland: Yeah, no, I love it. I’m actually, I work in Operations at Kinsta and we’re a team of 3, 4, 5 people in Operations, and one of the things we’re doing right now is, I have tasked everyone to sit down and write down everything they can think of that they do and how much time they think they’re spending on it, so that we can, we can go through that same type of, of process because one of the unique challenges in Operations is, Operations tends to become the place where everything goes that doesn’t have another home, and so there’s just kind of a lot of like, there’s just kind of like a lot of oddball-stuff. Like, one of the things I realized I was still doing is, whenever we add a client who wanted to pay by direct bank transfer, a lot of those clients want to call us first to have an actual voice check, you know, “These are the billing details.” It’s a part of a pro payment process for a lot of enterprise-type customers, and I was still doing that and I’m sitting here going, “I’m not finance, I’m not billing. I’m not anything. This is just something I’m doing because I’ve been here for almost five years now.” 

[00:14:25] Right, like, “This is crazy. We need to sit down and figure out what are those edge cases that we’re still doing that really a long time ago probably should’ve been spun off somewhere else.” Yeah. Yeah. So, but I love that category, you know, what is it that I hate, but that has to get done? And that’s, that’s where we’re going to start.

[00:14:41] So I really love that idea.

[00:14:44] John Doherty: I mean, it always starts with “Does this have to get done?” Because I feel like a lot of us are doing a lot of busy work and it’s like, this doesn’t actually matter, like, billing details, that matters, you know, support, that matters, accounts payable, that all matters, right? But there’s some things that it’s like, “I’m doing this,” and I’m like, “What?” I can’t think of one off the top of my head ’cause I’m ruthless about getting these off, but I’m like, “What, why are we doing, why are we doing that at all? Like, it’s not necessary. Let’s just stop,” right? And it’s amazing. Like, three years ago, three and a half years ago when I started doing this, I probably cut out 20%, 25% of my tasks because they just didn’t need to be done, or we automated them with software, right, it’s like, “Does it need to be done? Yes-No? Yes. Okay. Does need to be done by a person? Yes-No? If yes, then who’s owning it? If no, create software,” right? So, like, we’ve just automated the heck out of our business, like, email follow-ups and text follow-ups and, you know, scheduling, we don’t chase people, you know, they submit a lead, like, we don’t call them, right, they get SMS follow-ups, they get email follow-ups. We’ve automated all of that. We automate the follow-ups after they do phone calls with agencies. We automate all of that. So, you know, my business could, if we didn’t, if we weren’t committed to building automations, we could probably have 12 people, you know, but, like, we only need six, seven, right? So, we’re quite profitable because the machines do all the work for us.

[00:16:06] Jon Penland: I found that to be true at Kinsta as well, and I think it’s a natural process because when you are a young company and bootstrapped like yourselves, what you have a lot of is time and not a lot of money and other resources, or even necessarily expertise. And so, early on it’s really easy to solve a problem in the short term by throwing time at it, right? By just throwing, by throwing effort at it.

[00:16:36] ‘Cause you have effort. You don’t have clients, right, you don’t have to worry about support yet. You don’t, you have the time you can throw at those problems, but what becomes a huge danger is if you don’t identify those things as the company grows and as the real business takes root, the real business, making sales, marketing, support, as that stuff starts to grow in volume, if you’re still consumed with the things that really should have been automated a long time ago, so I think it’s a normal process.

[00:17:06] John Doherty: And I think that’s where a lot of people get hung up as well ’cause they’re like, “Well, I’ve just been, I’ve always done it this way. So, like, I’m just going to keep doing it that way,” right? You know, and I was, I was a web developer before I was, well I was a blogger, before I was a web developer, before I was a marketer, before I was an entrepreneur.

[00:17:19] So, you know, but I have a bit of a technical background and I’m a systems thinker, so I can think through this stuff and it’s like, “Okay, let’s, you know, how do we do this automatic? How do we do this manually?” Right? So, when I first started Credo, I was manually sending out the daily lead emails. 

[00:17:34] Then someone would apply to say, “I’m interested.”

[00:17:36] I would manually send the introduction, I’d mainly do the follow-ups, et cetera. We don’t do any of that anymore, but I did it for a bit because, and that got us to the first product, which is, you know, more automated, and then we’d kind of gone on a few iterations, applied V3, V4 of the product now, and all that stuff is automated, you know, when I show my team, like, “Hey, I used to do this manually.”

[00:17:54] They’re like, “Are you kidding me? How did you have time to do anything?” I just worked, you know, I just did it and figured out the process and then I automated it, right, and like, and tools like Zapier, ActiveCampaign, Calendly, those are amazing, you know, like, we, we don’t, for example, Jon, one thing that a lot of people do, that a lot of agencies do, a lot of even software businesses do is, they have a contact form, right?

[00:18:15] Like, inquire, schedule a demo or something like that, and then it goes to a “Thanks, we’ll be in touch.” What are you doing? 

[00:18:23] That page right there should be a Calendly, an embedded Calendly calendar that someone can just book on, and if you’re getting unqualified people booking, too many unqualified people booking, you need to adjust your form to have what my coach Dan Martell calls a “funnel filter”, where you can basically qualify them in and out, right?

[00:18:41] Like, you look at our form on Credo and we require you to tell us what your monthly marketing budget is. And if you’re under $2,500 a month, there’s no option for you because we don’t want to speak to you because you’re not qualified for that level, right? We have another one that shows up in popups around, if you’re under $2,500 you can submit it there, right? And, like, that’s great and agencies will reach out, but, like, to be matched up with top agencies, you have to have at least $2,500 a month in marketing budget, and if you have, if you’re doing paid ads, you need to have at least 5K, you know? So, we qualify out the ones that are not based in US, Canada or UK, and we qualify out anyone that has under $2,500 a month in marketing budget because they’re just not a fit, you know?

[00:19:22] So, like, you need to be willing to say, “These people are not a fit.” Put in a funnel filter on your form and then drop them to that calendar so they can book automatically, and if they don’t book, you need to have those automations in place, right? ‘Cause otherwise, like, if I saw something, Jon, that, if you don’t have a way for them to book easily after they submit a lead, you’re losing 50% off the bat right there. 

[00:19:42] We get 75% of people submitting leads to schedule calls, right, and we don’t spend any time. So, and I have automations that save another 5%. So, I would handily rather do that, you know?

[00:19:53] Jon Penland: Yeah. For sure. And I’m curious. Something, something that you said a few minutes ago is that you live by your calendar and you think that anybody who’s going to get anything done should. So, what do you mean when you say, live by your calendar? What does that mean for you? 

[00:20:07] John Doherty: So, if I showed you my calendar today, you would see that I basically have a, what is that? I have an hour and a half, over the next couple of days I have an hour, I have, like, four hours over the next couple of days open. I have breaks scheduled in, right? Like, after this podcast recording, I have a 30-minute break to go get lunch, et cetera, then I have a phone call, then I have a phone call, then I have a phone call and then I’m free. I try to keep after about 02:30 in the afternoon open, unless it’s someone internal, someone on my team who needs a call. I don’t do calls after two o’clock or 02:30. I don’t do calls on Fridays. I don’t do external calls before noon on Mondays.

[00:20:46] I never do calls after 4:00 PM. I basically just said, like, “This is when I can talk to people,” right, and so I very closely guard that. I just think that, and I try to, I try to set aside time for deep work as well, where it’s like, “Okay, this amount of time,” and I’ve been less good about this recently just because we’ve done some things, we’ve gotten busier, so I actually need to figure out how do I kind of, how do I do this again? And, and kind of move things around, but I try to reserve, you know, when I’m creating content or something like that, I need, or writing scripts for videos, whatever, I need a solid 3, 4 hours just to get into it, ’cause it takes me 15, 20 minutes to get into it.

[00:21:20] I need to shut down my email, I need to shut down Slack, et cetera, and just go heads down. So, it actually enables me to get all the things done. Like, I mean, dude, my, my calendar is packed. Like, it’s you know, blue, blue, orange, green, and red is what it is, like, based off of what it is, and, but, like, my calendar is busy, but it’s also, like, purposefully busy because I’ve done the work to eliminate the things that I don’t need to be doing, and so, all the things that I’m doing, it’s a lot of stuff, but it’s all high-leverage stuff. All high-value stuff.

[00:21:51] Jon Penland: Yeah, I keep hearing buzzwords there that remind, that are bringing me back to Cal Newport, is that somebody you’re familiar with? Time-block planning. 

[00:22:01] Jon Penland: Well, he wrote “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and “Deep Work”, and you said deep work and that’s immediately…

[00:22:07] John Doherty: I know Cal’s name. I don’t know him personally. I’ve heard that he wrote the book, yeah, Deep Work. I knew it came from somewhere. I didn’t know it was him, but yeah, I have those sorts of frameworks and ideas through which I work.

[00:22:21] Jon Penland: Yeah. It’s a lot of the same ideas. The concept that is put forward in, in some of these books is what Cal refers to as time-block planning, which is, “Start your day and block out, like, what are you going to work on all day, block out your lunch, block out time,” and you cannot underestimate the value of truly shutting down and focusing on the truly productive work. Like, if you’re trying to do that truly productive work, you know, whether it’s writing a blog post and anything that requires the full attention of your brain and you’re letting those Slack notifications ping in the background and you’re letting your phone go off and your watch-checking your email every 15 minutes, you’re slashing your productivity by just a tremendous margin. Like, your ability to produce results has just completely tanked. I actually, couldn’t agree with you more.

[00:23:13] John Doherty: I didn’t get it from Cal. I got it from Craig Ballantyne and book, “The Perfect Day Formula.” So, I went through a couple of years ago and really thought, “What would a perfect day look like for me?” Right? ‘Cause, my wife and I share a pickup and drop-off of our daughter and you know, I love to be outdoors.

[00:23:28] Right? So, it’s like perfect day, perfect week, and so, for me, part of my perfect week is being able to say like, “Hey, it’s winter and it is dumping in Breckenridge and I want to ski, it’s Thursday and I want to ski tomorrow. Clear my schedule. I’m going up, I’m going up to the cabin,” right? Like, that’s my ideal life.

[00:23:47] That’s my perfect week right there, right, having that ability. So, you know, something that I did not have before I started my company that I kind of latched onto in the last couple of years is, “Why am I doing this?” Right? I mean, when you’re starting, you just do whatever you have to do to survive, right, you’re getting those first customers in the door, you’re trying to deliver right, trying to get some revenue going, it’s not self-sustaining yet, and then after a while you say, “Okay, this is going to survive. Great. Now, how do we grow it a bit?” Right? And then you go to profit and then you go to kind of like, then how you scale.

[00:24:22] But, as an entrepreneur, I think employees should do this as well, absolutely, but, you know, a vision for your career and that kind of thing. It was just a couple of years out, but I’m like, “Ultimately, why am I doing this? Why am I going through all this pain and struggle to build Credo, to build the team, to level up as a leader, to level up as a founder and become a CEO, like, that kind of thing, starting another company and having a parent company that we’re going to build out multiple companies under that, right? Like, why am I doing that?” Part of it is ’cause I’m insane, because I’m type A, but, and I enjoy it, I really do, like, I thrive off of high pressure situations. Like, when stuff gets crazy, that’s when I get focused and I just go, but at the end of the day, I’m like, why am I doing this? I’m doing it to be able to be free. Time freedom, calendar freedom, money freedom.

[00:25:07] Right? And so, part of it is, well, “What can I actualize right now?” I can’t actualize the money freedom yet, over time I can and I have the plan, we have the plan for that, my wife and I do, but I can do the time freedom, right? I can at least give myself some time freedom. I can’t, I can’t do anything, you know, that I want to at any time yet, but actually I kind of can, ’cause I could just say like, “You know what, just clear my schedule today. I’m not doing it.”

[00:25:27] Like, I can just make that call, right, but I would be leaving things, you know, I would be going back on some, you know, responsibilities and whatever. But, you know, I can say, “Hey, I’m not working Fridays if I don’t want to.” So, I can actualize some of that and ultimately I would love to have a couple of days a week.

[00:25:46] Right? I would love to do 4-day weekends every week, Mondays and Fridays. So, you know, you can kind of work towards that, but for me it’s like, “Okay, time freedom, money freedom, you know, and freedom to work on what I want to.” You’re never going to have all of those perfectly, but it’s something to work towards and say like, “How can I take some steps towards that right now?”

[00:26:04] Jon Penland: Sure. I want to redirect a little bit. We’ve talked a lot about your personal story, your personal productivity process, and how you think about business. I want to shift a little bit to focus in on Credo itself a little bit. So, I want to start by asking you about Credo’s business model because I think it’s somewhat unique.

[00:26:24] Like, Credo does not necessarily just have a single set of clients that they are working towards. Right? So, you have kind of two different types of clients or users that you have to think about. You have to think about the agencies that are using the platform. You have to think about the clients who are connecting with agencies. So, how did you, how did this model come about? Let’s start there. How did you come up with this model of being an intermediary between those two parties? Where’d that idea come from? 

[00:26:54] John Doherty: To get to the model that we’re currently running, which is working, it was just a lot of pain and sweat and hard work, but initially, when I started the business, as I said in my intro, that I started the business out of my apartment in Brooklyn in 2013, and I started it because, leading up to that, to the end of 2012, I was working for an agency based in New York City, and basically wanted to make some extra money on the side. My salary was paying my bills, whatever, right, I could do, I could have some fun, but I was like, “I want some more that I can do more things in New York.” Right? And so, I picked up some side consulting gigs. And so, I was doing that, and then basically I got to the end of 2012 and I had gotten a promotion.

[00:27:34] I had gotten a couple of raises and I was 28, single, living in Brooklyn, spending two weekends a month in my apartment by myself, doing work for clients that I didn’t like for money I didn’t need. I’m done with that. And so I stopped. I said I was gonna stop doing that at the end of December of 2012, and my clients at the time said, “Well, who should we work with if you’re not doing this anymore?” “I don’t know. I’ll find you someone.” And then I had three friends in the space of about a month contact me because they had hired bad SEO agencies, mostly overseas and lost a lot of their traffic. One of my friends lost 70% of his traffic and therefore 70% of his business. I was pissed.

[00:28:13] I emailed Matt Cuts. I don’t think I ever got a reply from him. But Matt, if you’re listening to this, which you probably are, it’s all good. I was like, “I can do a better job. Like, I can help people find good people.” And so, I built out a Google Sheet and then just started sending leads to people, just kind of goodwill, right, have them coming in. And then I was like, “Wait, there’s money in lead gen.” And so, I asked a buddy, my friend, my buddy Brandon at Wallaroo. “Hey man, would you be, I have just gotten this lead, is in your town, probably Utah. Would you be willing to pay 50 bucks for it?” Three minutes later, he’s like, “What’s your PayPal?” He sent me 50 bucks, PayPal.

[00:28:45] I sent him in the intro. I made 50 bucks. He went and closed the client. I bought a domain name. And so, basically that’s just kinda where it started. Just kinda, people contacting me ’cause, I, you know, a good name, had a good name, have a good name, I don’t know, in the SEO industry, was known as an SEO, let’s put it that way. So, I had people contacting me wanting to work with me and I was like, “You’re not good fit for me,” or “I’m not taking clients on right now. So, let me refer you to good people. Would you want to be referred to someone that I trust?” “Yes, please.” And I could monetize on the backend. 

[00:29:10] So, that’s where it started, man and honestly we’ve been through a couple of different business models. First one was, we got 10% of the project for the first three months when it closed with an agency. Terrible business model, easy to sell to agencies, terrible business model because you’re building in a hundred percent churn every three months, and also, you’re not controlling your revenue because you’re not actually closing the deal, they’re closing the deal. So, you can really only send leads to people that can close, not necessarily people that are doing the best work. And we went to a pure subscription model, you know, number of leads, fully automated, so, basically that first business model took us about 4K or 5K a month in revenue, and then the revenue was trailing off as all the other metrics, traffic leads, et cetera, were going up. Something’s off here. So, then we switched to the subscription model. That got us to about 18K, 19K in revenue over the next 12 months maybe, like, it was quick, it scaled up, but churn was out of control. 

[00:30:01] It was super hard to run, et cetera. And so, basically I started working with a coach and then we upped our price and we started working with some agencies like Dedicated, they’re paying us a couple of grand a month, and that took us up to the next, and then we decided, we kind of took a detour into doing, like, an escrow marketplace service, so, built out a full marketplace, and in about a year we got to the point, not even, seven months we got to the point where, I think the last month we ran it full, we processed 130,000 through it for agencies and we got 15% of that, and then Covid hit and we saw, we took a 20% revenue haircut overnight through no fault of our own. And we were still, our revenue was still up to the agency’s ability to sell and retain, and if they didn’t retain and some arbitration needed to happen, we had to arbitrate that, and we didn’t get paid for that. So, I realized, I was like, “I’m spending more time to make less money. That’s dumb. What are we doing?” And so, basically once Covid hit, we’re like, “Okay, what’s the real value we’re providing?” Reached out to agencies and said, “Hey, is this, like, proposal, escrow-deliverables part of the marketplace? Is that providing any value to you?”

[00:31:06] And they’re like, “No.” We knew clients hated it and we’re like, “Okay, what’s the value?” “The leads.” “Okay, cool.” So, we adjusted our model to be a subscription model. We do, we do get a commission on the backend when work closes, but it’s not like in perpetuity, but it’s a decent, you know, it’s a decent chunk, and so, basically we’re getting paid to generate the lead and then we’re getting paid when agencies succeed. So, you know, very much Richard Branson, “Protect the downside and, and have unlimited upside.” So, that’s worked out very well. You know, as I said, we’ve about doubled in the last year.

[00:31:38] Jon Penland: Yeah. That’s interesting. So, what I’m hearing is, you had kind of multiple different models. You had this sort of commission-based model, where it was a percentage, then you had a subscription model, then you went to an escrow model, then you really kind of married the subscription and the commission model, and I had seen you share that quote from Richard Branson, and it was, “Protect the downside with unlimited upside,” or something, something along those lines. 

[00:32:01] John Doherty: Yeah. It’s something like that. Yeah. Perfect. 

[00:32:03] Jon Penland: I have no idea what that means. And now, I’m like, “Oh, okay.” 

[00:32:06] John Doherty: Yeah. It was like, how do we, I mean, really the thought was like, how do we get enough money in the front that we can actually invest in marketing, invest in team, invest in building out resources to help clients be more effective at hiring and all that kind of thing, which is this a knock onto the agencies, and then, because we were doing that, how do we also get a share in that because we’re helping them close more work, right? You know, in an automated sort of way, like I talked about. So, yeah, it was, it was actually, I had heard that, I heard that probably two months before we actually moved to this current model. I was like, “That’s brilliant. How do we do that at Credo?” And it’s worked. Yeah.

[00:32:39] Jon Penland: Yeah. And something that we’ve kind of danced around a couple of times and I’m just going to go straight at it with a question. Is, it strikes me in order for Credo to be successful, you have to care about satisfaction of clients, as well as the health and profitability of agencies. As a business, what is Credo’s North Star?

[00:32:56] Do you think about yourself as being focused on client satisfaction or being focused on the success of the agency? 

[00:33:05] John Doherty: Aye, man. That’s a great question. No one’s ever asked me that before. I was gonna say our North Star is number of qualified leads coming in. You’re getting in a lot deeper. So, let me think about that. So, I would say that what we’re really focused on is, we believe that if we can get the right agencies in that are good people, that deliver good work, that can sell, that kind of thing, then we’re going to do our, the people, the buyers coming in looking to find someone, they’re going to be taken care of, right? So, we can do, like, you know, we do as much as we can to enable them to do a better job of hiring.

[00:33:48] We have a five questions, ask an agency before you hire kind of resource. We have, we have a spreadsheet that we share with all of them, that they can take and basically use to organize their hiring. Because, you know, a lot of people are just, that are hiring agencies, have it all in their inbox, and “Where’s this PDF?” And they are like, they share it on a call or has it not been shared? “We have to do a call to get it, blah, blah, blah.” We just put it all on one spreadsheet, right? They can put it all on one spreadsheet, organize it all right there. How big is the agency? What’s their website? What are they proposing to us?

[00:34:16] What do they cost? What are our notes on them? That kind of thing and use that to really organize their hiring. So, we provide that sort of stuff to clients. And so, we try to enable them as much as we can to do that, but at the end of the day, Jon, it comes down to how well are agencies closing and then how well are agencies retaining, and also how happy our clients, and that’s just kind of a feedback loop, right? For them to come leave reviews on the agency that they hired. It’s automated, 90 days after we find out that they signed, moving into one column in active campaign and 30 days later, “Hey, how’s it going? Just checking in,” 90 days later, “Hey, you know, you’ve been working with them for three months, are you continuing, are you looking for anything else, and would you leave a review?” So, but at the end of the day, it comes down to if agencies are succeeding, right? If they’re closing work, if they’re retaining work, et cetera, that means that clients are signing and they’re actually getting work done, and they’re seeing results because they’re retaining the agency. So, I guess, as I talk it out, it’s is the agency being successful?

[00:35:10] Jon Penland: Yeah. I mean, it sounds like, it sounds like it really is kind of the client’s ability to retain their customer, that is what will drive your success. So, if the client can close a customer and retain them, that implies that they’re doing good work, that implies that they’re being productive, that implies that it’s taking care of all the other things. Now, of course you have to deliver them leads to keep them happy, right, but if they’re retaining… So, I know that you guys have, like, a qualification metric for agencies that want to come to your platform. How do you try and make sure that an agency is going to be somebody that fits the bill, as somebody that Credo can recommend? 

[00:35:55] John Doherty: Yeah, so, we have a three-step vetting process. Results, professionalism, culture are the three, like, kind of top-end. There’s 28 bullet points total between the three of those. Basically, but at the top end, do they have proof, you know, evidence of getting good results for clients? So, show some case studies, we look at SEMrush, we look at whatever, all the tools that all the digital marketers use, you know, to verify it. Professionalism, we look at their deliverables, right? Their reports, like, are they branded? Are they professional? Are they free of typos, et cetera, then culture, are they good people, right?

[00:36:32] So, we talk to them on the phone, like, our pipeline, our top level, we work very closely with them and I don’t work with jerks. 

[00:36:39] We do a call with them, I do a call with them before you even get them on, right, like, it’s funny ’cause, like, we’re not cheap, right? Our minimum is $1700 a month for an agency at our top level, top public level is 4 grand, you know, in commission on all of those. And so, we’re not cheap and what I actually end up seeing, Jon, is agencies trying to convince us that they are good enough to pay us thousands of dollars a month. So it really, turns it on their head, which is interesting. I don’t actually do sales, it’s more like, “Are you qualified?” And then we kind of realized over time that, like, certain sizes of agencies and, you know, they need to offer certain things and certain combinations of things and work with certain budgets and all that, and we’re starting to actually work in, like, I, I’m actually starting to take a look at their, like, their CRM ahead of time and be like, “Okay, how many leads you’re getting?

[00:37:30] How many are you closing? What are they paying you?” Et cetera. Because if they can’t close at least 50%, 5-0 % of their inbound, we’re not gonna be able to get them success because we see about 20% to 22% of agencies… Our agencies close about 20% to 22% of leads that we send them. So, about 1 in 5.

[00:37:48] If you’re not closing at least half of the ones that are coming to you saying, “We want to work with this agency, help us pay you,” we’re not going to be able to, they’re not gonna be able to close from Credo ’cause we’re introducing them to multiple people, it’s kind of a warm intro, but it’s not like, you know, we’re making the recommendation and then the agency kind of has to sell them again, right? It’s a very different, kind of level of lead, and so, we’re actually looking at that now as well, because we know, if an agency can’t close, even if we’re sending them good leads, right, we don’t bring on people that we don’t already have those leads in, right, they see, like, if we have an excess, right, I’ll sell people in, I’ll sell them what I already have, and I’ll use that revenue because we’re already profitable to go and get more so I can bring them more agencies. That’s, that’s how our cycle works, but if they can’t close, they’re churning out in four-months time, right? Because that’s our minimum engagement length.

[00:38:36] And I don’t like churn, right? I want people to see growth. I want them to close, right? And so, we work very hard on our onboarding to get them a closed deal in the first 60 days. And we’ve gotten pretty good at it. We don’t always hit it, but we’ve gotten pretty good at it. And if we can get them in for a closed deal in the first 60 days, they see that there’s something here and they’re gonna stick around, they’re going to ask how they get more. So, then it comes down to training, you know, sometimes adjusting of leads, helping them out with their sales process. I have a sales process that I know works really well. I’ve trained agencies on it, grown one agency from 600K a year to this year, though, there are projected to hit 4.2K, so they’ve grown seven X in the last three years working with Credo. We’ve made it up about half of that and I trained them on sales, and once I trained them on sales, their close rates and revenue took off. So, like, we crank for the right people. We just have to make sure we have the right people at a time, sell them the right things, have them set sales process, and they’ve proven that they can close.

[00:39:24] Jon Penland: Yeah, yeah. One of the things you listed as a filter that really resonated with me is we don’t want to work with jerks, and actually, we found that to be so true. 

[00:39:34] We found that to be so true at Kinsta, that we actually put it in our terms. Like, if you go into our terms, now, one of the client-expectations things, it’s the first line, it says, “Be decent” and it effectively says, “Don’t jump in and insult our support engineers and swear at us.”

[00:39:50] And those types of things. Like, we, we strive to provide a great experience, but that is a bit of a two-way street, like there is a minimum degree of professionalism that we expect our clients to bring to the table as well. How has that played out at Credo? Is that, is that, is that something that came up? Has that always been a value at Credo?

[00:40:11] John Doherty: I wouldn’t say it’s actually a value, though, as you’re talking about that, I think it’s going to be. I’ve always just been of the mindset that, just because someone is paying you doesn’t mean that, that you have to let them keep paying you, right? So, you know, I’ve fired, I can’t even tell you how many agencies ’cause they were jerks. I had one guy that was going in on me once, 200 bucks a month and he was struggling, on an old model, and he was struggling to close and he was just, passive-aggressive and just a jerk, man, and I was like, “You know what?” So, you know what I did? I went into Stripe, I refunded his payment that had gone through three weeks before and said, “I just refunded your payment, deactivated your account. I wish you luck.” And he came back pissed off and I was like, “I’m sorry.” 

[00:40:57] Jon Penland: Right. Yeah. 

[00:40:58] John Doherty: I don’t work with people like this. So, we do look for that, and I actually think we need to do something like that on the, on the buyer side. We don’t have a ton of problems with it, but I think we actually need to set out, like, maybe on our how-Credo-works works page, just to like, “Well, here’s what we expect of you. You’re going to be open, you’re going to tell us the truth, you’re going to be open to how we work, this is how we work. We’ve just told you how we work, that’s the point of this page. This is, this is how we work and you agree to work within that way. You agree to give us feedback on agencies, and basically these are the things that we require of you as well. This is what we’ll do for you. This is what we require of you.”

[00:41:28] We’re actually doing that with agencies now as well. I was just the other day yesterday, working on a doc that for agencies, it’s like, “This is what we do. This is what we don’t do. This is how we show up for you. This is how we need you to show up for us.” And I’m actually gonna go back and get all of our agencies to sign that, and then all new agencies coming in are also going to have to sign that.

[00:41:47] Jon Penland: Yeah. It’s extremely rare that we actually have to exercise that item in our terms, but it’s there because we’ve had to, right?

[00:41:53] So, I could probably count on my fingers the number of times that we’ve had to exercise that clause in our terms where we just said, “Look, it’s just not working.” And, you know, hosting business is a little bit different, where, you know if we decide that somebody is not a good fit for Kinsta, it’s not, it’s not a good practice for us just to shut them down, right? Like, we’re taking their website offline. We’re not going to do that, right? So we, but we will reach out and say, “Hey, you know, you have two weeks. Like, it’s, you’re just not a good fit for our platform, you have two weeks to migrate to a new provider,” because we, the internal culture of our team is worth more to us than any single customer. 

[00:42:34] John Doherty: Well I’ll tell you a story, Jon. We had a guy come through, I don’t know, a couple months ago, that came to find out that they were trying to hire an agency for their customer and client was a marketing consultant. Their client was paying them by the hour, and we match him up with three agencies, he agrees to do that, et cetera, and so, our process is like, we qualify them, put their project in, and create them an account and then schedule them with the agencies, right? They don’t approve who the agencies are, because we’re basically saying, “Trust us, this is how our matching works.”

[00:43:04] We show them, and he’s like, “Yep great, I’ll do the calls.” We schedule them, he immediately goes and cancels all of them. “What the heck?” So, I get involved and he’s like, “Well, they don’t have case studies,” and I’m like, “They don’t have case studies of working with lawyers? They all have case studies of working with lawyers.”

[00:43:19] Right? They’re all on our lawyer’s marketing company’s page, they all work with lawyers. He’s like, “Well,” he’s like, “Well, they don’t work with lawyers.” “Well, they do, I can prove that.” “Okay, but they don’t have case studies.” “They all have case studies.” “Okay, but their case studies don’t tell who the person is with the phone number to contact them.”

[00:43:32] I was like, “Oh, my gosh. I don’t really agree with you,” and so I’m like, “You know what?” And he replies that day with, “I am no longer interested in Credo services.” “Great, good luck.” Next day, he comes back asking to be rescheduled with one of the agencies. “I thought about it overnight, blah, blah, blah.”

[00:43:49] I replied to him, and he has a login to our system, he still has it today and I’m like, “Thanks for the email,” and I was a little bit of a jerk, but what I said was, I used his exact wording, “My team and I are no longer interested in working with you. If you want to, you can log in and schedule calls with them yourself, but based off of our conversation from yesterday, we are not going to put any time into your project. Thanks, John.” He never scheduled calls as far as I know. I don’t care, right? But if I have to get involved like that and someone’s being like that, and they’re not trusting us and they’re not listening and they’re not willing to pay us to help them manage them through the process right, thing is Jon, he took probably three hours of his time, you know, going back and forth with me over email, he would have spent half of that just having the freaking calls and would have found an agency, you know? So, like, I just don’t know what do with people like that, so we just, we just get them out of our, out of our way.

[00:44:42] We don’t kick them off, right, we’re like, “You can log in. That’s fine, but like, you’re not getting other matches. If you want to schedule, that’s all on you.”

[00:44:49] Jon Penland: The one thing that has happened, having been on the business side of those types of, just call “challenging interactions” is, I find myself when I’m dealing with a business, I am just far more aware of how I’m reacting, right, I’m like, “Okay, Jon, bite your tongue,” right, like, “Don’t, I know you’re frustrated with, you know, service XYZ right now, realize this is a human being on the other end, this is their job, you need to dial it back a bit here.” Yeah. So, it definitely raises the visibility once you’ve been on that side of the interaction. 

[00:45:26] John Doherty: And I’ve learned that too, you know, I used to go in guns blazing, and I don’t do that anymore. I’m very professional with it, and you know, it’s also very, very few that, that need that. Right? I mean, I’m talking 1 in 200 that are like that. You know, so, I deal with one of those about every, you know, couple of months. My qualification team, my success team deals with them a lot more, right? And they just qualify them out, but if it gets to me, you know, something’s gone wrong and I deal with a couple of them, you know, every six months I’d say, but yeah, it’s very rare, and we do have to be as professional about it, you know, and recognize this on the other end, maybe they’re having a bad day, et cetera.

[00:46:02] But, you know, Jon, I’ve given people a second chance that are like that, giving them second chances as well, “I’ll do better.” They’re better for a week and then they come back and they’re a pain in the butt, so I’m just, like, “You know what? We’re done. There are other ways for you to do this. Like, no.”

[00:46:16] Jon Penland: Yep. I hear you. 

[00:46:19] John Doherty: [Good luck.

[00:46:22] Jon Penland: So, I want to shift gears a bit and ask you about some of the other projects. So, let’s start with EditorNinja. What’s the backstory there? How did that project get started and how does it work?

[00:46:33] John Doherty: EditorNinja. So, I’ve been a blogger since 2001, 20 years now, and, something like that, and basically, I love to write, I’m a writer before I’m anything else, but I don’t like to proofread, so, I’ll ship a blog post live, and usually the first comment I hear is, “This is great. You left this comment unfinished in the second paragraph,” or “There’s this typo” or whatever. “You got to be kidding me.”

[00:46:56] So, I’ll go back in and fix it, but like, egg on my face, you know? So, I was like, “I need someone else to do this, and so, you know, started getting some matters together, and then, basically, there are other people that are interested in that, you know, and we scale up our content and I was like, “I need to come up with a formal place to do this.”

[00:47:15] And, I know the founder over at Design Pickle, and I was like, “This is interesting,” right? Because there are companies out there already, you know, doing proofreading and such, but I was like, “I wonder if the Design Pickle model could work for this.” And so, basically, I launched a site and was like, “Hey, let’s get some editors on board and then start getting some people that, you know, need editing.” So, we’re currently able to process individual docs, like, you know, single docs. I’m working on building out the MVP product to actually do the subscription and all of that. Honestly, Jon, I’m doing it in the same way as I built out Credo, the initial product. Gravity Forms, Gravity View, you know on WordPress.

[00:47:51] So, I’m doing it better this time. I’m actually doing a dedicated, like, app, like, sub domain, as opposed to, like, within the main DubDubDub and whatever, so like, I did learn a bunch of things, but basically I know the software to use that kind of thing, and then it’s a matter of marketing it and getting people in the door and doing some sales and learning what they need, their questions, who we’re best for, that kind of thing.

[00:48:10] Right? Like, EditorNinja isn’t good if you need an email proofread and you need it back in an hour, right? But like, hey, you just did a white paper that you invested 10K in and you want to get like a, you know, you’re, the agency, the preset, for you the content team should have proofread it, but you want to just make sure because this is going to your prospects that might pay you half a million dollars a year, we can turn that around in two days, you know? So, like, it’s a good fit for that. So, I’ve just learned that kind of thing, through those, through those calls. So Jon, it’s very, very reminiscent of the early days of Credo. Very, very reminiscent. Like, knowing the initial supply, building the initial product, building the initial demand, it’s the same playbook. So, my goal ultimately is, establish that playbook because my business partner and I are very good at building two-sided product-guided services like this. So, that’s kind of our goal, to have a portfolio of those businesses.

[00:48:55] Jon Penland: Yeah, it’s interesting. Before I was in my current role at Kinsta, I first became aware of Kinsta as a writer because I was writing in the WordPress space and Kinsta has always been big in content, and actually, my first interaction with Kinsta was writing for their website, and I can not tell you how strongly it resonates with me that I love the writing and I hate the editing, right?

[00:49:21] And that was, and I’m actually good at it, but I don’t enjoy it. And, I learned that because I went to work for a content agency as an editor, and I lasted exactly one month before I was like, “I cannot do this. Like, I do not have the tolerance for full-time editing. I need to be creating, not editing,” and the whole idea of publishing something and then going back and reading it and finding, you know, all these grammatical errors that I made, that I should have caught the first time around and going, I don’t want to spend any more time on this. My brain is done with tons of content and it is ready to move on to the, so yeah.

[00:50:02] John Doherty: So, I saw a tweet the other day from a guy David Parral. I don’t know him personally. I follow him on Twitter, and he’s a writer and his tweet, which is actually showing up in Google search results, so, it’s really a useful, it was, from two days ago it said, “Editing your writing is like going to war with your emotions because you have to delete things that don’t belong, even when it crushes you emotionally.” The writing part is fun, man. I love it, but editing part, I’m like, “Oh, this is painful. I don’t want to do it. It’s good enough. Someone will tell me,” right? But, at some point, it’s not good enough if you haven’t actually gone back and edited. So, you know, the EditorNinja will be for those people.

[00:50:36] Jon Penland: Absolutely. Well, you may have a user here eventually if I ever get back to using my blog regularly, so, yeah. I did want to ask you about one other project you have going. So, you’re running a Substack now, a Service Business Academy, and I feel like Substack is something that’s really just exploding over the last, I don’t know, 6, 12 months, something like that.

[00:50:56] What prompted you to start your Substack and what sort of results you’re seeing out of that? 

[00:51:01] John Doherty: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, I started it because, on Credo, we focus on the buyer side. We focus on the companies that are looking to hire a marketing agency and I wanted to do, want to do actively more for the agency side, because the more I can teach agencies, I have a, you know, I’ve worked for two agencies, I haven’t run an agency, but I was a freelance consultant, worked with couple of hundred agencies over the last few years, thus five years, I know a lot about growing agencies, but it doesn’t make sense on the Credo blog to have stuff geared towards agencies because then, like, it is just a lot that would have to happen, internal linking and siloing, and, you know, you found this then only recommend this and blah, blah, blah, and it’s not that clean between, like, buyers and agencies, like, stuff we read about how to do marketing, both agency readers and buyers and people in house are reading it.

[00:51:51] And so, it’s like, what are we linked to then? Right? Who is this person? I was feeling blocked. I felt really blocked creatively in creating content for agencies. And so, I was like, “What if I just created a lightweight newsletter that I can just write and commit to it?” And it was kind of a test.

[00:52:09] “Am I going to enjoy this? Do I have good things to say?” Et cetera. And I’ve published every Monday for about the last four months now, a couple of hundred people on the list. I get great feedback from it, I get people tweeting about it. It’s been a long time since I’ve had people tweeting about stuff that I wrote, and so, unprompted without me, like, really promoting it. And it’s just like, it goes out, like, Monday it went out, and so much tweeted that afternoon that like, “This is awesome. It’s made me rethink these things, and if you’re an agency, agency owner, or consultant or freelancer, you should subscribe.”

[00:52:35] I’m like, “Oh, I’ve hit on something here. So, it’s free, I didn’t even get, like,, there was literally a test. It was like, “I’m just going to spin this up, see what happens” and people have enjoyed it. So, who knows where it will go, you know, I’ll probably do a coaching thing for agencies at some point.

[00:52:52] I don’t know if I’ll make the Substack paid. I’ve actually thought about just like launching and kind of recreating that same, like, thing on its own website. I don’t know what it’ll turn into, but it’s been a great creative outlet and a great way for me to kind of teach a lot of the things that I’ve learned over the last few years, show some frameworks that I think through, my sales process, proposal process, like, that sort of stuff and talk to the entrepreneur agency-owner level where they’re thinking about, “How do I hire, how do I scale, what are the things I really need?” Like, all the stuff that I’ve learned as an entrepreneur, it’s really entrepreneur to entrepreneur, is the kind of level that I think about it on and focusing on, yeah, I say service businesses agencies, but it’s not just marketing agencies, it’s just as applicable to lawyers and HVAC owners, and, you know, the guy that owns the company that mows my neighbor’s lawn and that kind of thing, like, it should appeal to them as well.

[00:53:43] Jon Penland: Yeah. That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about, you know, at Credo, you’re really trying to attract leads who you can then refer to your agency. So, your content is going to be built around those leads. And, and so, I hadn’t really thought about that, that different angle. That makes a lot of sense.

[00:53:59] So, as we draw this conclusion to a close, I have two wrap-up questions for you. So, first, what’s one resource you’d recommend to our listeners? Could be a book, newsletter or blog, just something you find particularly valuable that you think our listeners should check out. 

[00:54:18] John Doherty: So, the most valuable book that I’ve read, I’m a big reader, that I’ve read, all, all business books I’ve read recently is, so, it’s by a guy named Greg Crabtree, “Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits”. If you’re doing it, I would say if you’re doing 15K a month or more in revenue, it’s really going to resonate if you’re under that and you want to learn things that are going to come up once you know your business is going to work, I would recommend it. But basically it just talks about, how do you run a profitable business? Right? I talked at the beginning about the spreadsheet that I use. I have it baked into there where it’s like, and he basically, the thing is, he gives a great model for growth, where he’s like, if you, if you’re bootstrapped, you wanna run a profitable business, you should aim for about 15%. If you’re under 15%, you should not hire. You need to get your business back above 15% before you can hire somebody else. Don’t hire to get more profitable. If you hire, you’re reducing your profit margin.

[00:55:10] If you’re above that, then you should, then you can hire, right? Or you can invest, you can make investments in ads or whatever, what you have or what have you, but you can, you can invest. But don’t take it below 10% profit. And then you need to get it back above 15% before you make another bet, and that’s just been game-changing for me.

[00:55:28] And my business partner, and I actually said like, “Okay, if we’re over 20%, then, like, say we’re 25%, that extra 5%, we’re going to take that as distributions,” ’cause we don’t want to starve the business, we want to reinvest for growth, but above that, like, if we run a profitable business, right, and, like, everything’s working great and no one’s overworked and all of that, let’s take that as distributions as well, so we take, you know, we’re basically rewarded for running a profitable. So, Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits. It’s really, it was originally written for, software companies. It applies to agencies and service businesses and productized services as well. So, I would highly recommend people pick that up.

[00:56:00] He has a second book. It’s like, I don’t even have it over here on my bookshelf, but it’s called, Rules, Rules For Scaling, here it is, it’s called “Simple Numbers 2.0 – Rules for Smart Scaling: A Play by Play Analysis for Pure Growth”. So, I would read Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits first, I’m about halfway through this one. It’s really good. It’s basically all the things that they’ve learned. Once they wrote that book, grew their firm quite a bit, and then he’s basically going and saying “This is what businesses that really win do and how they run.”

[00:56:30] Jon Penland: Yeah, very cool. Second, where can our listeners go to connect with you or to learn more about Credo or EditorNinja? 

[00:56:38] John Doherty: Yeah. So, best place to connect with me personally is Twitter, at dohertyjf, D-O-H-E-R-T-Y-J-F. If you’re an agency or a service business owner consultant, et cetera, subscribe to my Substack that we just mentioned,, that goes out every Monday, and then, if you wanna learn more about Credo, it’s

[00:57:00] On the buyer’s side, if you’re looking to hire, click the How Credo Works link up in the top. That’ll tell you how we work and what we do and who we are. If you’re an agency, there’s a small link up in the top, Credo For Marketing Agencies or For Agencies I think is what it says, but go to, P-R-O-S and that’ll show you, that’ll kind of give you all the info, and then EditorNinja is

[00:57:23] Jon Penland: Perfect. Well, John, thank you so much for joining me today on Reverse Engineered. 

[00:57:28] John Doherty: You bet. Thanks for having me, Jon. This was fun.

[00:57:31] Jon Penland: And thank you to our listeners. That’s all for today’s podcast. You can access the episode show notes at That’s K I N S T If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to Reverse Engineered and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or the platform you’re listening on right now. See you next time.

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