One characteristic that sets industry Titans apart from the crowd is that they understand the importance of building their personal brand as well as their business. Matt Frary has exited quite a number of times during his career, but he has always been and will always be the ChiefOfChaos. For over 20 years, Matt has been helping big brands all over the world scale by making sense of the chaotic online marketing world. He earned a place in the Titan 100 as the CEO of SmarterChaos, a boutique consulting firm that he founded in 2010. Having just exited this company last July, he is now the EVP of Brand Strategy for the acquiring firm, Digital Media Solutions Group. In this conversation with Bob Roark and TITAN CEO President, Jaime Zawmon, he shares his career as a serial entrepreneur as well as some personal branding tips.
We're extremely fortunate to have Jaime Zawmon as a cohost. She is the Founder and CEO of Titan 100, and we have Matt Frary, Digital Media Solutions Group, EVP of Brand Strategy. Jaime, thanks for taking the time. Matt, I appreciate you carving out the time given the Chaos that has been happening in your life. With all that being said, Matt, if you would give us a thumbnail sketch of your business and who you serve.
First off, thanks Jaime for having me in, and thank you, Bob for having us as well. We appreciate it. We built this little company a few years ago called SmarterChaos.com and I'm one of the Founders and was the CEO of that company. There's a long lead up to this, but we were purchased by Digital Media Solutions. On July 15th, the same day that we were purchased by Digital Media Solutions, we went public. We have some exciting news that we sold our company, and we also got to join a company that had an IPO. It's exciting times. I have to say, I've never imagined growing this company years ago, then selling and participating in a public event on the same day.
A crash course in, are you kidding me?
You can't script this stuff, I swear. Maybe we'll talk about this, but when I did start the company SmarterChaos.com, I did say something to the founders about, "We should build a strong foundation so this thing could scale someday."
I’m curious to know the types of clients that you worked with or you envisioned working with through SmarterChaos as you originally created that foundation to scale it and grow it.
SmarterChaos was originally built so that we could help large brands navigate the chaos of the online marketing world. I started SmarterChaos on the back of a napkin, sipping a margarita down in Mexico in Puerto Vallarta. My son who was 2 or 3 at the time was playing in a little waterfall fountain. My wife said, "Are you good here?" I said, "I'm good. I have an idea." Two hours later, I had sketched out this business plan and I had realized that the online marketing world for the layperson was extremely chaotic. You have all these different places you need to log in, all these different theories you needed to employ. I looked at serving any brand that looked at the internet as a chaotic confusing place where you could lose money quickly trying to navigate that space and pumping money into Facebook, Twitter, and all the partnerships.
To make a long story longer, we focused on the brands that wanted to acquire customers profitably. If it was a household brand, that was the type of brand that we wanted to go after. When we first started, I used Shark Tank as my lead list. I would watch Shark Tank and I figured if they got funded, they had money. They needed to grow their consumers. The great thing about Shark Tank is they talked about customer acquisition and the cost to acquire a customer. They talk about all their metrics on Shark Tank. It was my discovery call. I could find out more about the company. The next day I was on the phone calling those companies. The types of companies that we got to service where Dollar Shave Club, Manscaped, FabFitFun, the Bucs. A lot of these were recognized from Shark Tank.
I think about the genius of calling somebody and goes, "I already know what they do." You call them up on a friendly call. What was their reaction when they got your call after being on Shark Tank?
It's like the pretty guy or pretty girl at the dance. You think that everybody is trying to dance with them, but you find out that they're lonely. At first, I thought everybody's got to be calling them after Shark Tank, but you'd be surprised that wasn't the case. I found that they were excited to talk to me. As long as I'm in the business of performance marketing. When you spend $1 with us, we need to return $3 or $4 back to you in revenue. When you pitch a company that's in a high growth startup stage and you say, "For every $1 you spend with us in marketing, I'm going to return $3 or $4," we're having a financial discussion at that point like, "Would you like to invest with me? I'm going to give you the highest return." Since they need to be a steward of the dollars that were invested in them in Shark Tank, in these incubators, then it's a natural fit. It's not a hard sale to say, "Let me spend your dollars and make you more money." It's an easy sale after that.
[bctt tweet="An industry Titan can see the future. They are able to bend reality around them." username=""]
I have to ask before we move on to the next question, of all the clients that you worked with over the time, which one was the most fun and why?
We worked with FabFitFun for seven and a half years. That was one of the most steady fun. That was great to see them. We met the guys from Michael and Dani from FabFitFun before they even launched the product. They didn't even know what they were going to put in the box. I met them over at a sushi shop in LA, and they were talking about their vision. Now, they're valued over $1 billion with a million subscribers paying them $59 on every subscription. That was the most fun from a business perspective. The ones with the greatest sense of humor and the ones that we laughed all the time, we traveled to Vegas together, and we had a great time with them was a Manscaped.com. If you've never seen the Manscaped videos, you have to. They sponsor NASCAR. They took over all of Penn Station in New York City. They've been fun with their advertising. Their YouTube videos are laugh out loud funny. If you get offended by Manscaping, maybe don't watch them but they are funny.
I appreciate the insight, Matt. It's always great when you can work with clients that you love and there's a general click in the ability to work together to help your clients succeed even further. As a tie into the Titan 100 platform and the program, and one of the reasons that you're on this show and we're recognizing you here is because you are one of Colorado's Top 100 CEOs and C-Level Executives through our online application process. Matt was recognized in the Titan 100 book here as the CEO of SmarterChaos. I always like to ask every one of our Titans that comes on this show, what characteristics they believe it takes to be considered a Titan of industry in your purview?
That's such a big title, Titan of industry. I'm looking at the Titan 100 award right over here. It inspires me every single day. It does mean a lot, Jaime. I appreciate that. To be considered a Titan of industry, I would think that you need to have a consistent vision. You need to recognize scale early on that you can build a platform company that can grow. That foundation that you have can bear the weight of the company you are going to build. You need to think in the positive in the future and say things like, "In three years, I'm going to be 100 people. I'm going to have revenues of $100 million. I'm going to go public." I believe that a Titan of industry sees in the future.
I believe the Titan of industry is able to bend reality around them. You have to give people that purpose and vision even when people are shaking their heads. I've been in meetings where people have shook their heads like, "Matt, that's not going to happen." I'm like, "#MakeItHappen," which the sign on my wall over here is #MakeItHappen. My other sign is Wake Up, Say a Prayer and Hustle. You have to believe that you can make it happen, have the vision to make it happen, get the people on board to make it happen. You have to wake up every day and hustle, and say that prayer. I believe that a CEO that is going to get that title of Titan 100 has to have that megaphone and be consistently saying the same vision and the same message. I had to do that for ten years to build SmarterChaos into what it is now. Even when people around me are like, "Stop shouting, I get what you're doing," I kept with that megaphone and kept saying what we were going to do.
I hear a lot of the stuff that you're saying. I'm thinking of your skill stack. Back when you started SmarterChaos and you'd go, "I think we should build a company that we can scale at some point." I find that as somewhat an unusual viewpoint. How did you acquire that skill to think that way, or what influenced you to go that way?
Prior to SmarterChaos. I built a company called ROIRocket. That was 2005 to 2010 and I was twenty-something years old scaling a company that was doing millions of dollars a month. I then sold my position in ROIRocket in 2010. Early on, I realized that with large amounts of money coming in, it means that you have large overhead. With large overhead, means you have lots of employees. You have a huge responsibility to the people around you, to be fiscally responsible, and to be able to scale that vision.
It was a combination of my MBA from Thunderbird, my background in global business, and seeing that the world outside our borders and thinking big, and then realizing that you have to work on your business and not in your business. There's a whole idea called the E-Myth. I don't know if you've ever read the book, The E-Myth, but if you read that book, you realize you can't just be the operator in your business. You have to work on your business and grow it. The combination of all of those things led me to believe that early on at SmarterChaos, we needed to buy platforms like Salesforce and QuickBooks. We needed to act and think as though we were a 100 or 500-person company, even though we were three guys in a basement.
[caption id="attachment_5558" align="aligncenter" width="600"] ChiefOfChaos: You can't just be the operator in your business. You have to work on it and grow it.[/caption]
As I think about the journey and there's a certain cultural inoculation. You get your culture transmitted through. You've been through ROIRocket, and then you have the Chaos, and then you have this company. How do you take, transmit, promote or carry forward the culture that's made you successful? What do you do?
This may be an egocentric point of view, but I try to espouse all the values that I have in my brand. I have a personal brand. If you go to ChiefOfChaos.com, that's my website, I have a podcast out there that's Chaos Makes Sense. If you follow me on any social media, it's going to be /ChiefOfChaos. You can find me. I've built and sold six internet companies. When I'm building a business, it's going to be methodical, scalable, there's going to be a certain culture, and there's a certain leadership. I also do this thing on Fridays, #FridayWithFrary.
If you go on LinkedIn and you look up Friday With Frary and you look on my social media, you're going to see this consistency of my vision of life, management, personal life, and my faith in God. You're going to see all of that. It's consistency and a consistent megaphone with the platform that I have. I wouldn't have this platform if I didn't inspire the people around me to build the things that I'm asking them to build alongside me. To answer your question, I build the culture right here first. Those that are inspired to come with me on this journey on this bus can get on the bus, we go in and we build things. That's how I do it.
It's interesting that you talked about building a personal brand alongside the company. I know several CEOs that are invested in that. They believe in it wholeheartedly as you do. What advice would you give to CEOs that either don't have a personal brand or looking to grow their personal brands alongside their company? What would you recommend to them?
The pitfall of not having a personal brand is not being able to extricate yourself from the company. I always looked at SmarterChaos and I didn't name it Matt Frary Inc. It wasn't about me. It was about the customer. It was about the service we provided. It was about the people at SmarterChaos. The sum of all the people, their skillset is way greater than my skillset. Naming it something like Frary Inc. didn't make any sense. We built these companies and then you need to see them off to college. You need to send them off to where they can grow, thrive and so on.
The only way that I could see, and this is just in my feeble brain, is that I would create this persona, this brand, and that brand would build things. If people wanted to buy those things, work at those things, or whatever that is, then they were inspired by that brand to do that. As a founder, as a CEO of startup companies or high growth companies, you are your greatest path to revenue. The greatest path to revenue is selling. You have to sell something to get revenue. The greatest salesperson in your business is you yourself.
The greatest way to sell something is how people buy into you. People do business with people they like. My entire social media persona and my entire brand are all about amplifying the vision and the values that I have. People will naturally want to do business with me or they won't. If you don't want to do business with me, it's okay. We probably had a culture before we even have to have a conversation because you already know who I am. I would tell those CEOs to start building a personal brand.
You put together companies and sold six companies as you said. On the morning after the sale, is there a thought process that's been going through your mind or starting to arrive at your consciousness? You go like, "I just sold the company, and now what?" I'm interested in your post-sale observation.
[bctt tweet="The greatest salesperson in your business is yourself." username=""]
When I consummated that deal and when we finally got the lawyers and the accountants, it was 1:00 in the morning on February 3rd, 2010. I sold that company and after the sale of ROIRocket, the next morning I woke up, I looked at my wife and I said, "I don't know what I'm going to do. I need to go build something. I'm going to go down to the Douglas County Library in Castle Rock, and I'm going to start something." I got up that morning, took my laptop down, got on the free Wi-Fi at Douglas County Libraries, and started SmarterChaos.
When I sold on July 15th of 2020, the next day I got up, I needed to start working because I still have an amazing job with Digital Media Solutions and I will for quite some time. I got up the next morning and I was like, "What is the future look like?" I wrote down the next ideas that might come along that I could start to seed out there. Digital Media Solutions is a large company. It's a public company. How could I make my journey at Digital Media Solutions be entrepreneurial? How could I build divisions there where I could effectively build divisions inside of a large company?
I'm always looking post-sale for how can I make a difference? What are they going to say on my tombstone? What's the legacy I'm going to leave? How big can I build this legacy? When I say, how big of a legacy can I build, I don't mean how much money I can make. That's not super important to me. It's about, can I build these legacy companies that can go on and employ other people that can affect people's lives, that can change the trajectory of other people's businesses? I'm happy to see that SmarterChaos, when we did the marketing for all these companies, I know of 6 or 7 companies that became billion-dollar companies. That makes me happy that we were a part of that. That company goes on and can build some other billion-dollar companies, and the next thing that I seed. When I wake up the next day, I grab a cup of coffee, I do my gratitude journal, I meditate, I workout, and then I sit and I think, "What am I going to do next?" I then start writing down ideas.
Matt, it sounds like you've got a powerful mindset. You've talked about vision, scalability, and thinking about working on the business instead of in the business and always being, what's next? I have to imagine in the six companies being a serial entrepreneur, that you've learned an incredible amount along the way. While the path to success is not a straight and steady route, it does have twists and turns, there's got to be some mistakes that you've made along the way. I'd love to know, and I'm sure our readers would love to know, what advice could you give yourself or someone else from a mistake that you made and what did you learn from it?
There's not one mistake I can draw out. There are many mistakes. It's how you bounce back from those mistakes that's the key. We have what we call startup porn or entrepreneurial porn. This is the idea that it's sexy to start a company. It is the least sexy thing to do and only percentage of a percentage of people will come out on the other side with rose-colored glasses. Many will go through the partnership divorce. Many will go through financial ruin, will lose sleep, will lose their health. Many will go through all of that.
If you're still willing in the morning form your company, knowing that the risks are high, that you can lose your family, health, finances, and you can lose everything and you're still willing to do it, you're in the right position. If you're not willing to do those things and fight for what's good, then you probably shouldn't do it. The big mistake that stands out for me is, I won't say which company because that would expose too much, early on I started a company and I picked the wrong partners. I would say that we rushed to get our company to market and we offer equity in our company to various people.
You have to think like when you offer equity, it's almost like sharing your bed with someone. It's like sharing your house with someone. A partner breakup is worse than a divorce. Luckily, I've never been through a divorce. My wife and I have been together for many years, but it seems to me that it would be worse than a divorce. Frankly, I don't want to know, but extricating and untangling especially a partner that comes in and you give them equity to build your technology when you should have paid the technologist the money. It is cheaper to pay someone to build your website or your app than give them equity.
If you're giving someone equity to build the technology platform, and that's why you're giving them equity, you should have just spent the $100,000 or whatever it was to build that thing. Later when your company's worth millions of dollars, that partner now got paid millions of dollars. What are you going to do when the partner sits on their hands? What are you going to do with that partner makes bad decisions? What are you going to do when the partner steals money? I've had money stolen from me in partnerships, millions and millions of dollars.
I've been through seven-figure legal battles, trying to get rid of a partner. The number one thing is choose carefully the people on the bus, your partners, your employees, your shareholders, your financiers, and your investors. Know what their background is and choose the people that you want to go through this life with. If you're going to spend 80 or 90 hours grinding this out, make sure it's the people that you want to spend your life with.
[caption id="attachment_5559" align="aligncenter" width="600"] ChiefOfChaos: The pitfall of not having a personal brand is not being able to extricate yourself from the company.[/caption]
We've been harassing you for a little while and maybe that’s the polite way of saying it, but I appreciate you sharing your insights, journey, and mileage. You don't look like the mileage that you've traveled. With that being said, how do people find you on social media?
Jaime, congrats on the Titan 100 book. Where do folks find a copy of the Titan 100 book?
You can go to www.Titan100.biz to see the full list of the 2020 Titan 100. There's a tab where you can view each individual Titan 100 profile. You can also see the entire digital version of this book copy. If you're interested, you can purchase a copy and read about these incredible stories of Colorado's Top 100 CEOs and C-Level Executives, Colorado's 100 Titans of Industry.
If I could give one last little piece of advice, Bob. When you are starting out as a CEO, you need the people around you and you need to read these stories. You have to look at how the Titan 100 did this. You have to read those types of books and read those stories, and be inspired because other people have gone before you to do it. It's important. Jaime, what you're doing is amazing and it's welcome in in Colorado. We appreciate it.
Thank you, Matt. That means a lot coming from you.
Matt, have a great day, and good luck with all of your building projects.
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