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SEMrush Pro Talk: Jack Kaufman, College-aged Marketer & Entrepreneur

Kathleen Garvin
SEMrush Pro Talk: Jack Kaufman, College-aged Marketer & Entrepreneur

Jack Kaufman is a junior at Haverford College, just outside Philadelphia. He's written two books (and is working on a third), runs a podcast and is completing a marketing internship at a local software company.

Inbound.org recently featured the ambitious college student as a young marketing all-star in the article "22 Marketers Under 22: How They Got Started In Marketing." Learn more about Jack's entrepreneurial and marketing endeavors in this interview.

Question: At what age did you develop an interest in marketing and entrepreneurship?

Answer: I developed my interest for marketing and entrepreneurship when I was 15 years old.

At the time, I was a sophomore in high school and had just seen "The Social Network." The story of Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Sean Parker and the Winklevoss twins inspired me to get into business. That’s right — the inaccurate blockbuster that glorified and simplified business was my initial inspiration for starting in the field.

I’m not proud to say that "The Social Network" spurred my interest in entrepreneurship and marketing, but I am grateful for it.

Q: What was some of the first work you did in these areas?

A: The first real work I did in the areas of entrepreneurship and marketing was at a Startup Weekend event in New York City. At the time, I was an unconfident and nervous 15-year old, but I knew that attending would be a tremendous growth experience.

Startup Weekend started off with mingling and networking, and then we got into the meaty portion of the event. On the first night, anyone can pitch an idea for a business that they’d like to build over the weekend. After an hour or so of pitching, people vote on the best ideas and narrow them down to the top 10. Teams then form around the top-voted ideas.

I knew I had a good idea, and mustered up the confidence to pitch it in front of the hundreds of people who were there. The idea was a mobile app to let people buy and sell their spots in lines or queues. My thinking was that some people don’t like waiting in line and others don’t mind it. So, I’d connect these people together with an app and allow them to trade their spots for money.

People voted my idea into the top 10. From there, I worked with two amazing people during the weekend and learned an incredible amount. Because I was so inexperienced, the event was like trial by fire. The people I worked with were throwing around words like “user stories” and “product market fit,” which I’d never heard before. I had to learn new skills on the fly like changing DNS records and setting up landing pages. At the end of the weekend I was exhausted, but the tiredness was well worth it.

Q: Sounds chaotic, but fun! What happened after Startup Weekend?

A: After my work at Startup Weekend, I didn’t publish or ship much for a long time. This was a huge mistake. I should have been writing and shipping blog posts religiously. At first, these posts would have been crappy, but I would have improved my skills and built a following over time.

Never wait to start putting your thoughts and ideas into the world. Your initial work will be complete sh*t, but it’ll get better with consistent time and practice. Then, one day you’ll magically have thousands of readers and a toolbelt filled with skills. After my work at Startup Weekend, I wouldn’t work on another significant business project until my senior year of high school.

Q: What made you want to write a book, The Entrepreneur's Guide to Finding Your First Customers?

A: I decided to write the book after my good friend Adii Pienaar, Founder of Receiptful, reached out expressing interest in working on a project with me. We discussed it, and decided that would-be entrepreneurs needed a resource to teach them how to get their businesses’ first customers.

Most businesses don’t fail because they have a bad product. 90+% of businesses die because they don’t know how to get customers and effectively distribute their product. We wanted to teach people how to do these things and come up with profitable products ideas. So, we wrote the book to do just that.

Q: How old were you when it was published?

A: I was 19 years old when we published it. It took about six months from start to release date.

To put the book together, we did loads of research, outlining, writing and editing. Plus, to help promote the book we launched a podcast where I interviewed successful entrepreneurs about how they got the first customers for their businesses. To land influential guests early on like Rand Fishkin, I leveraged my age. Successful entrepreneurs like helping out young entrepreneurs, and I used my youth to successfully ask them for help.

All young entrepreneurs and professionals should leverage their age to meet their heroes. Being young and passionate about a field makes meeting the stars in it a lot easier.

Q: You talked about the trials and errors of trying to promote a product. What are some things you've learned, and what advice would you share with others?

A: The best advice I can give to someone looking to promote and grow a product is to build an audience. Building an audience is the best way to profitably and consistently promote a product. Laura Roeder’s Edgar grew to $100K in monthly recurring revenue in just 11 months thanks to the audience she built up at LKR Social Media.

Countless entrepreneurs have used audiences to promote and sell products successfully. A few that come to mind off the bat include Rand Fishkin of Moz, John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur on Fire, Hiten Shah of KISSmetrics, Justin Jackson of Build and Launch, Joel Gascoigne of Buffer, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income, Amy Hoy of 30X500 and Freckle, and more.

Each of these entrepreneurs focused on building an audience first. Then, promoting their products and growing them was a piece of cake. All it takes to build an audience is a blog, good content, and effective content promotion. Start building your audience today.

Q: Community is a key driver, for sure. Anything else?

A: Besides building an audience, I’m a big fan of community-based marketing and paid acquisition. Done right with a great product, paid acquisition via Facebook or Google AdWords will print money for your business. It’s tricky to do paid marketing successfully, so I’d recommend learning as much about it as possible before starting with it. Some good resources for learning paid marketing include: Return: How to Save Lost Customers with Retargeting, Your First 3 Months on AdWords, the Seer Interactive blog, the WordStream Blog, The Traffic Blackbook 2.0: Business Class, the MixRank blog and others.

Community-based marketing can mean a lot of different things. Communities can live and grow online. For example, Growth Hackers, Inbound.org, Designer News and Hacker News are online-first communities. The companies that own these communities like Qualaroo, HubSpot, MetaLab and Y Combinator have used these communities to grow their businesses.

Communities can take hold on blogs and social networks. Amanda Palmer has built her career in music and art through the power of community, and her community lives on Twitter and her blog. People from her community come together in the real world to interact and grow closer, but most of the magic happens online. By connecting her fans, Amanda has earned their trust and become a wildly successful musician.

To start learning about community building, check out Brick by Brick: a Free Guide to Building Awesome Communities, by Sacha Greif. Also, be sure to read Alex Hillman’s blog religiously.

Q: Can you discuss your internship with Wildbit — What they do, your work with them and how you got involved?

A: Wildbit is a software company headquartered in Philadelphia. We make tools to help developers do better work and make their lives easier. Our three products are Postmark, a transactional email service provider; Beanstalk, a complete workflow to write, review and deploy code; and DeployBot, a simple app for deploying your code anywhere without complex cookbooks, recipes or configs.

Chris and Natalie Nagele run Wildbit. They’re a husband and wife team who do great work, tell it like it is, and care for their employees and customers like no others. I met them during my senior year of high school when I interviewed them for The Found a Business Book. After the interview, they asked me where I’d be going to school in the fall.

I told them I’d be going to Haverford College, and they graciously invited me to come visit them for lunch in Philly after I settled in. Throughout my freshman year at Haverford, I visited the Wildbit team several times for lunch.

During the first semester of my sophomore year, Natalie reached out to me asking if I’d be interested in doing some writing and content marketing for Wildbit. At the time, I was taking some tough courses and decided to focus solely on my studies. Later in the year, as I thought about what I wanted to do over the summer, working at Wildbit was the first thing that jumped to mind.

So, I reached back out to Natalie and Chris to see if they were still interested in having me come on board. They graciously said that they’d love to have me come work for them over the summer, and I haven’t looked back. Working at Wildbit has been lots of fun, and it’s been an amazing learning experience too.

At Wildbit, I’ve worked on content marketing, sales, and strategy. I’ve mainly worked on promoting Postmark by teaching folks how to send better transactional email. In addition, I’ve helped introduce our products to new audiences like the one on Product Hunt. Finally, I’ve helped out with some PR.

Q: What are you currently working on in addition to your internship at Wildbit?

A: I’m currently working on marketing the book I co-wrote with Adii Pienaar called The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Finding Your First Customers. I’m also busy marketing, growing and curating Tiny Products, which is a weekly newsletter that helps you learn new and valuable skills.

To succeed in today’s economy and workforce, you need to provide value to employers, which means you need to know valuable skills. To start and grow a successful business, you have to have the skills that’ll pay the bills. With Tiny Products, I’m hoping to give people the resources, books and courses they’ll need to learn the skills that pay the bills.

I also write about products, life and health on the Tiny Products blog. Each post on the Tiny Products blog is about a valuable skill or tactic that will help you succeed and earn more money.

Have any questions for Jack? Feel free to leave a comment!

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Kathleen Garvin is an online editor and analytics wrangler for The Penny Hoarder, the largest personal finance blog. She's also a contributing writer for I Want Her Job and started a beginner-friendly digital marketing blog, The Maroon House. Kathleen is the former blog editor at SEMrush.
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