When we crafted the idea and vision for our Smart Route podcast, we knew we wanted to feature the unique stories of business owners and industry experts alongside those of the businesses we admired. In this episode, we’re excited to share a story of an entrepreneur whose path we know will hit close to home for many of our digital agency partners in the CTM community.
Tune in to learn more about Aaron Weiche’s journey from agency exec to CEO and co-founder of Leadferno, a business messaging solution. Hear about what inspired him to make the career pivots that he did, including founding and running multiple companies, as well as how he envisions the future of communication for businesses. You’ll discover why text messaging is no longer just a “nice to have” and how your communication strategy is at the heart of delivering a strong customer experience.
Courtney Tyson (00:20):
Welcome to Smart Route, I’m your host Courtney Tyson. Joining us from just outside Minneapolis is Aaron Weiche, co-founder and CEO of Leadferno, a text messaging platform for businesses to close more leads faster. Welcome Aaron.
Aaron Weiche (00:36):
Thank you, Courtney. Glad and excited to be here.
Courtney Tyson (00:40):
I’m excited to talk to you as well. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, so I want to share a little bit more about you with our audience and why we’re so excited to have you as our guest. Now one of our goals behind Smart Route is to not only highlight and discuss specific topics, but also people and their journeys to success. You know, learning more about others’ accomplishments and failures really helps us to learn and grow both personally and professionally. So with that said, Aaron, your career journey is extremely impressive. And really looking forward to talking to you today about your exciting road to success. Aaron is an entrepreneur who has both founded and led multiple companies in digital marketing agencies. Prior to Leadferno. He was CEO of gather up leading it to an acquisition in 2019. He helped found the MnSearch Association, is a faculty partner at Local University. He’s Google Analytics Certified and speaks internationally on digital marketing, customer experience, conversion and mobile. How did I do, did I leave anything important out Aaron?
Aaron Weiche (01:48):
Not at all. I don’t know if there’s anything, all that important about me anyway. But no, you definitely hit on the highlights and what I’m up to lately.
Courtney Tyson (01:59):
Great, great. Well, I’m excited to learn more about what you’re doing now and what kind of brought you to where you’re at now with Leadferno. It’s definitely difficult to capture your whole journey in an episode intro, but a walk us through maybe the last five, 10 years leading up to Leadferno.
Aaron Weiche (02:19):
Yeah, it’s something right when you look back and now, you know, my history in this industry is well past 20 years. So yeah, there’s a lot of it that you might as well just throw out at this point because it’s so ancient and you just continue to add to it every year. But yeah let’s just easily say that a long time ago I got interested in building a web page in the late nineties. That was my entrance into the world of digital marketing and web development and things like that, and kind of stair-step approach in a number of different small agencies and growing things like that. And that led me to being part of the largest agency that I helped grow. It was called Spider Trap in Minneapolis. When I joined on as a partner, it was roughly about five, six people.
Aaron Weiche (03:18):
And then about five and a half, six years later when I left Spider Trap, we’re right around 54 head count in the multiple millions of dollars in revenue and we were building websites apps and then search and social campaigns for a pretty broad roster of clients, lucky enough to be located in the twin cities and have a really great corporate roster. So getting to work with companies like United Health group, Target, the Best Buy, things like that in that area. And after doing that and being in the agency game roughly for 15 plus years, that kind of led me to seek like, what else is out there? What am I drawn to? And that’s when I pivoted and came on as a partner in running sales and marketing for a company that became known as Gather Up, which was a SaaS platform that helps businesses be able to listen to their customers through customer feedback, net promoter score and online reviews.
Aaron Weiche (04:28):
And over the course of five years at Gather Up, I eventually moved into the CEO position there grew the business to serve roughly about 25,000 businesses globally and led Gather Up to an acquisition to end 2019. From there I stayed on with the company that acquired us. I had you know, just wanted to see how things were like on the other side. Our acquirer had also purchased six other SaaS companies. So I wanted to see how other companies were operated see what I was doing, right. Learn some new things you know, get validation, see what I was doing wrong. All of those types of things and definitely became apparent to me midway through 2020 that there, I, I definitely had a burning desire to do something new and launch something new, and that led us to kind of where we are today and the, the start and the building of Leadferno.
Courtney Tyson (05:28):
Great. I’m excited to learn more about Leadferno as we chat, but it seems that, you know, you’ve always been kind of evolving and changing when it comes to the roles that you’re in and the companies that you’re working for. And then also just staying on top of like technology and trends and that all kind of collectively has really helped you to be successful.
Aaron Weiche (05:50):
Yeah. And I think that’s what’s really drawn me to the industry. I have a funny little saying that I share with people all the time on, especially I’m someone where my mind’s always going and never stopping and whatever else is, I just easily phrase it up as, “I go to bed smart and I wake up stupid.” and that’s because the industry evolves so much and there’s just always so much to learn inside of it. I mean no matter what, I very rarely have felt moments in time where I’m like, oh, I’m in this great safe space of some mastery and experience and whatever else, because either the industry’s changing or I end up kind of changing my positioning on what I’m doing and what the next challenge is with it. But ultimately I’m easily able to see that it’s the attraction to that that’s led me to keep coming back to the table day after day on this board.
Courtney Tyson (06:48):
It’s interesting, marketing definitely it’s always changing you’re right. I mean, even in my experiences here working at CallTrackingMetrics and when I first came on about three years ago, call tracking was still a new concept kind of and now it’s just, okay, everyone has it embedded in their strategy. So I totally get what you’re saying with that. Let’s talk a little bit more about the types of companies you’re supporting now. So it’s throughout your journey. It seems, you know, you’ve been, you’ve largely spent a lot of time giving businesses the tools to impact their own customers’ journeys. And you’ve had experiences working with big companies and small companies. But what drives you to keep supporting the small business space?
Aaron Weiche (07:27):
Well, I grew up in a small business entrepreneur household. My dad owned a small market am radio station. My mom owned a custom framing and art gallery. And so I was like to say the dinner table when I was a kid was like this mini board meeting every single night. My mom just had a couple employees. My dad had 15 to 20 probably at its at its peak. And so inside of that, like I was just kind of always hearing these things and I was always around how they were operating and, and really living their businesses like a small business owner or entrepreneur is someone that it’s, it’s not very nine to five. It’s just like part of everything you’re doing. The friends you’re around might also be business owners and clients and things like that. So I feel like I have this immersion to it that as I grew and work to find my interests, like I really gravitated towards that.
Aaron Weiche (08:22):
And what I really like about small businesses outside of like that passion piece is they need the same tools as big businesses. They just need them to work in a more simple way or be easier to engage with. Or as I’ve found, especially in being able to speak at conferences and events and things like that, they need it brought to them on a level that they can understand because they’re not wired into it all the time. So no matter what I’ve done, I’ve always worked across the gamut. And I enjoy the challenges of working, you know, like gather up our largest customer was Allstate. And I enjoyed the challenges of working inside of such a large organization with 10,000 locations in the United States and all the complexities that that brought. But I got just as much satisfaction out of helping an auto glass installer in the hometown that I grew up in and helping them be able to listen to their customers and get more reviews on Google and things like that.
Aaron Weiche (09:26):
So small business really always had a soft place in my heart. And I also feel like small businesses often end up underserved because of where many products and things in the market gravitate to, you know, where the money is and where the excitement is, and things like that. But that definitely a spot in mind where no matter what I create, yes, I want it to work for enterprise, but I also want it to be super approachable for that small business owner that really wants to do great things and how they engage or serve their customers.
Courtney Tyson (10:00):
Yeah. There’s a lot of opportunity in, in that long tail that’s for sure. Yep. And, and it’s interesting what you said in terms of your, your family being very entrepreneurial that resonates with what our co-founders had said on our first episode where we explored their, their journey. So it’s interesting to hear that it’s kind of that having that family experience too, that allows you to kind of want to dive into being an entrepreneur yourself.
Aaron Weiche (10:25):
Well it’s really fun when you get to this point where you can look back at it and you realize at the time I had no idea. And so, but it’s like, you get far enough away and you’re just, you really start understanding how all those dots connected without you really paying attention to it. So it’s, it’s just pretty cool how that stuff can kind of take shape and influence.
Courtney Tyson (10:46):
It’ll be interesting when we’re at chatting in the future and talking about your kids and where they wound up. Right. They decided to go down the entrepreneur path as well.
Aaron Weiche (10:55):
Yeah. I can tell you they are much brighter and talented than I am, so I can only hope they will just run laps around their dads someday.
Courtney Tyson (11:06):
I bet they will. So let’s talk about your newest venture Leadferno. How did you know it was time to kind of dive in and what makes you excited about launching Leadferno?
Aaron Weiche (11:21):
Yeah, it was definitely hard leaving behind a product and team that I had built and loved but had ran the race with that’s. What’s really interesting when you go from a startup to gaining maturity and then you have an exit like that exit actually is kind of a finish line. And in being an entrepreneur, I knew there’d be another race that I wanted to run. That the hard thing was like, I really loved what gather up was about like it, that was part of me was the biggest reason that I left agencies and went to gather up is that at agencies I was kind of tired of chasing tactics all the time. And all right, how do we react to this change in Google’s algorithm? You know, just a number of nuances like that, where when I looked to gather up, I was like, okay, the core that this is about is, do you have the right tools to understand how your customer feels about you?
Aaron Weiche (12:17):
And I just thought that was such a great thing to anchor to, and then to build features and tactics around. So it was really difficult in like getting in and seeing, and then coming into a larger org once we were sold into that was like some of the things that I like to do and are beneficial to me as a leader, those opportunities aren’t there anymore because I’m not running the entire show of all these products that this company has, has acquired. But then it was just starting to like pick up on a, on a number of different things from, you know, we had text features in gather up that allowed us to reach out to customers via text message, to request feedback, and to request reviews. From my days of building websites, you know, all the way back, I always felt like I wanted like this all in one deployable solution to create contact channels.
Aaron Weiche (13:10):
So it’s like when you build a small business website, say you’re building it in WordPress, you have to go and install a plugin to run forms and what you want to do with that. You know, you have to set up email, you have to, you know, set up just all these different pieces to it. And I really wanted to, you know, I kind of felt like I had this idea on how do you create kind of an all-in-one contact solution to allow people to be able to reach out and communicate with that business and back and forth. I’m also just a brig proponent in giving the consumer a choice in how they communicate with the business. Instead of saying, this is the only way to work with us is to fill up this free estimate form or to fill out this contact form.
Aaron Weiche (13:50):
I feel like that’s really limiting. And then lastly is I just looked at the evolution of digital communication. I just felt like and we really saw this take off. I think last year is like messaging tools, especially text messaging has just become where most of us operate in our personal lives. And we really saw it kinda cross over into more business communication out of necessity during, during the, the heart of the pandemic. So it was kind of that combination of things that led me to like creating Leadferno that really is meant to unlock business messaging as a way for businesses and, and consumers to communicate with each other, to make that communication easier, faster, and more productive for both.
Courtney Tyson (14:35):
That’s exciting. And I know the data around texts, text messages, engagement is just remarkable. It seems that everyone responds really well to text messages and rarely a text goes on open. And I think a lot of businesses are out there trying to still figure it out. I personally really text messages from businesses, whether it’s like a coupon or appointment confirmation or reminder, I just feel like that that content is always very valuable. It’s always something I need. So it’s exciting that you’re kind of creating this, this platform to, I guess, make things easier, right. In terms of figuring out how to facilitate that, that communication.
Aaron Weiche (15:09):
Absolutely. The again, in, in building off things that I’ve learned gather up really taught me that like customer experience is the ultimate differentiator for businesses, especially in today’s day and age where like pricing delivery. So many of these other options have just like shrunk too. It’s so difficult to create a moat or to create a differentiator in, in how you do these things. And we see this at the mass scale for how does a small retailer survive when Amazon can just drop it off cheaper on, on someone’s doorstep. So when you have those things and in looking at that customer experiences, like communication is at the heart of a great customer experience. So I looked at it like when you can start off the conversation with great customer experience, because you make it really easy for that customer to contact you. And then as opposed to like live chat, now you’re not stuck waiting in a browser at a window for them to get back to you.
Aaron Weiche (16:08):
And if they’re not on, then they get back to you an email back in a channel that you don’t check as many times a day where we’re just so influenced in our personal lives, into interacting with that messaging app on our phone that it really just makes it easy. And the most like fluid asynchronous conversation that we can have back and forth between business and consumer. So when I looked at that, I was like, I just really want to highlight that. And I feel like it makes a consumer’s life easier. It makes them more likely to contact the business because they’re like, I can just send a quick text message with the questions I have or to get the conversation started. And that’s a minimal investment to me. And when the business responds, I’m going to have, you know, an alert in my messages, which I’m on all day long talking to friends and family and coworkers anyway. So it just really became this, you know, low barrier to entry a place where everybody already knows how to communicate and operate. And kind of that last piece is like helping the business, understand how they can unlock it and make it easy for them is really what’s missing in this case. Right.
Courtney Tyson (17:12):
Yep. I think too, you talked a lot about customer experience. So I want to hear more about your marketing toolkit before launch, what went into that? What were your must haves?
Aaron Weiche (17:30):
Yeah. And of course that’s always evolving. I definitely have some staples that probably no matter if I was starting a pizza place in town or starting a software company, I’d probably use some of these same tools and some of the ones that have just been really dependable for me over a long period of time. First one to talk about is Google trends. What an easy way to start your keyword research, understanding how people might be thinking about your possible solution, how they’re referring to it, what they’re typing into that search box a one way versus another. So I, I always say Google trends is a great way to like, take this take this temperature of things in a, in a very broad base. After that H refs, this allows you to start doing a deeper dive in some of the keyword research elements as you build your website, which is obviously a, an absolute, a must on there.
Aaron Weiche (18:29):
How’s the website performing what’s missing? What does it, it’s health look like based on, you know, baseline SEO, technical needs that are there email marketing, you know, even though, you know, part of my theory with Leadferno is that like business messaging is the speed that you need to communicate at. And email is, is edging itself closer and closer to the us postal service. And isn’t going to live up to either side’s expectations. Email marketing is still an incredible push channel to be able to get in front of your customers. So I’ve been a customer, a campaign monitor through like all of my stops at multiple agencies. And I’ve just always respected their platform, even though there’s a ton of choices in the email marketing space campaign monitor is always a go-to I’m a big social guy. So Twitter, especially LinkedIn, which I call slow Twitter.
Aaron Weiche (19:25):
You know, those are two great areas to, to access and to be available for people to interact. And then lastly, just looking at like, you know, part of what I’m solving, ease of community communication I really think for a business, like you need to be employing something like Leadferno or like a live chat. But you need to make yourself a little bit more available than just a dead-ended contact form that they have no idea where it’s going or where, when it will be responded to, or anything else like that. So I’d really look into something that, you know, I use the word realtime loosely, but something that’s a little bit more conversational than just filling out a form.
Courtney Tyson (20:07):
That’s a very structured answer. So we talked more about, talking about keyword research and Google trends, keeping on top of those things, website metrics, email marketing, social communication and ease of communication in general. One interesting thing I think you said was, “business messaging is the speed at which you need to communicate.” Which leads me to ask, you know, what are some of your predictions for text messaging and customer communication over the next few years?
Aaron Weiche (20:36):
I really see the space evolving. I’m biased, I’m betting on it. But what I find really interesting with it is I feel like when we see a number out in the wild, whether it’s a billboard, a business card a sign anything else, your automatic assumption is that I can text that number as well. That it’s not just a voice number. When that number is displayed, that I, the consumer will have a choice how I want to interact with that, that number’s just the landing spot. And I can approach that number via text or via phone. And I think instead of now, like a nice to have, or especially for small businesses, it’s a surprise when somebody is like, oh, I can text that business. Like I can text my dry cleaner to ask if my order’s done. Like, that’s amazing.
Aaron Weiche (21:27):
Or I can get a reminder or an alert that my dry cleaning is done. That’s amazing. Like that’s a differentiator now. I think it will be an expectation as we slide out, you know, in that three to five year range. And then the next piece after that is like, SMS is still like a V1 tool. And we’ve seen the evolution, right? Apple has iMessage for iPhones, Google and Android has their RCS, their rich communication services. And I think once one of them gives way, or we end up with one, that’s kind of a, you know, text messaging V2 where they’re interacting with each other. Cause right now, if you’re communicating from an Android phone to an iPhone, it’s using SMS as the fallback all the way back to this V1 when they both have very robust services to communicate Android, to Android and iPhone to iPhone.
Aaron Weiche (22:18):
So that’s the other thing that I look at that you know, who knows getting a couple of the biggest players in the world to play nice with each other. What’s that going to look like? But I just think there’s a ton of green field for the lowest level of service to be raised quite high. And we already see this on the network side, right. We see as we approach 5g and you know, how fast is it till we get to the 10G network? It’s just like, all of those things are increasing. So I think there’s this endless green field for what we’re going to be able to do in our messaging app, besides just type letters and numbers, photos, and videos. I just think that evolution is going to go so much further.
Courtney Tyson (22:59):
Yeah. And I think a really great best practices for businesses. Now, if you are advertising a phone number, and you can receive text messages on that phone number, use that in your advertising, because you don’t want to miss out on a lead just because they didn’t realize that they couldn’t text that number. I think something we constantly talk about at CTM is just the importance of omni-channel communication, because everyone prefers to communicate differently. And text messaging is just, it’s just such a huge piece of that puzzle because those engagement rates are so high. I mean, it’s just an absolute, fantastic channel to communicate with your leads, convert them. So we’re really excited to see, you know, how everything goes for you at Leadferno and excited to learn more as you progress as well.
Aaron Weiche (23:48):
Awesome. I will take anyone cheering for me or wanting to pay attention that I can.
Courtney Tyson (23:55):
Yeah. so that’s, that’s a good segue, before we go I know you have your own podcast, so I’d love for you to tell us more about that, but if there’s anything else that you’d like to plug you know, let’s, let’s talk about that.
Aaron Weiche (24:08):
Yeah, for sure. Yeah, so I got into podcasting a couple of years ago now, after, again, like doing tactical presentations, 99% of the time at marketing conferences, digital marketing conferences, everything else, like I had this longing to talk about something else besides SEO rankings and local search rankings and reviews and things like that. So I partnered up with a friend of mine, Darren Shaw, who runs a local search software company. And we just basically talk about running our companies. What are the challenges, what we’re paying attention to. So it might appeal to someone who’s an entrepreneur, definitely those that are in the space of software as a service. So the podcast is called the SaaS venture. It’s basically allows both of us to lay out on the Davenport and kind of talk out loud about what we’re going through decisions we’re making challenges and things like that. So I I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve loved getting to talk more business and less tactical things. So it’s been a great outlet for me that way.
Courtney Tyson (25:09):
Great. Yeah. We’d love to just, you know, tell our listeners if you want to learn more or dive in more to Aaron’s journey and talk specifics, definitely check out his podcast again, it’s entitled the SaaS Venture. So I’ll check that out myself. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience before we go?
Aaron Weiche (25:28):
Yeah, so we’re just coming up close in a, you know, right around the end of June is when we’re officially launching with Leadferno. We’ve had a pilot, we have dozens of pilot customers that are seeing great results. If you want to visit leadferno.com, you can either sign up for early updates. You can sign up for early access or just pay attention when leadferno launches. And we hope you’ll consider us when wanting to take advantage of business messaging and very specifically a two way text messaging to, to interact with delight and close more leads faster.
Courtney Tyson (26:04):
Fantastic. Well, good luck with you. I’m excited to follow along on that journey as you go as well.
Aaron Weiche (26:10):
I appreciate it, Courtney, and thanks for having me on today.
Courtney Tyson (26:12):
Thank you, Aaron. It’s definitely been a pleasure. Thanks for taking time out of your day to share with us more about your journey to success. You know, one professional’s hindsight can be another’s foresight, right? And thank you to our listeners too, for tuning into Smart Route. Be sure to follow us on Twitter to join the conversation @smartroutepod. We’ll talk to you soon.