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From 0 to 1m Monthly Visitors - How NerdWallet Built A Massive Audience


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At Hustle Con, Tim explained how to create content people love, how to create a content marketing strategy, and how to reach millions of users.

Tim Chen is the CEO and founder of NerdWallet, a financial education startup founded in 2009. Wanna open a bank account or start a new credit card? Head to NerdWallet to learn what’s best for you.

NerdWallet is bootstrapped with over 200 employees.

In his talk at Hustle Con, Tim explains how do you create content people love, the best way to create a content marketing strategy and how to reach millions of users.

Hustle Con is a badass conference where the best non-technical founders (aka hustlers) teach how they got started and give practical advice on growing your startup. If you’ve heard of a hacker, well a hustler is its counterpart. Basically, it’s like a rock n’ roll version of TED, except not as hoity-toity. The catch? None of our speakers know how to code.

See Tim's talk here:

Published in: Marketing
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From 0 to 1m Monthly Visitors - How NerdWallet Built A Massive Audience

  1. 1. 0 to 1m monthly visitors How to build a massive audience Tim Chen NERDWALLET
  2. 2. Life before the hustle @timchen82 #hustlecon Day traded, partied, played too much Starcraft 2000 - 2004: COLLEGE Investor focused on the technology, media, and telecom industries 2004 - 2008: WORK
  3. 3. Why did I start NerdWallet v1.0? ■ Existing products weren’t good ○ Incomplete inventory of financial products ○ Did not customize results for spending behavior ■ Big market ○ $63m ○ $96m ■ Fired at the end of 2008 ○ Minimal competition for credit sites during a credit crisis ○ Low opportunity cost #hustlecon@timchen82
  4. 4. Why did I have an advantage? ■ NW appeals to a niche of people ■ More nimble than the big guys ■ Sister knew about SEO and affiliate marketing ■ Finance background ■ Life as an investor #hustlecon@timchen82
  5. 5. #hustlecon A non-technical founder’s website @timchen82
  6. 6. The next 6 years ■ 2009: 0 to 283 users / month ■ 2010: 38k users / month ■ 2011: 150k users / month ■ 2012: 480k users / month ■ 2013: 1.3m users / month ■ 2014: 2.2m users / month #hustlecon NERDWALLET, LAUNCHED FEB 3, 2009 @timchen82
  7. 7. 2009 0 to 283 users
  8. 8. Inefficient learning ■ Word of mouth sucks in finance ■ Pitching journalists is really hard ■ SEO is a slog and is going to require years of work ■ Paid channels are prohibitively expensive ○ Subscale means lower commissions ○ Consumer friendly means lower monetization #hustlecon LEARNINGS & MISTAKES 2009 @timchen82
  9. 9. Inefficient learning #hustlecon 2009 Figure out your business’s most viable acquisition channel and iterate on it. For us, it was SEO. @timchen82
  10. 10. 2010 280 to 38k users / month
  11. 11. Small wins can be demoralizing ■ Finally got in Money magazine in Feb 2010... ○ But it generated only $300 in revenue. Nearly quit. PR didn’ t get easier. ■ Co-founder got us a LifeHacker mention in May 2010 through a personal connection ○ But it only generated $5,000 in revenue. Nearly quit again #hustlecon SMALL WINS 2010 @timchen82
  12. 12. Small wins can be demoralizing #hustlecon 2010 Dropped product development to focus on SEO -- that was all that mattered. @timchen82
  13. 13. 2011 38k to 150k users / month
  14. 14. This might work... ■ In SEO, there are only 2 things that matter ○ Building quality links ○ Creating quality content ■ This implies ○ Product design doesn’t matter ○ Engineering doesn’t matter ○ VC funding doesn’t matter ○ PR only matters if it builds links #hustlecon FOCUS 2011 @timchen82
  15. 15. #hustlecon This might work... 2011 ■ Not a black box: read online how the Google algorithm works. ■ There’s no secret sauce, just hard work. Don’t try to game the system. ■ Your most limited resource is “founder time.” ○ Hire link builders and journalists, you’ll never be able to do it yourself at a large enough scale ○ Build products that generate UGC or links automatically TIPS FOR SEO @timchen82
  16. 16. #hustlecon PR / links 2011 First big investment was in a small PR agency in March of 2011 (Prowess PR). Spent our first $5,000 / month in revenue on PR. @timchen82
  17. 17. #hustlecon PR / links 2011 ■ Building a reputation with the journalism community is tough. They are flooded with pitches and calls, have deadlines to meet, and don’t want to get burned by unreliable sources. ■ Ex-journalists will better understand how to pitch a journalist effectively. Talk to one. PR TIPS @timchen82
  18. 18. #hustlecon Content 2011 ■ First hire was a “content owner” (not a developer) ○ Wrote content ○ Hired and inspired more content writers ○ Went on to GM our entire credit card business ■ Hired as an intern in Spring 2011 ○ Brown student who really wanted to go to Syria to study Arabic ○ Arab Spring happened, she couldn’t go ○ She dropped out to become our first employee and was instrumental in our success @timchen82
  19. 19. 150k to 480k users / month 2012
  20. 20. 480k to 1.3m users / month 2013
  21. 21. #hustlecon Define exactly what you need to win Early on, we realized the need to build 500+ quality content pieces & links / month in order to gain scale. This forced a radical rethink of where to aim the organization. @timchen82
  22. 22. #hustlecon Define exactly what you need to win ■ When you’re small, it’s a knife fight. Learn what competitors are up to and crush their output. ■ Give yourself credit for iterative improvements you’ll figure out down the road but also be realistic about futile endeavors. ■ At scale, stop trying to growth hack and build a team that can do it better than you. Build the best army and don’t worry about tactics. ■ My biggest SEO successes and mistakes in the last 4 years are people. @timchen82
  23. 23. #hustlecon 3 to 50 FTE 2012 - 2013 ■ Running a business is HARD and takes a LONG time to pay off ○ Took my first paycheck after 3 years ■ Managing people is really tough ■ People build companies ○ Growth tactics or hacks only get you so far ○ Nobody we hired in 2012 had ever managed people before. This did not end well. LESSONS LEARNED @timchen82
  24. 24. #hustlecon 3 to 50 FTE 2012 - 2013 ■ Be authentic and don’t be afraid to communicate vulnerabilities. Employees are really perceptive. ■ Over-communicate the mission, your expectations, and feedback (supportively). ■ Confront all perceived issues quickly and candidly, with a bias towards understanding the issue rather than assuming bad intentions or lack of capability. ■ Learn about people. Everyone has different strengths , career desires, and communication styles. TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME MANAGERS @timchen82
  25. 25. 1.3m to 2.2m users / month 2014
  26. 26. #hustlecon Hire & Inspire 2014 @timchen82
  27. 27. #hustlecon 0 to 2.2m users / month 2009 - 2014 Bootstrapped, 180+ employees, extremely profitable @timchen82
  28. 28. #hustlecon 0 to 2.2m users / month 2009 - 2014 TAKEAWAYS Understand ● Which customer acquisition channel do I need to dominate? ● What are the drivers behind that acquisition channel? ● Market size and competitor economics. It can keep you motivated when things are rough. @timchen82
  29. 29. #hustlecon 0 to 2.2m users / month 2009 - 2014 TAKEAWAYS Tactics ● Test quickly to discover business drivers ● Build business process around drivers @timchen82
  30. 30. #hustlecon 0 to 2.2m users / month 2009 - 2014 TAKEAWAYS Hire great people ● Learn how to sell a vision @timchen82
  31. 31. TIM CHEN FOUNDER, CEO #hustlecon@timchen82
  32. 32. #hustlecon