by Susan Wright
Digital marketing has become an integral part of business strategies across the board. Companies need to develop a clear online strategy to present to potential customers. Many companies have arisen to provide the tools for a strong online presence. Search Engine People is a company acting in this space, using advance technology and specialized solutions to create an effective inbound marketing campaign for clients.
I was able to sit down with Search Engine People CEO Jeff Quipp to discuss how the company has progressed throughout its history and what benefits SEP offers clients.
Tell us about yourself first. What is your management style? Where did you go to school and work in the past?
My name is Jeff Quipp and I’m the founder and CEO of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP). I have an undergraduate degree (BA) in Economics and an MBA, both from Wilfrid Laurier University. My management style is more type B than type A, but I’ve recognized that as a weakness, and have hired to compensate for that. I believe in creating an environment that I classify as Win-Win-Win, meaning clients must win, SEP employees must win, and SEP itself must win. If everyone wins out of a relationship, I believe this is the framework for a strong long-term relationship…and its working!
I’m very passionate about the intersection of the internet, marketing, and technology, and how marketing is changing as a result.
Tell us how your company started and when. Who was involved and what did each person do?
In the late 90′s I was working for a large media company, Sympatico-Lycos, and was Manager of Traffic and Distribution for many of its sites (including a Yellow Pages site). It was in figuring out how to drive good quality traffic to those sites that I initially discovered search, and began to understand the role of it in the marketing mix. I could see that it would one day soon replace the traditional Yellow Pages.
At that time, I was directed to use a couple of search marketing companies that were connected to senior executives of the company, and both failed miserably. In fact, one even managed to get one of our premium sites banned from Google. Searches for other search marketing companies at that time revealed no other safe options either. It was then that I said, if there are no great search marketing companies out there, then I will build one, and that was the beginning of Quipp Internet Marketing Solutions (QIMS). I took the plunge and started SEP as a sole proprietorship on September 10, 2001, under the name QIMS. At that time, my wife was home with our second child on maternity leave–she cut it short and went back to work. I began operations from the sunroom of my house in Ajax Ontario (just outside Toronto).
Now, at that time there were two types of search marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search. I was skilled at paid search but not SEO. SEO required technical/html skills, and I had none. So the company’s first purchase was ‘HTML for Dummies’, and I spend the first month studying it and learning html programming. After that, I began to search for and pitch clients, build a website, and study how to do SEO. I landed my first client in December of 2001. In trying to fulfill for the initial clients however, I soon learned that while I knew html, a skilled specialist would be MUCH more efficient at implemented solutions than I was, so I sought out my first part-time employee. I was bootstrapping the company on very limited savings at the time, so I had to be smart about growth and spending. This was a valuable lesson for me–work to my strengths, and hire to compensate for my weaknesses. My first full-time hire was Ruud, who came aboard in 2002. He lived roughly 15 hours away from me in Quebec, Canada, was skilled technically, and knew SEO, but didn’t speak French, so his job options at the time were limited. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Ruud online through a forum, and he was SEP’s first employee. To this day, no one at SEP has ever met Ruud in person!
At that time, QIMS was growing rapidly, so I decided QIMS was no longer an appropriate name for the vision I had for this company. I began searching for a better name, one that would help differentiate us from everyone else in the industry who were working from their basements at the time. I needed something to suggest that we were a team of people, and not a person. In early January 2003, I came across SearchEnginePeople.com, bought the domain name, and registered it as a corporation. The foundation was being laid.
I knew that I was still wearing too many hats to be effective though, and started my search for people who could complement my weaknesses. I identified two people (both of whom I knew) who I wanted to bring on as partners. It took me four years to convince both to come on board. The first was Jennifer Osborne, who was one of the best strategic thinkers and operations people I’d ever met. After I grew the business significantly in the first four years, she saw the potential, and joined me as a partner in 2005. Jenn took on the role of VP of Operations. Less than one year later, the second individual I recruited relentlessly, Tom Tsinas, joined SEP as a partner, and as VP of Sales. Tom’s strengths were sales and relationships. At the same time, Jennifer interviewed an individual, Wisam Abdulaziz, who seemed to be able to bring many additional skills to SEP. By 2008, Wisam’s skills and contributions earned him partnership status within SEP, and he became the 4th partner, and VP of Technology.
The four of us have worked as a cohesive team since then, growing SEP to become one of the largest independant digital agencies in world today.
Tell us an interesting story about your business. Were there any “wow” moments? Anything funny or unusual?
No one at the SEP has ever met our first employee! Ruud works remotely, and does not like to travel. He has a physical space in our head office though, despite never having been to our head office.
Also, for the last year we have been transitioning our business model from being a search marketing agency, to a full digital/inbound marketing agency. It’s interesting that our rapid growth has come in stages (as opposed to continuous). We seem to hit obstacles that slow growth, figure out how to overcome those obstacles, then growth explodes again.
What does your company sell and how does it make money?
SEP is a digital agency, specializing in Inbound Marketing. Inbound Marketing is essentially a methodology for utilizing content strategies to attracting , capturing, and nurturing prospects to become clients. This includes SEO, paid search, conversion optimization, content development, PR, social media, web design and development, app development, mobile marketing, and lead nurturing.
We are in effect a service-based business, but increasingly are developing technologies to aid us in making our services more efficient and effective, and in diversifying our revenues.
Which companies do you consider to be competitors?
Our clients arrange from fortune 100 companies to mid-sized companies to small businesses. We’ve transitioned from being a search marketing company to become a full digital agency, so most of our competition on the enterprise front is from major ad agencies. At the small and mid-sized business level, competition comes from much smaller firms, often operating from their homes.
What makes your products and services better than competitors’ offerings?
Our services are better than those of our competitors because of the following:
We have 100 specialists in house, each with their own core focus. Those individuals eat, sleep, and breath their specialty, and perform ongoing experiments and research to remain cutting edge thought leaders.
We practice what we preach, and utilize each and every tactic that we recommend for our own client acquisition purposes. We are a b2b company, yet are in the top 25,000 most trafficked sites on the web today, according to Alexa.
We have a very large development team in house, tasked with working with our specialists to design and build technologies that make us more effective and efficient than anyone else.
How big is the company in terms of its workforce?
SEP has about 100 full-time employees.
What are the biggest growth catalysts for you right now? Tell us about any patents or other IP.
Our biggest growth catalysts are building and marketing new technologies/products, evolving our services to include more service offerings, and expanding our geographic footprint. Currently we’re in Toronto and Vancouver, but will expand to Montreal and New York in the next fiscal year.
List out the formal title of all awards your company won and the year you won them.
SEP has been the recipient of the Profit 100 award (the list of the Fastest Growing Companies in Canada) for five consecutive years (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013). It was also included in the Branham 300, which lists the largest technology companies in Canada, in 2011 and 2012.
Is there any announcement you’d like to make?
Yes. We’re launching an automated tool that will check a company’s website, and will suggest which links pointing to the site should be removed to either help it recover from Google Penguin, or to avoid being impacted by the next Google Penguin update.