Stuck in a rut at work? Bored beyond belief? If you’re thinking about or wanting to change jobs and careers, consider the following: How long will it take to learn new skills? Will it affect your income? Are jobs available? Will it make you happy?
Today’s guest is Kevin Urrutia, a former software programmer at Mint that now runs the Voy Media marketing agency in New York City. Kevin knows exactly how some of you feel. He shares useful insights and nuggets of career development wisdom.
“I was always in that tech mindset of, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Everybody’s saying you have a cool product. People will just magically find you.”“I don’t think I’ll ever be the best programmer, and I want to do something else that is going to be more fun and enjoyable.”
“When I was programming, I loved programming. I loved the challenge of going on Stack Overflow, trying to find the answer. I found my answer.”
“The best thing that someone should do is start their own thing and then use that skill they want to build up to do.”
From Mint.com to Voy Media: How He Switched Careers and Broke Into Marketing (and You Can, Too) With @danest From @VoyMedia
Ben: Hi, Kevin. Welcome to the show.
Kevin: Hey. How’s it going, Ben? How’s everything?
Ben: Things are about as good as they can be right now. How are things on your end out there in New York?
Kevin: It’s good. We’re all working from home. We’ve been working from home for the past 6–8 weeks, so just living life with the new normal right now.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. It feels weird to say it, but as we were like discussing a little bit earlier, it’s funny you say 6–8 weeks because I literally can’t remember how long I’ve been doing this anymore.
Kevin: Another day is just happening and you’re just doing the same thing over and over again. It’s sort of what we’re doing now.
Ben: Absolutely. Would you mind taking a moment just to introduce yourself to the audience and explain what you do at Voy Media?
Kevin: Yes. My name is Kevin Urrutia and I’m one of the founders of Voy Media. At Voy Media, we help eCommerce brands with their paid social. We mainly do Facebook ads, and then also help them with their creative output. That could be photoshoots or just taking some of their existing videos and making them creative for Facebook. That’s what we do there.
Ben: Cool. I understand that you used to work as a developer at Mint and I believe some other large companies in Silicon Valley. I’m curious what led you to leave your career as a developer and pursue marketing instead?
Kevin: It’s a good question. I went to [...] school for Computer Science because I’ve always wanted to do startups, so growing up I wanted to do a startup, and then I would read TechCrunch or the tech news and articles about doing a startup. When I went to college in [...], I knew I wanted Computer Science because everything I read was about tech tech tech. That led me to start my own stuff.
Wilson, who is my friend when I’m in college, we would always be doing projects, like small iPhone apps, small games, and we just kept building stuff, but we just never really could figure out why things would just never take off because I was always in that tech mindset of ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Just build something cool because everybody’s saying you have a cool product. People will just magically find you.
That was really the narrative back in the day for a lot of stuff. I was actually thinking about why that was the narrative, where now maybe because I’m in the marketing field now, I’m just seeing a lot of people talk about more marketing, but back then when we were doing tech and software, it was a very novel thing. Creating an app was like you’re the first one ever, so everybody always heard about it. Now, I think [...], every industry now has a software competitor that’s the same feature, same thing, so now you need to do marketing.
Going back after college. I left to go work at Mint. I went for Mint because I want to go to California. I knew that was the thing I wanted to do ever since I was reading up on this stuff. San Francisco, Silicon Valley, that’s where the mecca is.
When I went to Mint, I was still working on stuff, like startup competitions. We won some startup hackathons. Wilson and I were still always experiencing this issue. We’re building stuff, but we just never knew how to bring traffic. We’re like, okay what is traffic? How come no one’s using our stuff? We think our stuff looks pretty good, designed well. Then, that’s really when we start thinking about marketing.
I have no money because I’m poor. Yes, I graduated from college but I still have no money. I don’t know what stuff is. I started looking into SEO and that’s really the first marketing thing that I did, was look into SEO, how to get free traffic right online. Everybody just does SEO. Then, you sort of go to this black hat world, black SEO, and this crazy […] about SEO. That is my first into marketing was SEO, then all the crazy forums, [...] forms of people selling all the […], I was like, oh my God, this is crazy. So, that is funny.
Once I’d learned SEO, I was working at that time at a company called Zaarly. They’re another Silicon Valley startup, and for them, we also were looking to get traffic. There I was able to do more marketing sense. That was because when I joined that team, I was the marketing developer to help their marketing manager, such as implementing some of the tags for Google Analytics, some of the tags for Facebook, some of the tags for some email tool or software.
I was getting more exposure to the technical side of marketing. That sort of really still made me more interested in that because I always had that problem for my own stuff. I was like, oh this role here would be pretty good because I can learn marketing. I’ve always had this issue and maybe I’ll learn something about what it takes to build a company or bring marketing. From there, I’ve learned more about it, [...] through books and stuff like that, but that’s the first journey into that because I just never knew how to bring traffic to my own products.
Ben: Sure. I think it makes a lot of sense. You have a marketing problem, so you took it upon yourself to learn how to solve it. And now, here you are. Something I’m curious about is I imagine that when you’re making a drastic career change, or maybe it’s not that drastic, but you’re making a career change from being a developer to a marketer.
I would imagine that in addition to the problems that you were trying to solve, you probably have a lot of other challenges just in terms of developing an all-new skillset. I’m curious. Were there any specific challenges that you faced early on when you were making that change? If so, how did you overcome them?
Kevin: I think that’s a good question. I think about that, too, recently and I always tell people I was a programmer for the longest time since I was maybe in high school. This is just me thinking about back then I didn’t think about this way, but when I was working in Silicon Valley, I was working with some really smart programmers. These guys are really, really good. I don’t think I’ll ever be as good as them no matter how much programming or books and reading. They’re just getting these Computer Science concepts like nothing. For me, I’m spending hours and hours trying to study and learn them.
My boss at Zaarly was so smart and I think it’s crazy like how smart you are and I would never be that. For me, I don’t think I’ll ever be the best programmer and I want to do something else that is going to be more fun and enjoyable, sort of solve what I want to do, and that would be to start a company. I think I can be good at marketing because after searching the market, I really love that thing of bringing people to your website or product, to learn about it and use it. I think that got me more excited than just building the product because even then, I don’t think I’d be good at this, but I think I can be really good at marketing.
That really helped me because I don’t think I’d be good at it, but a challenge I see now that I think about sometimes is I’ve never gone to a marketing class. I’ve seen people know all these really good tech and marketing jargon. For me, obviously I know more about the application of it versus the theory behind it. For me, when I do marketing now it’s for my own stuff or for other brands.
[...] tell you, Ben, we have the maid company. A lot of my first, pure into marketing was to do SEO for my maid company, and that was ranking us up on Google. That’s where I learned actually how to do SEO versus reading about it.
Ben: So you start with SEO, and now very focused on Facebook advertising, social advertising. Could you share a little bit about what maybe led you down that path? Going from starting with trying to get organic traffic for “free,” pretty much just taking your time and energy to execute even if you’re not spending ad budget. How do you go from that to social advertising, to settling on your Facebook ads really being the one thing that you could do the best to help your clients?
Kevin: Basically what happened was I was doing the maid company for about three or four years. After that, I got tired of doing it. Even then, you probably still read about marketing and what’s going on. A lot of people are talking about Amazon FBA, you can make so much money. I started more digging into eCommerce.
By then, obviously, the fate of the maid company at that point, we were probably around 50–60 maids. We’re in New York City, Boston, Chicago. We have a system there to just let that company run. Then, I really want to focus my energy on something else because I think people got bored and tired of things. I tell people I’m just tired. It’s fine. It’s not that I don’t like it anymore. I just want something new.
The FBA thing got me really excited. That’s where I started searching for more eCommerce. That led me to start an outdoor gear company to do eCommerce. We sold hiking poles and tracking polls. From there, we start realizing Amazon is one set of traffic like SEO was one form of traffic. There’s also Facebook now. That’s really where I started doing more Facebook ads to bring customers to our website to buy the products and eCommerce. That is really how I first got started into Facebook ads as looking it as a form of traffic.
Amazon was good, but SEO for eCommerce was going to take forever. I can never compete with REI, The North Face. All these huge outdoor gear brands have been doing it forever. I think that as a marketer, you realize one traffic might not be good for the type of business that you’re doing. That’s what led me to do Facebook ads for that.
Ben: Something that’s interesting about Kevin’s story is that he went to college for Computer Science, which isn’t exactly related to marketing at all, but it did help him get his foot in the door of the startup world which was really where he wanted to be. And it goes to show that you don’t necessarily need a college background in marketing to be successful in a marketing career, as long as you can develop the skills that you need, you have the creative drive, and the problem-solving abilities necessary to learn and to grow with and within the marketing industry.
If not having a college degree and the “correct freehold” is a hang-up or a concern for you or maybe someone you know, as it pertains either getting into marketing or to switching over into a different role and a different area of marketing, I think that Kevin’s story is proof that you don’t have to let that be the thing that holds you back. Now, back to Kevin.
This sounds like being really smart about spotting where the opportunities are and capitalizing on it for sure. If a listener to this episode, let’s say they’re considering making a career change and maybe for them, they want to get into marketing from another profession like you did yourself, or maybe it’s even just shifting from one area of marketing into another. Maybe they want to go from SEO to advertising, whatever the case may be. What are some things that you would suggest that they ask themselves before they start seriously pursuing making a change like that in their career?
Kevin: I think what they should ask themselves is if they think that this is something they’re going to love doing or even just enjoy doing, even when things get hard or are rough because that’s really what’s going to help you through the tough times. When I was programming—I loved programming—I love the challenge of going on Stack Overflow trying to find the answer. I was like, oh crap, I found my answer.
You enjoy that hard process because eventually, things always suck. Things are not going to work out like SEO stuff goes up and down all the time. But you find enjoyment in figuring out, let’s say my website because maybe it has too much content here or my links are bad here. You have to find enjoyment in that process. That’s something hard to know in the beginning, but you still have (at least) enjoy that hardship. I feel that that’s the most fun part of when you figure it out.
At least for programming, you figure out the code. The problem took me three days and yours is so good. That happens in any industry or anything you’re doing. I think it’s the biggest thing. You ask yourself if you like that challenge.
Ben: Yes, for sure. Let’s say they’ve gotten that far. They’ve identified something that they think that they would be better at or something then they would just enjoy more, and that’s really lighting a fire under them to make that change. Once you’ve decided, yes this is the right step for me to take, yes I will enjoy it or I think that I will thrive on the challenge of having to figure all this stuff out from scratch, what comes next?
Kevin: I think for what comes next, I always tell people it’s always great to read about all these great strategies like how to do Facebook ads, how to do SEO, how to do Amazon. I still think the best thing that someone should do is start their own thing and then use that skill they want to build up to do.
For example, I want to learn Amazon FBA. What do I do? I went to learn how to actually sell a product on Amazon. Then, you’re really able to put your skills to the test. I think for myself I love knowing, can I do it with my own money? With my own resources? Then, I know that I’ll be as efficient as possible because you’re not going to be spending $100 and you’re okay, cool, whatever, I don’t care about it. No, that’s your $100. You’re going to make sure that you’re spending it wisely and efficiently.
I always tell people to put your money there. I’ll sometimes say it’s easier said than done, but if you can save some money and test something yourself or sell something yourself, I think that’s the best way to learn any skill. For programming, for example, I learn more just by building my own apps than school. I want to build this app that I saw online. I’m going to go and program it. I build it how I think it is and then go to Google and Stack Overflow. That’s to help me solve 90% of problems. That’s where I tell people that is the best way to learn something. Just figure out what you want to build and then how would you market it or make that.
Ben: I think it makes a lot of sense. I think that example of leaning on resources like Stack Overflow, developers (I think) that super smart. I’m also curious. I think you touched on this a little bit in general. You’re following TechCrunch. You were staying well-read on the technology industry in general.
When you started making this transition into marketing, you said you’re maybe going down these black hat rabbit holes that I think a lot of people find themselves in, maybe somewhat unknowingly in the early goings with that. What are some other resources, though, that you read, and that you found particularly helpful for you in the marketing space, that really helped you find your footing and helped you figure things out?
Kevin: Because I’m safer with SEO in the beginning, SEO Moz was really good back in the day. That was a great resource. I use it a lot. I also used Search Engine Land or their search engine websites. I’m really big on Twitter. People follow this Twitter list of marketers. I would love just going to Twitter searching for a hashtag of digital marketing. Even right now. Actually this morning, I went to find more D2C people, so direct-to-consumer founders or direct-to-consumer marketers. I just type in D2C and Twitter gives you a list of accounts to follow. That’s super helpful for me.
I love keeping up with what people are saying. At least for now, what I find works really well, I’m not sure if you guys have this, Facebook groups of industries, like SEO groups, affiliate marketing groups. Those are really good. They’re the new forums, essentially, and people are always posting tips or marketing tips. I still think the black hats are obviously pretty interesting to look at even now and I still like looking at it because just the way I think about it, these guys are in these forums, are trying to make $1 out of 50¢. They’re really pushing the limit on what’s working or not working.
People just look at that. How can you apply this in your own way that’s not seen as negative? These guys actually have some interesting tactics that you can see what might work for you. The way they’re doing it obviously varies differently, but there’s something there. What can you get from there to apply to your stuff?
I always tell people at least for redoing SEO, everybody always wants to look at the good search results such as ‘best teacups,’ for example. This is good and every [...] that you read about. But look at the black hat keywords. Obviously, we all know what some of those are. Those guys are really pushing the limit about what’s going to work on SEO.
The reason why I say that is because a lot of these prohibited terms that might be taboo, no one can advertise on Google. SEO is the only thing that they can get traffic from. The brands that are pushing it to get SEO traffic, are really doing top-notch SEO. The best of the best. Your job is not to reverse engineer that. I think that’s the exciting part of SEO is reverse engineering. I think any marketing is more like reverse engineering top brands. I’m CS, so I got some ideas there.
Ben: That makes sense. Last question I’ll throw your way. I imagine that as you were learning from these different marketing tactics, different marketing channels and things, and I think that this is true anytime anyone is trying to take on anything that is new to them, you’re going to make some mistakes because that’s how you learn. What are some common mistakes that you see beginner marketers making or maybe even mistakes that you see when people are making a career change, that you would recommend that they avoid?
Kevin: Something I recommend now is even now, I still think people sometimes avoid having coaches or courses that they need to buy. I think courses and coaches actually can really help you accelerate your learning. I think what people want is to just read everything for free. Okay, I really think for free. Everything available is for free, but really having a course or coach can really accelerate that learning.
I think sometimes people make the mistake of, I don’t want to coach because I can do it myself. Yes, you can, but you tend to be slower at it. I’d rather if you can get a coach or a course to teach you this—sometimes they’re really expensive—I still think they’re great.
For example, digitalmarketer.com by Ryan Deiss. He’s got a ton of resources there. You can just take that for $40 a month and just learn everything you ever need to know. All the stuff he probably says is for free somewhere, but it’s there. They’re paying world-class experts to teach things.
Another thing I just tell people more of myself because it’s more of a mental barrier is that sometimes you just feel the imposter syndrome, like I can’t do it. Even for me, I still fight that sometimes. I’ve never done an agency before. I’ve never worked in a marketing company before. But that’s sometimes an advantage. You can come in with a new perspective, so it’s more about a mindset. You could do it.
I always tell people the person that worked in an agency probably was the same person as you. They just started it. So, go on and just do it. Know that you have the ability in the skill. It already takes a unique type of person to just put themselves out there. Just go do it.
Ben: I love that advice and I think that is probably something that was true for everybody who has ever been successful at starting something new or really getting into this industry. At some point, you just have to take a leap. It’s really, really easy to look at whoever it is that you idolize and to think that they were just born great.
Kevin: Everybody got their doubts. Even for me, I have a company with 20 employees [...] and sometimes it’s crazy that this is me that’s doing it. Everybody, it’s your self-doubts, but I’d say use that to your advantage sometimes. It’s a skill. Even when I talk to partners, I’m like, hey, this is who I am, this is my company, this is what we do. Either you’re going to believe in us and the way we do things. If not, go look for somebody else that follows what you want to do.
Also, you’re not to be right for everybody, and that’s fine because not everybody is going to be your friend. Some people might not like you, but that’s okay. You have the people that like you and the people I don’t like you, and you can do whatever you want to do. It’s your company, your brand.
Ben Sailer is the Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.