18 Nov 2011

Getting to Know Vertical Measures with Arnie and Andi Kuenn

Getting to Know You

In this special edition of the Vertical Measures employee interview series, owners Arnie and Andi Kuenn discuss the beginning years of VM, how the company got its name and what they find most satisfying about the business.

Michael Schwartz: OK. Well, let’s start from the very beginning and tell us a little bit about your previous business, MediaChoice, and the Internet marketing experience that you gained from doing that.

Arnie Kuenn: We started MediaChoice in 1999, after we’d actually sold our technical training company.  MediaChoice was one of those Internet start-ups and we thought we were going to become Internet billionaires back then. We had a couple partners and developed and patented a book, music and movie recommendation system.  Through that, of course, we had to do lots of Internet marketing.  We built websites, worked with our clients and their websites, etc., but in the end, we never really got any solid traction.   9/11 happened during that period and MediaChoice just never totally took off. We ended up licensing a piece of the technology to Nielsen Media, the TV ratings company. And, at that point, we started to build out some affiliate sites and other sites just to generate some revenue for the business.  We tried different models and that’s really when the whole Internet marketing piece fell into place for us.

Michael: How’d you go about making that decision to start an Internet marketing company? What made you say, “This is the next thing that I want to do”?

Arnie: Well, I started to get friends, family and people I knew in the industry to ask me if I could help them get their site found on Google because I was doing a pretty good job with the websites that we had. I started to do it on a consulting basis and I really liked it. I was doing a lot of pay-per-click back then, but I actually really liked the whole natural search and SEO side. It just seemed fun to me to help other businesses and we kept adding clients.  Eventually, once it looked like we had enough consistent work to call it a true business, we ended up phasing out MediaChoice and starting Vertical Measures.

Andi Kuenn:  I guess that is where I became a part of it all.  In all our businesses, I have always helped with the accounting part.  With Vertical Measures, Arnie had enough work where he needed to train me on how to provide the services.  Back then the services were pretty basic, press releases, blog posts were a new thing, and article marketing.  No one had even heard of social media yet.

Michael: How did you go about coming up with the Vertical Measures name?

Arnie: Well, we did some research. We actually sent surveys out to lots of our business associates that we knew at the time and people that we met over the last 20 years. I followed this process to kind of define the company, define its name and to define its mission statement. And, if I remember right, some of the phrases that kept coming up were “growth” and “measurement.”  We were doing SEO and everybody wanted higher rankings.  We put a stake in the ground that we were going to be measured on everything that we did for our clients and so the name Vertical Measures just kind of fell out of that.

Andi: I remember “measurement” being the key word that continually came up.  We knew we would use that word and from there it was finding the complementing term that would mean how or what we were measuring.  It seemed fitting to send the message that your site would be going up in the rankings.  Our original logo even showed the check mark that showed trending upward.

Michael: And I understand there’s something about a business your family used to own?

Arnie: Yeah. My parents had an RV dealership in Ohio in the ’70’s and ’80’s and it was called, “V&M Camper Center.” So Andi really likes the fact that we call Vertical Measures “VM.”   My parents’ business ended up being pretty successful so it felt like good karma.

Michael: Oh yeah. Tell us a little bit about your roles at the company. Arnie is obviously the president. Just tell us what your official roles are.

Arnie: Yes, my official title is the president of the company. My role actually though is probably different than a lot of presidents in this industry. I think, typical for SEO agencies, you might find a technical person at the head position. Or, maybe someone with a marketing agency perspective, someone a little more creative. I tend to be a sales and marketing type and I gravitate towards the marketing.   My role here, besides overseeing all the operations and the forward-looking decisions that we make or plan out, I tend to get out and brand our name and brand myself.  I develop many of the leads for the business and basically try to keep the phone ringing and the lead forms coming in.  Then Patty and our business development team take it from there.

Andi: When we first started, it was great to have a sales and marketing person running the business. We needed to have somebody networking and finding the clients.  Once Arnie got the clients signed on, I helped by completing many of the services for their campaigns.  We made a good team back then. It was easy to find contractors to help us if needed, if we became overwhelmed with the workload.  As I mentioned before, I did all the accounting so when it was just the two of us, we had our hands full.  Now that we have a substantial staff, I’ve gone back to my accounting roots.

Michael: Describe the growth you’ve seen. I know this business kind of started at your house, and six years later we’ve got a nice big office where we’re tearing down walls and it always seems to be expanding.

Arnie: Yes, well, after we ended up licensing MediaChoice off to Nielsen, we gradually shut that down and moved home, which was the first time in . . . forever, that I worked out of the house. And it was OK for awhile.  We made it work for as long as we could.

Andi: Pros and cons. My “office” was in the family room.

Arnie: Pros and cons for sure.  We have dogs and we had kids home then. It’s hard to have a business and a home all under one roof.  I think it was about a year and a half where we were working out of our house.  Like Andi said, we used contractors and outsourced a majority of our work. We tended to work on contacting clients, bringing in new business, stuff like that all day long and then at night, Andi and I would also deliver the work. We’d build links, edit articles and blog posts, and correspond with our contractors. But it finally got to the point where we just couldn’t handle it all ourselves anymore and needed to hire help.  We ended up leasing space upstairs in this building about three and a half years ago. I think we leased enough space for eight VMers and not even a year into the lease, we ended up moving down into the current space that we’re in now and have pretty well expanded since then.

Michael: How has the focus of the company changed? Obviously, Internet marketing in 2006 was a completely different animal than it is today.

Arnie: Yeah, it just gets more complicated all the time. We were clearly known as a link building company. We did SEO, but 80 percent of what we did was really off-page SEO.  And, that held true up until about two years ago when we really started to expand our on-page SEO capabilities.  Of course, social media burst onto the scene too. So, we do a lot of social media consulting now. Content is critical to being able to get people to link to your site, so now we produce a lot of quality content for our clients.  We are trying to lead the way in content marketing. Even just keeping up with Google and all their different properties is complicated.  Now we have Google+, we’re kind of seeing how it’s all working but it’s certainly a player that cannot be ignored. So, yeah, there’s probably no longer the same focus that we used to have.  We don’t do any paid search but we’re more of a full-service agency now. It allows us to get bigger and better clients, but, of course, it adds to the complexity of the business.

Andi: You’ve heard me say plenty of times, “Ride the wave.”  Services can come and go depending on what is presently working.  Every six months it seems that there’s a different something that we need to do for our clients and we ride that wave until the next thing comes up.  We have to be OK about change around here, that is for sure.  We are always learning.

Arnie: Yeah.  It’s pretty much constant.

Andi: But that makes it fun, too. Even if change isn’t natural to you, it’s good to be learning new trends all the time.  We have great people here who obviously do well with the constant changes.   We all help each other ride those waves.

Michael: Finally, this is the question I ask at the end of every employee interview: What do you enjoy about working at VM?

Andi: I enjoy everything about this place, especially the people. I really do. I tell my friends all the time; I feel guilty about not having enough time to spend with friends and family.  If I didn’t have that guilt, I’d be here 24/7. It is definitely our baby.

Arnie: I like that our office is only two miles from the house.

Andi: Yeah, that’s very nice.

Arnie: My answer is probably pretty sappy but I just love when we have good client successes. I’ve always felt that the one thing I enjoy most is to coach or work with another business owner to help improve their business. It’s just always a thrill for me. And, you know, it’s actually one of the reasons that I wrote the book in the style that I wrote it.  I’m hoping that a business owner will pick it up, go through it and learn how to do some Internet marketing. So when I hear about clients’ successes, it just makes it all worthwhile.

Andi: I’m proud that we still have several clients that were with us when Arnie and I first started.  And, I love when we receive those “client feedback alert” emails telling us that a client has given us a compliment of some kind.  Boy, I’ll tell you, I will stop what I’m doing and open that email immediately. Those are great points of pride.