Season 02 / Episode 026
Digital Entrepreneurship, Travel Marketing, and Snowboarding with Dan Christian
With Dan Christian - Managing Director, Acceleration Team, Inc
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Dan’s extensive digital marketing background is impressive. From a snowboarding start up in 1999 through several truly incredible travel organizations and back to scratch that entrepreneurial itch with his latest endeavor, Dan brings his passion, spirit, and ambition with him every where he goes. And I think we are all better for it!
In this conversation we cover:
- His career path
- The importance of culture and culture change
- The importance of an affiliate channel in a multi-channel environment
- The importance of executive buy-in
- The convergence of influencers and affiliates
- And some of the mistakes advertisers make when it comes to their affiliate channel
You are going to enjoy this conversation as much as I did! Dan is super smart, successful, has a passion for helping others achieve and gives a great view into how his early years shaped his success now. So much to learn from my conversation with Dan Christian!
About Our Guest
How much time do you have? (Kidding, of course)
Here’s a few things I’m pretty proud of. Not necessarily in order:
- Being the first to snowboard down Aspen Mountain along with the legendary Tom Sims.
- Raising two awesome kids with my beautiful wife.
- Launching a start-up out of university with a couple friends during the dot-com era.
- Travelling to over 50 countries. Living in Australia, UK & USA.
- Introducing the Acceleration Team concept and working with exciting companies and start-ups.
- Proudly speaking at Key Industry Conferences – Skift, Phocuswright, Arival, Tech Conferences, Corporate Events.
Plus, the amazing brands and teams I’ve been so fortunate to work with at Lonely Planet, G Adventures, The Travel Corporation (TTC), and Dharma.
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Hey, listeners. Welcome to the Profitable Performance Marketing podcast. I am your host, Jamie Birch. And I’m the founder of JEBCommerce, [an] award-winning affiliate management agency. And today, we have a great guest, a long-time friend and former client of JEBCommerce, Dan Christian.
But before I get into what we talk about, I just want to talk about and give you guys the opportunity if you need help right now. A lot of things are going on. A lot of convergence in the affiliate space between PR, social media influencers and affiliates. And if you’re trying to figure that out, we have some resources at our blog. You can go to jebcommerce.com/blog. For resources, you can get – There’s a post about trends that are currently going on, but also an introduction to affluencers and influencers.
But if you are trying to figure out, “What do I do with this space? How do I manage this? What’s happening? And what should my response be?” We would love to help. So, you can just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to help you develop your strategy to deal with and respond to the ever-changing environment that we face ourselves.
But today’s guest is Dan Christian. Now, Dan and I, our teams have worked together while he was at the travel corp for a number of years. And he’s done some really amazing things. So, we hit a whole bunch of topics. If you’re a regular listener, you know we’re going to talk about culture. You know we’re going to talk about leadership. And you know we’re going to talk about their origin story. You don’t want to miss this one. This one is great.
I love doing these podcasts. You get to learn so much about people. It really sets the tone for their career and what they have to provide. We talk about culture change. We talk about how it’s now an influencer-driven world. We talk about the halo benefits of affiliate marketing. We also talk about the impact the affiliate channel has had in his organizations.
Now, Dan has worked in digital marketing pretty much since the beginning of digital marketing. Both he and I started in ’99. He started his own startup with a couple co-founders. And the story is great. Dan brought his passion with him and followed his passion into the business world. And those passions are board sports, as well as travel.
Dan has worked at a number of organizations and done some pretty amazing things in the travel space specifically, which is super appropriate right now. And I want to bring Dan on again and talk to him a little bit more about travel digital marketing. But Dan has extensive experience in the travel space. Super timely right now, as things are reopening, people are booking. And, really, travel is starting to peak again.
Lots of conversation. I think you’re going to really, really find this valuable. If you’re into travel, into digital marketing, if you want to hear about influencers and how that’s impacting affiliates and how that’s really changing consumer behavior, we get to that at about the 40-minute mark. But lots of good stuff.
I’m just going to get out of the way here so you can listen to my conversation with Dan Christian.
[00:04:01] Jamie Birch: All right. Dan Christian, thank you so much for joining me today. Always one of my favorite calls of the week when I have these scheduled. But this one, especially as we get to kind of record our conversation and chat, how the heck are you today?
[00:04:15] Dan Christian: Terrific, Jamie. Great to join you. I’m so pleased that we’re getting the opportunity to finally do this together. Thanks for the opportunity. I’m keen to chat with you and bring everyone up to speed on our history of working together and answer as many questions as you have for me today.
[00:04:28] JB: Awesome. And I do have a bunch, and I’m sure we’ll come up with a few while we’re chatting. How’s the world where you’re at today? That seems to be a question that’s a lot more loaded these days than it used to be.
[00:04:41] DC: We live in a very interesting time. I mean, the pandemic that we’ve all been dealing with that most of us want to see in the rearview mirror has changed our lives in many fundamental ways. Has caused people to reevaluate their priorities and certainly make changes and many of those related to business and corporate decisions. And how they value their time? And the relationship with work.
And so, like you and I started out in a similar time with the dot-com boom and the late 90s, early 2000s. And what that meant for digital marketing in that era is like affiliate programs were being created. And AdWords was being established. We’re in this new phase of hyperactive activity where all of a sudden everyone’s been at home, everyone’s been online, and the expectation of consumers has dramatically changed.
And so, companies are being forced to change and employees … and workers are being forced to re-evaluate their roles. It’s an exciting, dynamic time. And I think if you thrive on change, it’s a really exciting time to be a part of. But I think it’s been challenging for everyone, too.
[00:05:38] JB: Yeah, definitely. Do you thrive on change? Has this been exciting or has it been kind of a mixture of, “Oh, crap” and “This is awesome.” I know the pandemic’s been so difficult. But like you said, so many things have changed outside of that, for that in other ways. Is that something that excites you, that constant change?
[00:05:56] DC: Yes, definitely. I think graduating university during that era, where everything was new and being discovered with digital marketing, I was so excited about that. I mean, my background was business and computer science. But really, nothing I learned in school taught me what I ultimately needed to apply on a day-to-day basis. My first startup, getting a group of friends together to build an online community and start driving users and building up a business model. And what was actually needed at that time to create that?
And so, I think that’s something that, when it comes to my entrepreneurial experience and the corporate world, having that real thirst and desire for change and intellectual curiosity, which I see in lots of team members I’ve had the privilege to work with. And that is a key characteristic for success. Despite these challenging times we’re in, as you well know, in every challenge, there’s opportunity. And I think that really is what many of us are gravitating to right now.
[00:06:49] JB: What do you think is – A lot of people talk about “new normal.” And some people say, “Can we just go back to the way it was? I can’t wait till it goes back to the way it was before.” But I think as we’re learning, you can’t go back. You can’t go home. It’s not ever going back. What’s […] one thing that you’ve seen change? Whether that’s in business, leadership, or the employee and employer relationship that you’re excited to see that it’s changed and it’s not going back?
[00:07:19] DC: Yeah. I was speaking at a conference years ago at a Canada 3.0 Conference. I’ve been in L.A. for the last few years. As you know, I’m back in Toronto now, which is where I’m from. But I’ve lived in Australia, and I’ve lived in London. And when I speak at conferences, I always find it fascinating. And this one conference really stood out to me. And it was in Waterloo, like, Silicon Valley North here in Canada. And it was sponsored by some large accounting firm. I won’t name them, because I’m sure this person’s views didn’t reflect the organization.
But we were preparing for the conference headliner and he made a comment about […] not understanding social media. And […] feeling like I’m just glad that I’m going to be able to retire before it’s going to take my job away. I was […] I couldn’t imagine wanting to keep your head in the sand or like … to be in a position where you’re just trying to protect your job and hoping the world doesn’t change fast enough to make you obsolete.
But it was interesting to hear that viewpoint, right? Because, certainly, I have seen that in the corporate world. Change is hard, and everyone responds to it differently. And many people are uncomfortable with change. Humans are creatures of habit.
And so, probably the best example to answer your question is the office culture. The expectation that you have to be at the office and the optics of that. People that get in early. People that stay late. People that work through their lunch. And this office-based culture that has completely upended in the last two years. And seeing how companies that were very office-centric have been forced to adjust to that reality, because workers have made it clear that they don’t want to go back to the office. Certainly, they don’t want to go back to the office the way it was before. They’ve discovered that they would prefer to work from home two days a week, three days a week. They prefer to have flexibility in their schedules.
And so, our work and personal lives have become so intertwined over the past 10 or 12 years for most people in the corporate world that all of a sudden there has been an awakening to the fact that you don’t need to be tied to an office, because we have all the technological tools that makes it possible to work from anywhere at any time. And I see companies that are thriving by virtue of embracing that. And I see companies that are really struggling.
And the line that I like recently, that you may have seen as well from one of our colleagues on LinkedIn, is that every time a company mandates people going back to the office, I say, “Thank you very much. I’ll hire all your top talent.”
It’s a huge win for companies that understand how people want to work today. That, to me, from the earliest days, stepping into corporate travel management and seeing how office culture was with having a dress code, many of the Internet companies in those days are now how most companies culture that they’re all aiming for to attract young dynamic workers that are smart and talented. It’s a really exciting change.
[00:10:06] JB: Yeah. You mentioned, there’s so many things I want to comment on. But you mentioned dress code. I remember, in our – Not our first office we ever had, but the second. An employee came in and asked if I’d be okay if they got a nose piercing. And I was like, “Why – Okay, I got to evaluate my leadership. Why would you think you would need to come to me and talk to me about that? I don’t want to talk about that at all.” But I’ve seen it, too. The struggle between […] how do we keep the corporate culture.
And I was a grown-up very blue collar […] you work hard, you show up early, you’re the last there. That’s how you get ahead. And so, I know as a leader, I’ve struggled with that change a little bit. But one of our core values has always been … I started this company because I wanted to see all my kids’ events, every play, every game, all of that. And I wanted to do that – I wanted my team. And we’ve always preached that. Like, hey, we can reschedule a client call. We can reschedule a publisher call. We can move things around so you can make sure you’re at the PTO conference or the kids’ play or something.
But I really didn’t see it happen until we went remote. And then people didn’t have to worry about me walking around and seeing them not there at a two o’clock or a nine o’clock in the morning kind of thing. And so, I agree with you. I love it.
[00:11:27] DC: Walking around, drinking your Boss of the Year mug. Doing your management by walking around and checking –
[00:11:33] JB: Yeah, looking for my TPS reports.
[00:11:36] DC: Exactly. I actually have the red stapler as a gift from a friend.
[00:11:41] JB: I have it. But I haven’t used paper in so long. It’s in the closet. But yeah, I used to say management by walking around. That’s what you do. And that’s been one of the biggest struggles. To just see how everyone’s doing tends to be hard. Well, I appreciate you sharing that. And it really is – Your enthusiasm [and] excitement for this change is contagious. But kind of walk me and our users through your origin story. How did you find digital marketing? What’d your career look like? And why has this been such a thing that you keep coming back to?
[00:12:12] DC: Yeah, it’s really interesting, because it really definitely started out of university. And at that time, that stage of life, my world was snowboarding, and skateboarding, and wakeboarding. And that was – It was all about board sports, because that’s the age when you’re taking those risks and you’re enthusiastic, most enthusiastic about those activities. And so, I was heavy into that culture as I graduated university. And I had this idea during the dot-com boom of creating an online community around those enthusiasts.
We launched a website. We actually launched payment processing for memberships. We had a membership card. You could get discounts at local ski and snowboard hills and at local retail stores. And so, we built up this loyalty program with an online community of people that were interacting and creating their profiles.
And then as a way to monetize that, we were running events. We actually found the time. And then there was a great team, Dave and Han, that were two of my co-founders in that business. We had to find a way. We’d go meet with a company like Universal Music. I could name them because they were a great partner of ours. And they would talk about their marketing budget. And they would say, “Our budget for print is 50%. Our budget for offline events is 30%. And then our digital budget was like 2%.” Because it was so early. And it’s like trying to sell them on banner ads. Like, your audience, if they want to buy this new CD, because, yes, at the time, there were still CDs. And so –
[00:13:28] JB: For those listening who are under 40, that’s how we used to listen to music.
[00:13:34] DC: A new artist is launching a new album. And this was a perfect opportunity of a captive audience that you can promote to this subculture that is shaping consumer opinion. That was that time when snowboarding was appearing on Wheaties boxes and the Olympics. And there was a lot of –
[00:13:47] JB: Is this around […] 2000?
[00:13:49] DC: Exactly. ’99-2000. ’99 was the launch and 2000. And so, we ended up doing a lot of offline events. We actually started – It was clear to our advertisers, the best way to generate revenue was offline. Basically, you create an audience online of enthusiasts. But in order to monetize that and have a real viable business model, it was about taking them to a destination and encouraging them to participate in a half-pipe event. We call it Pipe Jam. We ran these snowboard competitions at various resorts. And that’s where the real money came at that time, was sponsorship of activities. And so, Dave did a great job of running that side of the business. For me, I was always focused on the online. Building out a community. Building out the website presence. And doing all the online marketing activity.
And so, like many people [new] to online marketing I didn’t study for it. Although, I’ve worked hard at it over the years. I’ve made lots of mistakes. And I’ve learned a lot. And really, I guess, like many of us kind of honed our craft to understand what it takes to drive traffic and get conversions. What we’re all trying to do? And starting to pioneer affiliate models.
Because for both of us, back then – I mean, Amazon had only launched their affiliate program in […] ’96. And there [were] some flower websites in the early 90s. And all of a sudden there [were] affiliate platforms emerging in the late 90s. And really, that was the start of a very new business concept that many people struggled to understand, but realized quite quickly that you could refer people and earn commissions off of those sales.
For me, it was really pursuing my passion and developing a business and learning as I went. And that set me up for continued career success and entrepreneurial success and a combination of both that I’ve kind of balanced over the years. And obviously, I’d love to tell you a bit more about that. But I think that that’s where – I mean, for all of us, there was an entry point. Someone gave us an opportunity, or an opportunity presented itself. And if you seized it – And it’s a big thing for me, because I very much hire for – Rather than skills, hire for attitude. You hire for someone that you know [can] solve problems and can find a way to make things happen and get things done.
[00:15:56] JB: I know, when we talked on our prep call, that entrepreneurial spirit is definitely a strong thread throughout your career and what you look for in people. But one thing I love about this podcast, you can know a person for 10 years and not know so much and learn – I had no idea. Like, you followed your passion and take that with you into your career. Start something completely new. And do you still board? Do you still skate? We’re getting older. Are you still doing those things?
[00:16:25] DC: Yeah. I still board. And that the two big highlights of that era of my life, I’ve kind of always looked at […] you have certain opportunities in the period of life. You reflect on it and look at what were the real highlights as a result of that? And for me, there [were] two. That anyone who’s into snowboarding that’s listening to this will certainly appreciate: One is snowboarding with Tom Sims at the opening of Aspen Mountain.
And so, being in the digital marketing led me an opportunity in the early stages, like 2001. There was a Free the Snow Campaign. And the whole idea was to try and encourage the remaining ski hills that didn’t allow snowboarders to open up. And Aspen was one of the holdouts.
[00:17:01] JB: Back in the day, they weren’t allowed to go everywhere.
[00:17:03] DC: That’s it. I got flown down to Aspen, one of the coolest trips I’ve ever been on. And I got to be part of this inaugural group of snowboarders to snowboard down Aspen. And Tom Sims –
[00:17:15] JB: No way.
[00:17:16] DC: The granddaddies of snowboarding, one of the original founders. Him and Jake Burton. He was there. I got to snowboard with Tom Sims that day. And then the other really special moment is I got to go with the team to Burton’s office in Burlington, Vermont, and we got invited to Jake Burton’s house. And Jake was the coolest dude. And he invited us into his house. We got a chance to meet his wife and his kids. And we got to see this really cool barn he had set up for all these pro snowboarders that come to visit him, because he very much focused on product development. And very sadly, Jake just passed away just over a year ago. And we look back on those times, and it was such a privilege and an opportunity. It was the height of an era. It was […] kind of the zenith of that moment in time in snowboarding. And I was very avid.
And so, those were two things that would never have happened if I wasn’t into digital marketing and I didn’t […] combine my passion with digital marketing. I think you’ll see, as my career continued to evolve, it was always kind of combining my passion. Ultimately, then, travel with the Internet and digital marketing. Those two passions combining is largely my story.
[00:18:16] JB: And I’m thinking of Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs, and Microworks, and those things he does. And I always remember him saying, “Don’t necessarily follow your passion. Take it with you.” And it definitely sounds like you’ve done that in your career … take that passion with you. Talk to me about these next phases and your travel experience, because you have – That’s another passion of yours. And […] you’ve lived kind of all over the place, too. Talk to me about how you made the transition into taking that passion into your work life.
[00:18:46] DC: It’s remarkable how […] having the opportunity to have this discussion with you and looking back, because, really, I’m midway through my career. And I graduated 20 years ago. And if I look back, it is a very clear path.
And so, after the dot-com bust that we all lived through, thankfully, our startup was acquired. But it was more of an acqui-hire. We had a soft landing. I don’t think that term existed at the time. But it’s become a very familiar term for entrepreneurs. All the investors were paid back. We kind of had an opportunity to step off and ship after an incredibly vicious storm. Until we all kind of realized this was the opportunity where we could transition the business and move on to something else. And so, we actually all took that opportunity.
And so, I had, I guess, the fortunate window to be able to take some time off and do some traveling. My wife and I, we traveled to Europe. And in that moment, it kind of crystallized for me that I’ve always loved travel. And part of what I love about snowboarding is traveling. But really, my passion and my desire is to be able to see as many places in the world. And I was just […] completely hooked. And I knew that’s what I wanted to do, was like, “how do I combine digital and travel?”
And so, when I came back, it was a friend of mine that was working at Carlson Wagonlit, which was a big large corporate travel management company. And I had all this entrepreneurial startup experience. And they were looking for someone to come in and run e-commerce, which was still like you spell it with a capital E or an e with a dash. It was like –
[00:20:10] JB: I still run into that now.
[00:20:12] DC: Exactly. This person’s going to be […] head of e-commerce, or ecommerce project leader, or […] all these roles are getting defined. I took this opportunity. And I was out in Vancouver. And so, I started building out online travel booking websites. I build out cruise booking websites, and leisure booking websites, and corporate travel management websites, which is probably one of the most boring website projects, I have to say, […] implementing protocol of […] what car rentals you’re allowed to buy or not, hotel policy. Because most people just went and used Expedia anyway, right? That was […] the business model, was they were trying to find a way forward in the digital age. And most companies in that space really struggled.
But thankfully, in most cases, […] many of the projects were successful. I was also responsible for the digital marketing activity, which really then led into affiliate marketing. But after the time at Carlson, I had an opportunity to go work for Lonely Planet. I took a few months off. I traveled for about four months through Southeast Asia and moved to Melbourne, Australia and went to work for Lonely Planet, which talk about company culture change, moving from […] corporate travel management, where, yes, there was a dress code, to a place where people were – Not only they were tatted, they were pierced, they were wearing whatever they wanted to wear, including pajamas. And some people didn’t shower for the full week. I mean, that like – Because environmental sensitivity. It’s amazing. But the culture was thriving there, because it was like the height of Lonely Planet.
And so, these guidebooks that had been a bible for me while backpacking, and it was really mecca when I arrived there, to this beautiful building that had all these incredible books. And I guess the common theme here is, like, even though it’s travel, it’s like business is going through transformation and change. You had corporate travel management post 9/11 that was trying to figure out how they’re relevant as these OTA sites are coming about. And then you had Lonely Planet, which was a traditional travel book publisher trying to figure out what their new business model was in a digital age. Was it selling content online beyond just selling books?
And so, my role there was heading up digital products. Finding new ways to generate revenue online. And the primary focus was building out an accommodation booking engine. This is pre-Airbnb, in fact. This is when people were using couchsurfing.com before it was a business model. And the whole concept was to make Lonely Planet reviewed and recommended accommodation bookable online.
And so, that was an amazing opportunity, because it was like taking this great product, this great brand, these properties that have relied on Lonely Planet guidebooks for years. The only reason that some of these businesses exist is because they’ve been factored into a Lonely Planet guidebook. And people will go off the beaten path in Vietnam or Indonesia to get to that accommodation because they’ve read the review and they definitely want to stay there. How do we make those places bookable online? And that was an incredibly exciting challenge. That was, I guess, the next iteration for me. And that gave me a whole new, I guess, breadth of experience in company culture, because it was very much family-owned, family-run. Tony and Maureen were very closely involved in the business. And we took that through to ultimately the acquisition from BBC. Lonely Planet was acquired by the BBC in part based on the potential for their digital revenues.
I still remember – I’ll tell you this, because Rupert Murdoch had just bought MySpace. And he was on the cover of Wired Magazine. And that’s when they did that deal, where MySpace had signed a deal with Google. It was a billion-dollar deal. And bought the company for […] 700-800 million. He certainly looked like a genius. And now in the Internet age, he bought MySpace. And there he was on the cover of Wired Magazine, which I had on my desk.
And while we were going through the process of meeting companies that might be looking to invest or acquire Lonely Planet, Lachlan Murdoch came into my office, and I got a chance to meet him and present to him about accommodation booking. And I had this really strange moment where I was just like, “I’m speaking to Lachlan Murdoch.” And there he is. He’s just like – He’s fit. He’s got tattoos on his arms. And he’s […] a very impressive business leader in his own right. And there’s a picture of his dad on my desk on the cover of Wire Magazine. And it was just one of those moments as you go along in your career where you’re just like, “How crazy is this?” right? It’s just like that time in our lives where we find ourselves in certain situations that are […] unique, privileged, or […] by chance, by luck, by hard work that you find yourselves in these interesting situations. I was trying to savor those. That’s another one that really stood out for me.
[00:24:45] JB: Are you enjoying the show so far? You know, running an affiliate program can be very complicated. Running a highly successful affiliate program that grows year after year, well, that can be even more difficult. At JEBCommerce, we’ve been managing affiliate programs for over 17 years in almost every retail category you can imagine. With that experience comes a ton of successes. And we want to share that with you so you can learn what to do to grow your affiliate program.
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[00:26:03] JB: I love doing these podcasts, because I get to talk about stuff that I’m super curious about. And we have a lot in common. It sounds like part of what digital, and you tell me if I’m wrong, that was so attractive to you was that you could go in, there are plenty of problems for you to learn about and try to solve. And your impact could be great. If you solve this problem and this emerging technology with this, and booking, and these small locations, that impact could be big.
And just thinking about that curiosity and that entrepreneurial spirit, for our listeners who maybe are in their first job out of college or their second, where’s that come from for you? Is it a family trait? I come from a family of entrepreneurs. We were that weird family that we talk about, just-in-time things, and Kaizen management at the dinner table. That stuff, my dad talked about that all the time. But where does that entrepreneurial spirit […] courage and that curiosity come from?
[00:27:09] DC: Yeah, it’s a great question. And obviously, not to get, I guess, too heavy. But you mentioned on a personal family side, and certainly that’s a driver. I was raised by a single mom. And I think that I’ve always had a very strong work ethic. And I’ve always seized opportunities.
And given some of those early childhood experiences, the idea of change has never concerned me, because I guess I was always comfortable with moving and getting by at a very early age. One way to put, if you don’t come for much, your sense of risk is lesson. At least I’d say from my experience.
[00:27:40] JB: Yeah, it’s a really good point.
[00:27:42] DC: You can’t believe that people stay in bad situations. For me, I started getting myself to university. And I know I’ve mentioned that. But I was the first in my family to graduate from university. The only reason I actually really had that opportunity was that my mom, as a teller at a bank at the Royal Bank of Canada, she made a contribution every month to a fund that she continued to do with a very modest salary. And part of the expectation was, is that if I didn’t use those funds for university, you wouldn’t have access to them. It was one of those bonds that basically you just cash out the investment you made, but it wouldn’t pay out towards covering the cost of your education.
For me, there was a very clear motivation. She didn’t have the opportunity. She was one of two kids. And her younger brother – The boy, in that case, was given the opportunity to go to university. And the girl was expected to get married. And that also shapes my world view, too, right? Here I am living with a single mom who has limited career choices. And so, by virtue of that I think there is, for sure, I guess, an innate or an instinct to better oneself by virtue of your circumstances.
I think every step of the way – There was this great spelling bee. I don’t know if you ever watch those movies. There’s a great documentary about spelling bees. And this girl that her name eludes me right now. And I wish I could remember it so other people could go and watch it. And she came from a much tougher upbringing than I had. And they were asking her about perseverance. And she gave this comparison to […] just reaching from branch to branch. You just have to keep reaching.
It stayed with me, because the idea, like, you always need to keep moving forward. You can’t – And so, I guess, without even knowing that. But hearing that, I really identified with that, because I think that’s what I look for as you said, like in other people where I kind of identify that they’ve not overcome difficulties – I mean, that’s a part of a lot of people’s story. We all have adversity and like everyone – That’s part of everyone’s journey. But it’s really, I guess, what you do with it, right? It’s […] do you rise to the occasion? Do you meet the challenge? And the people that I typically gravitate to, surround myself with, and have the best outcome in working with those teams and in those environments.
Those young people out there, I guess there was a chapter in Jack Welch’s book. I was reading it when I was in [the] corporate world once, and I was working for someone. And everyone will find themselves in this situation, because you don’t often pick who you report into. And sometimes you can find yourself in a difficult position. It’s like no matter how smart and talented you are, whether it’s politics or whatever the reason is.
There was a great chapter in his book, I believe it’s the book Winning. And Jack Welch is a somewhat controversial figure. But certainly, back in the real heyday of GE and a lot of his management methodology, there’s certainly some real substance there despite some of the controversy. And one of the chapters was on mountains do move. And it was about like when you’re in a corporate role and you find yourself up against a difficult situation, is that there is an element of timing, and that mountains do move.
And it was upon reading that book. And I would realize that, certain times, when you’re in a certain role, learn everything you can. Take every opportunity. And if you’re getting frustrated, realize that, at some point, mountains do move. And so, don’t give up or feel like you’re banging your head against the wall, because all of a sudden, the clouds can clear and a new opportunity emerges. That’s something else I’d certainly like to share, because I wish someone had said that to me, I mean, years before I had to learn that for myself.
[00:31:10] JB: One thing that’s come to mind as you were talking about that is you talked about, three years ago, in order to kind of get ahead and be seen, you want to get there early, you want to stay late. And there’s that sort of mentality of managing people and being managed. I wonder if now that new version of that is being curious. Learning as much as you can. Helping solve problems that need to be solved in this environment.
I appreciate you sharing that. I was also thinking that sometimes we get through these struggles like you’ve had. And like you said, so many of us do overcome. And we get to a point of […] like I just wish this [hadn’t] happened. But in reality, it’s a gift. We moved every two years. Every two years we moved until I got to college. And I look back now, and that was so frustrating. But it allowed – Every place we moved, I had to adapt. And I had to adapt to a new school, new friends. There were new trends that I wasn’t involved in because I was not here. That was difficult at the time, but really provided some skills. And it sounds like that same thing can happen to you, or it did happen to you.
[00:32:17] DC: Just on that, because it’s interesting to hear. We haven’t made that connection between each other before. And so, there certainly may be something to be said for the dynamic that we have, because we’ve worked together for years. And obviously, you’ve been a great partner of ours when I was at the travel corporation for many years. And […] leading up to our conversation today, like, there’s a strong kinship there, I would say.
And I think that using that example, though, when you’re asking for feedback to younger listeners. The one thing I still hear, especially in today’s red-hot housing market, there’s so many people that are focusing on trying to follow a life that is about stability, security and making decisions that you think will have long-term benefit. That there’s this like – I find it remarkable to me that, in this day and age, with all the flexibility, that the benefit to your career is having flexibility. Not tying yourself down to a particular place and location.
Just like you moving around and myself moving around, I loved living in Australia. I loved living in England. I loved living in L.A. And people often ask me, just like, “What’s your favor if you could live somewhere?” I would divide my year. I would just spend a couple of months in great destinations at the right season, right? It’s just like – Because having lived in several cities around the world, no place is great 12 months of the year. Some places are great in the spring, or the fall, or it’s like – And opportunities have presented themselves by virtue of having that flexibility.
And that office question we went back to is like, “Can you work in the office? Where’s the office?” And it’s like you’ve got to commute. And it’s like people are making decisions. The number of people, when I’ve interviewed people, especially in L.A., that made a decision on a job based on traffic. And that, to me, it was like, “Why are you interested in working here?” “Well, I live 10 minutes away. It’s near my house. I don’t have to get on the 405. Or I don’t have to like –” And I was like it was honest. I appreciate the candor. But that’s not a reason I want to hire you.
[00:34:12] JB: Yeah, yeah. I’m really excited about this job because it’s right here.
[00:34:16] DC: Exactly. That, to me, I think it highlights where there’s significant change where people can work remotely. You can get access to that best talent. I mean, I moved to L.A. primarily because we bought this gorgeous new office, and changing the culture within the travel corporation, and trying to recruit top talent, and something that I had really enjoyed at Lonely Planet and at G Adventures and seeing those cultures really thrive. And that was a focus for us. And I was totally on mission with that. But the pandemic changed the trajectory of the travel corporation’s business, and that office culture. And all of a sudden, we were hiring for people in Atlanta. Or […] – And I’d moved myself from Toronto to L.A. And now I’m hiring people in Atlanta to do digital marketing roles, because I can’t find those people in L.A. And even if I can find them, they don’t want to come to the office.
This is where […] the very substantial change has occurred. And even though I’ve seen it over time, it was finally […] just let loose in the last 18 months. And that’s where I really don’t think that things will go back to the way they were before despite many companies in Europe hearing it as well, because I do see executives from large technology companies going back to their offices and sharing photos and saying, “Hey, guys look how great it was to be back in the office today.” And you see other people reluctantly having to smile, pose, and also be in those photos to be like – You just know it’s a very strategic objective.
And don’t get me wrong. Some of that is really valuable. I do like the office culture to a certain degree. And there is a great benefit to getting people together in-person. But I still think that, as we were discussing, the real opportunity now is to open up the opportunity to the fact that these incredibly talented people have been displaced. And that relates to a new venture I’ve been working on.
But basically, the idea that these people are now – They’re spread out around the world. They’ve made long-term life decisions. And now they’re not in the same position to be ten minutes in that office anymore. They’ve moved two hours out of town. They’ve moved to another state. And so, it’s a completely different competitive landscape for companies now, as you well know.
[00:36:22] JB: Yeah. We had an office, and then in August of 2020, we closed it and gave up the lease and let the staff know that, “Hey, for the foreseeable future, we won’t have an office. And we’ll see how things go. But don’t plan on it.”
And yeah, and making that change was a difficult one. But definitely, when I see two sides, you got to hire great people. I’m in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. And we have a lot more people moving to the area now. But we didn’t have a good pool. I was one of – We were one of maybe two digital marketing agencies and the only one that worked with brands that weren’t you know mom and pop stores locally. Finding talent was really difficult.
And so, yeah, as people disburse to do what they want, I think the employer-employee dynamic has changed. Whereas before, the employer had a whole lot of power on dictating a good portion of the employee’s life. Where they worked. How they worked. When they worked. And that dynamic is changing quite a bit.
I also read an article where the pandemic pushed a lot of people out of cities into the rural areas so that they could get out of the house and do things. And then a lot of them realize there’s no Target. There’s no amenities, facilities or resources there. And now they’re moving back, which being in a rural area, I thought was super funny.
But you mentioned a couple times, culture. And this is something I like to dive into, because I like to see – I’m always learning. I want to see how other people are doing it. And then you talked about entrepreneurial spirit. And I think, for you, those two are very much tied together. But how has this shift that we’ve experienced in the last two years, how has that impacted culture? Has it made culture more important or less important to running an organization, especially a digital organization?
[00:38:12] DC: Definitely more important. I’ll give you a quick story by way of background from my experience in understanding company culture. And so, in each of these instances, when you have an opportunity, a new role, and reading, listening to podcasts like this, but even like earlier days. I gravitated to all […] the Stanford University lectures that you could get access to. And this is 15 years ago.
I remember listening to Marissa Mayer when she was still with Google before she led Yahoo talking about product development. And I got so much insight when I was a Lonely Planet listening to her. And I’d be on my way to work listening to […] how they developed Google News and what functionality they built into. And that whole concept of […] the two-pizza rule, like Jeff Bezos. Not having a team size that’s more than like – Listening to how teams function.
Marissa Mayer was similar at Google. They had those technology companies. How they structure their organizations where you have small pods of teams, no more than four or five people who work really closely together.
And so, for me, I applied those elements to my teams that I was working with. I would either add that element into a team that I was a part of with those insights I’d learn. And eventually, when you’re able to lead a team, you’re able to actually make those determinations. Coming up through the system and understanding how culture works in an organization is really important.
So, time I had at Lonely Planet, where I was working at a company where people were incredibly passionate about travel. And it was a really smart talented group of individuals. And then when that company was acquired, like you knew the company culture was going to change. And unfortunately, it did. BBC changed the company culture. Most of the team members left. BBC sold the company for about 30% of what they paid for it only a couple of years later. And that highlights culture, if anything else.
It’s like there were two cultures colliding. Lonely Planet had this amazing culture. And I was so proud to be a part of it. And it was the office environment. For sure, that office, I would welcome going back to again. They had a cafe on the top level and you’d eat lunch outside. You could work anywhere in the building. You could work in the library. You could work in the cafe. You look forward to coming into work. You look forward to the people you worked with. And I think that was the output. And then all of a sudden you have a very corporate structure now taking over this dynamic entrepreneurial family-owned business. And it changes. So they bring in their ways, and people change and leave.
And then, unfortunately, the company has continued to be resold. And it’s like I feel privileged I got to be there for that period of time. But when I went from Lonely Planet, I moved to Gap Adventures, G Adventures, which was run by Bruce Poon Tip, and still is. And I had a great relationship with Bruce and worked with him for three years. And it was very clear.
This is the other thing, too: Is that when companies either have a great culture or want to embrace a great culture, and they had, to their full credit, a terrific culture of similar passionate travelers that wanted to – They’d hold annual retreats. And […] it was very much like you were drinking the Kool-Aid when you were there. You were a true believer. You were very much like – You were part of a tribe. And […] that tribal leadership, which was very much Tony Hsieh. We even took our executive team down to Las Vegas to meet Tony Hsieh. And his whole business model was Zappos. And may he rest in peace, because, obviously, a tragic ending to his story. But in his heyday, because, hey, he started with affiliate marketing, too. Right, Jamie? As you know –
[00:41:21] JB: He did, yeah. And he was a client. He was our client that took us from a small freelance kind of shop. We worked with Zappos and that catapulted us. And so, forever grateful for Tony for giving me a shot way back in the day that changed our course dramatically.
[00:41:38] DC: Very cool. That’s an amazing story. Well, I mean, it gets back to the question you asked, is that we traveled as an executive team, G Adventures down to Las Vegas, to Zappos. Had a couple of opportunities to meet with Tony. And we developed our core values. And as a result of those core values, we came back. And next you know, they’re on shirts, and […] changing people’s lives, and like embracing the bazaar. The company, still, that was 10 years ago now. And you can still see those core values permeate that company culture. So the people that hire for culture, you hire for people that embrace your core values.
And the interesting thing is then what attracted me to the travel corporation and when I transitioned over to working for Brett – Again, that great relationship with Brett, the CEO of the travel corporation the difference was […] it felt like I was moving from one planet, where there was one brand, to 40 brands. It was […] a difference from – Like moving from a planet to […] a universe.
And as one of my team members described Marianne, and she was just […] – She was there before me. And it said like it really [was] – You have 40 different brands. And you basically have different cultures in each of those. And what Brett wanted to do, he’d only taken over the helm a year before I arrived, is he wanted to create a culture around the travel corporation. Because the travel corporation, up until that time, was really the holding group. There was no website that promoted to see. There was a very basic travel corp website. But really, they were wholly owned subsidiaries. And each of those brands had their own unique culture.
And so, what he wanted to do was to bring everyone together as a family of brands and to be able to instill core values from the top and within each of those brands. And to be able to move this business forward to be able to hire talent was about building out Yammer and […] online platforms to give everyone a voice across the organization. This was […] within my first couple years of being there. And that obviously spoke to me, because it’s like the idea of […] there’s 10,000 team members stuck in silos, in offices that don’t know each other. And when I travel to different offices, they would say they’ve never met this person before. Like you were a floor below them. You’ve been working here for 3 years. You’ve never met each other? Not even in the elevator?
And so, this idea of […] breaking down silos and this whole concept that was very much inspired by the idea of the honeycomb culture, of […] you have a honeycomb approach rather than […] a command and control. You basically empower your team members to take initiative. And we ran a series of campaigns called Chairman’s Challenge.
And so, we gave away a hundred thousand dollars, a huge amount of money, really, for an internal campaign that the chairman and rep had blessed. And so, those went to people who contributed ideas that would increase revenue, reduce costs, or make a meaningful business change. And there were multiple people who won those awards. And one of them was actually implementing a referral program across all the travel brands in the business so that no customer should not be encouraged. To encourage other people to travel, because the brands offer great travel experiences.
There were all these things about culture change. And you could see that people – […] the first two years – I spoke [at] the executive conferences, maybe a third year. The first two years, it was like the wind was in my face. It was like there was a strong preference not to change. There was a strong preference to remain independent siloed businesses. And like, “Why is this happening?” It’s just […] – And so, by the third year, because I think you probably know most businesses, […] it takes that type of time frame to make a substantial change in a company culture and […] a frame to the window and rolls is what’s needed. The first year, you’re not incredibly valuable. The second year, you start to make change. And by the third year, you know you’re in full flight.
And I think by that point, for me, all of a sudden, the wind was at my back. And that was, I guess, very motivating. Because all of a sudden, company culture, when the wind is at your back, and people see what it’s like to win, people see what it’s like to […] get ahead, and people see that like you basically – You’re determined to prove it rather than just saying. It’s just […] take these brands. You introduce their social channels to them. You introduce digital marketing. You revamp their websites. And you start to see the businesses change as a result of that. Well, guess what happens? More people want to be a part of it. And all of a sudden, more people want to participate, and more team members all of a sudden want to be a part of your team.
I mean, our team grew organically by virtue of people saying like, “I want to learn digital.” We try and hire … recruit from within to give people an opportunity to transition from working in a contact center would have the opportunity. One of my best stories is someone, a lady named Jen, that worked in the office. And she had worked in the company for 15 years. And she wanted to work in digital. She wanted to learn project management. But she’d come up working in the contact center and then on […] the reservation platform. You talk about giving people opportunity.
And so, culture, back to your question, culture is everything. And I think more important than ever. And I think that’s what you see with companies that are struggling. And you see the companies that are thriving. And one of the best examples I can think of, Jamie, that I can point to is Skift. Which, for those people who work in the travel industry, Skift is a very familiar travel publication. But they closed their New York office. They were very reliant on events and media companies. And Rafat, and his team, and Dennis is a good friend, and one of the editors. He lives in Puerto Rico now. And he’s living his best life. And the team is all kind of dispersed. And the company culture has been […] thriving. Their business is growing. They’re hiring. People look like they’re having more fun than ever. And see the companies, they were on the precipice. They were one of those companies. Are they going to make it? Because of what happened during the pandemic.
Not only did they make it. They’ve come through it stronger. And they’re in a much better position by virtue of – I saw Barry Diller actually being interviewed by one of his team. Barry Diller, that many people will know, of course. The legendary entrepreneur, founder behind Expedia. And he was being interviewed by them. And he asked a question about their office. And the interviewer said, “We don’t have an office.” And the shock on his face when he looked at like, “I’m being interviewed by a company that doesn’t have an office?” It didn’t make sense to him. It was neat to see that reaction, because that shows the change in management culture and the era that we’re in. So, yeah. Jamie, culture is everything.
[00:47:28] JB: It’s still important. The big thing I pulled from that, and I really appreciate you talking to this, was it takes three years to make culture change. And for leaders, we tend to want something so quickly now. And that’s changed, I think, with the dawn of the Internet. And you can buy something on Amazon and get it today. To know that these things take time. And that you’re going to put 12 months where you’re proving it to everyone. And then another 12 months where they’re experiencing some wins, too. And then that third year, the wins at your back I think is a big thing.
We have a couple minutes left. I want to talk about performance marketing and affiliate marketing. And you’ve run affiliate channels throughout your whole career. But talk to me about how the affiliate channel has impacted those organizations. And how does it fit in the broader digital acquisition environment?
[00:48:17] DC: Sure. Well, I think the one thing that’s really fascinating about the development in that space is the fact that, although it’s been around now for 20 years and it is a huge industry under itself, it’s remarkable to discover industries that are still in their nascent stages, or either don’t have an affiliate program, or not a very well-utilized one. And so, it certainly has been my experience that each of the corporate environments I’ve gone into, […] G Adventures, do not have an affiliate program.
To answer your question about the importance of that, at the time, there was fundraising occurring. And so, we’re looking at all of our revenue channels. And the first year we had an affiliate program, we generated a million dollars a year in affiliate revenue. And as you know with affiliate revenue, there’s a lot of other halo benefits to that revenue. So if you have a million dollars of trackable revenue, you think about what an uplift that’s having to the business. And in the first year. And then I think it was five million in the second year. It was substantial numbers. Substantial numbers that [were] meaningful to investors to highlight.
And then when I entered Travel Corporation, they didn’t have an affiliate program either. They have 40 brands and no affiliate program. An affiliate program – And this is a big thanks to you. Because it’s always a question of […] when you launch an affiliate program, do you do it in-house? Do you do it with a partner? We have the great privilege, of course, to work with you and your team. I had the experience of running programs internally myself. Our preference was to actually work with you and your team. And you and your team managed multiple affiliate programs across multiple brands. And you also came into our organization, and your team, to their credit, presented to our executives and showcased the results of the activity and made recommendations for new partnerships, new programs, different incentive structures that we could find new sources of revenue. This was like – It’s eye-opening to many executives that there is this untapped opportunity. You guys, obviously, were a great partner there. And it even extends to –
[00:50:01] JB: Thank you.
[00:50:02] DC: Yeah, absolutely. It’s credit fully deserved. But to advance it forward, organizations that I’m working with now still find themselves in the same situation where they don’t have an affiliate program or they have an under-utilized affiliate program.
It’s remarkable that more organizations – And I think the question you’d ask me about the three years, and I think that’s the big pivot and change for me now and companies now, is that you don’t have three years anymore. And in three years, the business opportunity that you were seeking or the solution to the problem you were trying to solve, it’s been solved three times over and moved on like. You don’t have the benefit of time like you did before to run these projects.
And so, my big focus now has been 90 days, […] 90-day acceleration plan. How do you take what you can do with inside an organization over the course of three years and have a similar, not the same, but a similar impact in a three-month period of time to help an organization identify what opportunities they’re currently missing and to make an intensive kind of exercise to get them on the right track? And affiliate programs […] continue to be a prominent element of that digital marketing stack.
[00:51:09] JB: Why do you think they don’t have programs? Is it executive learning? Because I know, especially at the travel corp, you had so many brands, so many different executives to kind of – I don’t want to say wrangle. But to work with. How did those conversations happen inside? And is that what you’re seeing happen with your clients now?
[00:51:29] DC: Well, the great thing about what happened in the travel corporation and when we worked together is that Brett made a clear determination that the brands were going to have affiliate programs. It stopped – Like, when you have one senior executive that’s completely bought in because he knows the opportunity and has made that informed decision, it’s no longer about if you’re going to have one. It’s you are going to have one, because there’s all sorts of reasons why you could kind of like what sites might we be paired with? And we don’t want our brand associated with […] coupon sites or […] discount sites. And there’s validity to these concerns. And they need to be managed, as you well know. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an affiliate program. It just needs you’ve got to manage against fraud. And there are pitfalls and there’s risks. But they have to be well-managed. And so, it’s never a reason not to do it. To his credit, to the business’ credit, that’s where the determination came from. I’d say that many organizations, either there’s fear, there’s trepidation, there’s hesitation.
And the other thing, as you well know as well, is that search engine optimizations, affiliate marketing is a medium to long-term. It’s a snowball effect. The benefit of your program will really multiply in time. But I think a lot of companies give up too early. That’s why they have stalled programs, or inefficient programs, or […] you don’t have the right expertise, especially the right in-house expertise. Because that’s another example.
You look at a company like G Adventures having [an] incredibly successful affiliate program managed internally. You have a false start with some other travel brands. Then you bring in the right partner, because you don’t have the right in-house expertise. Like, someone came in. Like, people moved on. Like, you see that in organizations, absolutely, where a program has stalled. And really, it’s for lack of expertise, investment in time, and making the right decisions to get a program really established and be willing to see the fruits of the efforts going to be born over time. Not expecting it all to happen in 90 days or even six months. Like, after a year or two, […] as you well know, clients could – It becomes a fundamental part of their business that they can’t do without.
[00:53:30] JB: Yeah, definitely. I appreciate you sharing that, and totally agree. I think that maybe fits and starts, not having the right expertise, quitting too early, and then not knowing – I think what we see is those concerns, like you mentioned, coupon sites, and who to partner with. And I think a lot of advertisers, a lot of retailers and advertisers, they don’t know that there’s a lot of really cool technology to manage the risk, manage those concerns and get around with. Then there’s so much to handle that.
Where do you see the affiliate channel in the multi-channel world? Like, how does that fit within the customer journey? And how do you manage it amongst the suite of channels you have as options to acquire customers?
[00:54:13] DC: Well, so what’s interesting is that now that we live in this influencer-driven world, […] we’ve moved beyond social media to this state of existing where we are all on our phones and our behavior is being shaped and influenced by people that we see having certain experiences.
The affiliate marketing has taken – And you know that, too, from […] being transparent about if you’re being paid for posts, and […] the need for transparency. And I think that highlights the fact that this is such a significant opportunity and shift even like with people having YouTube videos. Making revenue off of the fact that they refer to the link in their video. It’s just […] – So, trackable links. We’re seeing it in new ways. And influencers are a huge part of that.
At Contiki, when I was with the travel corporation, one of our brands was enabling influencers to be able to have affiliate accounts. They could promote the brand and they would be able to get a commission on sales, which was basically essentially what a travel agent was doing. And now, all of a sudden, you have an influencer doing that. It’s a very similar business model, but it’s now an influencer going on a trip, encouraging other people to take a trip. And then people actually clicking through on the link booking a trip. And so, they’re out promoting it.
And so, one of the interesting things is that, when I see the shift now – And so, one of the brands that I’m working really closely with is a company called DHARMA. Terrific team. Based in Abu Dhabi. And the whole business model, it’s the influencer economy. All of our brands and talent are – They’re experts in their field, whether it be football, or musicians. Sports, musicians, and yoga instructors. And they have their own audience. And so, it’s a whole other evolution of the influencer and affiliate model, where, all of a sudden, they are responsible for filling trips.
And so, you need to offer them a platform by which they can do that. It’s like the business actually starts with the influencer. It’s not like an add-on, meaning that, all of a sudden, you want to get additional bookings from one source. It’s like you can fill entire trips with talent that then tells their network that I’m going to be running these three trips. And here are the dates.
And so, that to me, I guess, shows the exciting future for affiliate program and that model, because it really kind of underpins that strategy. I guess I’m very bullish on the influencer economy, and this kind of passion economy, and how people’s consumer behavior is changing, because they’re less brand-oriented than they were before.
They’re more willing than ever to embrace new brands because of what they’ve been through [the] last couple years. They’re willing to embrace new brands. I think that’s what they need to meet them where they’re spending their time. And that is where connecting with them on social channels has never been more important. And it’s also never been more complicated. Because as you well know, there’s no longer just one dominant platform. If anything, that one dominant platform is under a huge amount of pressure, regulatory, and even just user growth stalling. And if you own metastock, you know exactly what I’m referring to. Not to say that the metaverse is not going to become a very real thing and potentially revolutionize their business. But that whole social media paradigm, like with TikTok and so many different communities to choose from, where do you invest your time and effort? I know Elon Musk wants to buy Twitter.
[00:57:25] JB: Yes, he does.
[00:57:27] DC: It wouldn’t be my first choice of purchase. But nevertheless, I get why he’s doing it. We don’t need to get into that. I watched his TED Talk. I know where he’s coming from. But it just shows you that […] he sees huge value in that, right? He sees huge value for many reasons in that platform. And that just – To me, if anything, that highlights the diversity of these social media platforms and where you need to make your brand relevant today.
[00:57:49] JB: Yeah. And I think from the affiliate community, what I think they struggle with is this change that your influencers aren’t providing social proof to the consumer in the customer’s path to purchase. They’re the start. And like you said, you can fill complete trips. These influencers are becoming more.
And I know in the affiliate community, that’s been […] a point of contention. When influencers started to become a thing, there was a lot of misrepresenting their numbers and buying followers and things like that. And so, the promise was not achieved. But now, so much is changing. So many of them are learning how to monetize. And with trackable links with the affiliates, we see the exact same thing. Really appreciate your perspective on that.
Dan, this has been fantastic. Tell us what you guys are doing now. You recently started a company. The entrepreneurial spirit is still alive, and that fire is growing inside you. What have you started? What are you doing now?
[00:58:45] DC: Sure. Yeah. No. I’m happy to share that with you. Because I was fortunate – Last year, when I decided it was time for a change. And there was sort of a personal driver in that. My father unfortunately wasn’t well. And he passed away in November last year and –
[00:58:57] JB: I’m sorry to hear that.
[00:58:58] DC: No. Thanks, Jamie. But we’ve talked on a personal level throughout this discussion, and I think it’s relevant to share that because it really shapes the context of the answer to your question, which is that he never had the opportunity, by virtue of life circumstances, to – He was always in a corporate world. And so, he was a VP of a recruitment firm. And so, he always had entrepreneurial desires, but was never able to realize them.
And so, for me, I saw that. And I was so – In many ways, I was honored to have the time with him that I did, because I just decided to […] step out of my role. I’ve been at TTC eight, going on nine years. And I really felt […] I’d done everything I needed to do. And I even focus on the last year of trying to bring the company through the pandemic. And getting on the side of the company had been great to me. And I wanted to be loyal to them. But there, all of a sudden, this moment where […] it crystallized for me with his diagnosis and knowing he had six months to live, which also ended up being three months. And so, I just made the call. And I was just like, “I want to be present. I want to be around.” And I was.
It was a very tough and difficult time through palliative care and all the decisions that had to be made. But I was there for him. And we spent a lot of time together. And it gave me a lot of time for reflection as well. I was fortunate enough, Jamie, to, I guess, be in a position where, once I had stepped out and was taking a well-needed break to take care of family, I had a number of different opportunities presented.
And again, that’s where […] I think you make your own fortune in that way with regards to relationships you develop over time. Our relationship is one good example. Like, the strong bond you have. I mean, I’ve spent 20 years in various organizations and, say, worked in five different cities and have a global network of talent. And all of these things kind of dawned on me. And I was like I had two very clear opportunities. And I said to each of the companies, “I would love to work with you, but in a fractional capacity. I will come in and I will get your business.” And it’s like, “So, I’ll come in as the CMO, or the Chief Growth Officer.” And so I’ve got two terrific companies that I’m working with, openscreen.com and seekdharma.com. One in travel. One in technology. Two really interesting –
But what really drew me out is this idea of the acceleration team concept. And this is what I couldn’t, I guess, kind of tear myself away from, is that rather than go into one of those companies for an extended period of time, that three-year mark like we talked about, how do we actually do that in a tighter time period? More like 90 days?
I had this concept that I had not been able to actualize with the acceleration team. I’ve done something similar inside other organizations. But how do you actually bring together a group of talented people to meet a specific business need or challenge? And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.
Accelerationteam.co is our presence. and I’ve hired five people to date. Like you, it’s […] where you started. I’ve created the acceleration team to work with smart talents of people that I really enjoy looking forward to getting up and working with. And so, I’ve been fortunate enough to recruit five other people that are some of the best I’ve had a chance to work with over the 20 years. And I look forward to bringing more on board. And they’re working with me, with those two clients and with those two partners. And we look forward to bringing on more.
But I think the key for us is choosing the right partner and bringing the right team members together. We are going to continue to be quite selective in our approach and how we kind of scale this business. Because it’s really important to me that Open Screen is successful. DHARMA is very successful. The team members that join the acceleration team. They enjoy the clients we’re working with. They enjoy working with each other.
And so, I’ve been doing much of the same things that I’m sure you have been with when you’re trying to hire a recruit and build up these teams. Because I’ve got – In each of these opportunities, I’ve got more than enough work, and it’s growing to try and bring people in. But it’s like trying to make sure that, actually, you hire for the right skill set and you bring someone in that is going to provide real immediate value. And I think that’s today, more so than ever, how do you plug someone into a situation? You don’t have – An affiliate program, a perfect example, Jamie. What you do. Hire a marketing manager. Hope they have affiliate marketing experience. Start reviewing networks. And then eventually get a program launched. And next thing you know, 12 months have gone by. And guess what? Maybe that digital marketing manager has moved on to a new opportunity. And the program never went live. That’s the pain of like –
In this example, we have got an affiliate program set up and live in six weeks. And it’s like because someone has the expertise and some like the relationship. And you can turn around and you can get something – You can make something happen really quickly if you have defined expertise and someone can apply that expertise for a specific business need. And I guess that’s what excites me today. And it’s still early days for us and where this business will go. But as you can tell, obviously, I’m enthusiastic, I’m excited about it, because I’m finally able to get out and be an entrepreneur again. But actually, basically being an entrepreneur. Doing what I’ve been doing inside companies, but actually being able to partner and work with them. Yeah, I’m excited for what’s to follow. And I hope that we have the opportunity to speak again and I can tell you where we’ve gotten to.
[01:03:41] JB: Definitely. I know there are four questions that I have on my list that we have not been able to get to. I definitely want to do this again. Accelerationteam.co is the website. And if they want to continue this conversation with you, Dan, is there any other way that they can get a hold of you?
[01:03:57] DC: Sure, of course. You can reach me at email@example.com. Feel free to send me a direct email. I’d be happy to hear from any of you. Feel free to reach out. I mean, if it’s for opportunities to collaborate together, or even just to give feedback on this podcast, please, I would love to hear it. I’d love to hear that you made it to the end and that you –
[01:04:15] JB: And for those who have had, congratulations, and thank you. Dan, I have enjoyed this conversation. I really enjoyed getting to know you more and learning that we have so much in common more than I had already thought. Appreciate your perspective on culture. The origin story was really great. Love to hear that. But thank you again so much for joining us today. And I would love to reserve the right to bring you back on and get these other questions answered. There are a couple things that, man, I’d love to dive in. But we’d be here all day.
[01:04:49] DC: Let’s do it, Jamie. Thank you. And again, thanks for the friendship, support over the years. And I wish you and the team continued success.
[01:04:55] JB: Thank you. Same to you.
[01:05:01] JB: First of all, Dan, thank you so much for your time today. I really enjoyed our conversation. It was great. So much to talk about, listeners, on the conversation we had today. The origin story was fantastic. Really, what I pulled from there was, like we said, micro. Take your passion with you. You can do both of those things. Have a really exciting successful career. And do it in things that you are passionate about. So many things.
I love the Free the Snow story. I forgot that there was a time when you couldn’t snowboard on every mountain. That’s how far Dan goes back. Appreciated his vulnerability and transparency in his career. How important culture is still to this day? And some of those things, […] be part of a tribe. And that’s what people want to be. And that’s so important to culture today.
But really, what I want you guys to remember from some of our affiliate conversation is the halo benefit of affiliate marketing and how you may be able to track a million dollars from your affiliate program. But that is not the only and single benefit from that. Other channels are impacted by the affiliates.
One of the things, the 90-day acceleration plan that Dan talked about. We talk about a thing called the 90-day annual plan, or the 90-day year. How important that is now? Especially, I remember in the height of the pandemic, you couldn’t make a plan that was six months or a year-long. Everything changed. And that’s probably – We’re going to see a couple things hold on to in the new normal. One is [that] the employer-employee dynamic has changed. Two, the need to be flexible. That’s never going away. Be able to change […] things really, really quickly. And the ability to kind of compress those time frames of planning down to 90 days.
Like Dan said, you don’t know what’s going to happen 12 months from now. If you’re going to take that long to launch an affiliate program, you may have a completely new set of variables to deal with at that time. How do you compress those things down?
And talked about the importance of having one executive bought in to the affiliate channel and how that can dramatically change things. But we also talked about the tendency of advertisers and companies to give up early on the affiliate program, especially when they have no expertise in-house. They quit too early. Their concerns and the risks of the affiliate channel are not managed well. Dan, brought that out. And his comment, that it takes a long time. This is a mid to long-term solution. And sometimes that’s six months to a year. Lots of great info. Totally agree with that.
And then we talked a little bit about the merging of influencers and affiliates, and this ability through trackable links to do so much more. And how the consumer’s path is changing. How they behave is changing. And we need to take advantage of that. We need to get in line with their flow. Not try to make them in ours. That’s a huge, huge point.
And with trackable links and everything, those purchases – And Dan brought this out, too, that consumers are having less affinity to brands. And they are starting their journey and sometimes completing it, a lot of times completing it, through those influencers and social media.
Super important to take that into account right now. We’re hearing that in a lot of places. If you haven’t figured out how to do that, please let us know. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to connect with you.
Now, if you need help, you’re trying to figure out how do you get buy-in internally for the affiliate program? How do you make change with your digital marketing? How do you deal with influencers, and PR, and social with your customers’ journey and the affiliate channel? How [do] you equip influencers to expose their audiences to your brand and have that track back so you can measure ROI, […] effectiveness, and productivity? We would love to help. And we’ve got two ways that you can do that. You can go to calendly.com/jamiebirch, and you can set up 15 minutes to an hour of me. No obligation. No pressure at all. I put that time aside to help anyone with these types of problems. But you can also email email@example.com and we will reach out and help you.
Again, Dan, thank you so much. Really enjoyed this conversation. I’m looking forward to our next time that we get to record another episode in our next conversation.
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