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"How Rocket Dollar Is Achieving Remarkable Growth in a Highly Competitive Industry Ft. Thomas Young" (Inbound Success Ep. 109)

"How Rocket Dollar Is Achieving Remarkable Growth in a Highly Competitive Industry Ft. Thomas Young" (Inbound Success Ep. 109) Blog Feature

September 23rd, 2019 min read

How did financial industry startup Rocket Dollar achieve double-digit, month-over-month growth in the highly competitive financial services industry?

Adam Sand headshotThomas Young Rocket Dollar
Thomas Young

This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Rocket Dollar co-founder Thomas Young shares details on the marketing strategy that helped this scrappy startup take on the 800-pound gorillas of the financial industry and quickly grow into a household name within two years of the company's launch.

The great thing about Thomas's approach is that it doesn't require a huge budget and is something that any company - in any industry - can use to get results. 

Highlights from my conversation with Thomas include:

  • Rocket Dollar sells self-directed 401(k) and IRA accounts for anyone that wants to invest their retirement savings outside of stocks and bonds. The biggest use case is investing in multifamily real estate, venture funds or directly into startups in a way that is tax-protected.
  • The company is a startup in the financial services industry, which is highly competitive and has very large, established players with enormous marketing budgets.
  • Rocket Dollar had to overcome several challenges, one of which was people concerned that the company would not be around in a few years.
  • In addition, they had to fight the perception amongst their target audience that people should be very conservative with their retirement savings and invest only in the traditional, established brokerage houses.
  • Thomas has found that the best medium through which Rocket Dollar can address the challenges it is facing is email, so Thomas's goal in the beginning was always to get someone's email address.
  • One way the company got traction in the beginning was by building upon the personal brands of its founders and focusing specifically on winning its local market in Austin, TX.
  • The team that founded Rocket Dollar knew that differentiation would be key to the company's success, so everything from the company name, to the colors used in the branding and the design of the website is deliberately different than the rest of the financial services industry.
  • Another way they differentiated was through messaging. While the rest of the self directed investing community was using anti-Wall Street messaging, Rocket Dollar channeled a more positive outlook that resonated well with its audience.
  • The Rocket Dollar team knew that it would be essential to build trust with their audience, so they made a concerted effort to personalize the way they marketed, from sending emails directly from a founder rather than a corporate catch-all address, to including their faces on the website, etc.
  • When they were ready to really turn on lead generation, the team used paid search to connect with prospects who were ready to buy. They did this by purchasing ads targeting long tail, high intent keywords that the bigger industry players were ignoring.
  • This approach resulted in approximately half of the company's new contacts coming from its paid search efforts.
  • When a new contact lands on the website, the primary CTA they are faced with is "get started," which is basically an immediate sign up for the product.
  • Anyone who doesn't complete the sign up process is put into a lead nurturing workflow and subscribed to the company's newsletter.
  • They have found that staying top of mind works very well for them, whereas anything that smacks of a hard sell really backfires because it jeopardizes the trust they've built with their audience.
  • The team has invested heavily in creating educational content that it can share via email, and the result is that the company's unsubscribe rate is below a half a percent.
  • Whereas 50% of the company's business comes from its pay-per-click marketing efforts, the other 50% is split evenly between leads from channel partners and customer referrals.
  • Rocket Dollar has grown considerably in the last two years and now has customers in all 50 states, $75 million worth of IRA assets in its accounts, and grow in the double digits month over month.
  • Thomas's advice for other startups that are competing in crowded markets is to win your backyard first, focus on getting email addresses (so you don't have to pay for access to your audience), and pay attention to the little things (make sure your marketing is very buttoned-up).
  • Thomas also recommends leveraging the personal brands of your leadership team. 

Resources from this episode:

Listen to the podcast to get all the details on how Thomas and the Rocket Dollar team structured a marketing plan that enabled them to take on the giants of the financial industry and achieve double-digit, month-over-month growth.




Transcript

Kathleen Booth (Host): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast.

I'm your host, Kathleen Booth, and today my guest is Thomas Young, who's the co-founder and VP of marketing at Rocket Dollar. Welcome, Thomas.

Thomas Young (Guest): Thanks, Kathleen. Thanks for having me.

Thomas Young and Kathleen Booth
Thomas and Kathleen recording this episode together .

Kathleen: You have an interesting background because you formerly were an agency guy that used to work with financial services firms, but now you're actually the co-founder and VP of marketing in-house at a financial services firm. Can you talk a little bit more about your journey and your story, and also Rocket Dollar and what it is?

About Thomas and Rocket Dollar

Thomas: Sure. Yeah. So, my journey, it's been pretty fun and pretty fast-paced. Just right out of college, I kind of jumped into the startup ecosystem here in Austin, and my natural focus just sort of shifted to marketing, sort of accidentally. It was kind of the area that resonated the most with me.

I graduated from UT Austin with an economics degree that helps in what I do today, but really, my focus and my sort of passion is marketing. I was working full-time at another company where one of the partners of that company also ran a financial advisory business sort of on the side and asked me if I could help her with some just very basic funnel stuff, everything from running Facebook ads to email marketing, just sort of seeing if we could learn together.

It turns out I really enjoyed my time doing that, and so through her network I started getting more and more freelance clients, to the point where I basically quit my day job and focused full-time on this agency freelancing, and what I would do is just kind of run the project and then hire other contractors on Upwork or Fiverr or whatever to sort of help me with the heavy lifting.

I really enjoyed doing that, and it was fun to market challenging products, which financial products are always challenging to market, and they're expensive to market, and so you have to get really crafty and creative, which I really enjoyed.

In the sort of process of doing that, I came across this product that Rocket Dollar sells, which I'll get into in a sec, and I really didn't like the way it was being done by other companies, and I knew that just being in Austin and being in this space, that there was tech play here, and that this was a product that I really liked, that resonates with not only me, but with a lot of people, a lot of different investors.

When I met my co-founders, we kind of decided that it was kind of a no-brainer to do this, because I knew the product, I knew the marketing, and my co-founders know the tech. So, it was just a very natural fit, and it came together really fast.

So, what Rocket Dollar does is we sell self-directed 401(k) and IRA accounts for basically anyone with an IRA or a 401(k) that wants to invest their retirement savings outside of stocks and bonds. So, the biggest sort of use case that we have is you set up a Rocket Dollar IRA, and then you can go invest in multifamily real estate, or you can invest in a venture fund or directly into a startup, and it's all tax-advantaged, all tax-protected. So, any gains, for example, if you invest in the next Facebook as an angel with your IRA, you'll never pay taxes on it.

We simply set up the structure of the account. We help you track your investments across whatever asset class, and then we service the account on the reporting side to the IRS.

So, in a nutshell, that's what Rocket Dollar does, and I've been fortunate enough to not only be in on the ground floor, but also continue marketing this product that I really enjoy.

David v. Goliath: How Rocket Dollar tool on the big players in the financial services industry

Kathleen: Interesting. So, you alluded to this when you were talking about what led you to Rocket Dollar. It's obviously in the financial services industry. I too have had some experience with that at the agency level and know that it's incredibly competitive. There are a bunch of 800-pound gorillas in the industry, and that have really deep pockets, that can throw a ton of money behind the keywords they want to get found for.

There are a lot of players, sheer numbers. So, coming in as a relatively new player in the industry that has a business model that is intended to be a high-growth model, yes, it's a tech play, but it's SaaS, essentially. It just happens to be in financial services.

How do you wrap your brain around... You're going to have to grow this company a lot, and a lot of that growth is going to have to come through marketing, because this isn't an enterprise sales team pounding the pavement. I mean, I don't even know where to start. Talk me through how you begin taking on those Goliaths.

Thomas: Sure. Well, it is challenging, and it's a lot of fun, but basically, what we started at the beginning is we knew that we were going to have to overcome several things.

One is we're asking people to trust us with their retirement savings as a startup. So, the question, what happens if you're not here in two years, or in three years, or in five years, that question came up a lot in the first year of Rocket Dollar, and it scared a lot of people. So, that was one that we had to overcome.

The second one was it's a completely new way of thinking about your retirement savings, something that you've been learning about since you were probably...

Most people hear the word IRA from their parents when they're growing up, and the indoctrination of Fidelity and Schwab and Vanguard is strong, that this is money that is completely sacred, that you can't touch, that you can't do anything with, so just give it to us and let us fee you from now until you're 60, and that's strong for a lot of people.

So, you have to overcome that.

Then yeah, just getting any sort of bandwidth in that space, we have to be really creative with our lead gen, and then also with how we approach, for example, paid search on Google. I mean, it's so expensive when you knock up against certain keywords, and then it just drops off on other ones. So, we've been really creative there.

The way that I think about it is if I can get to an email, then I can build that trust, because now I can communicate sort of one-on-one with that potential customer, with that consumer in a really cheap way, and then take my time building that trust.

I'm not trying to sell you today. I'm not trying to sell you tomorrow. I just want to make sure that this is a good fit, and the best medium for us to be able to do that has been email.

Then the other thing that we did just from the very beginning was try to win Austin. We're based in Austin. Our founders are known here. So, we each had a personal brand, if you will, and we really leveraged that in order to get Rocket Dollar sort of off the ground, and then just letting that sort of goodwill that we built up in Austin spread organically throughout the state, and then traveling to different conferences, making sure that we were there, that we were very present, very available, and that helped us a lot in the first year.

It was not a lot of digital marketing, and a lot of face-to-face interactions, which I think really helped us out.

Kathleen: I can appreciate that, though. I used to have an agency, and I live in Annapolis, Maryland, which is not a huge market. This is where my agency was, and I remember any time there came an opportunity that involved doing marketing for one of the small number of really large companies here in Annapolis, I was like, "We have to win this, because it's in our backyard."

You have to win your backyard first, first and second and last. Right? You have to win at home if you're going to have any hope of winning everywhere else, because it's the friendliest market, and it's a great place to test out and kind of hone your messaging and your strategy. So, I can very much appreciate that approach.

Now, did it really start with how you positioned the brand? I mean, is that kind of the first step, given that you're in this crowded marketplace?

Why differentiation was key

Thomas: Well, yeah, and one of the things that we knew that we needed to do was be a little bit different.

The name Rocket Dollar is, in and of itself, different from some of these agencies, or some of these companies, I'm sorry, that are named after these titans, J.P. Morgan and Charles Schwab and these...

We knew we needed a little bit of a different angle, and we needed to be just interesting enough to pique a little bit of curiosity. So, we did that.

So, just beginning from the name, beginning from our approach to how we build our website, and just the tone that we took, it all sort of came together pretty organically, just because of the way we are as the founding team, but it was very conscious to not be, for example, another blue and white or green financial services company. We threw out the purple, and everybody thought we were crazy, and we got a lot of pushback, and now it's kind of just our thing.

Kathleen: Yeah, can you actually... I want to dig into that a little bit, because this is something that I've run into myself.

I used to, for example, do a lot of work with law firms, and there was one law firm I worked with, and I was like, "Everybody else is going forest green. You need to go left when they go right." You do get a lot of pushback because it's like, well, everybody else is doing it this way.

So, I don't know if it's a fear-based reaction or what, but can you talk me through that decision-making process, and how did you get consensus around that?

Thomas: Well, luckily for us, there was only two of us in the room at the time when we decided, so it wasn't this big... We were sitting in a conference room of another startup that Henry, my co-founder, was a board member of, and so they used to lend us this conference room with a whiteboard so we could sort of sketch out our ideas. We were on, I think it was Fiverr or Upwork or something, getting our sort of first logo made after we decided on the name, and we got this huge swath of different ones and different logo.

One of them was purple, and Henry was like, "That sort of speaks to me," and I saw it, and I was... "Well, it's the one that stands out the most. These other ones look like regular financial services' boring logos, and I really like that purple."

, we kind of just decided right there in about 15 seconds that we were going to have purple as our primary color. Then when we went out to investors, and when we built our first pitch decks, and when we hired our first employees, everybody just... They didn't really like it, and then now it's just a thing, and everybody knows us as the purple guys in Austin, and it just very naturally became our thing.

Kathleen: But how did you make the decision to stick with it in the face of VCs and others who were saying, "We don't like this purple. It doesn't work"?

Thomas: Probably mostly sheer stubbornness, to be completely honest with you. I think we just got attached to it, and the pushback wasn't all negative. There were some people that really liked that approach.

So, we heard both sides of it, and we just decided that we were going to stick with our guns. I liked it as a marketer because it would just let me be a little bit different. On every conference that we went to, our logo is going to be a little bit different than everybody else. Everything we sponsor, it's just going to pop a little bit more.

So, from a branding angle it was really easy... I really liked it just because it was easy to see, quite simply. There wasn't a whole lot of extra thought, whether purple means anything, or whether it stands for anything. I mean, I know that it does, but-

Kathleen: Yeah. I think it stands for royalty, so maybe that means that you guys will be the kings of the industry someday.

Thomas: Well, that's what we're going for. That's what we should've told the VCs instead of the fact that-

Kathleen: There you go.

Thomas: But no, it just happened very sort of naturally.

Kathleen: In hindsight, do you think that taking that deliberately kind of different approach to visual branding helped set you apart?

Thomas: I think so. I think it got us just that first little bit of mind share. The name as well, Rocket Dollar doesn't really convey that we're in the retirement industry, that we're selling IRA and 401(k) accounts, so I think that sort of piqued curiosity at the beginning, too, and Henry, our CEO and my co-founder, he had a company prior that was sold to Goldman Sachs called Honest Dollar, and they did very small business...

It was a tech play on small business retirement accounts for businesses with less than 10 employees, that getting a 401(k) plan is very expensive. It was that, and so they exited, and it was a good win for them.

So, Rocket Dollar was just kind of the natural progression. Now you can take a little more risk with your money, and so rocket it. I think we decided at 2:00 in the morning that we liked that named and...

Kathleen: When all great names are developed. Right?

Thomas: Yeah, yeah.

Kathleen: I think in the case of my business, it was very late at night over a bottle of wine.

Thomas: Yeah. There was a couple of cocktails involved, and we bought the domain on his phone at 2:00 in the morning for like $1,800, and that was just it from that day forward.

Audience research and product development

Kathleen: Awesome. So, you established the name. You got the visual branding. What came next?

Thomas: So, at that point we started really just focusing on product, and so we weren't really thinking about the marketing in a traditional sense. Even though I'm a marketer, I was pretty heads-down with our product team, just building what the MVP was going to look like. So, during that time, we also had the ability to sit down with a lot of people around Austin and sort of generate that first sort of list before we launched.

So, we really just focused on product, and then on just communicating with our stakeholders, and we did the classic "download your email list off of LinkedIn," and just start communicating what you're doing, seeing if there's interest, asking questions, sitting down with a lot of potential customers in Austin.

The coffee shop across the street, by the end of those two or three months, they already knew to have our coffees ready. So, we just talked to a lot of people and asked them what part of our product resonated, what part scared them, what part they were excited about, and really focused on getting our messaging through that, listening to people that I'd sold these accounts to prior, that I knew were customers of the last company that I worked for, and also people that just were interested in sitting down with us.

So, it was just really kind of a month-long listening campaign, if you will, to sort of determine what our voice was going to be.

For example, a lot of people in this specific niche are very anti-Wall Street, and so they take a very negative tone, a very anti-government tone, very fear-based tone that resonates with a certain audience, and it works because I've sold these accounts that way before.

I didn't want to be that company with that tone and that negativity, and so it was really more about building an empowerment sort of message and sort of a... This is going to sound really cheesy, but a "reach for the stars with your retirement dollars" message, and that resonated really well with everyone I talked to, not just people that would've liked the anti-Wall Street or people that really thought that this was too risky, but they liked that tone.

So, once I heard that enough, I knew that that was sort of going to be our voice for when we started going outside of our little bubble in Austin, and it's worked. We get really good feedback on how we approach our messaging.

Kathleen: It's really interesting that you bring up that choice of taking a fear-based or a positive approach to messaging. I've done some research into this, and I've been fascinated by it, and there's a lot of data from particularly the public health space, that while fear-based messaging can work, positive messaging that taps into positive emotions is so much more effective, especially over the longterm.

It goes back to antismoking campaigns, and I think it's really interesting because right now we're kind of coming full circle where they're using these pictures of people with tracheotomies and disfigured faces to try to convince people not to smoke. The most effective antismoking campaign was the Truth campaign, and it's because they realized that if you want to keep kids from starting to smoke, the whole reason they start to smoke has nothing to do with them not understanding the health implications. It has everything to do with them wanting to rebel against their parents.

So, if you make it, "Hey, rebel against Big Tobacco that's trying to control you," then they're like, "Yeah, I'm going to stick it to Big Tobacco and not smoke." That actually worked, as opposed to, "You're going to get black lung disease. You're going to need to have surgery, et cetera."

So, then they did the same thing with heart bypass patients, what got them to make healthy changes over the longterm, and it was all more positive messaging.

So, it's just interesting from a marketing standpoint that so many industries continue to use the fear-based messaging, I think because it is kind of easier, but I don't know, what my observation has been, that the ones that tap into the more positive stuff, those are the companies and the brands that actually build the most loyal following over the longterm, because that's what people really climb onto, and they want to be a part of a movement.

Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. Even at its most basic level, it's just who we are as people, the people that work at Rocket Dollar. So, I'm kind of Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky. I come into the office with a big stupid smile on my face every day, and I'm not good at fear marketing because that's just not who I am.

Building trust through personalization

Thomas: So, it was also really easy for us to take this tone, just because it's our natural sort of way of existing, and I think that having that sort of authenticity early in our marketing, well, early and to this day, really helps us because it's very clear that there's people at the other end of our emails and of our messaging.

I mean, I sign our emails. Our marketing emails, I sign them personally, or Henry does, or somebody does, because we want to make sure that there's people. We plaster our faces on our own website all over the place so that you can see who you're interacting with, who you're talking to on the phone, who is running the company that you're trusting with your retirement dollars.

I mean, all of that is really important, especially in the retirement space when you're going up against these big brands like Fidelity or Charles Schwab or whatever.

Kathleen: Yeah. I love that, that whole concept of personalizing it to transfer the trust.

Getting into the audience's email inbox

Kathleen: From what I understand, the company is under two years old, and it sounds like you spent the better part of the first year really developing the product, nailing down the messaging, et cetera, and then you talked about how then it became all about getting into somebody's email inbox.

So, can you pick apart for me what approaches have you taken to that, what has worked really well? Because obviously, you're going after a big audience in the post-Austin kind of world. How do you go out to a cold audience and make it into their inbox?

Thomas: Sure. Well, it's been fast. I mean, from when we sort of looked outside of Austin to having customers in all 50 states was a couple months. So, it went really fast.

So, there is a natural sort of group of people looking for this product, and so at the beginning it was just capturing people that already knew that this was something they wanted to do, and it was going directly after our competitors on paid search, for example, and just capturing sort of the top of the funnel. Well, it would really be the middle of the funnel, because they already were aware. They were already educated. It was just a decision-making process.

So, we were really good at capturing those people because the other people in this space, frankly, are just a little bit behind us on the tech and on the cost and all that, so it was pretty easy.

Kathleen: Wait. Now, can you explain that a little bit? Because I think that's easy to say, but this is a challenge a lot of people have. This is an industry where your competitors are very well established. I'm sure the bid price for the keywords is really high. So, how exactly did you beat them at the paid search game?

Thomas: Sure. Well, it was actually just going a little bit on longer-tail keywords, because the Charles Schwabs, the Fidelitys, they don't do exactly what we do, in that they don't sell you an account that allows you to invest in real estate or in stocks and bonds.

So, whenever we go a little bit deeper into the keywords, the volume's actually much lower, and the keywords are much cheaper. So, if we were just bidding IRA, and then you're going to get all the big boys, and that's going to be a $15, $20 keyword. I mean, it's going to be ridiculous.

Kathleen: Did you go after that at all, those short-tail keywords?

Thomas: No, no. We couldn't afford it at all. The people that are searching for that are thinking about a Charles Schwab or a Fidelity account anyways. That's what they want. They want the stocks and bonds.

But when you go a little bit further, then there's the people looking for, "Well, can I do real estate in an IRA? Can I do startups in an IRA, or investing in cryptocurrency through an IRA?" So, then you get to those, and yeah, the volume is lower, but the price is also lower, and frankly, it was more than we could handle. We weren't ready to scale and hit hundreds of accounts a month or thousands of accounts a month.

So, it was good for us to be able to test that sort of slowly before really pouring gasoline on the fire. It was also a more educated audience because they knew that they wanted a self-directed account, and then we weren't going up against Charles Schwab. We were going up against Pensco Trust Company or Equity Trust, or some of these that as soon as you see their reviews online, it's pretty clear that we're going to just beat them on customer service, which is really where we do beat a lot of these people at, and our price point is significantly lower because, like you mentioned earlier, we're a SaaS play, not a service company.

Kathleen: So, what percentage of your new contacts comes from paid search, roughly?

Thomas: Probably about half.

Kathleen: Okay. So, these people convert on an ad. They get into your database, and then you're putting them into email drip flows. Is that right?

Thomas: Yeah. I mean, someone comes to our site, and we don't really have just plain lead captures. We really just have a signup button, and so that's our first lead gen, basically, tool.

At that point, if they do not finish buying an account, then they come into sort of a short-term nurture that then turns into a long-term nurture after about a month, and then it goes into a newsletter list.

So, we've found that if people... Because of the sort of mid-funnel group that we're really heavily going after in the paid search, they're already aware, they're already educated, if they don't convert within three days, it's going to be... They will convert.

A percentage of them does convert, and it's a high percentage. It's going to be probably a month to three later, and that's simply because whenever you buy an account from us, you self-direct your money.

So, if they don't have an investment in mind, they don't set up the account until they knew what they're going to do. So then really, it's just about staying top of mind in this space so that whenever something does come across that they want to do, it's just an automatic reaction that, "Hey, those Rocket Dollar guys, I'll just go set up my account there. It'll be easy, cheap, whatever, and then I'll make my investment."

So, I'm really just more focused on staying sort of relevant, providing value, talking about the space, talking about different investment types, and then people convert naturally once they decide it's something to do.

The thing that really does not work well for us is the hard sell, because people, the minute you start trying to do a hard sell on a retirement account, people lose trust, and then it's just very transactional, and it's not really... You lose, and we found that out pretty early.

So, it's just providing content, being top of mind, staying in touch, and people convert naturally.

Email lead nurturing

Kathleen: Is there something you're doing in those email nurture sequences or in your newsletter to really keep people engaged? Because I do find for myself at least, if I show that initial interest, I convert on something, but if it is that two-to-three-month period, and I'm not ready to sign up, I get very highly likely to unsubscribe unless something is really, really delivering value, because I don't like my inbox being cluttered by things that are not really worth it.

Thomas: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely, and I'm the same way. One of the big investments that we've made is on educational content. So, we share a lot of blogs, a lot of webinars that we're on sometimes. We've launched our own podcast that's growing pretty quickly.

So, I think as long as we provide educational content and really go for those light bulb moments with people where, "Oh, I didn't know that. That's cool. Let's see what comes next week or next month or whatever," as long as we share something that resonates and a little bit of a longer form, not just get a hundred dollars off emails. Those are really annoying. But we spend a lot of time and energy creating content that we think will resonate.

Our unsubscribe rate is below half a percent, so it's really working, and we write about what we're reading or learning in that moment.

So, it really kind of happens organically, what we choose to share, especially in our newsletters.

Our nurture emails are a little bit more permanent. We don't edit them that much. But our newsletter and our blog is really just sort of what the team is interested in that week. So, that's worked, and I think we'll continue to do that.

Channel marketing and referrals

Kathleen: Now, you mentioned about half of your new contacts come from pay-per-click. Where does the other half come from?

Thomas: Yeah. So, the other half, we spend a lot of time with partners, so people that are raising money for their own projects. So, it could be anybody from a real estate investor raising a small syndicate fund to an entrepreneur that's raising a fund, or that's raising money for their own startup, or there are some bigger partners.

So, for example, Gemini in the crypto world, Fundrise, sort of these investment platforms, we go to them and say, "Hey, to tap into another pool of funds, did you know that people can invest in you through an IRA? Send them to us. We'll set up the account for them, and then you get their money as an investor."

So, that's worked really well for us, too, on the brand-building side because these trusted sources are referring us business because we're taking care of their investors.

As long as we continue to take care of other people's investors, we really win there.

That, I would say, is about 25% of our business. Then the other 25% of our business is customer referrals. So, our own customers are telling people about us, and that's working really well.

We do have a referral campaign that kicks off about 60 days after someone purchases, make sure that their account's funded, that they've made an investment, at which point we do circle back and say, "Hey, if there's anybody in your audience that you think would be interested in this, here's some material that you can share. We'd really appreciate it."

The cool thing about these accounts is that it's, I think, the only retirement account that people talk about with their friends over the dinner table because they feel really smart when they bought a rental property with their IRA. So, it's natural that our customers share it, and it's... Yeah.

That accounts for about 25% of our business, is just our referral campaign.

Kathleen: Yeah. It's a lot more interesting than saying, "Yes, I am 30% invested in a low-risk bond fund." No, no, no. I don't want to hear about that.

Customer Facebook group

Thomas: Yeah. No, it's definitely something that people like to talk about.

We have a really great customer-only Facebook group where people talk about what they're doing, where people share ideas, where people ask us questions. So, our team is in there moderating it all the time, and it's kind of the, "Oh, you don't have anything to do for an hour? Let's go check what's happening in the Facebook group." People are sharing some really cool stories.

So, we market that a little bit, where you get access to this investor group. So, people like that education, and that group sort of sparks creativity for a lot of our customers, and I think that that really has been a good thing for us to do.

Kathleen: That's interesting, because I guess... Correct me if I'm wrong, but are there many other companies like yours or in the industry that are tapping into Facebook groups? I don't get the sense that there are.

Thomas: In my experience, no, and I've bought accounts from most of our competitors, just testing out their processes, seeing what's going on and what's not, what they're doing well, what they're not doing well, and then comparing it to what we're doing well and not well, and no, I've never been invited to a Facebook group.

Kathleen: Yeah. It's also interesting, too, because... This could be my lack of knowledge speaking, but from the limited knowledge I have of marketing in the financial industry, you have FINRA and SEC guidance on what you can and cannot say yourself, but I imagine in the Facebook group your customers can say anything, pretty much. Is that right?

Thomas: Yeah. Yeah, they can anything they'd like, and they do. But one of the advantages that we have is as a... I mean, technically we are a third-party administrator, so we are really handling paperwork. We're not advising. We're not investing. We're not touching money. So, we have a little bit more leeway in what we can say than a traditional financial services company.

I mean, we cannot advise, but we can... Most of our customers aren't looking for us to advise. What they're looking for is if we come across a deal that we think they'd be interested in, a lot of times we'll share just if we have a personal relationship with that customer, which a lot of times we develop that relationship, and we can speak to the legality of whether it's an allowed transaction with the IRA, because that's a pretty clear yes/no.

That's sort of where we keep it, but we'll talk about... If I make an investment through mine, I'll post it in the Facebook group and say, "Hey, I thought this was cool. I did it. If anybody else wants to participate, there it is."

So, it's pretty crazy how much money moves around just off of those little posts that we put on that group. Our partners, luckily for us, are realizing that we're tapping into almost 10 trillion dollars worth of IRA money, and that there's some significant funds there for their projects.

What makes Rocket Dollar's channel marketing strategy successful

Kathleen: That's interesting. So, the partners interest me because I've talked with a number of different people on this podcast about channel marketing strategies, and I think this sounds like a channel marketing strategy, but with a twist. Fair to say that that's really what it is?

Thomas: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, we market directly to partners to try to get them in our... I mean, we have a whole separate funnel for partners and a whole separate section of the website for our partners where they can learn about raising money through IRAs with the goal really being of them referring us customers.

What we tell them is, "Hey, look. It's available. You don't have to know all that much about it. You have to know that you can do it. Send them to us. We'll educate them. We'll let them know what needs to happen. You don't need to work that hard. Let us work hard, and then the end result is that you get your deals funded faster, and your investors will be taken care of."

Kathleen: It's funny that you put it that way because I've been actually a reseller, a value-added reseller in a number of channel programs, and when I talk with people about what I think, at least from that side of the equation, makes a great reseller program, it is the programs that make your life really easy as the reseller.

So, I was a HubSpot partner for 11 years, and they have an amazing partner program, and it's because they make your life so easy. They spoonfeed you white-labeled content. Here's 10 emails you can use to nurture people. They put you through sales training. Literally, you can't almost fail, and that makes it such an appealing program to be a part of, and it sounds kind of like that's the same approach you've taken here.

Any thoughts on what it is that has made your partner program so successful?

Thomas: Well, I think at the end of the day it's that it gets... I mean, they're not even resellers. It just gets their deals funded faster. So, it's a true win-win. We get a customer, and they get money into their deals. So, it's not even that... It's just a tool for them to make their life easier, so it's like... The easiest way to put it is if they have to work less and I'm saving them time, and they're just getting their money faster. I mean, it's just really that simple for us, and we're not paying our partners. Maybe we'll give them a discount, but it's really just... We'll make your life easier if you refer us business.

Kathleen: Yeah, that is huge.

Thomas: Yeah, yeah. It's pretty simple, but it's powerful.

Rocket Dollar's growth

Kathleen: So, can you share anything about the company's growth in the last two years, and kind of where you are right now as opposed to when you started?

Thomas: Yeah. So, like I mentioned earlier, we've really sort of grown in 2019, is really when poured a little bit of fuel on the fire. We have customers in all 50 states now. We've got somewhere around $75 million worth of IRA assets in Rocket Dollar accounts. Right now, we're really sort of continuing to grow in the double digits month over month, so it's going really well.

Then we're really focusing again on our channel partners, but some of the bigger ones. So, we're going after the big players, the YieldStreets of the world, the Crunchbases of the... Or Crunchbase. I'm sorry, Coinbase, the Coinbases of the world, where it's really a mega strategy where it's not five or 10 accounts.

It's a thousand to 5,000 accounts, and really hooking in to their APIs with our own so that it's just a seamless experience for them and for their customers to get into their deals with IRA dollars.

So, that's really sort of what's on the roadmap, and then we are also launching, about halfway through next year, a robo advisor so that if you don't know the alternative deal that you want to participate in, you can have your traditional stocks, bonds, mutual funds, inside of a Rocket Dollar account, so when you are ready to make that investment, your money's all right there, and you don't have to set up the account, or when you exit an investment, you don't have to transfer again to Vanguard or to Schwab. You can just do it all inside Rocket Dollar.

So, we're really sort of pursuing the whole account versus just the amount that you're going to use to buy that rental house instead of transferring... If it's a hundred-thousand-dollar house, people are transferring a hundred-thousand dollars over to us, we'd rather them just bring over the whole thing and have everything in one account.

So, that's really our product roadmap for the next six months to a year.

What does it take for a startup to succeed in a highly competitive market?

Kathleen: That makes sense. Now, if somebody is listening and they have a startup, and they're in the same situation you were two years ago, where they're entering a market that's very crowded, that has some very well funded incumbents, can you sort of boil down to two or three things that you think, based on your experience, are essential to do to be successful in that situation?

Thomas: Yeah. I think number one is win your building, win your block, win your zip code, win your city slowly, and it's a lot of manual or in-person interactions. It's really getting yourself out there, and then your company sort of follows.

I think that's number one, because you're not going to win on Google. You're not going to win on Facebook. You're not going to win on Instagram, because these guys are spending a day what you might raise for your entire seed round.

I talk to people, I met with a company the other day, and they said that they haven't turned on their full digital spend. They're only spending $350,000 a month.

Kathleen: Oh, amateur hour. Come on.

Thomas: Yeah, and that's what I spend in a year.

Kathleen: Right.

Thomas: Right? You're not going to compete on their turf, so you got to be creative and come up with your own turf.

For us, it was winning Austin, and your goal being not selling an account, but getting an email address, and that way we could continue to communicate with you without having to pay for it, if you will, because I can write copy, and I can write emails, and so it was really just finding the cheapest way to talk to people, and for us it was email.

The other thing is we really focused on the little things, on appearing very buttoned up, on punctuation, on editing, on grammar, on spelling, everything that you don't really think about, but the minute someone sees a typo on an email from a financial services brand, you've lost because you can't be making those mistakes if you want to talk about someone's retirement.

Kathleen: Right. If we can't trust you with our commas, how are we going to trust you with our dollars?

Thomas: Exactly. Exactly. So, those two things for us were very sort of fundamental, is winning Austin, and then just focusing on the little things, like spending the extra hour to edit a blog post, or spending the extra 30 minutes to lay out the email perfect, and those little things really added up for us.

We're still doing them. I mean, it's still a huge focus for us. We're still trying to win trust. We're still trying to win mind share. So, everything that we did in year one we're still doing.

Kathleen: Now, just to digress for a second, you mentioned something that we really didn't touch on, which is putting yourself out there. I think you briefly mentioned it earlier, personal brands. I think there are probably a lot of founders who are technically very savvy about the product they're building. They're very passionate about it. But I've met many who are very reluctant to put themselves out there.

Any advice as far as how to do it, why to do it, and what impact it's had on the business?

Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. We've been lucky that two of our three founders are very extroverted. Henry and I are comfortable in front of crowds, and Rick, who's our third co-founder and our CTO, is also very comfortable with people, and he's very technical. So, we got very lucky that we have three founders that are very willing to grab a microphone. It really doesn't faze us all that much. Henry already had a pretty strong personal brand in Austin because of his prior exits, because of his work in the 401(k) space for... He set up probably a couple hundred 401(k)s for different businesses around Austin, so he was very well known.

To be completely honest with you, I struggle with the whole concept of personal brands because it's not really my forte to really promote me. I'd rather promote the brand. So, it was something that I had to learn, but I think it's just practice and getting out there, and taking every opportunity that you can to grab a microphone, to speak, to talk about your company, and you don't even have to talk about yourself.

Just talk about your company, because that's what you're passionate about, and that's what you know, and that's what resonates with people. Start with your audience. Start with your people. Right? If you're very technical, go to technical meetups and practice there, and then just grow slowly, and you'll get more and more comfortable just by sheer process of repetition.

Kathleen: I love it. That's great advice for, I think, really anybody who's trying to build a company, whether they're the founder, the head of marketing, the head of sales, et cetera.

Thomas: Absolutely.

Kathleen's two questions

Kathleen: Well, I don't want to finish without asking you the two questions that I always ask all my guests.

Thomas: Sure.

Kathleen: We talk a lot about inbound marketing on The Inbound Success Podcast, so is there a particular company or individual that you think is really killing it right now with that?

Thomas: You know, I hesitated to say this because we talk about them so much, but I was having a conversation with our account manager at HubSpot a couple months ago, and they really kill it. They've actually recently stopped having any sort of outbound sales at all. They are only inbound now, which I thought was risky and also amazing. I mean, they must be doing it so well to be able to take that big of a bet on-

Kathleen: I'm convinced it's because their database has every single person on the planet earth in it.

Thomas: Oh, yeah. No, they know...

Kathleen: Yeah.

Thomas: No, I think they're doing it really well, and it's obvious that they're still accelerating, and they're still growing. I mean, we're on HubSpot. I love HubSpot. I'm a huge fan. Their educational content, it's fantastic. I think that they really are doing a really good job.

Kathleen: Okay, and then second question, one of the biggest things I hear from marketers that I speak to is that things are changing so quickly. Digital marketing is like drinking from a fire hose.

How do you personally, as the head of marketing and a co-founder at Rocket Dollar, how do you stay up-to-date on everything?

Thomas: Well, I'm sure like a lot of other guests, I read almost everything. I spend a lot of time...

I love Medium.com. They have some really good publications. There's one called Better Marketing that is fantastic. It has really good content. So, I'm on Medium a lot.

I read a lot of just news and a lot of sort of industry... The CMO section of The Wall Street Journal I think is fantastic, just because it's all relevant and timely.

Then there's three books that have really spoken to me that have been fantastic, and one of them is called Don't Make Me Think, and it's all about user behavior online and why some things work and why some don't, and A/B testing and all that. It's pretty in the weeds, but it's fantastic.

Another one is Lean Analytics. It's fantastic. It's very dense. It's like a textbook, but if you can get through that, you'll come out the other side just really able to sort of mix the creative and the analytical bit that's really important for marketers. I mean, the part that drew me to marketing was the numbers as much as the creativity, and I really like that balance. So, Lean Analytics is a great one if you're heavy creative and need some analytics help.

Then there's a third that's really just a guide. It's called The Art of Digital Marketing. It's a big, thick book that's fantastic.

So, those three, I think you could definitely get freelance clients just if you read those three. You could start working and marketing, and then just staying up-to-date with when Facebook changes their algorithms or when Google changes their bid process or whatever. That's just the sort of in the weeds stuff.

But yeah, I would say Medium.com and those three books.

Kathleen: I love those suggestions. Yeah. Those are three books that I have not heard people mention on here before, so I will definitely check those out. If you're listening and you want to find all those things, of course I'll put the links in the show notes, so head there to get ahold of those.

How to connect with Thomas or learn more about Rocket Dollar

Kathleen: If somebody wants to learn more about Rocket Dollar or wants to connect with you and ask a question, what's the best way for them to do that?

Thomas: Yeah. So, I set this up for this podcast, but if you go to rocketdollar.com/inboundsuccess, we can talk there, and then also, I set it up, just if anybody is interested in one of these accounts, we'll knock a hundred bucks off the setup fee if you use INBOUNDSUCCESS100 at checkout.

And then if you want to reach me personally, my email is thomas@rocketdollar.com.

So, feel free to reach out. I mean, I stay on top of that, and I'm pretty open on it. So, that's really the easiest way to get to me.

Kathleen: Great. Again, I'll put all those links in the show notes, so head there if you want to take advantage of any of those opportunities.

You know what to do next...

If you're listening and you liked what you heard or you learned something new, leave the podcast a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. That helps us a lot get in front of new listeners.

And of course, if you know somebody else doing kick-ass inbound marketing work, tweet me @WorkMommyWork, because they could be my next interview.

Thanks so much, Thomas.

Thomas: Cool. Thank you, Kathleen. I really enjoyed it.

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