Over $3.5 billion figures to be spent on affiliate marketing next year, and it should surprise no one if PeerFly swoops in to earn a large chunk of the money. This Internet marketing firm has been crushing it in a super-competitive space. “Screw success and aim for greatness!” says founder Chad French. That’s the spirit! Listen to the story behind this award-winning startup:
Who are you and what are you building?
My name is Chad French and my team and I are building a full-service Internet marketing firm called, “PeerFly.”
What is PeerFly? Who are your target users?
Depending on whom you ask, PeerFly can mean different things for many different people. If you ask any of our 50k+ publishers in any one of the 180+ countries and territories we’re in, they’d tell you that PeerFly gives them an income through the affiliate marketing they’re subcontracted to do. If you ask Priceline, they’d tell you we’ve helped grow their international online booking service, Booking.com, by delivering thousands of new customers. If you ask any one of the brick and mortar businesses we’ve helped move online, they’d tell you we completely redesigned their image, captured their brand, and managed their online marketing.
Our sole passion is online marketing and that encompasses a lot of services that we’re slowly building rock solid foundations for. Our main bread and butter is our PeerFly Affiliate Network and the other is our Internet Marketing Agency that we launched this year.
There are a lot of Internet marketing/affiliate solutions available – What sets PeerFly apart from the competition?
Other solutions out there may only offer one aspect of the entire Internet marketing paradigm. You might have one company who can build your social brand, another company may provide users to your mobile app, another might sell you leads, one may help generate sales on a commission basis, etc. However, we do all of that at PeerFly.
What steered you toward becoming an entrepreneur? When was that?
A personal passion of mine is entrepreneurship. I think it comes from the desire of owning 100% of my life. Paving my own way. Being self-made. Some of my earliest ventures were at the ages of 8-12. Everything from selling candy, door-to-door catalog sales, and even “first-name portraits” in a middle-school partnership with a friend.
These days, with most of my time taken up by PeerFly, I enjoy speaking to colleges across the country about entrepreneurship. I speak with the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour and I’m active in groups like the Empact Sphere, and the YEC.
You founded and built PeerFly on your own. Any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there? If you were to start all over again, knowing then what you know now, would you go the VC route?
I’ve got so many bootstrapping tips. I could probably write an entire guide on successful bootstrapping. I’d say the #1 most important piece of advice when bootstrapping a company is only take as little as you personally need to pay your bills. Stick with that salary until you have at least 10 times your salary in capital. Regardless of bootstrapping or not, your passion should not be about earning more profits. It should be in your product and service. Money will come as a result. It always does.
If I had to start all over again, going the VC route would still not interest me.
What have been some of the biggest challenges your company has faced, and how did you overcome them? Was it tech? Was it the affiliates? Employees?
I’d say our biggest challenge was getting industry respect. If we never achieved that, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I launched PeerFly in 2009 when the performance marketing industry was saturated with affiliate networks. Third party tracking platforms made it easy for an affiliate network to get started so they helped lower the bar of entry. So, if anyone wanted to take the risk of bootstrapping an affiliate network, all the software and turn-key packages were available online for a relatively inexpensive cost.
However, I think we quickly became popular because we didn’t use any 3rd party software and I believe that put confidence in people. Also, our publisher interface is the best out there. We get compliments on its simplicity all the time.
What role does technology play in the services you provide?
As I preluded to a bit on the previous question, technology is probably our biggest asset. In fact, 40% of my team has an Internet development background. I was the primary programmer for 4 years and I developed the PeerFly Affiliate Network platform from the ground-up. This past February, we hired our first full-time programmer and we’ve been able to churn out more features this year than ever before.
You’ve been named the #1 Best Network by Performance Marketing Insider, and earned a number of recent honors. How do you plan to stay on top and keep building upon your successes?
It has truly been an honor to receive so many awards and recognitions in just the past year. That tells me we must be doing something right! However, as popular as we might be, we’ve only captured a fraction of the market. Forrester Research says that affiliate marketing spending should reach over $3.5 billion in 2014 so we’ve got a lot of work to do!
We’re going to continue providing superior quality service to our affiliates and clients. We’re also expanding into more areas of the industry while still keeping it all under the same roof. 2014 will bring more monetization services for bloggers and webmasters, commission-based sale generation for online retailers, and new concepts in local lead generation for brick and mortar stores across the US.
Can you give us an example or two of the PeerFly Affiliate Network putting the “whatever works” philosophy into practice?
A lot of our competitors in the affiliate network space like to focus only on certain verticals (or categories of business). We’ve always believed in the “whatever works” philosophy due to our massive publisher base. We have so many different kinds of website publishers, affiliate marketers, ad buyers, etc. that we literally work in over 30 different categories of online business on any given day. Everything from online dating, to education, to financial, to legal, to travel and more.
If a client wants to work with us and it’s an industry we’ve never worked in, we’ll still throw their business at our wall of affiliates and see if it sticks. The best thing about performance-based marketing is that it’s low risk. Our clients don’t actually pay anything until we’ve generated new leads or sales for their business.
Your managers have been recognized as some of the best in the business. How do you find the right people for your company? What do you look for in candidates?
If you want to have a successful “Internet marketing company” you really need to possess a skillful team of passionate Internet developers, marketers, and business experts. That’s 100% my team. Additionally, everyone we hire must understand and fit perfectly within our work culture and atmosphere. If there’s something amiss, they’ll be let go. That’s almost just as important as their individual skillsets.
Your Twitter account reads “Family Man, Entrepreneur, Speaker, Blogger.” How do you keep these different aspects of your life in balance? Is it possible?
I’m married with 3 kids and I’m just 28 years old. Over the years I’ve learned how to separate work life from personal life but sometimes it can still be a struggle. Especially if there’s a big project or deadline I have to meet. My wife also works with the company, which I think is a plus because she understands when I have to work on the weekends or pull in some overtime at the office.
Since hiring a full-time programmer this past February, my family time has significantly increased and I love that.
What are your expectations for PeerFly, say… 5 years down the road? Are you eyeing an IPO? Would you ever sell?
I couldn’t imagine becoming a public company ever, really. I enjoy the exclusivity, private equity, and complete control. I do, however, believe that we will be in healthy, steady competition with all players of the online sales & marketing space within 5 years. Within 10 years, I want to own at least a quarter of the market!
I have no plans to ever sell PeerFly. My mind could always change though.
How do you define success as an entrepreneur?
I stopped thinking about what success means to me long ago. The truth is, people’s threshold of success always increases as they reach it. In regards to my own success, I will always feel like I’ve accomplished many individual “achievements,” but I will never feel satisfied with them. If success is reaching a pinnacle, what’s beyond that? I say screw success and aim for greatness!
Where is the best place for others to contact you?
Is there anything else about yourself that you’d like to mention?
I thought the last season of Dexter was horrible, especially the final few episodes. The writers ruined what could have been a Breaking Bad-esque masterpiece.