In less than a decade, Seth Besmertnik has seen Conductor, the company he co-founded at age 23, become a leading provider of SEO technology. Global brands such as FedEx, Under Armour, Siemens and GE utilize Conductor’s cloud-based Conductor Searchlight™ platform to drive search engine traffic and improve ROI.
With 300% year-over-year growth, Conductor has been honored as one of the fastest-growing private firms in the United States, as well as one of the fastest-growing technology companies in New York City. The company also has been recognized as one of the top places to work by Fortune and Crain’s.
As chief executive officer of the Manhattan-based firm, Besmertnik oversees product development, guides strategy and fosters corporate partnerships. We spoke recently with Besmertnik, who has a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurial management, about the birth and growth of Conductor, and about what the future holds for his company.
Can you tell us about your background?
I’m actually a first-time entrepreneur. I started the company about six or seven years ago before our industry actually even existed. At Conductor we helped create this industry using technology to help companies inform and power their Web presence. Today, we are proud to have over 125 employees. We just got selected as a top 50 fastest-growing company – private company – in the United States, and we've got a tremendous focus on culture, which has been sort of a big inspiration from my past and having some jobs that were not as culturally exciting as our company. And we recently got awarded as a top 25 best places to work in the United States by Fortune magazine.
What services does Conductor offer?
We've got a product and a platform that's designed to help medium to large brands help their content and products and services get discovered where people are looking, predominantly on search engines. So we are working with agencies, and we are working with the experts and teams at great brands, retailers, travel companies, financial service companies and really all markets in the B2B and B2C space, and really focusing on helping their content and their product get discovered with search engines.
How does Conductor differ from other SEO platforms in the industry?
I think it starts with our history. We're the only company in the space that actually was in this space before it existed. So we watched the development of online marketing departments and search marketing departments and, subsequently, SEO departments actually get formed. When we started the company, most companies were outsourcing their entire online marketing to multiple agencies and they had a director or a VP of online. That was their entire web marketing presence.
Today, the web marketing teams are now on the high floors in the building, and the web marketing teams are actually very robust and very specific, and have multiple folks working in multiple departments. So we've sort of seen this evolution happen and we've seen, as a result, how companies do it successfully and how companies run their SEO not successfully. And that sort of history and that foundation really gives us a very unique lens into building a product that really meets the needs of consumers.
So I think that foundation is our differentiator No. 1. The second is that our focus since our beginning has always been on solving real problems. We’re in a space where it's very easy to build products and build services that are chasing the trend – chasing the fad – or might be interesting to somebody in the media, but don’t necessarily take a customer problem end-to-end. So we've been very, very diligent on really listening to the customer, focusing on our customers, spending time with our customers, and trying to build a product that really solves problems.
And the third thing I would say that really differentiates us is our focus on innovating; our focus on making a product that pushes the mental mindset of our customers. We don't see ourselves as order-takers; we don't see ourselves as servants of our customer. We see ourselves as consultants. We see ourselves as thought-leaders, and we are constantly looking to challenge our customers and say, ‘Hey, you're doing it this way, but why not just try it this way one time? We've made a feature for you to make this new idea possible, and just give it a shot.’
And so I think our company is not afraid to push the limits of what our customers think they’re capable of. And I think those three things combined create a really nice experience and mix that is why we’re the leader in our space.
Can you tell us about some of Conductor’s successes to date?
Conductor has had successes on multiple levels. We've had successes on a corporate level, we've had successes on a personnel level and then we have lots of successes at a customer level.
I'd say one of the corporate successes is that we’ve been able to successfully raise over $30 million in venture capital, which is exciting considering we started the company with duct tape and bubble gum and student loans years ago. So that's sort of a big accomplishment and something that gives us the fuel to actually go out and build what we think would be a really large enterprise.
We just recently were recognized as one of the top 50 fastest-growing companies in the United States. We have a big focus on culture at Conductor. We think that in order to build the best product and the best offering for the marketplace, you have to have the best people. We're in this market that's incredibly competitive and there is sort of a war on talent, as you'll see probably in headlines in the news. So in order to win that war on talent so you can get the right people, so you can build the best products, you have to have a great culture.
We've got multiple cultural awards at Conductor, including being named the second best place to work in New York City by Crain's magazine and the third best place to work in New York State. So those kind of cultural aspects really are core to our business.
At a customer level, we're proud that we've got over 3,000 unique brands that are leveraging our product. We've got about five of the six largest search marketing and digital agencies that are now using our product as their foundational infrastructure to serve their clients. And every day we're seeing real material success stories of customers who started using the product and now it's six or 12 months later, or even 90 days later, and they're seeing meaningful results in the form of traffic increases and revenue increases, more brand exposure and, ultimately, having success with their objectives.
Where do you see the firm in five years?
The vision for Conductor – and the opportunity – is bigger than we ever thought it was going to be. I used to think it was big when we started, and today it seems even vaster.
We are very much in the ‘Wild West’ of web marketing. And while it has matured over the last half a decade or decade, most companies, if not all companies, have no idea where people are looking or what they're looking for.
Most Internet traffic starts at a couple of places. People go to places like Google and Bing [and] that's how they discover content. They go to places like YouTube and Pinterest to discover different kinds of content, and then they go to places like Facebook or Twitter to explore and see what's going on. And those are some of the dominant hubs where people go to explore the entire Web.
For most brands, they do not even understand what people are looking for before they even get to their website. Companies have little to no idea about when those kinds of explorations are happening and whether they are there. Is there competition there? And what can they ultimately do to be there in that conversation?
There’s a percentage of those conversations that you can buy. You can go to Google and buy paid ads, you can go to Facebook and buy Facebook ads and you can go to a myriad of different display advertising companies to get really nice targeted banner ads. But that's only a small fraction of the sort of intent that you can capture.
So, we think that the opportunity to help marketers figure out this problem of where are people looking and how do I get my content discovered wherever people are exploring, is sort of a giant problem and a giant opportunity. If you really think about SEO, it’s about how do I get my content discovered when people search in the search box. And that just happens to be the largest place where people go with intent to look for things.
But when you extrapolate that problem over multiple channels over multiple different content types over multiple years, it’s a really big problem for every company that cares about having a presence.
So, five years from now, I think we have a chance to be an enormous organization that is solving huge problems for companies. And for me, I hope to be at the front of the boat and taking the ship across the river.
In Part 2 of our interview, Conductor co-founder Seth Besmertnik talks about the ongoing revolution in the SEO industry, including the emerging importance of content marketing, and offers some guidance to startups and entrepreneurs.