A pair of mates, both inspired by Elon Musk, Will and Andreas founded Longtail UX in 2013. Combining their experiences, one as an ex-Googler and the other a successful internet entrepreneur, the pair have transformed how businesses approach website optimisation and search marketing.
- Name(s): Will Santow, Andreas Dzumla
- Business name: Longtail UX
- Industry: IT
- Number of employees: 30
- Operating since: 2013
- Location: Balmain, NSW
What was your first paid job?
Will: Not sure if it classifies as a paid job, but allegedly when I was a kid I used to chop up my parents’ fruit, add yoghurt and sell it to the neighbours. Cost of goods was zero — my parents were long-suffering.
First semi-serious jobs was working the Beverages Bar at the MLC Centre as a 13-year-old, coaching tennis and working as a barman/deckhand on Vagabond Cruises in Sydney Harbour.
First “serious” job... I started an import/export clothing business at university, and was asked by the company that owned one of the brands that we were distributing to leave my business, join them and take on the brand manager role for the launch of Champion Athleticwear in Australia/New Zealand. I was in my mid-20s at the time and it was a great learning experience.
Andreas: At Google.
First part-time jobs was at a clay pipe factory in my hometown Euskirchen, Germany (very hot).
What made you get into your current business?
Will: In 2005, I had founded and was running a moderately successful Australian course aggregator, lead generation business (Career FAQs) for universities and colleges who were looking to match their courses with prospective tertiary students. In an increasingly competitive market, I was looking to squeeze more out of traditional SEO and SEM to boost margins and grow my lead volume.
Along the way, I met Longtail UX co-founder and co-CEO Andreas (in 2008) and he offered to architect and build a solution that fundamentally changed the economics of my business — in a good way — by helping me to “longtail” my website.
I took a leap of faith, and having seen my site traffic and revenue quadruple in a few months, I realised that we had the makings of a great product that we should take outside of edu and offer to e-commerce, travel, real estate, marketplaces and other large-scale sites.
Importantly, I also quickly realised that while Andreas and I brought different and complementary skill sets and experience, we shared similar core values and goals and so would make our business partnership a success.
Andreas: Met my business partner Will when I helped him and his developer implement a hard-coded longtail SEO solution into his website, based on my experience at a vertical search engine in Spain (post-Google).
That delivered four times the revenue within three months, many years after my original successful solution in Spain — so we knew there was something that worked and lasted throughout all the massive Google changes between 2008 and 2012, and that we’d be mad not to try to create a software as a solution to offer this as a plug and play.
How did you get your very first customer/client?
Will: A combination of being in the right time and right place with a great product that met a burning client need. Plus, of course, a healthy dose of rabid determination and some dumb luck!
The fact that this first external client was an Australian top five e-commerce site made the win even sweeter. But what gives me the greatest pride is that five-plus years down the track, this client is still with us, and that every year since sign-up, we have managed to increase the traffic and revenue we deliver to them.
Andreas: Pitching our solution to 20 e-commerce companies within our extended network in Australia. The second largest prospect was interested and signed five months later — then the sixth largest e-commerce website in Australia.
What has been your biggest triumph in business?
Will: Survival! And the fact that we have recently opened offices in the US and in the UK/Europe. And most recently, that our amazing team, alongside our wonderful Japanese partner, Sophola, has just launched the first “longtailed” Japanese client website.
Also, as a guy who struggles to assemble an IKEA chair, I’m very proud to be a co-founder of a business which has developed truly unique, patent-protected IP.
Andreas: Still being in business after six years? Biggest recently: We just launched our first implementation in Japanese (that alone), and one day after launch, our pages are ranking on page one in Google.jp for every single keyword we launched with.
Conversely, what has been your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Will: Invest in sales and marketing early and find the right people and channels. Don’t expect that a great product will sell itself.
Andreas: Hindsight is easy. We should have launched our product as a full self-service tool from the get-go. We’re now working full steam on moving all backend functionality into a self-managed SEO and SEM page tool.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Will: Surround yourself with smart, motivated people who share similar core values but who offer different commercial perspectives (and people who aren’t afraid to challenge you!). Listen to the market and don’t be afraid to change tack!
Andreas: If you want to succeed, take only advice from people who have succeeded. I forgot who gave me this advice, but every time I hear advice, I ask myself whether the person actually succeeded in that area — and it is mind-blowing how much advice is out there based on failure. Learn from your own failures, but from other people’s successes.
If you could change one thing to make life easier as a business owner, what would it be and why?
Will: I’d love to find the ability to switch “off” sometimes. That said, I also love being right at the centre of things — most of the time!
Andreas: Invent 48-hour days — or teleportation.
Who do you look up to in business and why?
Will: Elon Musk — to have created one wildly successful, industry-changing business is seriously impressive… But to have done this on multiple occasions across diverse sectors, and at times under extreme pressure — both financial and other — is truly extraordinary.
I’m also a fan of Richard Branson.
Andreas: Elon Musk for his convictions, spending all his energy and money on the things that he thinks matter most for humankind.
Every person who started a business, for having created something out of nothing.
What do you do to get away from work?
Will: Spending time with family and friends. I’m very lucky to have an amazingly talented and supportive wife and four great kids (plus a dog and two cats) and a wonderful, extended family and friends.
Andreas: Spending time with my partner and our three kids (under six — they make me forget about work in a split second).
Sports, ideally outdoors: beach volley, ocean swimming, rock climbing (that one mostly indoors though).
What is the best thing you have ever spent money on in your business (and why)?
Will: I’m not sure if this qualifies, but I’d say getting an office.
Working from home is a rite of passage for most start-ups (at least in the early days), but as soon as you feel that you can afford to take on modest premises, I would recommend you do so. Whether that’s a shared workspace or a simple office somewhere, in my mind there is an energy that comes from the physical act of “going to work”, which makes the work a bit more productive.
Andreas: My MacBook pro (same or Windows equivalent for the team) — work is so much more pleasant and productive doing it with good tools.
Name a little-known fact about yourself.
Will: I’m spatially dyslexic... And some might say I’m a bit obsessive!
I bought my first car, a 1973 Datsun 180 B (in British racing orange) for $600 after a poker win at college.
Andreas: I once sang in front of an audience of 3,000 people.
What is the funniest experience or encounter you have had in business?
Will: Having a bottle of water open in my bag that destroyed my iPad, and which I discovered just before I was about to deliver a major presentation to a dozen executives at a university… We managed to scramble and win the account — so it was funny in hindsight!
Andreas: Larry Page and Sergey Brin in bathrobes?
Maja Garaca Djurdjevic is the editor of My Business.
Maja has an extensive career as a journalist across finance, business and market intelligence. Prior to joining Momentum Media, Maja spent several years unravelling social, political and economic intricacies in Eastern Europe.