A Startup’s Secret Weapon

John Livesay
Jul 21, 2015 · 13 min read

by John Livesay

A Startup’s Secret Weapon

Lessons from social media influencer Scott Eddy

Scott Eddy is a social media influencer. In fact, he was named by Klout as one of the top ten global travel influencers out of 74,000 people. He is also the Global Brand Ambassador for a new startup Zipkick. Scott talks about how important ROI is in social media and that the R really stands for relationship. He talks about how he got to 608,000 followers on Twitter by having the right voice that’s consistent and non-stop.

You are quite the man of the world. You have lived in Thailand, Spain, UK, Philippines, and Portugal and, of course, now the US. Tell us about how you went from being a stock broker to a digital nomad and such a social media influencer.

Well, my path here hasn’t been normal at all. I was born in Michigan, but I was raised in Fort Lauderdale and my father was a Fort Lauderdale police officer. So how I grew up in my mind, my whole life was mapped out. I finished high school, I joined the police academy, I become a police officer, get married, had the two and half kids and you know, retired.

My life was literally all mapped out. That all came to an abrupt end three weeks before I graduated high school. My father was killed in the line of duty and it sort of turned my life upside down. I had no idea what I wanted to do and, long story very, very short, about six months later I ended up going to an orientation for an investment banking firm. I got accepted in the training program and was a stock broker for ten years.

In my opinion, I try to look for the silver lining in everything that I do and if all of that wouldn’t have happened, then I wouldn’t be where I am today. As much as I would give up everything that I had and everything that’s in the future just to have five more minutes with my father, I’m grateful for one thing. When I was a stock broker, I learned the most essential skill that you can possibly learn and that’s sales. Because it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in anywhere in the world, sales is definitely the most important tool that you have. The combination of my sales skills and being raised in an insanely strict household…molded me the way that I am today.

What did you learn about selling from being a stock broker, because obviously the people who listen to The Successful Pitch realize they have to sell themselves and their ideas to investors. What are some of your favorite takeaways on what makes a good sales person?

I learned the most aggressive type of selling that you can possibly learn. I sold stocks over the phone generally to people in the beginning of the call that didn’t necessarily want it or you had to convince them. It was a very, very hard sale. I liked that, because I learned the most aggressive part. Now, I can just let off on the accelerator anytime I want. I think you have to be very genuine. I think you have to believe in whatever product or company or idea you’re pitching. If you’re not, I think it’s apparent. I think people can tell that you’re not genuine, that it’s not something that’s real and tangible and something that’s going to follow through with everything that you’re saying it will.

One of the messages you have on your Twitter homepage is “storytelling is the key to success”, which of course I love, because my favorite part of pitching is storytelling. Can you give us some examples of where you’ve used a story to create success for you and who you’re working with?

I use storytelling as an everyday part of my life, partly because of social media, but partly because I don’t think just saying what’s on your mind works anymore. Whether you’re pitching, whether you’re selling — I think everybody needs a little bit of story just for clarity, just to paint the proper picture.

It’s funny because when I was growing up and I’m sure when you were growing up, being a storyteller, meant you were a liar. It’s so amazing that today it’s one of the most integral parts of business and it’s unbelievable how the whole world shifts. How a term can just, again, be turned upside down and mean something completely different in 10, 15 years. It’s a very important part of the startup world for any entrepreneur out there. It’s a necessary skill that I think, even if you don’t have it, you need to practice it. You need to go to friends and family and say, give me 90 seconds. Let me try and explain this to you and then you tell me what kind of picture I painted.

“If you don’t have the skills to be a storyteller, practice it”

What I really love is storytelling used to mean you were a liar ten years ago, and now it means you have a compelling way to express your ideas in an authentic way that people see your passion and make it memorable.

That might be more than a 140 characters.

Yes, I’m sure it is, but it’s definitely a takeaway. Everyone, I’m sure is really curious, tell us how you acquired 608,000 followers on Twitter because, no matter what business you’re in, social media and getting a following and getting word of mouth is key to success and growth.

I have an insatiable desire for developing relationships. It might sound weird coming from my background as a stock broker and an entrepreneur that I have lots of success and failures. Money means absolutely zero to me, because I’ve lost everything I’ve had twice just because I go all in on everything that I actually do.

For me, it’s all about the relationships that I have and my global network. I just love dropping down into a new country where I know one person or zero and just building up a whole new network. The only way you can really do that is on social media. You get out there and you find out who’s having a conversation, and I chase those conversations. I don’t chase the big names.

I find out who are the most active people, just like when I came to San Francisco. I arrived here in mid-January. I’ve been to San Francisco a couple of times, maybe 15 years ago, but I haven’t been down here since social media took off. So I found out who was the active brand here, who were the active online magazines, who were the active individuals. What conversations were they having? Do they follow back? Do they talk back? Do they retweet? Do they share? These are the people that I’m getting into bed with, so to speak. These are the people that I’m following. I don’t care about the big names and the white check next to your name, your verified account. I could care less if you’re a celebrity. I want to know that you are a human on social media. Do you talk, do you have conversations.

I love it. Chase the conversation, not the big names. This leads us to another great story, which is Zipkick finding you on Twitter. Tell us how they found you and what Zipkick is.

I have been on Twitter since 2009, but I really hadn’t been active. I did what everybody else does. I setup a Twitter account. I tweeted a couple of times and said, this is just a Facebook status update over and over again. I don’t understand it and I’m leaving it. So, I went away for probably a year and a half. I really didn’t get super active on Twitter until probably mid to end 2010. So, I really have only been active on Twitter for maybe three and a half years, maybe four years at the most. But you know, I realized that it was a platform.

This is where the conversations take place. 94% of the accounts on Twitter are non-private, so they’re completely open to the public. So, if I’m starting someone that’s going to rival Burger King. I can go on McDonald’s, Wendy’s, any of the competitors. I can see how they’re marketing, who they’re talking to, what their conversations are. There’s no industry, there’s no platform in the world, where you can go and see the conversations of your competitors so out in the open like you can on Twitter. It just blows my mind. It’s amazing how everybody doesn’t take advantage of this.

I think that’s such an important point, Scott, because when you’re crafting a pitch deck for investors, one of the key slides is who is your competition.


And to do that research on Twitter is a no-brainier as you just described it, but I don’t think a lot of people think to do it, so that’s a huge takeaway.

Not only who my competitors are, but what they’re talking about. How active are they on social media. (The fact that you can) get the stats can just be mind blowing.

I built up my following just because I’m aggressive, following the right people and they follow back and I converse and people can actually see, hopefully, that I am human and that I have etiquette, I have manners. That goes along way in social media, because a lot of people don’t.

Let me point something which I think is so fascinating. Your childhood of being raised by a police officer, where manners were so important in the home, is now a key success to you getting 608,000 followers on Twitter. I love that so much and I love that you’ve learned that from your father. So in a way, his legacy is living on through you in Twitter.

Yeah. I mean, for me, it’s very important, you know? I don’t really throw people under the bus on social media. I would rather not talk about you than give you press, because bad press is still good press. So I’d rather just not give you any press, rather than throw you under the bus. I could have six million followers if I just sat down and crushed everybody all day on Twitter, because people like that. I would much rather have 600,000 of the right crowd, the right mentality. People that I like. Rather than six million of (conversations) just being negative all the time. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Getting back to the story, for the past three years, 100% of the opportunities that I’ve taken advantage of have found me on Twitter or through Twitter and then contacted me. So Zipkick is no different.

In mid-January the co-founder, Jason, who you’ve met, found me on Twitter and asked me a question. We went back and forth a couple of times. When I meet somebody that I click with right away, I like to translate that into a Skype call as soon as possible. Within a few hours we hopped on Skype and had a few conversations. At first they just wanted me to be beta tester for his app and it quickly shifted to “look, why don’t I bring you out here and you be our global brand ambassador?” Long story short, 12 days later, I was on a flight to San Francisco and I’m still here.

What Zipkick is, it’s a travel booking app. If you think Expedia or Kayak, they give you 4,500 results and there’s all kinds of advertisers and check boxes and scroll bars. Think Expedia, but also think Google and Facebook and think about if they all had sex... Okay, the baby would be Zipkick and what I mean by that is this. It’s a simplified travel search, travel booking app that’s starting out with hotels and then moving into flights later. But (the difference is) we give you five highly personalized results and nobody has (yet) given you the personalized service that you need.

Facebook gives you a personalized timeline. Everybody is going down the personalization route, the travel industry is still stuck at 25 years ago. They’ve been using the same model, the same search techniques. There’s a new site, there’s a new this, there’s a new that, but it’s all the same business model. It’s all the same search. Why not personalize something for you John, or for me, Scott, or for somebody else. Everybody’s search preferences are going to be the same but yet, if we all go on Expedia right now and look for a hotel in LA for specific dates, we’re all going to get the same results.

It’s a fascinating model, that’s for sure. I know investors love to invest in their team. That’s their number one criteria, even more than the idea. They like to say, we invest in the jockey, not the horse, so having you as part of the jockey and the team for Zipkick is really quite clever on Jason’s part. Because you are the secret weapon, the secret sauce, because of all the followers you have on Twitter. This eliminates a need for a huge marketing budget, because now when you’re tweeting something out about Zipkick, you have people who are travel enthusiasts who are going to be these early adopters use it. I think that’s really a great example of what makes you and Jason and Zipkick so smart in getting investors to jump on board.

I’ve got news for you. The real secret weapon in this whole process. I may be in the spotlight because of my following and my influence and my association with all the travel bloggers all over the world, but Jason is the real key to the driving force behind this thing. He is such a genius when it comes to this area and what I mean by that is this, I can’t think of any startup in the world that has ever used an influencer to replace a marketing budget.

I mean, think about this. If you have an app that’s coming out. I don’t care what sector it’s in, the most important thing when you raise money is for technical resources. To make the app as good of a user experience as absolutely possible. You gotta hire the best of the best of the best to have them on your team, because then you’re going to have the best app possible. But typically, how much of the money that you raise is dedicated to getting in front of eyeballs and marketing budgets and things like that. Anywhere from 20% all the way up to 70%.

Yes and you hope it resonates and with some of that money, the ads may never get clicked on. The new trend in advertising is native advertising, which is making it authentic from a blogger, for example. But you already have all that creditability with these early adopters, so it’s really smart.

Myself and Jason, but definitely Jason, are definitely a deadly combination when it comes to his mindset and his strategic planning. I mean, his way of thinking, we just resonate so well together with everything that we do, both in business and personal life. It just makes for a personal marriage, so to speak.

Well, it’s interesting that you use that analogy, because investors tell me time and time again they look for not only at who is on the team and what their background is, but how well the team gets along. Because it is like a marriage and they say the average marriage lasts 7.2 years, and when they are investing with startups, they typically go for ten years. So, it’s very important that they see you get along well and have a rapport and have the skills to deal with bumps that come along the road.

Yeah, it’s just a really, really good thing. Plus, they have a patent pending around the algorithm that gets the search. The whole business model of Zipkick, it’s just going to explode.

You certainty have your finger on the pulse of the travel zeitgeist from living in all these other countries and engaging wherever you are. Recently I read about KLM using social media for booking flights and being a source of revenue. They actually have people dedicated within KLM to engage with people on social media, to deal with things almost like customer service, and then from there, when they couldn’t get through any other way, when problems were happening, some people were trying to book connecting flights through social media. What are your thoughts on brands using social media beyond just the typical use of it?

Thank God 2015 came along, because these travel brands are finally starting to get it. I saw that article. I think it was because I tweeted it. They have a direct correlation of $25 million dollars a year coming from their engagement on social media and affecting their bottom line. Which is what I’ve been preaching for the past three years when I’ve been working with all these travel brands.

They don’t understand. Some of them get it, but the majority of them are still dinosaurs as far as the mindset is concerned. They just don’t understand that the ROI doesn’t come in five minutes. It all starts with a conversation. You have to be human. You gotta get out of the brand mentality and you have to have the right brand personality, the right voice on social media. You gotta be consistent and you gotta have non-stop conversations. Some of those conversations will turn into ROI. I always say the R in ROI definitely stands for relationships.

But wait…there’s more.

This post has been adapted from The Successful Pitch podcast. Listen to this week’s episode for more on the inspiring story of Scott Eddy and Zipkick.

Subscribe to The Successful Pitch via iTunes.

To learn more, watch my free funding online workshop.

As a funding strategist, John Livesay helps CEOs craft a compelling pitch which engages investors in a way that inspires them to join a startup’s team.

After a successful 20-year career in media sales with Conde Nast where he worked across all 22 brands in their corporate division [GQ, Vanity Fair, Wired, W and Vogue] and created integrated programs for clients such as Lexus, Hyundai and Guess, John won salesperson of the year in 2012 across the entire company.

Follow John on Twitter at @john_livesay. We welcome your comments at john@successfulpitchpodcast.com.

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