Justin Christianson | Bull Riding, Optimizing Conversion Rates, and Scaling A Digital Business
Smart Business Revolution

Justin Christianson is the Co-founder and President of Conversion Fanatics, a conversion rate optimization company. They work with companies to help them increase conversion and marketing performance. Justin is also the Author of Conversion Fanatic: How To Double Your Customers, Sales and Profits With A/B Testing. He is a former pro bull rider-turned-digital marketer.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Justin Christianson, the Co-founder and President of Conversion Fanatics, about his background as a bull rider and how he built a digital marketing company. Justin also talks about some of the challenges he faced growing his business, how he helps clients optimize their conversion rates, and the future of e-commerce. Stay tuned.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • How Justin Christianson got into bull riding as a kid and how that influenced his life and business
  • Justin’s journey into digital marketing and how Conversion Fanatics was born
  • What has led to the success of Justin’s partnership with his friend?
  • Did Justin’s niche make it difficult to get clients?
  • The challenges Justin has faced building his business — and the types of clients he turns down
  • How Justin helped a fitness client optimize their conversion rates
  • The types of companies Conversion Fanatics focuses on and what Justin is excited about for the future of e-commerce 
  • Justin talks about the peers he respects and shares his contact details

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of this show. Check out some of our past interviews with smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of companies ranging from Netflix to Kinkos’, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, lots of great episodes for you to check out, and I’m also the co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners so their ideal prospects. And I want to give a quick shout out to one of my past guests, Marty McDonald, of Bad Rhino. He recommended today’s guest, who is Justin Christianson. He’s a former, I’m gonna call him. pro bull rider. He might take issue with that description. He’s got a great story about riding bulls, partially for a living, turned digital marketer. He’s also the Co-founder and President at Conversion Fanatics, which is a conversion rate optimization company which if you don’t know what that is, you gotta listen to this episode because it is incredibly important in today’s digital world that we live in. They’ve worked with a few companies you may have heard of like Burt’s Bees for new life, Kelly Valley, Lumber Liquidators, Ministry of Supply, and many more helping them to increase conversion and marketing performance. He’s also the author of Conversion Fanatic: How To Double Your Customers, Sales and Profits With A/B Testing. And I just absolutely love this business name. So we’re gonna ask them about that as well how it got its name. 

But this episode is brought to you by Rise25 Media where we help b2b businesses to get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships, but done for you podcast and content marketing. If you’re listening to this, and you’ve ever thought, Should I start a podcast for my business? We say yes, go to rise25media.com. You’ll learn about why it’s one of the best things you ever do for your business. Alright, Justin, such a pleasure to have you here today. And first, let’s start with bull riding. You grew up in the bull riding capital of the world. Not really North Dakota, I’m not sure exactly how you got so into bull riding at a young age in North Dakota. Tell me how you got into that.

Justin Christianson 2:28

Yeah, I actually grew up in a small farming community in rural North Dakota. And you know, we had cows and horses and all of those things. My dad was a former rodeo law writer before even my time, and just some friends had mutual agreements in kind of interests, and we just started riding steers and anything we could pretty much put a rope on and climb on their back, we were riding them. And that kind of morphed into when I was about 13 into competitive bull riding. So I started entering rodeos and competing and I’d spent the better part of you know, nine years until I got hurt and put in the hospital for a week. They’re gonna ambulance ride all that fun stuff that happens when you climb aboard animals that are bigger than you.

John Corcoran 3:14

So what happened you got on and

Justin Christianson 3:17

ended up having to go to surgery and spent six nap days in hospital. Wow. So that was my last one in 2001 I think was my last bull ride. So yeah,

John Corcoran 3:29

I remember it happening or is it? Oh yeah. Remember

Justin Christianson 3:31

all that? I remember the ambulance ride. I remember talking to the doctors and nurses getting wheeled. I remember all of it. So yeah, I definitely remember all that. But that morphed into, you know, competing in bull riding and really what that did for me that kind of catapulted my business career too and tied it back to business. You know? Yes, it is kind of cool talking about bull riding, but my mom actually said it best she said it, it really gave you a ton of confidence. And it kind of took me from a I guess just kind of go with the flow kind of guy to being a little more assertive and, and having that confidence to kind of step into in a situation as you know, it’s not just for something to do as a ball rider you know, you’re you’re having to go in and give it your all just like any other type of athlete but yeah, so that that ended in a hospital stay and my dad basically saying that. I’ll never talk to you again if you ride bulls again. So

John Corcoran 4:33

So was it the hospital stay or is it what your dad said to you that led you to stop doing it?

Justin Christianson 4:39

Oh, it was, I mean, it was a hospital stay. I just didn’t have any desire after that one. Yeah, I mean, I did. It’s kind of an adrenaline rush. So just like any extreme sport, right. And yeah, I just couldn’t take any more of them because the many months of recovery and all that went into it right for you. For what? You know, it wasn’t that I wasn’t getting rich being a bull rider, that’s for sure.

John Corcoran 5:04

Yeah. Right. So, but certainly I can see how, you know, if you strap yourself onto a what is a 2000 pound or whatever, 5000 pound animal that’s really pissed and determined to get you all have their back that, you know, going up against some new potential client is not that intimidating?

Justin Christianson 5:24

Yeah, I mean, it has its moments, but for sure, but no, I mean, it definitely drove a lot of confidence out. And I see that carrying over, I never realized it really. But you know, my mom really said it the best just a couple years ago telling me. Yeah, about that.

John Corcoran 5:41

And so you get into digital marketing around the same time as before you stopped doing the bull riding? Was it after how, how a little bit after marketing 2018 super early days?

Justin Christianson 5:54

Yeah, I mean, 2001 ish, I got introduced in network marketing, actually, as my first kind of foray into it, which I figured out very quickly that I did not, like bumping into people at the grocery store and asking them if they wanted to make some extra money, found personal development through that. So I’m very grateful for that. But I found internet marketing and lead gen, and being able to What do you mean, I can just put a Page Up and back then it was a wild west. So you can rank for key terms in an afternoon, you know, so it was easy, whether you knew what you’re doing or not, which at that time, I didn’t. But we kind of moved up the affiliate ranks, still kind of in the network marketing space, and became number one affiliate for a company through internet marketing. And then I became a partner of that company. And I was doing a lot of

John Corcoran 6:45

probably a saw like this. This is our number one affiliate. He’s driving a ton of traffic to us, we should bring him in.

Justin Christianson 6:51

Yeah, so we came in, and I started working hand in hand with them and one other partner. So there’s three of us. And we grew it like 450%, the first year, and now they’re like, almost 200%, next year. Together, and, you know, did some amazing things. We did the million dollar product launch, you know, we did all of those fun things that come about. And you know, I was always publishing some information about split tests. And I was always fascinated about what makes people tick. And they’re buying, you mean, I can change one little thing. And it’ll make them do more of what it is that I want them to do, or less, you know, in the fascination of the psychology of buying. And then desired actions and on the internet just was really fascinating to me. So well, I’m about I guess it’s about 12 years ago, now, I decided my time was done there. Just wasn’t loving it anymore. So I sold my partnership back to my partners and kind of went out on private consultancy doing implementation optimization kind of stuff, setting up landing pages and helping people really dial in their marketing campaigns and was a one man show for a couple years. And was doing it. You know, I was managing nine or 10 clients by myself and just an outsource designer.

John Corcoran 8:11

And boy, I mean, back then you had so few tools back then. I mean, 2001 you had no rules, no Visual Website Optimizer? No. Optimizely. No, no WordPress, even back then. But even 12 years ago, a lot fewer tools I imagined as well. 

Justin Christianson 8:28

Yeah, I mean, we had to home-grown a lot of stuff, build our own things, you know, autofab. But I mean, that’s the kind of the onslaught of things like Leadpages, and, and those things kind of started to become a thing. So it made it a little bit easier than trying to build it in Microsoft front page and uploading it to a server, which was all we had to do years ago. But yeah, and I figured out that, well, you know, everybody was preaching traffic at the time. So you know, they still do, yeah. But we thought about, well, what’s the other piece of the puzzle and what’s got us to, you know, create these multimillion dollar businesses. And that was the optimization piece. It wasn’t necessarily getting eyeballs on it, it was converting those eyeballs, right. And I partnered up with a longtime friend who I first met when I moved to Austin, and we decided to teach it and we figured out quickly that nobody wanted to buy it. And they were just like, hey, can you please do this for me? And with that Conversion Fanatics was born.

John Corcoran 9:28

How did you come up with a name? 

Justin Christianson 9:32

So we actually started out as ROI society and ROI masterclass, because we were going to teach it and how to get a better return on your investment from you know, your marketing efforts. And my business partner had this one page website that literally had the logo, so the same logo that’s on my jacket, the same logo that’s on our website. He had it made by his outsourced designer at that time, and had a one page simple website and he sponsored a marketing event. And he needed a name that wasn’t his normal company name. So he literally found the domain name. And it was between that and the name biz growers, which I’m glad we didn’t go with at the time, very generic. And I add biz growers.com. And I had a small little website kind of spun up using it for landing pages, etc. But yeah, we spun it up as Conversion Fanatics stuck with the logo and, you know, just rolled up our sleeves and got to work and fast, you know, each, we literally each threw 750 bucks into a bank account. So started out with 1500 bucks and an idea and a lot of grit and determination of not knowing what the heck and how to run a marketing agency just that we know how to market, right.

John Corcoran 10:45

And you hadn’t built a team before, but he has, so you’re bringing different skills to the table. And we’re polar opposites, really. So talk a little bit about how the partnership has worked out.

Justin Christianson 10:56

So obviously, when anytime somebody says partnership, they generally cringe a little bit, we’ve all probably had bad experiences in it. I know I have. And he and I have not butted heads one time in over eight years. Because we are so polar opposites. And because we went into the the relationship, like hey, we’re not going to have egos in this. We’re just going to do what needs to be done. And we’re going to roll up our sleeves, we’re going to use our best skill sets, we’re going to adapt, we’re going to evolve, we’re going in 50-50. If we don’t mutually agree on it, we don’t do it. Yeah, um, and we literally there’s not a time that I can think of that we’ve butted heads, any more than a couple a little bit of banter to tell each other sides of the story. Yeah. And then other than that, we’ve just, that’s that’s been it. So it’s been very unique and very rare, refreshing to have, you know, such a business partner that has a different set of skills, but also we overlap in some areas, too. Yeah. You know, both copywriters both understand marketing, psychology and split testing and optimization, but he’s more systems, processes, spreadsheets, I’m more go fast break stuff. And that balances each other out because I can go make messes, and then he makes it into a system and process gets the people in place to do it. And is much more of the manager side of things than I am.