Jason Rosenbaum | [Top Agency Series] Acting, Bartending, M&A, and Digital Transformation

Jason Rosenbaum 11:37

is on the east coast. Yeah, East Coast. Yeah, it was there were only really medical dispensaries and California and Washington and Colorado, I think of any time.

John Corcoran 11:47

So what were you selling through a website? 

Jason Rosenbaum 11:51

Right, so interesting, right? So the obviously no, no, no, no flour or any or anything like that at a time that was considered to be way, way down the road

John Corcoran 12:01

They’s send you to jail.

Jason Rosenbaum 12:03

sure. You know, but you could see, you could see the groundswell, and you can you can sort of see where things were going, especially economically, right, you could see that local governments were eventually going to need this kind of revenue. And, you know, we really tried to bring a you know, medical angle to it right very up and up. It was really about so the website was really like three, three pronged website. The first was like a white pages, or like a business directory, where if you were a dispensary, or you were maybe somebody who supplying a dispensary with security equipment, or plastic containers, or lighting, or whatever that went into dispensary is right, you wear a T shirt maker, whatever it was, like you can list in our directory, right? Then there was an e-commerce aspect of it, which was like a marketplace where we could feature certain items. If people in the white pages wanted their stuff featured in another section, you know, they could sort of pay for that placement. Again, this is 2018. So bear with us, right. And so yeah, and then the last thing was a strain library, which was actually really cool. From a functionality standpoint, the time where, you know, you could basically type in your ailment, or whatever was bothering you. And then it would sort of kick back to you a list of strains that you that you could then take to your dispensary and say, Hey, I’m looking for this or whatever it is, because I have chronic pain or I have insomnia or whatever it was that was going on with people at the time. So

John Corcoran 13:29

and this kind of functionality that you’re talking about here would be much easier to build today compared to back then you probably had to hire a team of developers to put that together.

Jason Rosenbaum 13:37

So it’s really interesting. So the team we want to hiring is my current team. today. My business partner today, wound up building, it was their biggest website at the time, but wound up building out this website for us, which I think was like $35,000 back in 2008, which was a big deal. Big deal to us, because I was funny as Yeah, as you can imagine, right. But, but yeah, that was actually how I how I was able to meet Kareem my current business

John Corcoran 14:02

planning person, and I’m curious to know Okay, so you’ve done a series of things that I don’t want to say they’d be inadvisable, but maybe some family members would frown on so there’s the BA in English there’s the years of of struggling actor bartending to pursue this passion from that to now the cannabis startup what it what is it like what are the discussions like with family and friends at this period in time?

Jason Rosenbaum 14:30

Family actually wasn’t too bad. I we had made our deal graduate college and they were pretty they’re very supportive. And I think they they believe in my abilities. Right? So I think for them, it said they’re very biased now he can do whatever so whatever he does, right? As long as he finished school friends were a little bit different. You know, I went to boarding school in Connecticut, went to Lafayette College here on the east coast and Pennsylvania. Most of my friends had very What I quote unquote, sort of normal lives and jobs after college, it was a lot of finance lawyers, you know, that kind of engineers, that kind of stuff. Not a lot of people were entrepreneurs. And so I think, for them, it wasn’t so much the what it was for it was usually economic concerns, right? Why? Why are you doing this? Why does just, why not just go get a job, you can go get a job, it pays well, blah, blah, blah. But I learned early on that, that doesn’t really work with my personality that well, right. And I done the corporate thing a couple different times. And it just just didn’t just didn’t vibe with what I was looking to do. And yes, there’s probably a part of me organically that probably looks for things that are again, difficult to achieve success with and and, you know, I tell people

John Corcoran 15:52

drawn to that you’re drawn to,

Jason Rosenbaum 15:54

if it’s not hard, then it’s not really doing Right. Right. So right, too easy to do. Exactly.

John Corcoran 16:00

That’s good self awareness.

Jason Rosenbaum 16:02

Yeah, it’s good. And I’m not one of those people, either who’s like a martyr is like, Oh, well, now I have a built an excuse for why I can fail. Because I’m not a big, I’m not big on ultimate failure. either. I am a competitive person. competitive with myself. And so anything I mean, I play golf for the same reason, right? There’s something that like, I’ll never master doesn’t matter how long I play, how many hours I practice, I could quit all work tomorrow, and do nothing to play golf, and I’ll never master that game. And by the way, neither will tiger woods or anybody else as great as they are. But that’s the draw to it for me is that it’s hard, and most people can’t do it well, and there’s always room for improvement. I think it’s that pursuit of that pursuit of perfection, quote, unquote, that really drives me.

John Corcoran 16:47

For some people, that means when they start to achieve some success, then they self sabotage is that a fear for you?

Jason Rosenbaum 16:57

Know, only because I’m a I’m a restless person to begin with. So like if I feel like I’ve achieved So, for example, you know, when I’ve moved from from place to place, or a different kind of business, different kind of business, most of the time it was because I really felt like I had kind of left it on the field and there really wasn’t much left to give at that point. On top of the fact, there really wasn’t anywhere for me to go anymore, I kind of taken it to where it was going to go. This was as far as it was ever going to go. And it was time for me to move on. The entity I’m leaving behind whatever it is, is going to go on, you know, that’s fine. So for me, no, I you know, staying idle is not I’m not good at that at all. So you know, as Crowd Favorite, certainly, as achieved more success in the last 10 years since I’ve been there. The challenge is just changed, but I don’t think they go away. And that’s part of what I like about it, right. And I think it’s sorry to bring the golfing back. But it’s like, you know, once you break 100, I’m not going to self sabotage me. So I don’t break 90 then I want to break 90 and once I break 90, then I want to break 80 and you know, so on and so forth. If I can ever break 70 I am quitting and going pro but

John Corcoran 18:07

so the back to the cannabis startup, you know, wasn’t it wasn’t a great time, there’s never a great time to start a startup or maybe it’s always a great time to start a startup but it nevertheless always a good time. You were doing it 08 to 2011 which was the financial crisis time period there. And you know, what I am happening with that business.

Jason Rosenbaum 18:34

It launched I think my business partner and I had different visions on on where to go and how to ultimately monetize it. And so, you know, eventually we just decided it was in the best interest for me to move on. And I had Fortunately, I think two weeks later, like I had mentioned, I got a call from from my partner now saying, hey, look, I’ve got this business. I know it can grow. I’m just not exactly sure how to go about it operationally. And I said, Alright, let me take a look at it. I took him out for a beer on the her most appear in in Hermosa Beach there. And then it was the second it was the second pitcher of beer that convinced him not the first one. But the second one that convinced him that I had an idea about how we can go about doing this. And so and so that’s how that’s how it went about. But yeah, I think it’s always a good time to start a startup. But I mean, I’m a serial entrepreneur. So I think if you if you believe in something, and you’re going to fill a void, and you’re going to create some positive impact and you’re passionate about it, you know, go for it.

John Corcoran 19:45

Anyway, so what did you see about Crowd Favorite or what became Crowd Favorite? Well, what was that? What did you say over that second beer?

Jason Rosenbaum 19:53

Or sec? Yeah, so I took a look at the business model that had that existed at that time. And it was you know, back when I found it. It was, you know, was a small company, it was maybe four or five people at that point. And basically everybody was working out of out of my business partners living room at that time. But the opportunity was clearly there both because I think he had, I knew that he had identified open source software as something that was definitely going to take off. And certainly content management systems being something that was going to be necessary, not just for the down market crowd and the individual, small business owner or whatever, but for the enterprise. And we really started to switch our focus more to enterprise services, and enterprise clients. And that was really interesting to me to kind of go up market a little bit and try and take a small company and grow it to serve the likes of, you know, some of our clients today. So

John Corcoran 20:53

right now, but in some ways, that was, it seemed like that was something brand new for you, given your background selling to enterprise is a kind of a different skill set, right did was that

Jason Rosenbaum 21:04

not just selling an enterprise, the whole thing was new to me. I didn’t know anything about I don’t, I don’t code, I’m not a technologist, I’ve never done a line of code in my life code in my life. You know, I think the that I like new things, you know, nobody ever really teaches you how to be an actor, you can take classes and, you know, you take, I had the luxury once of meeting a very famous and decorated actress, and I got a chance to ask her, like, what’s the secret secret, right, and she was great. She said talent, should you either have it or you don’t. And so you can take all the classes you want. And they’ll help hone you hone your craft, you either have it or you don’t have it. And so you’re this big block of talent. And if you have that talent, that’s awesome. And all these classes, and all these things, all this reading material, and all this stuff that you’re going to learn, that’s going to carve away and make you into something that’s a lot prettier, and a lot more polished than you are now that talent was always there. And that’s that’s sort of how I look at these opportunities, too. I mean, I think I think I’m drawn to things. I don’t know that well, because I like to learn.

John Corcoran 22:15

So leading to that, that’s a good segue into, you know, in 2014, you decide to do a roll up of m&a roll up, you buy a bunch of brick and mortar companies and roll them up into one not again, not something that you’d done previously. So what inspired that, and also, the thing I love asking people about is how did you learn it? Like, did you have mentors? Did you have coaches? Did you have peers that you were able to learn on? When you did that?

Jason Rosenbaum 22:42

Sure, absolutely. 100%? Absolutely. I mean, for all the bluster of Oh, I like new things. And it’s I don’t go in there blind, you know, you got to do your homework. And you definitely have to do your due diligence. Not just for you doing m&a, but in generally doing anything. Certainly having a father who, who was a CFO of publicly traded companies, and growing up in that environment, helped a lot growing up. In fact, when Kareem and I first got together, he thought I was an MBA JD, because of the questions that I would ask and the types of conversations I would have. I’m not either. So I do have you know, I do have a little bit of a business background. And I had come out of working at Cody beauty in their marketing and operations departments and had seen them go through some m&a. So I had some exposure to it will also say cream and had a bunch of exposure to m&a in the 90s in the early 2000s, through the internet, sort of boom, that was going on there as well. The WordPress community is a is a small space, you know, and that opportunity really came up. Again, it was a relationship there was you know, Alex king who had started Crowd Favorite in 2007. He was looking for somebody that he could trust and sort of handing over the reins of his company to that he had built after seven years, and we established a really great relationship with him over the years, you know, attending conferences, and I think, you know, it wasn’t just about the technology and the alignment there. But it was really about alignment of who we were as people, right? I big believer in that, you know, that whole values are important. They’re important in business, just as they’re important in life. And so creating those opportunities and creating those relationships were huge for us. And we were able to get that done in 2014. It was challenging the idea that all

John Corcoran 24:30

the same year, all the same year that you acquired these different companies or Yeah,

Jason Rosenbaum 24:34

we had done two we did two within six months of each other in 2014. One was one was Crowd Favorite out of Denver, which was obviously had legacy doing enterprise WordPress work and was I think the original WordPress agency for the enterprise. And then we also had picked up a design UX company out of Phoenix about six months later and was interesting about This is that both of them were brick and mortar, very cult of personality, very flat organizations. You know, you had the two owners top, both of whom, you know, one was a developer, one was a designer, but they were just senior people who had a lot of talent. Eventually had too many customers started hiring people became business owners, right? The same old, same old story. So yeah, we had to integrate those two, those two teams, within six months, I would say, my background, or the lack of a background, and it probably helped more than it hurt. Because I didn’t know what I didn’t know, which was probably good in in a lot of cases. But I learned a lot. And I, you know, we haven’t done another one we are, we’re always looking at In fact, I’m in conversations right now with a couple of potential acquisition acquisitions. But, you know, we take our time a little bit more than we used to. And I think, really understanding how things are aligned before you go into understand what the effort is going to be on the integration is really important. That’s what I pulled out of that experience.

John Corcoran 26:03

Now Now, in retrospect, would you do it the same way, would you do two acquisitions back to back like that,

Jason Rosenbaum 26:11

you know, I’m not an always or never person. So I won’t say never, I would never do that, again, I would say that, I would probably, I would probably take my time, a little bit more, you know, we were in a particular spot in 2014. So sort of coming out of that affer mentioned financial crisis, the digital world, it started to pick up again, and, you know, we see these cycles with our clients where, you know, every five years or so they sort of, they’re either bringing in production resources in house because they don’t want to pay vendors like me anymore, because we get too expensive. Or they’re kicking the people out of their out of their houses because they just don’t want to manage these these weirdos if they can’t understand anymore. And so it’s so expensive in such a time drain, just gonna go get a third party. So we were one of those cycles where they were looking for agencies, and I think, I think a lot of agencies grew, you know, so we’re sort of born at the end of the 2000s. For this reason two, because that was another cycle, where a lot of clients were like, I don’t want engineers, like, we’re not, we’re not a technology company, what do I need engineers for? Like, they’re weird, whatever, I don’t know what to tell them to do. Let’s go find engineers and pay them outside, right? And then eventually, that always winds up turning around, because we were talking about rates earlier, and people raising their prices. And as that starts to happen, and you know, clients, suddenly a client will check in and go, Wait a minute, I’m paying, you know, how much for a WordPress developer per hour. And if I am or to a via, you know, extrapolate that out to a 2000 hour a year, person, I’m paying how much a year for WordPress, you know, that kind of thing. So, yeah, but that’s, that’s the never ending cycle that we’re in. 

John Corcoran 27:49

So now in terms of Crowd Favorite, and how you position yourself now it’s interesting, you don’t call yourself a WordPress, you know, we’re not an agency at all. Now, you really is a focus on digital transformation. Yeah. And I’ve noticed that a lot, there’s a lot of companies that came out of this, like very bloody, red ocean of WordPress development work, which became very competitive. And then they realized they needed to kind of kind of position themselves differently. So talk to me a little bit about how you figured out how to articulate what you do today.

Jason Rosenbaum 28:22

Yeah, I think, I think look, I think open source software is something that’s just in our in our DNA to begin with, right, the opportunity of access and opportunity and democratize code. And so I think philosophically, we’re very attached open source software,

John Corcoran 28:35

I think, yeah. And WordPress is one of those. Yeah, 100%. But

Jason Rosenbaum 28:39

it itself as a platform has evolved dramatically in the last 10 years. You know, and I think, you know, a lot of people talk, oh, it’s 42% of the web, you know, this, that. And the other thing, and it is those things. That’s true. And I think with those kinds of statistics, and with those kinds of, you know, marketing, talking points that the platform has, it attracts certain types of clients. And I think for us, what we started to see is, the problems that we were looking to solve for our clients and for their clients. We started to find that that platform was great to a point, but that we could really start doing even more with things like Laira valid JavaScript, even doing things in other platforms, and other CMS is which aren’t even really CMS is anymore, as much as their application frameworks. And now, of course, the rise of the digital experience platform, which is very much a 25 cent marketing term that’s out there for all of us, that we’re all using right now. But basically, using our software implementations as middleware to connect complicated systems, while providing the front end experience that’s great and dynamic for whatever it is. That that client is trying to achieve, you know, I mean, websites in general kind of fall into. I’m gonna get killed for this because I’m not a technology person, but I’ll say it anyway, I think they fall into kind of three buckets, right? I think there’s sort of a marketing bucket and ecom bucket and a membership bucket, I think most clients are looking to either get more eyeballs on their website and have their website perform better, or they’re looking to sign people up as a member on their website for gated content, or whatever it is that they’re looking for, or they’re looking to convert sales through their website, right, in terms of e-commerce. I mean, there are probably other ones out there that I’m not, I’m not articulating, but I think those three are really the three that we see and that really drive things forward. And for us, you know, we’re a platform agnostic company, because Crowd Favorite doesn’t position itself as a technology solutions company. We’re a business solutions company. Right? So instead of saying, Oh, we work in this one platform in this platform, if it it has to fit for you, we’re going to, we’re going to force you into it, whether you want to or not, I think for us about three years ago, we started to make a little bit of a pivot more towards a consultancy and a strategic organization as much as a production house. Right? So let’s, let’s identify your problems that you’re facing, and then let’s solve and then can we solve your business problem through digital, I’m not gonna force you into WordPress. And also, quite frankly, I don’t think clients really talked about this all the time, I don’t think clients really care that much about the technology that they’re buying, whether it is WordPress, they just want that they want they want to press the button, they want it to work.

John Corcoran 31:29

It’s the old saying about the client doesn’t want you know, drill, they want a hole in the wall, a quarter inch drill, you know, quarter quarter inch hole in the wall,

Jason Rosenbaum 31:36

right? Right, I use the I use the light switch on the wall as by example, like the client cares about where on the wall it is, they care about the color of it, they care about the design of it, but they will never care about or value because they’ll never understand it is the complexity of the wiring in the wall behind the switch coming up from the street, and how that all works. Because at the end of the day, the only functional thing they care about, when they press the switch the light turns on. Yeah, that’s it. And I and that’s the same with us. And so when you’re marketing our kinds of services, getting a little bit away from just the you know, what do we do you know, what we deliver websites, but like you were saying earlier, it’s a saturated market, especially in the WordPress space, especially in open source, right. 

John Corcoran 32:16

So we’re almost, we’re running a little short on time. But I do want to ask you a little bit about just the talent acquisition struggle right now I know struggles the right word. But that’s something that a lot of agencies are focused on. A lot of companies are focused on right now, at this strange period in time as we’re coming out of this pandemic. We’re recording this in late August of 2021. So what are you guys doing in order to ensure you have, you know, good talent and retain good time at lower turnover?

Jason Rosenbaum 32:42

Yeah. 100%. So I think you hit the nail on the head. So there’s two aspects of it. Right acquisition and retention. And certainly, I think, you know, we’re going through the great resignation, I think they’re calling it right now. You know, I think for a company like us in our position, I think first, the most important thing to do is sort of to start with is sort of know what you’re capable of, right? from a financial standpoint, right? really understand salary bands, what can you afford? What can’t you afford? What are you willing to sort of extend on what you’re not willing to extend on? And I think for a company like ours, I don’t really try and compete too much on the dollar side of things. And the con, the salary side, I think we pay perfectly competitive wages, our turnover is not very high. We’re fortunate in that respect. But at the same time, I don’t think a lot of people are really looking for that. I think that what a lot of people are looking for in terms of retention is are they in a safe environment where they’re supported, where they’re given the opportunity to grow, where they’re challenged consistently, right, to do better and better work? And where they’re given creative, some creative license? Right, I think I think those are things that, you know, I think, especially development, design, development more, you know, it’s both art and science. You know, it’s it’s not just science, I think people for the building developers, sort of don’t have a creativity to them. I completely disagree. I think the best ones absolutely do. And they will solve those problems for you optimally. So, you know, for us, I think one of the things we just implemented into our system is we utilized our client acquisition methodologies and really mirrored them a lot for for talent acquisition. So, you know, there’s a marketing campaign that we have to put out there about what it is like to work here. I get I was saying earlier, just talking about what you do, we deliver websites or we deliver digital strategy or whatever it is, right. What you do, that will get you so far, right? But I think people buy people, I don’t think they buy things. And I think that if you demonstrate who you are, and why you do what you do, and how you do what you do, and again, if you’re trying to reach you know, millions and millions of clients, that’s not what we’re into, right. We’re trying to reach the right clients. That align well with us that we align well so that we can provide optimal value. So same thing with the talent, the talent acquisition, you know, how do you market to attract, I talked about Nike, a lot, like Nike doesn’t market their sneakers was the last time they actually talked about the laces, or like the soul or the material. They know, they talk about experience, they talk about what it feels like to wear Nike stuff, and then brand ambassadors that represent that feeling. So that when customers come by, they go, I want that feeling. I don’t even want the stick, I just want to want that experience. Right? And I think for us very similarly, you know, we, this year, we implemented, you know, charitable giving program that the company started, right, because we want, we’ve come through the pandemic, well, we’re fortunate, we’ve achieved some success in the last few years. We want to give back, and this is where I talk about digital and human, you know, tying together, it’s not just on the client side, but it’s also how we act and how we behave and what we do. And I think will attract people who will be like, Oh, I love a company that, yeah, they’re gonna pay me Well, I get my matching 401k guy dental, medical, like all that stuff, right? But they’re also good people trying to do good things. And I think that’s, I think that’s just as important. Yeah,

John Corcoran 36:10

that’s great. All right, I want to wrap up with the last question that I always enjoy asking, which is, I’m a big fan of gratitude. So if you look around at your peers and your contemporaries, in particular, others in your industry, how are you going to define that? Who do you respect? Who do you admire? that’s doing good work?

Jason Rosenbaum 36:27

Yeah. Great question. But first, I want to give a shout out, I think, and this is gonna be cheesy and T shirt material. But a big shout out to my team. All right, I think the people at Crowd Favorite I have, I’m so grateful to them. And they are my peers. Because as I mentioned earlier, like, I’m not a designer, or developer or project manager, any of those things. And without them, it wouldn’t be possible. And obviously, without our clients, it wouldn’t be possible either. So obviously grateful to them, and our strategic partners as well. When I look around the landscape of companies that are doing it, well are the companies that I sort of follow and are interested in. You know, Americaneaglecom, not the, not the clothing company, believe it or not, but American Eagle calm is another digital agency. They’re doing some really interesting work. I also appreciate how they’re marketing themselves, I have found that I’ve noticed they do a lot of television advertising these days, which is really interesting. And probably a byproduct of the fact that we were in a pandemic, and a lot of people are home watching TV all day long, and working from home. So pretty smart stuff there. And they also have a great, a great partnership and, and, and clientele stable that I really admire. And in the folks over a 10up are doing some really interesting work, not just on delivering for clients, but I also think on growing their organization and how much they’re paying attention to culture and talent, acquisition and retention. They’re doing some interesting things over they’re hiring some really good folks, as well. You know, I think our friends at WP Engine and we have a great partnership partnership with another hosting company. Li’s. That is, yeah, going through tremendous amounts of growth. You know, the folks over there, you know, Lisa box, Heather Bruner and the crew over there, just doing really amazing work. So you know, and they’re just great people this, they’re really just a lot of great people out there right now in this space. And I have to say also, I’m, I’m really encouraged by the community’s commitment to not just talking about diversity, but we’re actually seeing it come to light. You know, it’s something that we’re very focused on, obviously, inside of Crowd Favorite, but also just across the community. It’s nice to see a group of people and not just talk about it when it’s a topic that’s hot. But to maintain the conversation and stay committed to the conversation. You know, it’s the right business decision. You have more people solving problems from different angles, you’re going to solve problems better. And that’s really the business we’re all in.

John Corcoran 39:05

So, Jason, thanks so much for taking the time here today. Love the job. Loved it.

Jason Rosenbaum 39:09

Thank you so much for having me. 

John Corcoran 39:11

Where can people go to learn more about you and connect with you?

Jason Rosenbaum 39:13

Yeah, absolutely. Come check us out, obviously at www.crowdfavorite.com. Feel free to find me up on LinkedIn and Twitter. Sorry, no, Facebook. No Insta, no TikTok yet. So. But yeah, and obviously [email protected] if you want to email me or reach out any time.

John Corcoran 39:33

Perfect. All right. Thank you, sir.

Jason Rosenbaum 39:35

Thank you. Have a great rest your day.

Outro 39:37 

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at smartbusinessrevolution.com and while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.