Jon Bast | [Top Agency Series] From Murphy Bed Sales to Finding a Niche
Jon Bast
Smart Business Revolution

Jon Bast is the Co-founder and Managing Partner of OptiAuto and T3 Marketing. OptiAuto is a website provider for car dealerships while T3 Marketing is a performance marketing agency that focuses on helping dealers optimize car demand. They follow Google Design guidelines to develop the most optimal websites in order to ensure great user experiences. 

Prior to that, Jon was a Senior Manager of Marketing and Traffic Acquisition at Autotrader US and Director of National Partnerships at Force Marketing. He also worked as an Internet Marketing Manager at Mercedes-Benz of Naples and was a Search Engine Marketing Strategist and Account Manager at Haystak Digital Marketing. He is an active member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO).

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Jon Bast, the Co-founder and Managing Partner of OptiAuto and T3 Marketing, about Jon’s experience building a car dealership marketing agency. They discuss the value of being part of business communities, how marketing for car dealerships has evolved over the years, and why Jon didn’t want to work in the corporate world. Stay tuned.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • How Jon Bast started his own marketing agency and got to work with a murphy bed company
  • The concerns Jon had as he built his client base and how he got into the car dealership space 
  • Jon’s experience at Autotrader, Mercedes-Benz of Naples, and the difference between working in-house for car dealerships and being an agency owner
  • How marketing for car dealerships has evolved over the years
  • Are there challenges associated with focusing on the car dealership niche?
  • Jon talks about the services provided by T3 Marketing and OptiAuto
  • How COVID-19 affected Jon’s business and what he did to support his clients
  • How Jon’s involvement in business communities has impacted his own agencies
  • Jon talks about the peers he respects and shares his companies’ contact details

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01

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. And every week I get to talk to interesting CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs,of a range of companies from Netflix to Kinko’s to YPO, to Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, and many more. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And a quick shout out to Jason Swenk over at the Smart Agency Masterclass podcast, go check it out. He does great stuff over there, he introduced our guest today. Jon Bast is his name. He’s the Co-founder and Managing Partner of OptiAuto. He also has T3 Marketing. They focus on working with car dealerships as a niche, of all different dealerships. But he has a funny story of a very different niche that he started in which we’re gonna ask him about in a second. He also is a fellow EO member, so active in Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), which is a wonderful organization for entrepreneurs, successful entrepreneurs worldwide. Go check it out. 

And of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25 Media where we help b2b businesses to get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing. We specialize in b2b businesses with high client lifetime value. So to learn more, get some inspiration and ideas, you can go to rise25media.com or email us at [email protected] Alright Jon, so I love this story you graduated from college and you can’t find a job so naturally say I’ll indent one for myself start your own agency helping other companies with digital marketing and you have a Murphy bed company come to you and first of all for everyone listening to this who had no idea what a Murphy bed is my grandparents had one so I kind of know what it is what’s a Murphy bed and how do you start with a Murphy bed company?

Jon Bast 2:23

Yeah, crazy story. So this is where I’m serving tables. I have no marketing experience except for a marketing degree and that really doesn’t do much except for it’s just more of a mindset that doesn’t teach you how to use Google Ads at all. And I am applying to job after job after job and couldn’t get anything because of course I don’t have any experience. So I said you know what, I’m just going to start my own work agency so I created a few services that I could offer. I didn’t know how to do any of it really. And then I created a website my company name at the time was magnetic marketing and nobody will probably believe me today but I gained my first two clients through Craigslist so I just posted my services on Greg Owl and that’s where the Murphy bed client reached out to me and for those who don’t know Murphy bed and I didn’t know at the time at all I knew just as much about Murphy beds as I did paid search when I ended up selling this fine initially but a Murphy bed is is a bed that essentially folds into a closet or some sort of wall and then comes out so for us we were in we were in Florida and a lot of people just have their second homes in Florida and so most of their clients were people who would have their their small condo but they would want their grandkids to come over and then so they would just open up the bookshelf and boom there’s a bit and seven kind of revolutionary what that was and how to run Google ads to promote it but I we sold them on taking their newspaper budget and putting it to digital and now what nine years later is my first client is still a client today so a really cool story of just kind of how you know moving someone’s budget over to digital will make such a big impact.

John Corcoran 4:12

And when you did that were you worried at all you know, like first client I’m taking their money that they’ve spent on newspaper ads that maybe it’s work maybe it’s not working by this point, you know, am I gonna screw this up for this person you know, I’m just gonna figure it out as I go along. What was your mindset like? Yeah, that’s

Jon Bast 4:31

a great question. I think I was more worried about the pitch because this is you know, me pitching something that I’m not super familiar with. And it was just a fake till you make it. I’m still a pretty good presenter today. So I feel like it worked out for me. And then I’m a great self learner. And so I feel like I just kind of went with it and then I’m continually optimized and building an account over a couple of years and it was a really cool experience. It helped me land my first job too. Mentioning that I got declined for a lot of jobs. One of those companies that I got declined for was called Haystak Digital Marketing. They were in Fort Myers, Florida. That was in Fort Myers, Florida, there’s really not too many companies to pick from. So when you apply to one, you’re really, really hoping that you get that job. I had gotten declined because I didn’t have enough experience. I reapplied six months later with magnetic marketing on my resume now, and they accepted me because now I’m an agency owner. Right, right. So it was a good little life hack that helped me get into a career.

John Corcoran 5:34

Yeah. So you go into that, and then that’s how you got into car dealerships, right.

Jon Bast 5:39

Yeah, so this company just did paid search or paid search and display advertising for car dealerships. Um, so that was a really cool niche. And I think that taught me the value of having a niche having one service and one industry. And they grew like wildfire. You know, they were probably a year or two old when I started working there. And just a few years or years later, they got purchased by Autotrader, or Cox Automotive. So they have an incredible success story as well.

John Corcoran 6:10

Yeah. And you actually eventually worked for Autotrader a few years later, was it that connection coming back because you had a couple of other stops on your resume before that?

Jon Bast 6:19

Yeah, so that was completely random, completely unconnected. So I had worked at this company that I got recruited to come to an automotive group to help them bring marketing in house cut out as many vendors as possible leverage the ones that we can’t cut, and then bring in marketing, then I got recruited to go up to Atlanta to work at a direct marketing company that just service car dealerships and my mission, there was the brain digital services to their agency, and help them grow in that space. So now they are still today, a direct mail, and our direct marketing digital marketing company, then I decided I’m done with agencies forever. Gonna do this, this is too stressful. So then I started looking for other national opportunities. And that’s where I found Autotrader, realized I am not a national advertising guy, or corporate guy. You know, I came from all these jobs where I was wearing so many hats, I got to do whatever I want to do to move the needle. And here I had my one little space and I felt like it was funny for those of you who have watched Silicon Valley. There’s this one guy and I’m horrible with names. So one of the employees of the company of Pied Piper got recruited to come to hooli and he goes to get his assignment on the first day and they’re like, Oh, yeah, here’s your desk and then he walks up to the roof and he’s like, Wait, what? I don’t have a job. And to be honest, that’s kind of how I felt with Autotrader. I was like, I don’t think I really have a job like coming from such fast paced environments don’t go into a corporate world like I was like, there’s nothing to do here. Which was a good and a bad thing. Some people may love that. For me it just

John Corcoran 8:05

Was it too slow, just slow paced? 

Jon Bast 8:10

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I mean great. huge shout out to Cox Automotive. I think they’re an incredible company. But I think that was the time where the entire time I had been building my magnetic marketing business and then also climbing the corporate ladder and the amount of income I made from my entrepreneur efforts in my corporate ladder efforts just kept on going like this and never really made sense to make the leap man give up a double income and so by the time I was at auditory I had a full team of people a lot of people internationally just kind of helping me manage the day to day with my current clients and

John Corcoran 8:47

wow so so all this time while you’re doing these different jobs you are doing your work on the side and there was a conflict of interest in you doing that.

Jon Bast 8:57

Yeah, so I stayed away from automotive most of the business that I had was actually in ortho and dental and and then so that kept me afloat. That was another one that was my second client and that was a client that started with like five locations and now they have about 40 locations. And then we just recently stopped working with them during COVID they were just cutting costs and decided to bring in marketing in-house but with a huge growth story with them too.

John Corcoran 9:29

So yeah, yeah, it is now so one of those students was working at Mercedes Benz dealerships. What was it like working? Is there a different experience working in house so to speak, working for a car dealership versus being an agency outside working for the car dealership, or is it fundamentally the same, you know, night and day difference?

Jon Bast 9:50

It was um, you know, I didn’t even know what marketing was. I was an IT guy. So if the Wi Fi broke, they also called me And it but it was good, it was part of a larger Automotive Group that had 80 plus dealerships at the time. And that was their most profitable source. So they wanted to hire an in-house marketing manager first. The really really cool thing was, this was a little bit more of a fake it till you make it because all I knew was paid search and display advertising at that time, now I had to learn the whole realm of what marketing is I had to learn the third party listing providers like CarGurus Autotrader, I didn’t learn online reputation management, website management, SEO. And so I just watched a lot of videos, you know, attended a lot of webinars called a lot of vendors I tried to receive that was I felt like that was my trick. I tried to receive as many sales pitches as possible vendors trying to pitch me stuff. And so that way, I could just learn what they’re doing. And so that was really, really interesting. But then there wasn’t really too much growth opportunity. Really, it kind of just stopped there. 

John Corcoran 10:57

It is interesting how much car dealerships have evolved. And in their approach to the internet. I mean, I remember shopping for a car, like in the mid 2000s or earlier, and there was, you know, it was like the website was just like I would have maybe have their phone number on there. If you’re lucky, you send an email, you’re lucky if you receive a response, you know, and from that point going forward from you know, the 2010s. To today, they’ve just done a better job of being smart about that. So it’s amazing to me that you were working for a Mercedes Benz dealership, and around 2013 2014 and that they were not organized at that late date that they still were kind of disorganized about

Jon Bast 11:40

Yeah, no, actually, surprisingly, to this day, Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, those types of brands still don’t really get marketing too much because they don’t have to, because their legacy brands have

John Corcoran 11:51

been around forever. They have a reputation. Yeah. Yeah.

Jon Bast 11:55

So for T3 Marketing, our core focus has been mainly the mainstream brands that don’t have a lot of brand recognition. Because if even, even in the mainstream, if you go to Toyota and Honda, they’re like, we don’t really need you. But if you go to Hyundai and Mitsubishi and key and Mazda, those are the ones that surprisingly, nobody knows. But those are the ones who are spending the most that have to try the hardest.