Knowledge Sharing and Networking Strategies With Aaron Conant

John Corcoran 9:29

And now there’s so there’s so many different software solutions that can help with these processes. But what were you like kind of creating spreadsheets for yourself to keep track of all these different, you know, tests that you’re running? Yeah,

Aaron Conant 9:40

essentially. Yeah. So I mean, that’s what I did, you know, advice as a scientist, I mean, yeah, got a digital notebook and an avid note taker. And again, getting back to that, that data analysis of what works and what doesn’t, and, you know, doing multiple variable testing, the thing that I ran into the I was, like, you’re saying there’s so many different service providers that are out there. Because I mean, when you thinking back in like 2013 1415, digital, you know, if you’re in, if you’re in a big company, the digital team is quite small, unless you’re digitally native, right? If you’re big corporate America, you’ve got a small team. And that means you have to find partners in the space to help you out on a, how do you know which ones to pick? I mean, you can go to you know, back in the day IRC E, you can go to the shop talk now. And then you can meet a tonne of vendors, but you’re just talking to their salespeople, and everybody’s perfect for you just ask them. So, you know, I sat in a spot where I was struggling to connect with other brands that I could have a candid conversation with. Okay, how are you growing on Amazon? Who’s your Amazon agency who built your website? I got burned on an integrator, I chose the wrong platform originally. And you just start to start looking for other brands to talk to. And what I really realised was there, there really wasn’t a network out there to do

John Corcoran 11:15

that. And so that was that. That sounds like that was the seed of the idea of starting DWG connect, then.

Aaron Conant 11:21

Yeah, correct. Yeah. There’s a really cool company called DWG strategy. They’re a big market research firm, they have 1000s of conference calls up publicly to all these different publicly traded verticals. And I was on, you know, some of these networking calls around Amazon and Walmart. And I spent just a little bit of time in China, trying to get to a global setup with him in Formula. And I was on these calls. And I just reached out to Bill the founder, and I said, Hey, Bill, like, I need to talk, you know, to, you know, like Ray Bans on the call and nature sleeves or the call, and they’re like, crushing it. It’s like, I need to talk to them, I need to understand who their Amazon agency is, I want to want to talk to that, that helped me select mine because I need one. And I was like, Hey, we don’t we don’t do that. That’s, you know, we do we do research. I said, Well, we should, and you said, Okay, well quit your job. And we’ll kick off a networking group. And did you

John Corcoran 12:21

did you know what the business model would be?

Aaron Conant 12:24

No, zero, really?

John Corcoran 12:28

And how much so that usually when that happens, then there’s some kind of runway or period of time, but you were starting at under the, the, the umbrella of a larger company. So did you have like an unlimited period of time to figure out what the business model was? And how did you figure that out?

Aaron Conant 12:44

No, not with Bill. I mean, it was done, we’re gonna pull the trigger and get it done. So you know, we put it this about three months to put together a business plan. Okay. Do a couple of trials. And then I mean, you got to jump right at some point time. View. You guys gotta jump in and give it your all. And it was, it was one of those. Hey, living the life of least regrets, you know, the whole Jeff Bezos thing. And

John Corcoran 13:12

what was it like when you went to your family and your friends and you said, you got the stable company been here? Perego, for all these years? I’m gonna go start this other thing. What’s the business model? I’m not sure.

Aaron Conant 13:26

friends thought I was crazy. Wife’s totally supportive. Because she didn’t. I mean, I met her in high school. So she knows I was driven. Yeah. And it was gonna work out. My question was, are my grandkids going to be able to eat more kids? I’m pretty sure they’re going to eat. They didn’t understand it. And so yeah, I there’s a, the unit originally kicked off was e comm advisory. And then after, you know, a year and a half, it was full fledge up and rolling and got, you know, fully acquired into BW G, and we rebranded to BWG connect.

John Corcoran 14:08

And it’s a really interesting business model. Because you don’t charge for webinars, you do dinners around the US, I imagine maybe charged something for that. You have these cocktail hours. Tell us a bit about kind of the different offerings that you have in the business.

Aaron Conant 14:24

Yeah. So you know, as I spend my days, majority of them talking to brands, so that startup the Fortune 100 of every vertical at this point in time. It works for them, because, you know, I advise a lot of brands and but I don’t monetize those conversations. They’re free. So brands, you think they don’t have to spend 100 bucks an hour to talk to an expert. They can just, you know, reach out to myself. We brought on other digital strategists as well. And you know, they can just talk to us for free. And then we talked to so many brands were asking In them a few things, we’re saying, hey, you know, what are your biggest pain points so we can stay really topical, right? That’s how we get our webinar topics. It’s how we get, you know, the podcast topics is how we get the dinner topics and get really topical, in a in stay, you know, really focused on whatever is top of mind for people and an ever-changing category, whether it’s retail media, or it’s SEO, or drop shipping, whatever the big trends are. And with that, then we’re also asking them, hey, who’s helping out and who’s not. So we now have this giant network of 1000s of brands, who share with you know, each other, you know, via, you know, BW G Connect, which is the focal point who the top service providers are in any given area. And so then those are the people we can reach out to for sponsorships of events.

John Corcoran 15:51

And so you have like a marquee sponsor for the events, and you’d last this past year, you did 100 different events, yeah, cocktail hours, dinners, stuff like that. And you have a marquee sponsor that kind of pays for it. Yep. Okay.

Aaron Conant 16:03

Okay, that’s exactly it. That’s exactly it. And, yeah, it’s, it’s great. I mean, there’s, in some cases, you know, you find a really cool company that might be a little bit smaller, and they can’t quite afford something. So we have some referral agreements in place. Right, that, you know, oh, well, they want to be able to do what they can. Okay. Well, just if you close business, then, you know, compensate us back. Yeah. Very interesting business model. Yeah. But again, it’s kind of built around. What I desired to have as a when I was in the brand space is I don’t want to pay to go to an event. I don’t want to get to so there’s no sales pitches. There’s no presentations at any of our dinners. And that’s it, never, we don’t allow it. And so brands have learned over the past, you know, six and a half years that I mean, they’re pretty sweet events, like I’m gonna just show up, I’m gonna get everybody’s email address. I’m going to be connected with everybody there. They’re all local, you know, so, you know, we do 40% of them in New York City, in the rester Boston, Chicago, LA, Dallas, Austin, Miami, Seattle,

John Corcoran 17:12

the big locations where the brands are. Yeah, yeah. So you’re

Aaron Conant 17:16

meeting there with other people that are local. Right? And, and we do a spread like, yeah, we get, you know, the Fortune 500s in the room, but we also get startups in the room. And so because sometimes, like I knew I was at, you know, the big Fortune 500, or whatever, and we weren’t doing the most cutting edge stuff. And there’s some people, you know, that have less bureaucracy, and they don’t have external procurement to go get somebody approved. Yeah. They can just choose a new vendor like that. And that amount. Yeah,

John Corcoran 17:44

yeah. What was it like for you, when the pandemic hit? You know, being a Whoo, like being around people doing events and stuff like that? You know, with everything I’m going to shut down or because you have the webinars side of the business that insulates you.

Aaron Conant 17:59

Well insulate us a little bit. But yeah, because of the webinars. Yeah. There’s nothing that replaces in person. I mean, and so, I mean, it was scary at first, because that the dinner revenue, you know, just goes away. Yeah. So you have to shift it all to webinar, which is fine. I mean, we that year, we did 350 webinars.

John Corcoran 18:23

Well, that’s crazy. How many of those did you do you host personally, you like you were the moderator.

Aaron Conant 18:29

250 problem? Wow.

John Corcoran 18:32

Well, I remember talking to you when you were at that point. And I remember talking about getting, you know, the struggles that you had with getting someone else to moderate facilitate, because that’s such a difficult, you know, that’s such an integral to who you are difficult to find someone you will ultimately ended up finding someone. But I think you probably were at your breaking point at one point. Yeah,

Aaron Conant 18:53

that’s exactly it. Yeah, because it was just an interesting time. Because, you know, when the pandemic hits, I sit in the digital space, right? DDC, Amazon and everything, Walmart, JD, everything that’s around that. Well, that was the time that everybody was trying to learn. At that point in time, I think there’s probably like 1500 to 2000 people that really understood ecommerce. And then because everything had been pushed down, right, corporate America did not want to, you know, Amazon was something scary. Then all of a sudden when the pandemic hits, and we need 9008 or 9000 people because all this digital is blowing up. Well, you don’t learn overnight, you don’t just go to LinkedIn and put digital in front of your name and all of a sudden you’re a digital specialist. Right? And so, you know, we just had this massive request, you know, like, just pumped like we need more we need to understand everything from you know, you know, influencers to Amazon to paid me Did DSP to drop shipping inventory analysis chargeback? I mean, it was like we everybody needs to learn everything like that. Yeah. And so it’s a mad scramble. So

John Corcoran 20:11

for you as a company and as an individual, you’re putting your reputation on the line, when you bring in outside expert to come in and to present, what’s your process for, for vetting these companies and making sure that you get, you know, not just educational that the information is correct, entertaining that these presentations are, you know, are not going to sell your reputation and that are going to be valuable for the the brands that you want to have attend.

Aaron Conant 20:37

I mean, it’s the it’s the beauty of the network is anybody that we bring on has to be recommended from brands in the network. So there’s a fairly high threshold, that if nobody in the network knows you, and nobody is recommended you in and I haven’t sent you out to be vetted, then then we just we don’t do an event. But I mean, there’s key people, you know, on my like, personal digital board of directors, directors, if they say, Hey, I vetted these guys out, it’s worth doing, I think 1000 People in the network need to hear from these guys then got their in. Yeah, but other than that, you need to come recommended from multiple different brands. And usually, then a lot of people we fly under the radar, I’m not doing any paid media that’s out there whatsoever, because I don’t want tonnes of inbound, I only want recommendations. So we get into these weird scenarios where I have five or six brands recommend a new provider. And I’ll reach out to them and say, hey, you know, ping him on LinkedIn, or I’ll ask for an intro from one of the brands after, you know, I’ve talked to a few different that have used them. And they’ll say, Hey, can you make a connection, and I’ll jump on the phone, and they have no idea what we do? And I’ll say, and I’ll name off six to 10 of their current clients, and they’re like, how do you know? How do you how do you know, you know, 10% of our of our customer base? And I’ll kind of walk up through the business model, but I mean, it’s not. Again, it’s not necessarily me vetting them. It’s brands in the organisation. And that’s the other cool thing is like, there’s no like threshold. It’s not like you have to be doing a million dollars a year. Yeah, anybody’s welcome. Any anybody wants to? I mean, join you on it. You’re in the supply chain side? And do you want to join in Amazon webinar? Yeah, we don’t care show up.

John Corcoran 22:29

Yeah, yeah. I mean, sometimes ask questions. Sometimes the some of the wisest people out there are not out like, you know, going, going doing presentations all the time, because they’re, you know, practitioners, I want to know what the logistics around doing tutor and 50 webinars or whatever it was in the in, in the year after the pandemic was like, and how you manage that to not how that didn’t break your business.

Aaron Conant 22:57

Hard work? This, I get asked a lot, what’s the silver bullet and silver bullet is hard work nonstop hardware. I mean, everything. I mean, we’re really relying on Salesforce and everything that’s in there on the back end. And I mean, we don’t we keep, you know, like, locations, if we can, if we know based on LinkedIn, where people are at if we’re doing in person events, but other than that, we mean, we have email addresses, we don’t sell any of that data whatsoever. So people trust us. And then we’re, we just email people, we send out a monthly said, Hey, here’s the upcoming events, tell us which ones you you want to attend, and we send you an invite. So I mean, we’ve got millions of emails going out a year at this point, wow. And that is just a seasoned strategic team. And you know, a lot of that is just the team. So a really good team and pouring in them and let them know how valuable they are. I mean, I, I could never do this without the team.

John Corcoran 24:00

 That’s yeah, requires a lot of a top notch team and a lot of coordination. What about know, when you and I first met, you weren’t sharing, you’re creating all this content that would exist and then disappear into the ether. And you weren’t capturing it. Of course, I’m a big fan of capturing content, sharing it. But that was a big pivot for you shifting from taking some of this content. Because that’s like your business is built around it. And then actually, like posting it, putting it on your website. You then later launched the podcast, which you have, of course, so putting content out there. Talk a little bit about some of the fears that you had getting into the sharing of this content, especially because in your business model. That was a lot of the value that you provided for people.

Aaron Conant 24:45

Yeah, I mean, I, I just have this hesitation a little bit to put out and I don’t like to brag that I guess is kind of what it is and it seems it’s not I know it’s the wrong way to look Got it, but was like, we’re just cranking through a tonne of content. And there’s few people out there that’s doing it. And so it’s kind of that a little bit like, I don’t want people think I’m pumping out all this content just to pump out content. The other side of it is, you know, the, what we’re doing is it’s all real time and it’s recorded. And people ask open questions. Here’s the other thing is we, during all of our pretty much all of our events, in real time, people can jump in and ask whatever questions they want. And so there is a hesitancy there of how do we mask who’s asking the questions, so that they can still so one of those fears that people know what’s being recorded going to be published?

John Corcoran 25:45

Are they going to ask the question, are they going to ask the burning questions that they really need to ask? Yeah, right.

Aaron Conant 25:50

And so we just had to get to the point where, you know, we can have them be completely anonymous it we’re thrown into this, right. Like, we’re doing a lot just on conference calls now. Let alone webinars. Yeah. Wrapping up, and then, you know, what platform do we use? Is it? Is it zoom? Is it go to? But yeah, that was the other side is if we put this in place, and they know it’s been published? Will people stop asking questions, because that’s so real, they stopped

John Corcoran 26:14

showing up, right? Will they stop showing up? If they know they can just listen? Sometimes that can be a detriment. People like, Oh, listen to the recording later, but they don’t show up. And they don’t listen to the recording?

Aaron Conant 26:23

Yeah. And so that’s, I mean, I’ve been having a lot of our conversations, you’re like, hey, you should really, really, really do this. And so, I mean, we did and it’s, it’s been, it’s been beneficial. Great. It actually, I think we’re going to the point now, where we just want to go back to the backlog, and just slowly release it all, and just post on YouTube, just create, I mean, the channels there now can just release it, because the reality is this stuff is changing so fast. And people are busier than they’ve ever been in the digital space. And they should they need to consume it on their own time, which is another thing that,

John Corcoran 27:01

yeah, it’s interesting, because, you know, just as a consumer of content, you know, I go back and I watch a video that’s six years old, but I’ll be thinking in the back of my head, okay, some of these things might have changed, but some part of it is still valuable, you know, so just because something was recorded six, seven years ago, doesn’t mean that there aren’t pieces of it that are still valuable.

Aaron Conant 27:20

Yeah, especially, I mean, some of the people I’m blessed to be in this position that I get connected to, are just the leaders in, in digital, you know, digital thought leaders, I should say, they’re out there. I mean, we’ve got like, Tim Armstrong from flow code, who’s jumped on the, the founder of the Amazon vendor central group, George Wescott, you know, some of the top agencies that have ended up getting acquired. It’s the group of people. You know, Drees Patar, founder of Drupal Acquia. You know, Kelly Gatch, you know, basically founded the mock Alliance was part of commerce tools, like, hit some really, really, really cool people. And you can learn from that, like you’re saying, you can go back a year, and you’re still picking up nuggets from people who are that smart and kind of how they’re sharing their story on life? Yeah,

John Corcoran 28:11

one of the things, one of the things I want to ask you about is you one of the things you and I connected over is we’re both dads have four kids. And you built a business like I did for a while that was really dependent, heavily dependent on travel. And there’s always that tension between you especially for a Whoo, I love going out and meeting people. But I also have this guilt that I feel about going out. How have you been? You manage to balance that? That tension?

Aaron Conant 28:40

early flights out early flights home?

John Corcoran 28:42

So funny, I’d do the same thing. Yeah. Yeah. You

Aaron Conant 28:46

just you minimise the time away. And yeah, I mean, it’s hard. That’s the hardest thing is, you know, it’s funny, because people who don’t travel a lot think travel is glamorous. Like, no, I’m in a hotel, or I’m in an airport, eating breakfast, lunch dinner by myself. Yeah, I mean, but yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s just shortening all of those trips. So I’m on the 5am flight out and I’m on the 5am flight back the next day. And when you focus on on that, yeah, I mean, you’re tired. But now they’re gone one night a week. So you’re missing that, you know, five hours with the kids. Yeah.

John Corcoran 29:24

But and you, for you, it’s beneficial that you’re right, dead. So you’re in Michigan, you’re in the middle of the country, so that that’s helpful.

Aaron Conant 29:30

Yes, yeah, I’m, uh, I’m a little plane flight to Detroit, and then I connect anywhere. And I just, you know, bring out another, you have to get to the point, you know, delegating and just trusting. And no, I mean, that’s one of the hardest things because they, you know, getting that person that can do it. They’re not going to do it as well as you the first time but they’re going to get better and so you have to be able to delegate and know the first time I’m, they’re gonna get a B minus. Yeah. But if you walk through with the partners what’s going on and that they’re going to be able to do more? Because I couldn’t I can’t do myself 100 dinners a year. Yeah. Now

John Corcoran 30:09

you have 100 events a year, there’s no way you could do that. No, there’s no

Aaron Conant 30:12

way. So help us grim somebody new and get them in. And then, you know, after two or three, I mean, they’re, they’re just crushing it. And so it’s the same thing every founder, I think boss deals with, which is, you know, delegating that in, you just have to be the first few times there’s not going to be 100. And I got a score an A plus,

John Corcoran 30:33

yeah, yeah, was a max, do you have a you know, there’s so many other companies that I’ve talked to that asked me because we’ve done a lot of events, nowhere near as many as you but they will ask me about like, you know, organising a dinner or cocktail hour, especially around a conference that they go to, and I’m such an advocate of it. You know, when you do this, and you go to a conference, it’s a way to get a lot more mileage out of it, you have a very interesting format with a cocktail hour and then a guided conversation, talking a bit about the format of how you organise these. Yeah,

Aaron Conant 31:03

and precipice. Start off with this is, I should say preface it with the we do and I, we’ve done everything we’ve done the sweets, we’ve done the cooking, we’ve done the wine tasting, we’ve done racecar driving, and just for everybody’s like information when everybody comes back to is the dinner. And that’s because you the format that we have, we have an hour cocktail hour from six to seven, everybody’s networking. And then at seven o’clock, we sit down, and we you know, it’s usually played in service almost every time and I say 99% of the time there’s plated service you’re putting in a quick order was 2030 people around the table. And then you have a guided conversation on the topic where the moderator is kicking in and saying, Hey, everybody, thanks for joining. Let’s buzz around the table name roll company, one thing you want to get out of the dinner, and then you’re getting really topical around what a discussion is going to be. And then as the moderator you’re tackling all those questions in, in this case, you’ve got a sponsor, who’s one of the top rated providers in the space. So you already know, they know it, they’re already recommended by you know, 10 plus brands and network that we really trust. So we know they’re going to deliver on content, and you just have them answer questions. And once you’ve got that conversation flowing, I mean, it’s an hour and a half of just just peppering them with questions and people pepper in each other with questions. I’d say the one thing that we always hone in on is an hour and a half is the time limit. A 30 Shut down the conversation. You’re not solving, you know, Amazon paid media, you know, strategy in an hour and a half, you’re not solving it pretty much ever. But people make time commitment. And when they’ve made that time commitment adhere to that time commitment. We end the dinner right at 830, maybe 835. Yeah, you know, an hour and a half in. And then if anybody wants to stay, stick around, have another cocktail. That’s great network knowledge share. But you give people that opportunity to leave, if they have to. Because again, like some people got to catch a red eye home. Some people gotta get home to the family like, yeah, totally understand that. And so that format is just been a fantastic format. People love it.

John Corcoran 33:35

And you always do it around another event, or you do them independently.

Aaron Conant 33:39

Both. There’s enough people in the network now that we do. I mean, we’re at all the major shows, we’re at the shop talks and the NRF and the E tails. And you know, the, I guess it’s our ice now, we’re around all those doing multiple events, the unboxed or whatever it might be. But then, all there a lot of it’s just bespoke, okay, if you got a team in LA, or Seattle. And there’s enough people in the network, we’ll just, hey, cool. I’d say about 20% to 30% are have attended before and the others have never attended before. So we’re always growing the network with every event.

John Corcoran 34:20

Yeah, I think that’s such a great format that anyone listening to this can replicate for their business as well. Not easy, but you put a bit of effort into it. And it’s such a great payoff as you describe it. I’m kind of nostalgic for when we were doing more of those types of events. I miss it. I love doing them. Yeah,

Aaron Conant 34:37

I believe a year Whoo. I will like those are. Those are just, they’re great. They’re this. There’s so much fun. Yeah.

John Corcoran 34:44

I want to wrap with the last question I asked, which is my gratitude question. I’m a big fan of gratitude, especially expressing gratitude to those who helped you along the way especially peers, contemporaries, mentors, business partners, investors, who would you want to shout out and Like,

Aaron Conant 35:02

yeah, I mean, you can always go with the standard like the family and the close friends, but I’ll kind of go to the business side, which is, you know, when I was at Perego. You know, there’s a guy, Anthony Hogan. And I reported to him as I was, in the last maybe year. And it was a conversation because it was always open and transparent. He’s a fantastic leader, just just a fantastic leader, around should I do this? Or do I have a career path within corporate America? And I love it when people are honest. And he said, you know, your your career path in big corporate America to the top is limited. And why is like, because to get to that executive level, you have to be willing to step on some people on the way to the top. And you love people too much to ever do that. And

John Corcoran 35:59

that advice, when he gave it to you, what’s that? Did that advice hurt when he gave it to you? No,

Aaron Conant 36:05

no, because he followed up with, you need to leave, then you need to go chase it. Like it’s just as aren’t necessarily exact words. But that seems like you need to go chase this, or you’ll forever regret it. And so, yeah, just, I mean, that’s when you have people. It’s great. I mean, we have family and friends. But it’s also great to have other like mentors in the business setting that are just fully transparent, and, and pour into you. And I mean, I took that, as you know, on a personal level from the standpoint, like, I need to be this way with everybody who works with me, open, transparent, and encourage them to do what’s best for them in any setting. And so that’s,

John Corcoran 36:51

I mean, that advice, that advice he gave me was like life changing advice, right?

Aaron Conant 36:55

I mean, he could like, I mean, we were outperforming and he could have said, hey, you need to stay here. It’s gonna be awesome. We’re in he has said, Hey, this is actually how it’s gonna be. And so yeah. And to turn that around and be able to do that with people on my team. I think it’s important. Yeah. Sometimes it means you have to encourage people to leave. And it’s not because they’re bad or not performing. But you see so much potential. And if you don’t have the opportunity, like to give them to meet that potential, just the structure of your business, then. You know, you help them help. Yeah.

John Corcoran 37:29

That’s great advice. Aaron, this was such a pleasure talking to you. bw G connects the name of the business, The Deep Dive Podcast, which we’ve been privileged to help you with, where else can people go to connect with you and learn more about you and 10, one of your events, LinkedIn,

Aaron Conant 37:44

we post a lot of stuff on LinkedIn of upcoming events. Again, on the brand side, anybody can pretty much join. I love talking with people just ping me there. Just, you know, Aaron Conant on LinkedIn. That’s primarily where we’re at. And yeah, anybody ever wants to chat? I love people.

John Corcoran 38:10

That’s for sure. Thanks, Aaron.

Aaron Conant 38:11

Thanks so much.

Outro 38:15

Thanks for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.