ANDREW:

            Welcome to Masters in E-commerce and Entrepreneur. I’m your host, Andrew Strauss. And, I’m here today with Ryan Carter. This guy is awesome. I don’t know. I’m going to tell you a little bit of his backstory and then you’re going to be amazed about this guy. So, he’s been in the social media space about 7 years, 6 years, or so. Started with… He’s got Parachute Media, which is like the top voted, top place to work in Nashville, which is awesome. Congrats on that. Congrats on that.

He works with some of the big brands like REI and Merrill which are huge. And, he is a social media, I don’t know, he runs campaigns and does really great stuff process. And, he’s got this site called Camping with Dogs that he started sort of co-timeframe with this. You know, he’s moved from the, you know, you hear about the entrepreneurs working in their garage or basement. This guy did. He moved from his garage into a really cool office. They’re in Nashville and so now, we’re going to talk a little bit today about how he grew. This is amazing by the way. Camping with Dogs hashtag, he’s got like 900,000 posts. I was like, “Oh, my god.”

RYAN:

Yeah, and just 3 years ago…

ANDREW:

Three years?! That’s amazing!

RYAN:

            I’ve got the screenshot somewhere. I’ve actually been searching for it from the past couple days and I have it really, really screenshot that actually shows the number of hashtags, sorry, the pieces of content that are underneath that hashtag. It was only 250 totals, about to eclipse $900,000 even to a million.

ANDREW:

That is amazing. That’s amazing. So, he’s going to share how he grew his Instagram account from 0 to 500,000 revenue in the 6 or 7 figures? Right? Like in just 3 years. And, so, Ryan’s going to share that and how he leveraged this into getting clients into this and how you should think about your sort of social media when you’re doing things with that purpose to go about that. So, Ryan, I know, if I forgot anything, fill us in and let’s hear the journey.

RYAN:

Yeah, so it started out of the very authentic place. I’ve got 3 dogs. At the time, I only had two. So, I acquired another one for the best 3 years. And, I love doing anything with them. So, anyway, they are great dogs. We do about parachute now. Dogs outnumber people at the office on any given day of the week which as a side note, we need to get a policy in place. Dogs can be a little distracting, but we are a thoughtful workplace. I always think that some of the best ideas come from places where you got a personal passion behind it because if you start on any endeavor, eventually, it’s going to feel like a job.

I mean, even with things that you really, really like, you’ll have days when you just feel that it’s a job. So, if you’re building a new idea or a new brand out of a place where you’re already passionate about that fits naturally into your lifestyle, then you got a better chance of I think succeeding rather than just doing it for the sake of money. So, I noticed that on Instagram, it’s like eleven o’clock at night that I had this idea that on the screen, people were tagging pictures of their dogs as they were like on their hiking trips, camping. And, I noticed that they didn’t know what hashtags to use.

They were using kind of random hashtags, describe their actions, and they were also like tagging any brands which I felt kind of surprising because there’s a lot of great dog brands out there. But, they weren’t tagging them which maybe meant that those other brands out there weren’t doing a good job engaging their community. So, I thought, maybe I could create a lifestyle brand for the outdoorsy dog owner, just great content around that. If you notice, I never said I want to create a brand to monetize. And, so it started out of this space where I wanted to create a really interesting concept that allows people to feel an experience. So, it could be people that don’t have a dog that thought about getting one that would love to go to camping, hiking. So, this is a source of inspiration.

Or, they do have a pet and they’re like “I don’t know if my dog is capable of doing this.” Now, this gives them a place to connect with other people, to be inspired by other people that are going hiking and camping with their dogs. So, starting off, all the content was centered around a very basic principle. We want to recreate experiences online that people have in real life without any other expectation. It wasn’t until 3 or 4 months into it that we built up probably 10,000 or 15,000 followers.

If people started asking for our brandmark on things like shirts, and stickers on their PCs, not once did it ever cross my mind that maybe I could put this on the shirt. People would buy it. I thought this was a kind of crazy concept because here I am as a freelancer doing social media for small businesses to Nashville out of my basement and I’ve got this really cool, you know, an Instagram account that I’m growing. I never once thought about monetizing it. And so then, with a very small amount of money, about a set of like maybe 48 t-shirts, like 12 in each size, small through XL, and about some beer koozies and some stickers, I put it all online.

I remember my first picture like I did a selfie in the shirt that I was wearing. I put that on two… at the time, it was… I was using Squarespace e-commerce. I’m not a web designer guy so anything is drag and drop. It’s a lot easier for me to do. So, I started off with a very basic platform. We didn’t have all the bills that Shopify does. I sold out everything in like 72 hours. My very first sale was only for 1 beer koozie which I was selling for 5 bucks. So, with tax and shipping in, it’s like $7. I was ecstatic!

I remember the first sale that came through and I got a little ding on my phone that sounds like a dollar sign. Oh, my goodness, someone actually bought my product. And so, from there, things kind of sort of snowballed. I reinvested everything that I earned and to buy more and more product. I did a better job creating content for myself and the products that we had. And, I don’t know if we’ve got time to talk about it but I can make it really quick. There was one pivotal moment in growing camping the dogs that shaped what it is today. And, it all comes from I created a fake national holiday.

I felt like if there was like a national holiday or national taco day, there should absolutely be. Those should be widely celebrated across America multiple times a month. At least, I do on a weekly basis. I created National Camping with Dogs day. And, I said it was like September 14th or something. It was a Saturday. And, the plan was to leverage this day to get some bigger media publications to talk about me. So, I wrote a blog post called 25 Ways Dogs Make the Best Camping Companions. I wrote it very similar to a BuzzFeed style. Basically, just 25 pictures from some of our influencers and ambassadors with cute cat captions. That’s it.

I did a brief intro National Camping with Dogs Day. And then, I did something like, cool, I’m not a pure background, I don’t have contacts with BuzzFeed or Up Oh or Honey Mask. But, I do know how to use Facebook. And so, I took the blog post and put it over onto my Facebook page. I let it organically get some reach and engagement. And then, I used a $50 ad budget. And, I allocated probably $10 to my fans. And then, another $40 went to targeting people by job title and my the workplace.

After, I let my post on my Facebook page, get some social proof, some vanity metrics with likes, comments, and shares. I, then, targeted people that were chief editors or a writer at Conde Nast, HuffPo, Yahoo Travel, and I’ll let them run for about a week and a half. It wasn’t a large number of people, maybe 300 or 400 people tops. They’re great people, people that are already assigned to create this content. Now, basically, gave them a huge home run like I built the same content that would probably post. I got an email about a week after the campaign from a chief editor who travels asking to do a story about National Camping with Dogs Day. In our Instagram account, I was like, “You got to be shitting me. That actually worked.”

I thought it is kind of a long shot, but you see this Yahoo Travel posted about us and they did the same thing that we essentially did, except they only use like 10 images and their own captions. But, it was all linking back to our Instagram account. So, after they published us, every single brand, huge publication worldwide, started to… I don’t know what it’s like to be, you know, a Kardashian or a Taylor Swift but man, every September, every single time I hit refresh, it was a new 2,000 people. I didn’t do anything in the month of September of that first year of building that brand. I was just hitting refresh on Instagram. BuzzFeed and Snapchat featured us. It was really at 4,000 to 5,000 a minute.

ANDREW:

Oh my gosh.

RYAN:

            These accounts going to get taken down because they’re going to think it’s a scam. But, definitely grew from 80,000 to 160,000 followers in Instagram. And then, I followed up that next month and a half doing about $90,000 of sales on our website, yeah, which is for the first year and not having all that planned out, it was definitely a lot of things that caught me off guard by surprise. But…

ANDREW:

Yeah, I know that’s an amazing story, I mean, I’ve heard that instead of like spending $5 or $10 in trying to hit those people on Facebook, you know, that they can work. There’s proof in the pudding right there. I mean that’s it. So, from that, that kind of led into other sorts of interests, right? So, did Merrill and then REI found out about you, and sort of grow that way like how did that…?

RYAN:

Yeah, so Merrill was one of our first contacts that came through our DMs basically on Camping with Dogs, then I realized, Oh, wow like all these brands that I already purchased from, already a fan of, I followed them on social media, and they’re starting to come to us now because, you know, at this point in time we’re gaining on 200,000 plus followers. We’ve got incredible engagement for our size that they’re wanting to do campaigns with us. Well, at that point in time, also in September, the month that our account went viral online, I also dine out of the basement. I hired my very first employee at Hershey Media. I got our first office space. I let go of a lot of smaller paying clients. So, I basically said, “Look, I’m really trying to go for this now.”

It was at that point in time that I noticed that a global brand can come to me and I could put together a campaign for them through Camping with Dogs but as my new company Parachute Media. And, if I would go through the entire process and deliver great results for the campaign, I could give them incredible content. In terms of, cold calling and sales, I mean, that’s not really fun for a lot of people to do, right? I was able to build some trust first with where my skill set was as a creative and building. So, after that first campaign, Merrill actually became a full-skill client for us a few months later. In fact, we are I think we’ve been with them now for a little over 2 years. We’ve had an opportunity to help, guide, and lead them in a lot of really cool campaigns on digital and social.

ANDREW:

That’s awesome. So, basically, from what you created, this sort of hobby love kind of renders into things. So, what you’re doing for brands, are they basically the outdoor type of brands and then you’re leveraging what, you know, CWD is and then kind of like their picking on that? Or, they’re going to want other types of things and you’re sort of building… You built this sort of like route, sort of brand with CWD. Do you build those types of things with other kinds of brands? It’s that kind of how you’re growing they’re social?

RYAN:

Oh, I think having an audience in the outdoors world is a great advantage as I go pitch to other outdoor brands because a lot of times, we’ve got more followers, fans. We’ve got a bigger group of ambassadors that are incredible that I’ve seen grow from 2,000 to 3,000 followers upwards to 30,000 or 40,000 each. So, by having that, what it does is help us but in terms of Parachute Media, we’re a lot more than just Camping with Dogs though.

I’ve got a full suite of people that can do everything from the digital advice to produce and build out some of the bigger pieces of creative, to the copywriters. So, that angle really is to get some of these larger outdoor brands into Parachute in a non-confrontational, non-salesy sort of way. They could do a fairly easy campaign like a contest or a giveaway, which is a really good intro to Parachute Media. We’re doing it at no cost. That seems to be a relief at the sales.

Now, to go back to your first question. Is this something that we just solely focus on and the answer is no. I do have clients in the outdoors or the dog, pets’ space. But, not the core focus. I really like the variety of being able to take case studies that we might have in the outdoor space and then apply it to maybe personal. We have enough variety and other industries, and then apply that to another client that might be in a different field completely unrelated.

ANDREW:

Right. Right. Right. And, as you’re growing these things, is the idea that like once you get these kids on, I mean, is it user-generated content? Do you have to come up with this type of stuff? Like how do you grow? Because I think the biggest challenge with a lot of people is content creation, right? Like what do I do for my Instagram or my Facebook account, or you know, the stories on Instagram? That’s a big problem, I think, most of the time.

RYAN:

I would say user-generated content is the backbone of everything of Camping with Dogs. I mean even with feeds, it’s tough to pick out times what stuff is things that we created, or analysis geared towards a sale. Especially now, on Instagram, you can tag a product in an image from an influencer or an ambassador. That’s incredibly helpful. But, getting a group of people like core ambassadors or influencers that are really believing in your brand, that would like to see it grow, that are also great content creators, is something that a lot of brands need to have in their back pocket because at times, creating content is expensive regardless if you’re doing it in-house or you’re hiring an agency to do it.

You’ve got to be thinking well advance. Like with Merrill, with a lot of our constituents, we’re doing stuff 6, 8, 9, 10 months in advance of the actual due date. For a lot of smaller brands, we really don’t have that bandwidth or that luxury, your kind of waking up each day like us Tuesday, what am I going to post today? So, getting out ahead of that curve and times having UGC allows you to do that and then you can sprinkle in some of your content that you’ve built that maybe has a stronger story to tell. And so, you’ve got your tents down like poles as your main pillar content throughout altogether. And then, other smaller content, you can kind of fill in the gaps with the ambassadors and influencers.

ANDREW:

            Yeah. Someone I’ve heard from other people like, you know, once you get to that like 15, 20. Does it start to, like, people start giving you images to posts, right? So, it makes it a lot easier. You can just write a little tag, some hashtags, whatever, comments, you know, or the caption of the thing. And then, you got that content that you know, “Okay, I got a week’s worth of stuff and let me throw in a promotional post or my t-shirt thing, or whatever it is you’re mixing with that content.” That’s kind of how you can kind of grow it because you find like, I mean, in terms of like Instagram itself. I mean, do your clients find that they like to be on one particular, either Facebook or Instagram? Do they find that Facebook is just a too old of an audience? Do they Instagram is where it’s all at?

RYAN:

I think across all of our clients, there’s definitely some fatigue with Facebook. It’s kind of one of these things where you have to have it. You’ve also gotten to play to make it relevant or worth a lot of your time. And, I think there are some, there are a few instances where maybe you don’t need to always apply an ad budget to what you’re doing on Facebook. I must say the large majority of our clients, definitely, put on emphasis on Instagram, and Instagram strategy, and organic engagements on Instagram.

Whereas, trying to necessarily always predict that Facebook might be a little more difficult, but I would say for those clients that we have that there’s definitely a stronger emphasis on Instagram paramount to any of the other platforms. But, definitely having an ad budget helps. But, learning how to use it helps even more because you write a post that doesn’t necessarily mean actually, probably, I can get a whole lot just do that writing.

The challenge that I see from all of our clients is the conversation that we internally have as an agency. I mean we still go back and forth all the time. Is it worth to invest more dollars in a Snapchat campaign or whatever? It seems like all the engagement is over on Instagram. So, it’s something that’s evolving and changing, and we always have a continual conversation with clients. And, you’re setting yourself up I think in a better position to be better-thought leaders in the space than being entirely reactive.

ANDREW:

Right. Right. I guess that’s kind of the thing, right? You’ve got to test multiple spokes in a wheel to see which one and where your audience really drives, or drive sales, or reach engagement and things like that. So, you’re always kind of testing which is which, which is cool. And, that’s really the help of an agency kind of, I mean, for like a one-off person, if you’re doing it yourself, it’s really hard.

RYAN:

            Yeah, you’re in charge of running a business. That’s tough enough. I mean you’re playing new directions anyways. Do you have to slow down and focus on content creation, and the frequency, and by posting habits, and then paving in the analytics of is this working or not? I think that’s where most agencies really come into play because it’s how people 24/7, 356 days a year. So, we’re also able to pull from all of our other clients that maybe see changes that are happening in a market that I would otherwise not know unless we have those clients.

ANDREW:

Sure, sure. Cool. Awesome. Well, hey Ryan, I mean, I don’t want to take much more of your time. I know that you’re a busy guy. The insights are awesome, I mean, guys listen. If you are looking and thinking about, you know, starting and growing your Instagram page or Facebook, whatever it is, getting engagement, think about not the end result of making money first, more on the side of doing love this as your passion. Could you do this on a continual basis if there’s no money coming in right? That’s basically it. So, you get out of the basement, right? So, you do know that on that. I do want to ask you a quick question. Of your tool, do you have like a favorite tool that you use of your choice or if that’s not used so much, is there a book, or things, or websites that you stay current with trends and things that are kind of going on.

RYAN:

I’m actually taking a look at my bookshelf. At the top of my head, T books come to mind and they’re on my bookshelf. The first one is called Shoe Dog. It’s Phil Knight. And, he’s serving Nike in a different story of Nike of almost never made it as a company. So, it’s an incredible story just how to overcome severe adversity. And, the other ones a book called I Jump Camp.

It’s about the power of saying no and feeling really strong, not always saying yes to everything else, and how to hear the word no. And then, in terms of other like sites or tactics to stay on top of things, I’m really fortunate that our employees are in charge of creating blog content or internal case studies off of the clients they have, and the campaigns that are running. So, I’m actually able to stay abreast on current trends and happenings by what my team at Hershey Media is putting together on a regular basis, on performances. So, sometimes that gets even better real-time info than maybe helping us scroll through our Facebook feed on what’s currently happening. So, definitely look internally first for answers before figuring out what’s wrong.

ANDREW:

Cool, awesome. So, alright. So, where can people find you, you know, more about you, about Parachute Media if they want to get, you know, use your services, things like that? What’s the best way to contact you, guys?

RYAN:

Yeah. So, without giving myself my cell phone number, the easiest to reach via text message but you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter @nashvilleryan. And then, you can follow our ad agency. You can follow us on Instagram @parachutemedia, on Twitter, it’s twitter.me/parachute.co, or you can go take a look at their website where there’s more information, services, that our company offers, also a bit about me and how I started Parachute Media. I’m a little bit more of a backstory that we couldn’t get into today. And, that’s going to be http://www.parachutemedia.com.

ANDREW:

Cool. Awesome. Alright, I appreciate the time, learned a ton. And, this has been great. So, thanks for coming on. We’ll chat soon.

RYAN:

Thanks. Bye.