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Former vBSEO employee running Launch.forum now
Read the rest of the resource here.
Brandon this was a really good interview I had never heard of Launchforums until but I am definitely checking it out now.
Really good read here!
Another nice interview, good to hear that LF is still being worked on.
Really good interview.
Awesome interview! Thanks Brandon,
I see the interview wasn't so well received at vbseo.com. I'm not at all surprised. =)
Unfortunately, Mert exercised poor judgement once again in commenting in the thread after it was closed. I can assure you that Mert, a staff member that joined vBSEO early but after it's formation, is not in position to know anything significant about the original founding team or the ownership structure.
It's not his place to speak on the matter. However, this is the type of behavior I have come to expect from Mert. Although he is very strong in his technical abilities and is certainly an expert in vBSEO; as my employee I had to consistently monitor Mert's interactions with our customers since he was prone to conduct unbecoming of the Crawlability or vBSEO brand, and what I considered to oftentimes be abusive. I have seen this pattern continue in recent threads at vBSEO.com. My other two co-founders were in agreement, and it was a part of my responsibilities to give him pep talks to try to get him back in line with how we wanted to represent ourselves as a company.
His disloyalty to me and selective memory regarding my position there comes as no surprise, as I noted. Interestingly enough, I've also seen his name in XenForo/vBulletin court filings, as others have also alleged similar types of misgivings in his conduct or character. Therefore, I certainly suggest that anything Mert says be examined very carefully before being accepted, as I personally believe he has very weak credibility and a strong tendency to be dishonest.
Mert - you should avoid getting involved in conversations related to vBSEO. You are a team member who has stayed loyal only to whomever issues the monthly or bi-weekly payment.
If anyone is in a position to refute my involvement as a founding partner in Crawlability/vBSEO, it should be Juan Muriente. His voice falls silent - but speaks volumes.
I'm attaching a photo of our original founding team for Crawlability Inc at the Vitec2 incubator in Puerto Rico, after we won 3rd place in the EnterprisePR 2005 Business Competition. Shown in the photo, left to right, are Inger Ortiz (Administrative Assistant), myself (founding partner), Ilia (founding partner, VP), and Juan Muriente (founding partner, and CEO). Not shown in the picture: Mert. =)
For those interested, here is the press release I wrote (including ghostwritten comments for Juan) after winning in the business competition.
BTW, Jason Fried of 37Signals recently tweeted this amazing video of George Carlin. It's a brilliant performance that talks about how we "make things dishonest" with our selective use of the English language. Maybe this inspired me to be much more candid these past few days than usual. Let the truth be said. I hope I haven't offended anyone in the forum community by sharing some of the details of the behind the scenes at vBSEO! Check out the video.
Interesting interview. Quite funny how this comes at the right time, at a really bad time for vBSEO. More like a coincidence for me, since I've been to ForumCon 2012, I've been a member of vBSEO for years, I've been a customer, and then kaboom. Everything I knew about vBSEO is straight out of the door.
It's very interesting to hear what vBSEO makes in a year. I always thought vBSEO to be a small, humble company. I mean, for #@^&'s sake, you only develop a plugin that costs around $120 for each package sold, and a $30 renewal fee. Impressive numbers at $800,000 a year. That's almost a million dollars. Juan must have been a millionaire by now.
So, what's this acquisition you speak of? You guys [vBSEO] acquiring a bigger company or a bigger company acquiring vBSEO?
When Internet Brands bought vBulletin, I asked myself "Are they going to acquire vBSEO, too?" I even had a dream that it would happen. A vision, a prediction, if you will.
I had that feeling from the first time I met Juan at ForumCon cocktails. Somehow I make him look good to others. It was like, at one point, I was minding my own business trying to drink a beer, he asks everyone if they'd like a beer, he's getting all these looks. I never understood why. Now I do.
I think it's just that he was hungry for more money, more this, more challenge, more that. It's like right now, I started my company back in late 2010, and I'm trying to build new business models to help invigorate revenue for my company. In college, I would get hungry during class - I don't mean that "business" kind of hungry. I mean, like food hungry. So, when I leave class early, my professor asks me why I did, I return that "I was hungry, went out to get food." The professor's like "everyone in that economics class is hungry." I'm thinking in the back of my head, "Ah #@^& you." The professor was boring as hell, all I could do is sleep during class! I came to this economics class to learn more about how to see the economy system as a C.E.O, but the professor acts like everyone's there for the same @^&ing reason. Really annoying.
But, the takeaway from this, the moral of the story is that some people are hungry for something, often times more money, more revenue, more business.
This kind of espionage is the sole reason why I wish a solo company was more recommended. Or even remotely possible. But yes, it shows his character very well. In my first meeting with Juan, his attitude gave things away. I'm trying to help one of their customers understand what's going on with their classifieds site (which is integrated with vbulletin), but Juan shuts me off. I didn't bother fighting back. Instead, I let him do what he please and let his character show to his own customers.
Classifieds for vBulletin can work, but vBSEO doesn't serve Classifieds URL's out of the box. I mean, vBSEO can only do so much; if you push too many URL's out of vBSEO, you make the server work more, and harder. Because the htaccess file is one big fat file when working with classifieds. So, not even CDN will work. It will work to some degree, but not enough for ipad to load it in a snappy load. Or vice versa. The worst part is, the software that the classifieds site was using was the legendary vB3.
Talk about leveraging "this is my sister, don't get in my way, #!^&!" against "how about you treat your sister with respect? she's my wife, ya know!" Don't worry about it. Move on, and it looks like you have already.
You married the founder's SISTER, bro!?!?!?!?!?!
I dunno about you, man, but I'm laughing here, that's just too priceless.
EDIT: I'm still up and am going to respond to your address to this community....
I think I speak for everyone here: We at Admin Talk, are surprised. Mostly because they decided to control Brandon's decision to advertise his interview with the general vBSEO customer base, or community for that matter. And then, removing his signature, and telling him not to re-add it. That just tells everyone else that you're hiding something. Or you have something to hide. Yes, mert. I'm talking about you and vBSEO in general.
Poor judgement indeed.
It doesn't sound like he likes to listen to reason, nor want to be bossed around.
His actions speak louder than words, so you don't really need this background laundry.
Good luck on that. With vB4 causing vBulletin as a brand to fall, I can expect vBSEO to die a slow death if it's not sold to a company like Internet Brands. And I mean soon.
Exactly my point earlier. I may be conceding a fight, and walking away with silence, but it speaks volumes.
Now, that's a great way to prove that you're one of the founding members of Crawlibility... Splendid job, Mr. Ward! Juan looks so young in there.
vBSEO licensing is $149 + $35 renewal. However, there are also installation, upgrade, and branding removal services/options which people purchase as well. It is not uncommon to get an order totaling $345 for license/install/branding removal. Sales peaked at around $800k, but it is my understanding they declined rapidly and Crawlability was having difficulty paying its monthly expenses, and was in tax arrears. However, I also believe a portion of its revenues were being reallocated to other projects, outside of Crawlability Inc's focus.
It was a large company evaluating us to buy us. However, I'm not at liberty to disclose who they are since there was an NDA, and I do not have it available to review the terms or my personal obligations to it.
Juan at Cocktails
I'm surprised to hear you say that you had a less than completely positive feeling about Juan in a social environment. He's actually a very charming guy, a factor that has allowed him to recruit many people into his various projects throughout the years. If they had played salsa music, he would have been the center of attention. He is an absolutely fantastic salsa dancer. =)
Hungry for Money
For Juan, I don't think so, except to the extent that money allows him to pursue greater challenges as you suggested. In my opinion, based on what I know and have observed in him, Juan's passion is almost entirely motivated by creating a huge hit and putting him on the same playing field as the Silicon Valley elite. I believe that is the source of his hunger. And who could fault him for having lofty aspirations and wanting to create something so significant? I appreciate those qualities. Doing it at the expense of your family and partners is, however, unacceptable by most ethical standards - and certainly by my own. I've only scratched the surface of the hostile, behind-the-scenes tyranny that has gone on.
Single Founder Company
It's a catch 22. It's hard to grow and succeed with any company without partners. Yet, it's also very hard to maintain a long term, positive relationship with people who may have diverging motivations, interests, or vision for the future. Conflict itself is not a poor reflection on the team. It is how the team members deal with conflict that measure their character. I'd suggest that locking out the other two, refusing to communicate, and denying they existed in their original roles demonstrates a significant lack of character.
And, yes, family business can be often even more challenging!
Shutdown Interview Thread at vBSEO
I honestly would not fault them for removing such a thread. If I were at vbseo.com managing the community still, I may certainly have decided that matters pertaining to the executive or founding team are off limits in the forums. My issue was that the thread was closed, but a tech support team member is able to make a follow up comment, speaking with some presumed authority regarding the formation and ownership of a company in which they played no role in starting. That was Mert's mistake. My guess is that Juan may not have been aware as he generally does not like his staff drawing more attention to sensitive issues.
vBSEO's Slow Death
It's very difficult to displace a brand like vBulletin overnight. vBSEO has also established itself well as a brand. However, it is apparently in decline. I think if the focus had been kept on vBSEO, with new innovations or perhaps even related product offerings, the company could still be doing well and growing. At this point, if I were to step in as CEO, I would have to start by doing a lot of re-structuring, getting re-focused and back to basics, getting the next version of vBSEO out, but also looking at new business opportunities for the future. If what I hear is correct, I might have to hire a team of accountants as well!
I'm attaching one of Juan and I at work just after I arrived in Puerto Rico in 2005. It was taken in an apartment in Joyuda, Puerto Rico where Crawlability and vBSEO were born. We actually got to the point of running out of ALL money, including rent and groceries. Because of going broke, we were compelled to finally release vBSEO. I believe we sold 13 licenses the first day, which saved us from both starvation and eviction. Ilia and Juan are fond of referring to it as our "eating crackers" phase. =)
This interview just keeps getting better. Thanks Joe!
The only way to make it big!
Thank you for your mention and kind words, @Joe Ward. I appreciate it. Sorry to hear about these difficulties.
I know that. I said around $1x0, and $3x. As for the expenses skyrocketing, and revenue going in a downward spiral.... Eeek. This decline is more to do with vBulletin. I mean, vBSEO was a quality service. If there was an xenSEO, and the team was together again. And I mean the original team that made vBSEO a breakout success in the beginning, I would buy it in a heartbeat. But both situations aren't looking viable, since you and Juan part ways.
I was surprised to see Juan at ForumCon Cocktails, knowing his whole ship is about to sink into the bottom of the sea.
He's a charming guy, I give you that. But there are parts of him that gives off this uneasiness, and I explained this in two different occasions. It was nice to meet someone from vBSEO, but that excitement died off rather quick. Seemed like a nice guy, a go-getter kind of guy, ya know? I didn't expect him to shut me off like that. I've been nice enough to him only to be disrespected.
Whoa. There's NDA's for acquisition talks!? I don't remember many companies doing this.
I was agreeing with you when I said "Juan might be hungry for this and that." I mean, if I had a successful company like crawlability, I'd be hungry for more. And I would also want to be in the same league as the Silicon Valley elites, as you say. I want to go beyond that, though. My aspirations are further than that.
And the worst part is, I LIVE in the driving distance of Silicon Valley. If I wanted an investor from Silicon Valley, I have access here. But I need to position my company as a powerhouse brand. While the name is already out there, it's not enough.
I'm all for partnerships, and all... but that kind of espionage described above is what makes me want to keep solo. I do understand the need for finding partners, and I just haven't found a partner that is right for me and my company. I have a friend in Kentucky, who's good at many things, but we get into more arguments than solving problems. Shame. I could have had a partner by now.
You make a point, but I don't like Mert's attitude towards "power users" such as Brandon over here. I don't think Brandon was trying to do anything to tarnish vBSEO or anything like that. It's more to do with filling in the fanbase with what's been happening. And then, his disregard for your foundership to boot....? I dunno. Not cool.
Does that hint at a possible revival of vBSEO or something new going on at Crawlability? You heard it right here, AT'ers!
Sooo, which one of you studs is Juan and yourself? [Both of you have your shirts off, so no innuendos here.]
It's so weird to see Juan without all that freakin' hair!
For reference to those of you who want to compare:
Relationship of vBSEO and vBulletin Sales
We were always aware that if vBulletin made an attempt to implement native "SEO friendly URLs", it could impact us. However, we were correct in our assumption that their attempt would not be as comprehensive as what vBSEO provided. By not doing so, they further positioned us as *the* premium vBulletin SEO solution. While we breathed a sigh of relief when we saw what they put out there, we also realized that it could still lead to a marginal loss in sales. Essentially, any user that believes the SEO provided with vBulletin is adequate, may not seek out a 3rd party app like vBSEO. The weeks following their release, monitoring our sales charts in BizAdmin, were quite tense.
vBulletin SEF URLs likely had some impact. xenForo's arrival was after my time at vBSEO, so I'm really not sure if they were able to offset vBulletin sales significantly. However, it's certainly fair to suggest that as xenForo or Launch.forum (or others) erode vBulletin's customer base, that means less potential customers for vBSEO. I did hear a rumor that Juan was characterizing the decline of vBSEO as being directly correlated to a supposed vBulletin decline. If so, he seems to be in agreement with your hypothesis.
Personally, I think the slowing of the vBSEO release cycle also was a major contributor. Here's why. The sales trends that I saw always seem to indicate that following a (i) new release with (ii) a discounted sale, vBSEO's overall monthly sales volume would become sustainably elevated, long term. If you realize that every forum that runs vBSEO is then also marketing vBSEO, it's clear that adding 200 new forums in about a 1 week period, is not only a strong influx of sales, but also a 200 forum marketing channel! Hundreds of thousands of users potentially seeing vBSEO for the first time.
Whatever the actual underlying cause of the sales growth was, it did seem to be correlated with our release cycle. When we did that more often, we could boost sales faster. Now that the release cycles are so slow, we can't take advantage of that growth pattern.
I'm not in communication with Juan anymore, so I'm not sure of his current status. That does sound unlike him. I knew he was at ForumCon (family grapevine), but I was not sure exactly why. It would have been refreshing to find out if he actually was there to promote vBSEO. Thumbs up on that one!
However, it's also been rumored that he's working on some type of forum application himself. He was prototyping a Facebook based forum-like application that I saw, and it's possible he may have "pivoted" that into something else, knowing Juan. TBD.
I worked in San Franciso from 2000-2001, and lived in Foster City and Mountain View (1 mile from Googleplex)! I really enjoyed my experience there, but I found it grotesquely expensive to live. My tiny apartment ate up a huge chunk of my income.
Carlosx360 is a marketing firm?
The key to a strong partnership is to have a legal agreement on Day 1 even if you absolutely 100% trust your partner. Situations and people change. Protect "each other" by having an agreement and explicitly detail the roles and chain of command, how decisions are to be made, etc. Then when conflict arises, you can refer back to everything you documented. People tend to shy away from formalizing agreements with people because they find it awkward. It will be far less awkward then when they find themselves at each other's throats a few years later! =)
Despite my disappointment in Mert, I am a fair guy. I know him to be a good friend to people, a family man, and he was always a hard worker for any of the technical tasks we asked of him. Our staff time tracker typically showed him leading the team in contribution of time. However, he does have a tendency to get frustrated and anger easily, and that just doesn't work well especially when dealing with customers and representing a professional brand. Mert likes a good fight when someone irks him. Since that's me as of recent, I guess that explains the motivation for his comment in the thread at vBSEO.com. Some people just don't have great impulse control and it leads to slip ups that they may regret later. In fact, my little Barbara Walter's tell-all-style interview here might fall into the same category for me someday!
If Juan finally acknowledged his partner and stepped down from CEO of vBSEO (voluntarily or court ordered), I would participate in the revitalization process of the company. I put a big chunk of my life into vBSEO, and I'd like to see it success and it's customers made a priority again. It would be an uphill battle at this stage, but I'm always down for a challenge. Of course, it would have to be something my Viral Age team was on board with and have some collaborative aspect. Who knows... we might even remove some of our embedded Launch.forum SEO so that we could develop LFSEO! Kidding. =)
My reference to the accountants was just me joking about something I expect is severely needed. Although I would love to share with you that something was in the works, it's not as present time, unless Juan has a new game plan for the company!
Update: I found a sales data capture, and it appears that 2008 sales were $621,000, so the $800k figure I've been referencing seems to be inflated. Apologies, it's been awhile. =)
Here's another picture of us when we were in San Juan to deliver our business presentation to the EnterprizePR executive judging team. Juan and I presented that day. He did the introduction and vBSEO overview, and I outlined the business fundamentals.
It did. I'll explain in a minute about this, but most of the vBulletin customers are like... "What's the point of vBSEO if vB4 does it out of the box?" And, since vB4 launch, I've seen a lot of these discussions. Including right here in these Admin Talk forums.
It is true. First of all, vBulletin 4's quality was bad, even with SEO implemented. This resulted in less vB4 sales, so therefore, there's a small marketshare for vBSEO. There's no enticement to buy either product. In fact, I was a vBSEO customer myself. I have been since around 2007. vB3 + vBSEO was tolerable - the SEO was okay. But vBSEO with vB4 was in short, a disaster. Not only was vBulletin 4 bad, it directly impacted the customer's experience with vBSEO. And vice versa. Why? Well, vB4 was a resource hog by itself. vBSEO was a resource hog, too but not in the bad way. It tried to fill every need of a webmaster or forum owner. I could go on, but I'm not going to. I'm tired at the moment.
I live right next to Foster City, FYI.
Mmmm...More ore less. It's not exactly a marketing firm. It's more like those niche networks like VerticalScopes/VerticalSports (same people, one company), Internet Brands, Curse, Ientry, and AtomicOnline. It can be a marketing firm, but the entire focus of the company is geared towards video games. And the worst part is there isn't too many video game investors out there.
Back in my teenage years, I've always wanted to write for one of the most prestigious magazines. Then the internet exploded at the turn of the century. Now everything is online. I started my network as a blog at first as a testing ground, then I anted up, and ramped up my acquisition spree and started to build out my company through creating successful niche blogs or forums. My marketing campaigns were so successful, I was able to write a business plan. But all of this planning relies on my cousin who happens to be an accountant... but she's not really enticed to work on it. So now I'm stuck, because I want my company to grow more. I kept pushing my family to take a risk somewhere. Nobody's listening.
I have seen my friends who happens to be website owners take $6000 in revenues, others are making more. That friend took in $6000 in ad revenue from a popular Nintendo forum, then he sold it for an amount I forget. I'm thinking around 10k or more since the site was pretty #@^&ing big.
Internet Brands, Ientry, VerticalScopes are all doing twice that $6000.
I'm seeing a lot of opportunities in the game industry right now. The industry is going through a massive change, a paradigm shift, if you will. I see some holes that I want to fill. I see problems that could easily be solved by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs like myself.
What's more is that the industry is growing so big, it could be in the same league as films as a mainstream media. Last fall, MW3 took in 775 million dollars at launch. It's scary to think that Black Ops 2 is coming out in a few months from now. By the time the game is released, Activision is a billion dollar company. If not, a multi-billion dollar company.
Ah. I see.
I know what you mean!
I'm trying get get Ilia & Juan Muriente to stop by and comment too.
Very interesting Brandon & Joe. I've been using vBulletin since V2 and vbSEO since the beginning. I think I'm with everyone in saying that vbSEO has been disappointing lately with lack updates and support. I'm glad that I now have some more insight as to why.
Actually I am on the same phase which to choose?Computer science/Comp engineering/BIT?
Hey Ray - imagine it's 10 years from now. What would your perfect day be like? What would be the majority of your tasks while at your perfect job or within your own perfect business?
If you really love the technical aspects, you might want to choose between CS and Engineering, which (to simplify things) is a question of whether you'd rather be focused on software or hardware. That is, if we're sticking to Engineering in the context of Electronic Engineering, device manufacturing, robotics, firmware, etc. In the Makerbot and low cost robotics era, that's some very exciting stuff. If you want to be an expert and spend the bulk of your time hands on, that's the way to go.
Building 5/10/15 or more years of experience in your industry hands on, also sets you up perfectly to make the jump to entrepreneurship later. You can always learn as you go with business (self study), or work towards an MBA.
If your passion includes entrepreneurship now, then a BIT right out of the gate may be a great option. However, I would recommend building industry skills in parallel to your degree at the same time. Depending on your interests right now, a really good focus of your self study would be Agile + iOS + Android app development. Get certified in Agile and start building apps in your free time, so you're industry ready on the day of graduation. Much of your degree will focus on theory, which prepares you to understand your industry, but doesn't necessarily equip you with a job-ready skill set. The best in class of new grads have prepared on their own by "doing" simultaneously as they study. We'll see iOS and Android powering more and more non-mobile devices in the future too, so there is huge value in becoming an expert in that stream.
Carlos - how many sites do you have in your network now?