Jim Yu is CEO of Brightedge, now recognized as one of the de facto enterprise SEO management platforms industrywide. From a small startup on the West Coast, Brightedge has grown rapidly and now employs over 200 people.
I sat down with Jim for our Live On 65 feature to talk about the growth of Brightedge, the growth of Share—the industry conference produced annually by Brightedge in San Francisco—and what’s new and upcoming.
Mike: It’s not been long since you and I had a chat and a few drinks in San Francisco at Share.
Jim: Just a few drinks. Just a few.
Mike: I was there for the BrightEdge Conference. We’ll come back to that in a moment. BrightEdge has got a great story. You’ve been so successful, grown so quickly over the years. One of the things that I like to do is just to get the kind of skinny first of all. What was it that you were doing before BrightEdge? What gave you the idea for BrightEdge and why did you do it?
Jim: I’ve spent about 15 years in the enterprise software space so right before starting BrightEdge I was working at Salesforce.com. We were doing a lot of things around cloud computing. This was 10 years ago, so we’re still figuring out how to drive things into the cloud.
Mike: You guys were up there wh
ere the air is rare before anybody else.
Jim: That’s right. That’s right. At the same time, I actually…one of the things that many people don’t know about me is I ran a lot of websites for fun. I’ve actually been doing organic search optimization for a long time. This was back when the Overture tools were still popular. Do you remember that?
Mike: This is Jim admitting to being a black hat spammer. I hope Matt Cutts is not watching.
Jim: No, no, no. No black hat spam. A little bit of long tail back then. Long tail was very effective. Just saw this huge opportunity where marketing was changing and all the organic media was incredibly powerful and just saw a huge opportunity to really deliver enterprise class technology to help brands with leveraging organic media.
Mike: I guess starting something like BrightEdge, which was geared specifically towards organic search where there is so much change, you really have to be on the ball, you really have to be chasing it all of the time. Is there anything that’s happened…and a lot has happened…how long have you been at it, seven years?
Jim: Seven years. Yeah.
Mike: Seven years. Yeah. Is there anything in the past seven years that really had you going “grrr… I hate you Google” or “shit, didn’t see that one coming on.”
Jim: No. Not so much. I think by and large if you look at what’s happened in the industry, I think the channels go where the end consumers go. They’re trying to evolve to make sure they’re staying ahead of the changes happening in consumer behavior. By and large, I think, the channels do a good job of evolving to that.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t change. There’s tons of change. When we started the company, Yahoo was a dominant search engine. It wasn’t the primary one, but it was still 20 percent market share. I remember we had the Caffeine update. That was a big update. Lots and lots of updates since.
Lots and lots of change but I think on the whole, I think one of the things that’s been really exciting is just the rise of content and driving performance with content and marketers really focusing on how do you drive quality content to the end consumer.
Mike: Tell me about BrightEdge, how it’s been growing as a company. I think you guys started with just, it was a handful of people.
Jim: That’s right. That’s right.
Mike: Pretty big company yourselves now?
Jim: Yeah. When we started, it was my co-founder Lemuel Park and I, literally working out of my kitchen table building a lot of technology. We were building this massive index, this thing that we now know as the Data Cube of indexing billions of pieces of content around the web and topics and so forth. Now it’s grown.
The first three years really actually were pretty challenging in the early days because we were pioneering the industry. We would go up and down the valley and sort of help evangelizing this vision of enterprise class technology for SEO and content marketing and so forth. Most people just said, “why don’t you just run the ads?” We thought the ads are a huge part but you have to be able to create good quality content, too. Now it’s grown where we have over a thousand direct customers, about 10,000 brands, we’ve got six locations worldwide. It’s really becoming a global community and it’s been really exciting.
Mike: That’s true. I have to tell you when I was at Share, which is the BrightEdge conference, there was a guy dressed as a cube.
Jim: That’s right.
Mike: Dave the cube.
Jim: That’s right.
Mike: Dude, how much did they pay you to do that? Talk about the community because even you yourself Jim are very, very well known in the community. You speak at the conferences, you do a lot of writing so people kind of look to you quite a lot for advice on what’s coming next.
I guess a lot of companies do a client conference, but Share has actually become fairly ingrained in the SEO community, yeah?
Jim: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. I think when we started Share we really wanted to create an industry conference where we could bring together thought leaders from around the world, whether it’s digital marketing channels or leading brands or leading agencies, to really push the envelope, really look at what’s coming. What are the major changes? What are the things that matter to brands and so forth and really sort of creating an industry conference around that.
I’ve been really excited about what we’ve seen in terms of the growth of the community and all the innovation that’s happening.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. When I was…just a few weeks ago, I was thinking, “glad I’m not in this industry.” It was a great atmosphere, the community is great. Amongst all of the great food, the dinners, the cocktails, the shampoo and everything else, I guess there was some content as well.
Mike: Some of the sessions were great. Really, really good stuff. Yeah. One thing that’s always interesting to ask, particularly when you work on the organic side of the business, is you don’t actually use the word advert. If somebody asks you, “Jim, what do you do? What is your business? What’s the answer?” What do you say?
Jim: I think it’s really helping marketers create great content and drive performance from that content. If you think about what’s happening right now, lots and lots of focus for marketers on creating organic content. Over 18 billion dollars being spent now each year on content, 27 million pieces of content being created every day by marketers. What we do is we help them drive performance from that. We help them understand what is the demand out there for that content, what’s the right content to create, how to optimize that content and ultimately report on that and analyze the performance of it.
Mike: That’s a long answer to a short question Jim.
Jim: That’s right.
Mike: It’s a good job. The elevator ride here is very long up to the 65th floor. We’re going to talk content with Jim Yu. We’ll be right back after this.
Click here for Part 2 of the Jim Yu interview transcript