Matt Peters grew up in NYC. He was a finance and economics major at Fordham University, so naturally he went to Wall Street once he graduated. He quickly outgrew that though and got involved in PR. While working for a competitor, he realized there were no solutions for individuals who were on a limited budget. So, he created a “do it yourself” software to control your online presence. That software took off, and in 2010, it became SearchManipulator.com. With offices in New York City and San Francisco, and over 30 employees, SearchManipulator has become an industry leader in online reputation management. Matt has been featured in HuffPost, CBS’s MoneyWatch, and ESPN Radio’s Lunch N’ Learn.
How did the concept for SearchManipulator come about?
I was working on automated software for data entry employees of the company I was working for when I suddenly realized, “The consumer should have this, not the data entry guys!” So, I hired a brilliant computer engineer I knew from Fordham and we started working on it the very next day.
How was the first year in business?
Rough. We didn’t charge enough for the software, so people didn’t take it seriously. It was incredibly easy to use, but we used too many technical terms in its sales pitch, so people kept thinking they weren’t tech savvy enough to use it. It only started selling once we raised the price a bit, and once we started offering professional services to supplement the software.
What was your marketing strategy?
We tried everything in the beginning, from AdWords to direct mail. The best approach ended up being the bloggers and journalists who we convinced to mention us on their platforms. Now that we are established, our best marketing strategy has been taking great care of our resellers and affiliates.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
It didn’t grow at all in the first year. We were six guys in their 20s living in a 3-bedroom apartment that also served as our office, struggling to find our identity as a company. We saw exponential growth in year two and year three, and we had our own apartments. Ever since then, we have been continuously growing our client base and lowering our overhead.
How do you define success?
I define success by how many clients’ reputations I get to save each year. Our clients almost always have something damaging online that they don’t want their friends or customers to find. We are selective of who we work with by declining individuals who committed a heinous crime, or a business that is blatantly running a scam. Instead, we focus on clients who had an unfair defamatory article posted about them and it’s damaging their reputation and their livelihood as a result.
What is the key to success?
You need to genuinely care about your clients, rather than put them through a cookie cutter process. Every client is different, so you need to get to know them and then tailor a game plan to their needs.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
We all deserve a second chance. We are human, and make mistakes. The Internet might never forget, but we can certainly help it remember the positive things you’ve done as an individual or business, and bury those mistakes so they are never found again.
What are some quotes that you live by?
Two that go hand in hand, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it” – Warren Buffett and “Think before you speak” – my mom, everyday before school started. Being a New Yorker, I would constantly say what was on my mind, even when I shouldn’t have. I’ve learned from my mistakes, and now I’m hoping to help others avoid them. Anything you post, tag or Tweet can have major repercussions in today’s Internet. We all have different ideologies, political views and humor, so think of how others will perceive it before you post.
What are some of your favorite books?
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The wisdom in it is almost a century old, but still applies today. Make people feel important, smile, and listen is a great lesson.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I hired a contractor through UpWork, a freelance site, which would monitor his hours worked. He used one of the automated bot applications we were having him create to beat the system, and bill for false hours by pretending he was working when he wasn’t. It took me two weeks to catch him, but by then he had already stolen a lot of money. I was furious with UpWork for not having systems in place to detect abuse like that, but I was ultimately furious with myself for not detecting the theft sooner. It was an important and expensive lesson learned for me.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Some Mondays, I’ll come into the office and look at a thousand unread emails from the weekend and be overwhelmed. But I know that if I don’t get it done, then I am letting down a lot of clients. They become ecstatic when we help them by getting rid of something defamatory or untrue, and those are the moments that motivate me to work harder.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Avoid taking on investments, unless you really have to. Too many young entrepreneurs are fixated on growing or finding the next round of funding, when they should be focused on keeping their overhead low and client base happy. If you have to share ownership and your profits, then you are going to have to charge more to your clients, and that will ruin your competitive edge.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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