Eric Siu (Los Angeles, CA) is the founder of content intelligence software ClickFlow. He is also the Chairman of ad agency Single Grain and has worked with companies such as Amazon, Airbnb, Salesforce, and Uber to acquire more customers. He hosts two podcasts: “Marketing School with Neil Patel” and “Leveling Up”, which combined have over 43 million downloads to date. He also speaks frequently around the world on marketing and SaaS. In his youth, Eric was not academically or socially successful, but he was a serious high-level eSports and poker player. He ultimately found how to convert his focus and success in gaming into a very successful career in marketing. He also contributes to Entrepreneur Magazine, Business Insider, Forbes, Fast Company, Time magazine, and more.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Eric and here’s what went down:
Could you please tell our readers a brief background about yourself and how you started your business?
Sure, my name is Eric Siu and I’m an entrepreneur who helps other businesses grow. I have a marketing agency that has served companies like Amazon, Nordstrom, Salesforce, and Uber. I also run a marketing analytics company called ClickFlow.
But before all the business-y stuff, I was a hardcore gamer. I actually spent most of my youth playing World of Warcraft, EverQuest, Defense of the Ancients, Counter-Strike, Quake, Team Fortress, Warcraft III, Diablo, you name it.
My biggest challenge was always that I accomplished much more in games than I did in real life. I had to log off, In games, I won championships, played with the best teams, and accomplished really difficult goals. Not so much in real life. I was constantly written off and had little confidence in myself.
It was only when I figured out how to apply gaming concepts to real-life did things start to transform for the better. That’s why I wrote Leveling Up, to teach others how to do the same.
When did your entrepreneurial flair first reveal itself?
Back when I was still hardcore gaming. I picked up a lot of the foundational habits and skills I wound up using in business. When I think back to why I was able to win gaming championships despite the odds, it was because of consistent, hard, painstaking work. There’s no way I could have gotten there without progressing methodically and patiently.
I actually have a sense of pride when I think back to my gaming days because these accomplishments provided me with foundational confidence that allowed me to eventually succeed in real life and business.
Thanks to that confidence, I was able to parlay my gaming experience into resurrecting two companies, taking over one, starting a software company, speaking internationally, hosting two podcasts with over thirty million listens (Marketing School and Leveling Up), hosting a reality video series (also called Leveling Up), and guest lecturing at universities on entrepreneurship and marketing.
How did your life look like before being an entrepreneur?
So actually growing up, I was a disappointment in the eyes of my parents. I never cared much for school and I was terrible at sports. In fact, I was almost always chosen last when it came to pickup games. School never made much sense to me because having to wake up, report to someone, and obey a regime based on what others thought I should learn didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to do things on my own terms.
I was always late to catch on to things. I’d always be chosen last for pickup basketball games. I was at the bottom of the food chain when I joined the high school drumline. I was picked on frequently because I was smaller and shy. I was told to “be cool” or to “stop trying to fit in.” I always had trouble summoning up the courage to ask out girls. In fact, I didn’t have my first real girlfriend until I was twenty-six.
“You’re just not good enough to do that stuff,” I would constantly tell myself. I had an enormous chip on my shoulder growing up and was hell-bent on proving all the naysayers wrong. I tried all kinds of ways, but I just continued to fail over and over. People laughed at me and underestimated me, but I always had my escape: the world of gaming.
And now I play the game of business.
As an entrepreneur, what is it that motivates and drives you?
Honestly, my passion for entrepreneurship is driven mostly because I love it. I love the game of business. Every day I wake up and I’m excited about what I have planned, that’s why I see life as the ultimate game.
In one word, describe your life as an entrepreneur and explain why.
Vision. With everything I do, I always think of the third and fourth-order consequences. I think being a successful entrepreneur is having a long-term vision, that’s something I try to live out and instill in all my employees.
What were your top three motivations for starting your business?
Need – I overleveraged myself and had to make it work.
Passion – I love marketing, SEO, PPC, you name it so starting Single Grain was a perfect fit.
Freedom – I was never a good 9 to 5 employee so I knew I had to start my own business someday.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful business?
There has to be a good product or service market fit. Otherwise, you’re going to be spinning your wheels for long and you might not know why. Next, make sure you’re thinking about the customer and product first. If you’re making decisions to improve your customers’ experience they will reward you with long-term business and referrals. Finally, I think entrepreneurs need to be willing to stomach some risk. Everything is not perfectly laid out step-by-step like being an employee, there will always be some risk involved, but not as much as what people might think.
What are the three biggest challenges you have faced growing the business and how did you overcome them?
So when I bought Single Grain for $2 and then turned it around there were a lot of challenges on my mind. For one, I was trying to do everything on my own. That’s a recipe for disaster and I quickly learned the importance of outsourcing. Second, I didn’t hire the right people at first. I made sure to level up my hiring processes to fix our talent pool. Third, was just struggling for many years to get the word out about my business and brand. The best way to overcome this last challenge is just perseverance.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
We’ve always thought of SEO as our specialty, even ranking #1 at times for Digital Marketing Agency and Los Angeles local terms. We put a heavy emphasis on creating quality content consistently, having a content machine works for us and gets us inbound leads.
As you grew the business, what have been some of the most important leadership lessons you have learned?
I’ve learned that the best quality for a leader to have is selflessness and clearly defining the core values you want your team to uphold. For example, our core values here at Single Grain are growth, long-term vision, integrity, accountability, creativity, and tenacity. We make sure we don’t hire anyone that doesn’t fit this vision and it keeps our mission in alignment.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Done is better than perfect.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
I’d say don’t put the cart before the horse. I see a lot of new entrepreneurs go out and try and sell ‘courses on how to run an agency’ without ever running an agency. Make sure you take things one step at a time and always think long-term.