Anthony Bucci is the Co-Founder and CEO of RevZilla, a leading e-commerce company specializing in motorsports and motorcycle accessories. In this episode, he shares with us his fascinating and inspiring journey from enthusiast to immensely successful business leader and brand builder. Anthony’s insight affirms many of the brand principles that we examine in prior episodes and is delivered in a very entertaining way. If you enjoy our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a review!Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | RSS
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. Thank you for joining us today. I have to confess, unfortunately as wonderful as this podcast is, it just isn’t a full-time job. We have other things to do, and for that reason, because of some travel out west and back east, we’re going to rebroadcast a fabulous interview, if I do say so myself, with Anthony Bucci, the co-founder and CEO of RevZilla. It is in no way an unfortunate thing because we believe the power of his thoughts and insight is worth, certainly, hearing if you haven’t already, and if you heard it way back when, hearing again.
We will back with new and fresh content next week, now that the travel schedule has come back to earth a little bit, but for now, enjoy all that Anthony has to offer.
Bill: Here we are at RevZilla world headquarters in the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, which, if anyone has a chance to get down here, is an incredible place with a showroom attached. Really feels as unique as this company is. We’re here with Anthony Bucci. Thanks for being with us, first of all, but give us the scoop on this. What’s happening at RevZilla?
Anthony Bucci: That’s a hell of an intro and I appreciate that. Everything is happening at RevZilla. We are in a place of still hyper growth at the seven-and-a-half-year mark, so just closing Q2 of 2015. Still on a hyper growth, north of 35% growth trajectory, big base of business. Right now, the story is talent and scale. That’s where we’re at.
Bill: Amazing. Your journey here, as with everyone who’s built businesses and brands, has twists and turns. Could you take us through the highlights of how Anthony became the Anthony that’s sitting with us today?
Anthony: Oh my gosh. Thankfully, it’s a work in progress. If we rewind all the way back to where my journey started, I’m actually an ex-developer. I’m still a tech guy, very much so at my core. We always think of this business as a technology company – these days it’s a technology and media company – focusing in the motorcycle vertical, with a lot of enthusiasm for moto and a lot of enthusiasts on board.
For me personally, my journey started – I was an interesting kid. I was a late bloomer. I confused the hell out of my parents at 13 when I said, ‘I really want VB 3.0.’ My father, who is an ex-professional athlete, looked at me and he said, ‘What’s a VB 3.0?’
Bill: You should get some dates, son. Stop worrying about that stuff.
Anthony: It wasn’t that bad, but it was more of, ‘You should really go outside and play.’ I really wanted to figure out what a four loop does. We buy VB 3.0, and in my mid teens I was a developer, rode the first wave of the internet, had a homepage on Prodigy, and then AOL, and went from there, and ran up the modem bill dialing overseas BBS’s when we figured out what that was.
I think the highlight of my developer career was, I did some web application stuff in the late ’90s for SAP while I was still in high school, and then I was on the agency side during the first dotcom at Drexel on a couple co-ops. I started as a developer, which ultimately led to some different interesting paths that arrived at RevZilla. But my background was hard-core tech, until I realized that guys like Matt and Nick, my co-founders, were way better than I would ever be, and that’s when I decided to blend my approach.
Bill: Right. As noted, you have some tenure in the agency world, and I know that at a certain point you were an e-commerce service provider, helping folks on that early first wave begin to transact online. How did the transition happen from being this service provider to a bunch of different companies to deciding that you want to be an operator, own a vertical, go deep as a dev guy, and the enthusiasm for moto? Tell us about that process in your life and career.
Anthony: The neat part was that I was a developer in 2001. I would say I was CompSci at Drexel, and by the time I was 22 I said, ‘I’ve done almost a decade of programming.’ For me looking back now, probably at a mediocre level, but it was leading edge there.
My career ended with .net. I said, ‘I’d really like to understand the people side of this. I understand the business side.’ I finished college as an Information Systems major, and when I was getting out of school I approached some of the work I’d done previously, some of the companies I had worked with, and I said, ‘I might go back to the agency side, but maybe it’s project management or sales.’
Lucky for me, I chose sales, because I think that that actually played better to my strong suits. I have learned over time that moving too fast and capturing the details seems to be an Achilles heel for me. What led me ultimately to RevZilla is I worked at a lot of blue chip brands. The dotcom bubbles burst in ’01, and by ’03, ’04, ’05, you had brands saying, ‘Well, we know we need to do this online thing,’ and the stigma around dotcom had subsided a little bit. The economy was coming back, and many key brands said, ‘We need to go direct.’
Then they started to go direct, and they said, ‘Wow, 70 point margins with channel conflict that people are just going to have to deal with is something that we’re willing to take on because it could dramatically drive our bottom line.’ You had businesses like Smashbox Cosmetics, Calvin Klein underwear, and Crayola that had already done it.
I was working in the agency world, and some of these were my accounts. Some accounts were house accounts that the agency was already working on. You got to see this blend of brand, this blend of experience and this blend of technology, which took brands to market for the first time, and ultimately it was a hell of an education for a guy in my seat, that was like, ‘I understand the tech of how it all works, but now let me hear from the brand experienced people about how it all goes together.’
That was my e-commerce education, and really it was. [At the time] I was getting ready to buy my first bike. Mom and Dad said, ‘No bikes, no tattoos until you’re ready to be on your own.’ That was the mantra in my house growing up. Mom and Dad don’t have tattoos, but Dad had a bike in college, and he said, ‘I don’t want to worry about you.’ When I was about 25-26, 3 years in agency life, I said, ‘I want a Ducati,’ and I started looking for a Ducati, and the Barneys of motorcycling didn’t exist.
That was like, well, I’m building all these great experiences for other brands, why isn’t there a great experience in this space? Even with fresh eyes as a new rider, it was, ‘Well, I know tech, I know experience, how much would it really take to launch something out of left field to change this industry?’ That was the original thesis.
Bill: You had, obviously, a strong grounding in the tech side of this. You had learned deeply about the delivery of brand experience within an e-commerce channel. You had a developing and long-term family passion for bikes. You saw a market opportunity, and that’s a lot of boxes to check, no question. I think the perhaps, stereotype of what this market was before the Internet, before RevZilla, it’s clubhouses, it’s local, it’s folks that are hanging around the shop.
Anthony: The word is ‘fragmented.’
Bill: Certainly fragmented, probably remains so to a degree, but what did you find when you … Yes, there maybe wasn’t a Barneys version of this online, but tell us about the market when you approached it among moto enthusiasts and riders.
Anthony: The market was at an interesting place, and if you really think about it, my favorite thing about motorcycling is no one needs it. I say that with love. It’s completely discretionary and an interesting risky life choice. I tell my wife when she’s like, ‘I want to get a bike,’ I’m like, ‘Well, it’s very dangerous.’
Bill: One of us needs to be safe.
Anthony: Yes. We have a lot of kids. But when we found it, this industry is full of amazing people, and they’re people with passion and love for the sport, that have been in it for a long time.
On the business side of this industry, it’s full of … I always love when they call it ‘the old boys’ club’. I mean folks that grew up as racers, that then worked within the brands, that then are the heads, the CEOs of some of these brands that are global brands, they’re ex-riders and racers. Unlike many industries that are riding the digital transition, they’re definitely not digital.
The best in the industry, when we started, was a lot of folks that were amazing dealerships, amazing dealer networks. A lot of this is there’s 11,000 dealerships where you go buy a bike and buy accessories, nation-wide, that were all reeling from the economy. The market went from 1.1 million units sold in 2005 or ’06, to in 2007 or ’08 it was 500,000, so completely decimated.
Our timing was when everyone was reeling, and then everyone was trying to figure out, ‘What’s this next wave look like, and how does digital affect us?’ While we had a more high-end approach, we said, ‘We’re going to cater to ourselves,’ which is this high-touch, want to research, want to really dive in consumer online. The industry was in a place of, ‘We’re battening down the hatches, we’re tightening our belts. We just got punched in the stomach, and what the hell is the internet going to do,’ because to date, no one’s really gotten any major traction. It was a perfect storm for us.
Bill: Absolutely. Then, the image of guys with long beards, black t-shirt..
Anthony: They’re beardy-weirdies.
Anthony: A beard’s length is a denotion of knowledge and skill.
Bill: Yes, as it is in many tribes around the world. Clearly, given the volume of this, as well as what you have either created, as well as leveraged, which is increasing technological interest and sophistication, deep research, that exists in spades within this category, it seems, beyond whatever that veneer might be that people use to create clichés about this.
Anthony: Very sophisticated, actually. Keep going.
Bill: Absolutely. You have also become a YouTube sensation – you and the Gangnam Style guy are, among others. Tell me about the path to being out front and meeting the marketplace as a personality of your own in telling the story.
Anthony: Three things: One, his name is Psy. Two, you just said ‘sensation’ to describe me, which is a very interesting word; and three, the backstory on YouTube is a happy accident.
If you think about our business, and you think about an enthusiast vertical, where someone buys an $800 helmet, it’s very emotional; it’s ultimately a device developed in R&D to save your life; it has a look, it has a style. After someone buys a bike, just think about the helmet for a second. It is the most emotional piece that they’re going to buy. Heavily researched. The super-premium ones, think about it, in their local dealership, are you really going to see that selection? You had this vacuum of availability and knowledge around things that are really expensive, very emotional, that people lust after. They wait and save for six months, then they go buy.
We found that when we started, the thesis was, let’s be a tech company, an authority, experience-driven, and a specialty vertical, which is really a recipe for value creation. It’s not about price and selection, let’s completely change. Everybody else in this space wanted to be a Walmart of motorcyles, big, cheap, touching everyone, and that’s not it. When you are passionate about something, you don’t want to buy that way. We knew that. I don’t think the industry had realized that yet, online.
The bottom line is this, in the early days, video came from the fact that we used to get phenomenal feedback from consumers, even the first year, when Matt, Nick, and I answered every phone call and every e-mail, and if someone said, ‘Hey, my name’s Bill. I live in Seattle, I ride 200 days a year, I get rained on half of those days. I have $300-500 to spend on a helmet, and I have a round head shape. Can you tell me the five helmets that’ll fit the bill for me, for my bike-riding style, locale, and budget?’
To do that, that’s an hour and a half phone conversation. That’s the dealership experience when you happen to get the knowledgeable person that comes in and meets up with a sales associate that’s ridden their whole life and is going to say, ‘I can take you down that journey.’ That’s 90 minutes. That first year, we’ll do that 90 minutes with people, and they say, ‘Oh my god, RevZilla, I can’t believe you know so much. I love that you’re so sophisticated.’
Honestly, we were newer-ish riders, but we’re geeks, so we researched, and we’re product guys. My background’s in snowboarding and outdoor mountaineering. I’ve known what Gore-Tex was since I was 12. We get the product side. I ultimately took a step back at some point in year two or three and I said, ‘This works. This is our brand lemonade. People love this from us. We’re their Sherpa. How do you scale it? How do you scale it virtually?’ The video came from scaling it.
The original thesis is, can I get somebody 90% of the way there on all the information that that gentleman, Bill, just asked me for, and then, when they call up, they’re going to say, ‘Listen, I watched a bunch of video, and can you just tell me which one’s going to vent a little bit better, and I’ll pick that one, but I’ve narrowed it down to three.’ We were right. Ultimately, it started rough, we polished that, but that breadth and scale of knowledge as a resource really was huge.
The happy accident – and you guys get this, because you’re brand guys – the happy accident is that for the same reason that Priceline went out and hired William Shatner; you think about trust on the internet, or trust in brands, people say, ‘I want to develop a relationship with someone I know and trust.’ By accident, over time, it ended up being me, which, when we started, it was on a flip cam with shop lights.
People forgave the production value because the information was good. I’ll never forget, because we tried to think, should we hire somebody from QVC, should we? It’s local. Who can we get to do this? My background was business development and technology, and I’m a product geek, but, I said to Matt, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? It’s the internet. We’ll take it down. We’re move fast, break things guys.’ I said, ‘If people really rebel against ‘Why is the Jersey Shore guy with the faux-hawk and muscles telling me about motorcycle gear,’ I know what I look like. I’m a fast-talking guy from the northeast. I said, ‘We’ll just take it down.’ Over time, people have said, ‘Your information’s great, and you’re fun to listen to.’ Happy accident. I find myself in this very non-scalable place, completely attached to our brand, with an amazing community of followers.
Bill: Happy accident, probably, when you think about what the category was, that served, as you say, a role in closing the loop between the traditional experience and expertise, and personal connection that one needs to feel with what the brand new world of tech and scale could do for this category. To that end, and in that spirit, I know that, obviously, when it comes to demand generation building the business and the brand, there are things that e-commerce companies do, regardless of category, in terms of thinking through SEO, and paid search, and re-targeting. All the fun stuff in the funnel, but I also know that RevZilla, at least it seems, has a very active calendar of going where your customers are, Sturgis or wherever. Can you talk about the blend of new and old-school relationship development, and how that helps drive the brand and business?
Anthony: If you look at the investment we made in video as an early bet, and even before we could really monetize it, before we really understood what it was worth – at this point, I know what it’s worth. We can touch high level, but I won’t be diving specifically in those weeds. The side-benefit, really, we got way more soft ROI feedback on video early on than we did hard ROI, which, really, we had to develop as a company to even have the tools to be able to mine for that, and it was, ‘We love it, it’s great.’ People were subscribing, they were joining the community, and it was, okay, figure out what this costs, even though we believe it’s moving the needle positive, but at minimum it’s part of that ‘give something of value away for free to sell something related.’
If you think of this as a publisher or a media entity on the moto gear side, we’re going to monetize because someone will ultimately buy a piece of gear, but ultimately we’re putting this resource out there for people to find and digest. If you look at it right, traditional marketing I would believe, it depends on where things fall. Magazine ads, we’ve never done them. Localized events, we’ve tried, and it’s been really hard.
Bill: That is hard.
Anthony: It has been. We went to Sturgis last year. That was an interesting spectacle. Fastest-growing segment for RevZilla right now is Harley Davidson, but new school customer and old school customer. We went to Sturgis and we said, ‘What value can we create for these folks?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I said, ‘I’m not sure they’re looking to party for this week.’ I said, ‘RevZilla could team up with Bud Light and sponsor something, but ultimately Harley’s here, the OEMs are here, but I don’t know where I play in that pool.’ When you think traditional, I would say that I skew, almost to a fault, at time, 95% new school, but it also comes from a startup founder.
We’re bootstraps, never taken outside capital, but the problem, almost what you develop over time, is ‘if I can’t measure it, I’m not going to do it.’ While video was easier because it was digital. With somebody, might sit down with a tremendous brand background, which, mine has been very much fundamentals learned over time, by trial and error. I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder what we’re leaving on the table, but, to answer your question more succinctly, we skew way new school versus any old school at all.
Bill: It’s interesting that when you look at it. It almost collapses the universe when you look at apps that are, by definition, new school.
Bill: Throwing up billboards in Times Square. It’s an amazing combination. The cycle with anything is that you correct and then you over-correct, and there’s a pendulum here, but it’s fascinating to see a brand like RevZilla that is most assuredly new school, that has the significant advantage of being conversant with these technologies, become so known for, at least on one level, and tentatively stepping a toe into content at the YouTube level. Absolutely new school technology, but being at Sturgis, thinking about personifying the business to bring, to understand the limitations of what the new school can be. It’s likely an unfolding story, I would think, as you think through how to best continue to build these connections beyond simply trust at the product level.
Anthony: We’ve done more of it. We’ve done different types of content that are a little bit more evergreen. If you ask me what our mission was as a company, it’s our outward facing mission or ‘why’ mission. In an enthusiast’s vertical, it becomes a little easier to hone in. You could easily say, ‘Our mission is to become the most dominant retailer.’ I think that was a very myopic view of it.
We’ve always said, ‘Our mission is to advance the experience of the motorcycle enthusiast,’ which I picked up along the way. It’s come through great conversations and the brainstorms of different folks, and we’ve always thought that way, but that’s how we’ve begun to crystallize it. If you think about that, it’s this value-creation play that you can make, but, to your point also is the changing landscape.
It’s funny. Today, I sit in the CEO seat. I’ve ultimately been the de facto CEO of RevZilla from go. I’m a brand geek before I’m a quant geek, so I’m a little bit more right-brained than I am left, but the landscape’s changing so fast for all of us in that marketing seat, and it’s actually been really hard, even when we think about talent, to try to navigate. I talked to a lot of folks on the marketing side, marketing talent, and they want to come in and just put a playbook to work that was a different playbook. Every year the tools, the tactics are changing, but even how consumers, if you look at our changing, 35-55 customer base versus what Millennials are expecting, I mean the rabbit hole I just opened up, it’s so deep, but it’s just so different. It is so different, and even from my seat people say, ‘You’re too in the weeds.’
I think I have to be close. I have to really understand how the forces are changing online, and where the venues are, and where people are going in the interaction points. Even to scale this business properly, you can’t disconnect from that, and that’s to your point on how quickly things are changing.
Bill: No question. You talk about scale, you talk about team members when you – I’m sure there’s a difference, function by function, as well as people by people – but I would imagine finding the blend of the professional skill set, knowing what the toolkit is, understanding which tools work and don’t work, but also having an appreciation for, as well as getting the enthusiasm that your customers have for what they’re doing. Is it hard to find people that check all these boxes, or when you think about HR and human resource strategy, what are the types of things you deal with and think about?
Anthony: Great question. It is tough. We all know this, in business, people are the edge. They are what creates the durability. They’re the driver in an e-commerce business. If our digital experience is our product, you have people that need to be able to move fast, iterate. We have a lot of fun. If you follow me on Instagram, you’re like, ‘That guy’s nuts, he has orange shoes,’ but we’re a performance culture.
You guys are here early today, and the lights stay off, but there’s a handful of people in the office that are just this digital athlete on SEAL Team Orange that’s trying to kill it. When you think about the blend between moto and, call it digital, everyone at RevZilla has to be natively digital. No Luddites. It doesn’t matter if your job is to be the Harley engine parts merchandiser, which is something so specific. You have to be extremely comfortable with new school technology, with Google Apps, to everything electronically.
My EA is our second oldest in life employee in the company, and she has youthful energy, she has 19 apps on her phone, doing different things productivity-wise. She’s an absolute killer when it comes to it. Again, it doesn’t matter, it’s just, are you natively digital. You asked about motorcycle versus digital. There are certain seats where you have to know way more, and have ridden way longer, and have done way more on two wheels than I ever have or ever will to be able to, to be the next wave of what we need in that seat, because, ultimately, I’ve ridden everything, from Colorado, to Alaska, to the Italian Alps, on every different bike you can imagine, which has been a blast, coming up in this space, but someone who’s been riding 30 years is definitely wiser than somebody who’s been riding ten years, like I have. That satisfies the motorcycle piece. Then, depending on the function they’re in, they still have to be digital.
The other side of the house is the e-commerce agency, where when you think through HR, and you think through specialists, I think one of the challenges this space had before RevZilla came along, or one of the reasons why we had a great opportunity to change things, was everybody was trying to be a motorcycle company trying to figure out e-commerce. I said, we’re going to be an e-commerce company that’s going to figure out all of the nuances of motorcycling, even the things we don’t know today. What I look for when I hire digital athletes to, call it digital marketing, paid, organic, any of the pieces that are going to be more of your new school marketing, what I’m looking for is, you don’t have to ride a bike, but you have to have hobbies in your life that are, call them discretionary or enthusiast hobbies.
I will take the PPC lead that is an ultra-marathon runner, or I will take the social marketer who doesn’t even like, who doesn’t necessarily ride a bike, but they are really into fishing, because as long as somebody understands what it means to fall in love with something you’re passionate about, that’s not work, I think they can translate that thought process of, ‘For me as a fisherman, what would I love Orvis to do next, or Cabela’s to do next?’
You start to think about those frameworks of how you tie that back and say, for RevZilla as a strategy, what we do and what we don’t do, and how we play in the space, and the things we create that people love. I think you can start to tie those fingerprints together, and that’s how I bridge the gap. It’s a long-winded answer, which I’m known for, I’ve done all day today, but that’s where I look at digitial versus moto-centric as native skill sets.
Bill: To your last point, there is an undercurrent of, almost an implicit respect for the customer, whether one is an enthusiast or not, by virtue of having something that is discretionary, that is lifestyle driven, that they care so deeply about that it consumes and helps to define them, whether that thing is riding or not. They can understand the way that riders feel.
Anthony: That passion.
Bill: Passion is the denominator. When it comes to knitting together this incredible culture here, is that part of what the common denominator is with everybody who touches this? Knowing that some folks are hardcore riders, some folks are hardcore digital folks, but everyone is native in digital. How is finding the connective tissue between people, on the way to the left and the way to the right when you look at the org chart?
Anthony: You’d be shocked that the moto heads, there is no versus. There is definitely one team, and a lot of times we’re teaming them up, so you’ll have a moto specialist working, creating the content, working with the content marketer who’s a native digital marketer thinking about how to get to market. They’re working in cross-functional teams all the time. It’s a great analogy, if you think about our culture, it’s a great analogy outwardly, to the outward consumer, as well as the inward consumer.
One of the things when we started the business was, the industry said, ‘You guys started in BMW, adventure space, for this guy that rides a $20,000 BMW motorcycle on-road, off-road, tours.’ It’s this 35-55 male. ‘You’ll never get young sports bike, and good luck with Harley. That guy will never talk.’
It’s the same premise how I approached that challenge as I did of how we approached how do motorcycle people and digital people that don’t ride at all live within the same eco-system. I think you have to create an umbrella of value, and that’s what RevZilla’s done. We’ve said our brand is RevZilla, so externally it’s the value we create with the consumer. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to tailor how we speak to you across segments, but we implicitly create our value proposition. We’re going to do things that allow you to enjoy the type of riding you do, and whether you’re a Harley or whether you’re a sport bike, which are the polar opposites, you’re still going to find the same value in ten minutes from RevZilla. We’re just going to speak to you a little bit differently. We’re going to segment you.
Internally, it’s actually a little bit easier, because as a management team we look at it and we say, ‘We’re going to be transparent; we’re going to treat our staff better than we treat our customers; we are going to do things that foster an amazing environment. We are going to have our core values that we live.’ I joke about this, it’s very hokey. It’s everybody, ‘Mission / Vision, guys.’
We’re actually really big on it. If you saw our Vision, it’s very flowery, and our core values are very flowery, as well. You look at them and they make you laugh, but number six is ‘No jerks allowed’. We’ve made it nearly 180 hires, net, so we’ve had 50 people come and go over the last eight years, but we’ve ended up at this larger company size, where people get along, it’s apolitical, we’re not spending time trying to navigate, we’re spending time trying to figure out how do we raise the bar, and that fun and cultural piece.
When businesses start, the founders set the tone for the culture, and define the commandments. We call these ‘Zillamandments,’ our nine core values. Then, really, it’s organic after that, and what we can do to execute is just try to continually say, ‘The bar is here on cultural hiring outside of skill hiring,’ and then it becomes big and organic, and people really find that there’s a pride in authorship. As a founder, as a CEO, the best I can do is nudge our culture. I can do this, lead by example, but ultimately, once the momentum and that inertia goes, it really takes a long time to change things if you feel like going awry, so you have to live it every day, but be consistent.
Bill: Absolutely. It’s amazing how many of these interviews we’ve done, where however it’s voiced, whether it’s ‘no jerks allowed,’ or ‘no drama,’ or ‘high-trust culture,’ that comes up again and again. We feel the same way at Finch. The degree to which, with a small, medium, or large organization, the less you have to worry about agendas, and it’s not easy, but it’s simple to be able to say, ‘Now we’ve just got to get it done.’
One other thing about the brand, and then we’ll move on to the future and everything else. This has been such an insightful time for us, we’re really grateful for it. You mentioned orange. I can tell our listeners you are wearing orange shoes at the moment and your laptop case. The color orange. When you talk about brand signifiers for RevZilla, obviously your personification in the digital realm, the other things that one can feel from an experience, talk about color as a brand signifier, and how that came to be, and how you think about building these assets around the company name to be recognizable, to be important, to be consistently and powerfully repeated.
Anthony: Orange is not an homage to Jeff Bezos, but …
Bill: Or Bernie Parent.
Anthony: Jeff Bezos is a brilliant devil. Amazing respect, but terrified. Moving on, when we think about orange, it’s our original color palette. If you think about action buttons on e-commerce sites, it really started out, it was e-commerce site first with minimum viable products. Meant to be strong, it’s motorcycling.
Its the same thing with RevZilla. We wanted to not be motorcyclecloseouts.com. It needed to be something that could be branded from start, and we worked with a great designer, who I’d worked with in my previous life, a gentleman, his name is Chris Vye. He’s actually spearheading Tonic, at this point. We worked together on the tactical side earlier in our careers; he’s a fellow CEO, now, but he came back to us, and we had this red-orange-yellow color palette for the first site, which was not segmented and really, for a first site, gosh, I think we paid him three or four thousand bucks, it was amazing.
Then, we looked at it and what happened over time is more and more orange, it popped out to us. Red’s too strong, it’s too aggressive. Orange was strong, but not as aggressive. We said, ‘We want the ‘add to cart’ to be orange.’ That’s where it started. I was like, ‘So some orange in this, and then there’s some orange in our e-mail blasts.’ Then, orange, at this point, has almost become ridiculous, and as a founding team we really, I’d say in the last two-three years, the interior of my car is orange, and it’s become, my wife’s like, ‘Oh dear God,’ and rolls her eyes.
Bill: She does not take you shopping for carpet.
Anthony: No, I haven’t. I even play golf, I have the Ricky Fowler outfit. It’s completely, you can find it on my Instagram, it’s completely out of control, but it’s become this hilarious thing. We say that Team Zilla bleeds orange. Eagles fans bleed green, we bleed orange, and it’s become this thing that people have just really embraced over time. It’s amazing how, when you think about a color, it’s every branded touchpoint. You think about this, the theme, the scent, the DNA, how do you at minimum, even if it’s not with the words, how do you tie something together and make it feel like ours? What’s the accent? It’s always an orange accent.
It’s really funny, too. I’ll give you a story how that even goes further. I’m actually debating adding a tenth core value right now. We have nine, and the tenth core value could very well end up being, and I’m ruminating on this right now, so I’m sure my whole staff’s going to listen to this and they’re going to be like, ‘Ah, that’s where this is headed. Grand plans.’
Bill: This was all a big plot to get this tenth thing done, so go ahead.
Anthony: ‘Ten percent orange.’ There have been many times where, even if you look at my early YouTube days, and some of the intros we do to videos, we’re non sequitur. I would say that the closest, and it’s really funny because his hair is orange, and this is not where it came from, I think we have a, my favorite brand of humor is a Conan O’Brien sense of humor. It’s silly, it’s witty, it’s a little non sequitur, stops you, but you say, ‘Well, that’s smart, but it’s totally bizarre.’ Our customers have gotten that. My favorite comment I ever get when we run into the customers is, ‘I feel like I’m part of your inside joke,’ because, at the end of the day, we create all this value and knowledge for motorcycle consumers, but it’s like, it’s motorcycling. We’re not saving the universe and it’s not heart surgery. It can be fun.
I have this ‘ten percent orange’ moniker that, as we’ve scaled, really, how do you bake it and make sure that there’s a brand box backstop in everything we do? I was just talking to this with my head of video and talent the other day, and I said, ‘We’re shooting these bike reviews, which, in my opinion, they’re changing the industry. They’re cinematic, they’re long-form, they’re giving more honesty than we’ve ever seen anybody do. People are loving them.’ I said, ‘Brad, it’s got to be ten percent orange.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I don’t care where it’s worked in, but orange is our culture, our humor, outside of just our knowledge.’
If you think about that, it can be fun in that moment, it can be our personality in that moment, it could be something, a cultural reference, it could be a meme, or a pop culture reference,’ which, really, is my sensibility and my sense of humor, but you have this ten percent orange, now, which is part of our brand umbrella, where if I don’t see one out of ten e-mails – I was talking to my e-mail marketer the other day – one out of ten e-mails that has a subject line that’s something that’s just off-kilter funny, makes you stop, isn’t ‘This brand, 10% off with these new products’. I’m going to say, ‘Where’s 10% orange in the plan?’
That’s where orange started. Orange took on a life of its own. I am wearing orange shoes; I will never have orange hair, but now, even as a backstop, it doesn’t matter what team you’re on. Even in our fulfillment center, where does ten percent orange come into play? These are the conversations we have all the time.
Bill: It’s super smart, and it is a good reminder to everyone here, again, as you get further away from every hire and every decision, seven years in, trying to, you got to. Having that guidepost for people to know that every single thing you do, you’ve got to do it the way RevZilla would do it is a powerful means of reminding people ‘This is not motorcyclecloseouts.com, this is something entirely different.’
Anthony: Which is actually an actual destination in our space, so I don’t mean to be disparaging.
Bill: They’re doing a great job.
Anthony: They’re doing a great job, it’s just we’re a little different. It’s a different approach.
Bill: How about 1-800-motorcyclecloseouts.org, or whatever.
Anthony: All of it.
Bill: As our time draws towards close, anything secret? I know businesses thrive and need to keep secrets, but without sharing anything you don’t feel comfortable sharing, any exciting things to expect from RevZilla, from Anthony in the near future? What should we watch for?
Anthony: We’re moving to Colorado to take on a new industry. No, I’m just kidding.
Bill: The lumber industry, right?
Anthony: Somebody’s going to do GreenZilla, God bless them. It’s not me, that’s not my cup of tea. It’s just bad jokes today. If you think about where we’re headed next, and I don’t think it’s a secret at all, but if we really look at what we do in our space, amazing brands and OEMs, manufacturers that make bikes, and we carry amazing products from lots and lots of brands that are R&D-based, that have long, storied histories that are worldwide.
If you look at us in the middle, we have this great commerce experience. We have great credibility built on trust, and the hard and old-fashioned way. If you think about how we go to market with our brand, the founder of FiveBelow, who was a friend, that I was privileged to call a friend a long time ago, said, ‘You’re not a gimmick: you sell great lemonade every day, and every day you get up and try to figure out how to make that lemonade better.’ That’s my favorite analogy for building a brand the hard way and the right way.
The thing about where we go next, it’s, I think we stand on the shoulders of the brand equity we have. In my opinion, trust and brand are the ultimate currency, especially with Millennials, at this point. How far and how fast can you take it? Can we touch other segments? Can we touch other regions? Can we touch other lookalike customers? Can we speak more broadly to our 90% male audience and create more things in their life that ultimately, seriously, we can monetize, but they’re going to love? I think the biggest misconception that the universe has about RevZilla is, ‘They’re those e-comm bikers down in the Navy Yard.’ We’re this technology platform company with brand and media that ultimately, right now, monetizes in e-commerce, that has a lot of other consumer and brand touchpoints that I could execute on.
If you look at us, I think that behind closed doors there are other secret rocket boosters we’re working on right now that are going to allow us to further extend. I just want to continue to make people shake their head, cross their arms, and cock their eye and look at us, and say, ‘What are those guys doing? Now they’re that? Hold on a second, aren’t they that? Wait, now they’re this?’
That’s the fun part when we have a great base to jump off of, and you can build your own technology. You can just move fast and concoct things, and then throw them against the wall, and if they don’t work you just move on; versus, we planned this for six months, and we launched it, and now cross our fingers it’s going to work. It’s never been that approach for us.
Bill: You build and continue to perfect a template for enthusiast-driven, deep vertical e-commerce and brand development that, I think, one can very easily see the potential leverage with that as the engine, that drives this thing. As we close your story, the Anthony story, is …
Anthony: That’s the best, ‘The Anthony Story.’ It’s really not that great.
Bill: Chapter two.
Anthony: Just one foot in front of the other, and don’t go to sleep.
Bill: Totally. That’s what we want to hear. I’m sure that there are folks who have been very inspired by what they’ve heard. I think a lot of our listeners are thinking through their own careers, making decisions. For those who’ve been inspired by this, any pieces of advice or core beliefs that have been central to your own thinking and development, that you would want to share with others who were reaching their own inflection points, or trying to find their own passion and their own way?
Anthony: I actually thought about this. I think about this a lot, and I send a lot of office e-mails. I think my two business partners, my co-founders, cringe sometimes because I like to tell stories, and I geek on the wisdom of the gray hair that I don’t have, or I’m earning right now. I think a lot about it. We call, I call them ‘orange juice’, and it’s like when I send a zinger in the morning. I’m like, ‘Hey, ruminate on this, think about it. Just tuck it away,’ framework. I’ll give you a couple things that I live by.
The first one is and this came from my dad, and my dad, very early in my life, said, ‘The answer’s always ‘no’ unless you ask.’ That doesn’t mean overstep, it doesn’t mean rely on other people. What it means is that it’s that old ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’, and it’s you never know, and if you are honest about it and are willing to put it out there, sometimes you can, you give yourself a chance to get lucky, and you have to. You have to do that. The answer’s always no, unless you ask, which is take chances and put it out there.
The other one is, I’ve seen a lot of folks that I believe are way more talented than I am, and have different building blocks, and I look at them like, ‘Wow, they’re just an amazing, amazing, smart human being,’ that had maybe missed opportunities, or have not had the ability to sprawl faster or capitalize on what they’re the best at, and it’s because they don’t play well with others.
One of my other core maxims is you can’t do it in a vacuum. It takes people, it takes outreach. We’re sitting here today because I know Dan Erlbaum, who’s a founder of Finch. I know Dan Erlbaum because, when was RevZilla was one year old, I was at an entrepreneur founder factory event here in Philadelphia, and there was a guy by the name of Steve Barsh who was there, the Entrepreneur in Residence at First Round Capital, who was on a panel for ten minutes, asked amazing questions, and had his backpack, was headed for the backdoor in a stairwell, and I literally sprinted when he came offstage. I grabbed him, I said, ‘Listen, I started this business. You asked the best questions today. Can I buy you lunch and pick your brain?’
Again, the answer is no unless you ask, but then it’s the ability to make a connection like that, and Steve connected me, over time, with Dan, who’s connected me with you, and I know different folks in the landscape, where they have helped me in a pinch to be able to reach out and say, ‘I’m not sure, and I respect your time, but do you have an opinion, and can you save me a couple steps.’ It’s amazing the things when you are willing to put it out there and make those connections, the things that sometimes just, not by luck, but by virtue of having a little bit of a great network come back to you.
Then, the other one is that old ‘who moved my cheese?’ What would you do if you weren’t afraid? There were moments where we’ve felt, in eight years, we’ve certainly felt over our skis on multiple times. People would say, ‘When was the last time you managed a company this big?’ ‘Yesterday.’ ‘What are you getting into tomorrow?’ ‘I’m figuring it out today.’
Sometimes, you have to just sit back and say, ‘What’s the worst that can happen, and what would I do in this moment if I wasn’t terrified of what could happen because there’s a lot of people, a lot of things riding on this.’ Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and shut your eyes and just go with your instincts. I guess that would be my big three. If you put those to work, they’re not rocket science. They’re things you’ve heard everybody talk about over time, but we really embrace them here.
Bill: It shows, and being here in this space, hearing your insight and a little bit of the backstory, for those who aren’t familiar with the brand, be they, be you, a motorsports person or not, a lot to learn, here, and an energy to enjoy, and an experience to find great value in, great learning in. Anthony, thank you so much for your time. All the best. Can’t wait to see what happens.
Anthony: I really appreciate it. This has been a lot of fun. I am going to shamelessly plug right now and say we are absolutely hiring digital.
Anthony: You can cut that out.
Anthony: We are digital, we are recruiting, we are hiring the best in moto and digital talent, and I know you are, too, sorry. Come join our digital orange projectile flying through the cosmos with its rocket boosters on high. That’s a blast today. Thanks for coming in, guys.
Bill: Thanks for having us.
Anthony: Any time.
Bill: What an amazing guy Anthony is. We’re so grateful for his time and insight, his friendship. All you have to do is Google RevZilla to see all of the exciting things that are happening with them, in terms of corporate development and growth, and expansion, and everything else, and for those who may be motorsports enthusiasts, or who are not, taking a look at their site, seeing how they merge this really compelling content with all that they’re doing on the transaction side of leading edge e-commerce, truly an inspiration. A great, wonderful symbol of what the Philadelphia region is trying to do, and well beyond in the entrepreneurial space.
Thank you, Anthony. Thank you, listeners. We look forward to being back in touch with you again next week with new content on Real-World Branding. Have a wonderful, wonderful day. Signing off from the Cradle of Liberty.
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