Click 'Play' Below To Listen To Podcast feat. Laura Casselman from JVZoo
Transcription - Laura Casselman Interview
Editor: This time, we're going to be doing a deep dive with someone who heads up one of America's fastest growing software as a service or SaaS companies. Laura Casselman is a name you may recognise, as she's the CEO of JVZoo, a role that she stepped into back in 2016 after two years as their COO, and Laura's dynamic rise to the top in a predominantly male sector hasn't gone unnoticed by her peers because at the 2018 world CEO awards, Laura picked up the gold trophy for female CEO of the year. Laura, it's a real pleasure to meet you.
Laura Casselman: Thank you so much for having me. Lovely to meet you, as well.
Editor: Well, I guess we should start by saying congratulations on your trophy.
Laura Casselman: Thank you. I had forgotten about that. So much time passes and it does so quickly that you just keeping up with the next thing and you forget what's happened in the past. So thank you for giving me a moment to remember that.
Editor: It's no problem. Now, you've done so much anyway in a relatively short period of time. I guess I need to ask, have you always been super ambitious?
Laura Casselman: I think so. I can recall back to selling Girl Scout cookies when I was a child and wanting to sell the most Girl Scout cookies. When I was three years old, I knew I was going to dance in New York City with the Radio City Rockettes at the music hall. So yes, I've always been a goal-setter and a go-getter.
Editor: That's good to know, because I mentioned JVZoo right at the start, and we will chat more about that in just a moment, but maybe we could just explore more about your own business background, as well, because as you say, you've been a dancer, you've done many things in your career, but then you've really honed your skills now with JVZoo. Can we just explore that a little bit?
Laura Casselman: Certainly. I knew at a very young age that I loved dancing and that I wanted to go out and make my mark in the dance world. I also understood at the time that the dance world was not forgiving for ageing dancers, so that it was a young person's career. Now, that's evolved and changed, but it was too late for me to evolve and change with it. So I knew that I was going to have an early dance career, which I did. I started professionally dancing in my teens and did so through my twenties, but I also knew that I wasn't going to be the person to retire from professional dancing to open a dance studio. I think that's great for other people. It just was not for me.
And so I've always wanted to be involved in the business, in the decision-making and know what the ingredients were and what made someone's business successful. So I was paying attention to those things and I always do a resume. With the Rockettes, you're super fortunate. You sign a contract that you work the Christmas season, which is equivalent to two and a half months of performances, and while you're still under contract and you get your benefits the rest of the year, you can go and do other jobs. And so that's what I did. I build out my corporate resume so that when I retired from dance, I stepped into my first executive role.
Editor: Got you. And did you find there was any transferrable skills from your days as a dancer into your business endeavours?
Laura Casselman: I definitely do. I think that dance and anything in the arts builds tough skin. People like to think that people in the artistic world are more in tuned to their emotions and therefore they're emotional and they'll cry and whatnot. I don't know any dancers like that, and I know quite a bit of them. I think that it develops a tough skin. You learn to not be shut down by the word no, to be persistent, to keep honing your skills, to keep learning, to keep going no matter what, and that transfers over into the business world in a way that you can't teach, you can't teach people how to have a thick skin. Tough love doesn't necessarily do that. People are either born with the ability and have the drive to keep going, keep learning, keep building, no matter how many times they're knocked down or not, and that makes great salespeople. It's why I transferred into sales originally when I came into the business world, is that I knew how to take a no and keep going.
Editor: Yeah, sure. And I guess that life probably seems like a million miles away now, doesn't it? But now that you've transferred into, I guess I was going to say more corporate environments, but I guess with JVZoo, it's a fun business to be in anyway. So there's a lot of aspects from your days at the Radio City Music Hall that have been brought through into the business that you're working in now.
Laura Casselman: Well, it goes both ways. So yes, JVZoo is a fun company. We love to have fun where we can, but also Radio City Music Hall is a very corporate business, and the Rockettes, you'll never meet any more regiment dancers. Everything is choreographed from the beginning of the show to the end. Even your costume changes is choreographed. You don't change a shoe first one day and then change your hat first the next day. Everything is the exact same way, every single show, every single day. So there's a lot that goes both ways, that can fall over into either other career.
Editor: So those disciplines are the ones that you've been able to bring across into JVZoo, I guess, since you started there as COO and then progressed up to CEO. Is that right?
Laura Casselman: That is correct.
Editor: So what led you to JVZoo, Laura?
Laura Casselman: So I was already working in the corporate world and I was an executive with another company that was a physical therapy national chain when I started conversing with my ex-husband, someone that I've always conversed with, by the way, no hard feelings there, and he is one of the original founders of JVZoo. And so he was just letting me know that they were growing so quickly and they were encountering, like many companies do, with growth. They were kind of having some operational roadblocks and they were needing to put processes in place.
And so he just was like, "I would love for you to meet one of my co-founders and the current CEO, if you would take time out to do that." And so I did. I flew into South Carolina and at the time the CEO was Bryan Zimmerman, and he drove up from Florida to South Carolina and we met, and it was a slow transition into me working at JVZoo. We wanted to make sure that it was the right fit, not just for me, but for them, especially considering that my ex-husband worked here and was one of the owners. So we took our time to make the right decision.
Editor: And you've obviously been determined to make the company a success. I know that you've transformed the company in many ways. For anyone listening or maybe reading this who hasn't discovered JVZoo, would you be able to just tell us a little bit more about the company, what it does and also how it can help them achieve their goals, as well?
Laura Casselman: Absolutely. JVZoo is an online marketplace and an affiliate network. So when you have a product to sell or a great idea that you evolved into a product, but you don't know how to get it out there in front of the masses, you can come and list that product on JVZoo. We give you the tools to sell it. You'd hook in your payment processor. We'll manage and track a sale, but you can also reach our network of over 900,000 active affiliates who have buyers list, and they will email out their buyers list about your product, if it fits that list and it's in their niche, and they will let them know about your product, what the benefits of it are and help you sell that product and get it in front of more eyes.
Editor: It's a good thing I sat down. Did you just say 900,000 affiliates?
Laura Casselman: I did. Isn't that incredible?
Editor: That really is. I mean, that must be one of the biggest affiliate networks on the planet.
Laura Casselman: I like to think so. I mean, I'm in good company. There are a lot of lovely competitors out there that are doing great things, but I like to think that JVZoo, we're in tune with our users and we are constantly building our network for them and for their business. So we're definitely always working at that number one spot.
Editor: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, as you say, there are competitors in the space. I remember... JVZoo must be now 12 years old, 13 years old.
Laura Casselman: 11. 11, yeah.
Editor: Okay. So yeah, I remember when JVZoo first broke through into the world, and there was almost like such a warm welcome for what JVZoo was doing and the way that you were doing business, and I know that, as you say, you've been working really hard to grow the company in that time. Now, for anybody who's listening, what tips would you perhaps give, Laura, so they can obviously list their products on JVZoo, but also to attract those affiliates so that they will promote their product?
Laura Casselman: Certainly. So coming and listing your product on JVZoo isn't difficult. It is free to sign up for an account and we do not charge you a penny until you make a penny. So we never charge our users a monthly recurring fee or a yearly fee. We say, "Come set up. Learn how to use the system," which we provide tonnes of information on in our knowledge base, and in our YouTube channel, we have step-by-step videos. We want our users to be successful, and we want to tie our success to their success. So it's really a great synergy.
But as far as recruiting affiliates, a lot of times people forget that working online is very similar or should be very similar to working in person. So just as if you met someone for the first time face-to-face, how you would introduce yourself and let them know how you could help them, as opposed to saying, "How can you help me?" You want to do that same thing doing business on the internet. You want to say, "Hello. Here's how I plan to promote your product," or "Hello. Here's how my product can help your customers," as opposed to, "Can you please go out and promote my product?" or "What can you do for me? How can you help me be successful?" It is more of a "Let me help you." And then of course it comes full circle. It is a network of course, and networking is key. So you always want to know the people that you're working with.
Editor: Absolutely. It has to be a reciprocal thing, doesn't it? Because otherwise, if you're just asking somebody to do something for you, the question is always, "Well, why? What's in it for me?" And you do have to pitch it in a way that makes it attractive to the affiliates to get on board, to promote your product. You mentioned it's easy to launch, Laura, and I think that's one of the best things about JVZoo. There's no barrier to entry. It's almost like "Dive in. Give this a go," and if you make some sales, that's when you may pay a small fee for the platform, but up until that point, it's cost you nothing apart from maybe a little investment in your time. And I know that you've also revolutionised the industry in many ways through your advertising platform within JVZoo, as well. So maybe you could just touch on that for a second.
Laura Casselman: Certainly. Well, you can list your product in JVZoo, and you get the option of whether or not you want your product to be listed in our public marketplace. If it's inside our public marketplace, then we are going to promote that product ourselves. We're going to drive traffic to it, as well. And so I always think that you should want more eyes on your product, just like you may list your product in Store A, but why wouldn't you list it in Store B, as well? So let us have the opportunity to promote that product for you, but also you want to market to affiliates within our networks.
You can purchase ads inside JVZoo to let affiliates know, "Hey, this is my product. This is what it does. Here's why you should sell it," kind of thing. And we limit the amount of ads inside our system at all times, so you're not bombarded as a user with ads. There is one spot for them, three different pages. There's a maximum of three ads. They're all in that one spot, so that it's not going to overwhelm you while you're also trying to run your own business.
Editor: But that's a super powerful thing for anybody who's in this industry, to be able to jump on that, be able to actually get eyeballs to your offer through the advertising network within JVZoo. I mean, it makes absolute sense. What's been your biggest product launch would you say, Laura?
Laura Casselman: The videos products, and even though it is technically an older product, they continue to make sales and nonstop. Those guys are really focused and honed in on their business and their end goal and serving their customers. So they dominate year over year, over year.
Editor: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I guess the other question I have about the platform itself is, do you have any idea of how many sales transactions you've done or are able to do every hour, those kinds of statistics?
Laura Casselman: Well, it differs every day. As far as what we're able to do, there is no limit. I will say, though, that we have had a launch that shut down the PayPal gateway. Oh yeah. It was nerve wracking because we were trying to figure out where we went wrong. We thought our tech was broken and then we're like, "Oh my gosh, it's PayPal." So we had to work with PayPal to whitelist us and make sure that there was no throttling or anything going on because when people like Paul Ponna, who is consistently one of our top vendors at JVZoo, when Paul lists a product and he and his partner Sid open the cart for sales, it is an astronomical amount of numbers that comes through instantly, and people... But it's more every time they launch a product because the word is out, that their products are incredible, that they serve their customers, that they are helping them along the way. So people have a sense of trust in buying these products and it keeps bringing more and more people in every product launch.
Editor: I was going to say that must be exciting, but also stressful for you and the team at JVZoo.
Laura Casselman: I would say while it is a little stressful for us, we do it every day. So we're used to it. It is more stressful for the sellers because you have to understand that they put a lot of time into developing these products that they're selling. They're their babies. They're launching their product, their child into the world and they want it to be successful. And so we kind of have a thing at JVZoo where on launch day... We know, of course, who's launching on our platform every day, and we also know that people are in what we call launch mode and that they have had no sleep, they're stressed out, they're nervous. And so on those days, we allow those people to be short and snippy with us because we know that, tomorrow, they're going to be like, "Oh my gosh. I made the most sales I've ever made in my life." And they're so excited, and they've also had a moment to get a cup of coffee or have a nap. So we just ride the roller coaster with them and cheer them on the whole way.
Editor: It sounds to me that you are very focused on the customer experience at JVZoo, as in, I mean, your own customers, as well as the people that come to the platform to buy the products that are listed by your vendors. I know you've done a huge amount, Laura, personally, to clean up this industry because for a while, it was a little bit like the Wild West, wasn't it? These marketplace platforms maybe got a little bit of a bad reputation because of some of the products that were being sold. Why was that so important to you to do that?
Laura Casselman: Well, I think that... I grew up in the southeast of the United States, which is known as the Bible Belt, but more than that, it is that the way my parents raised me. My father owned his own business, and it was very much a "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and you don't want to be cheated, and therefore you shouldn't cheat other people, and integrity in business absolutely means so much to me. And that's why I feel like if anyone ever questions my integrity in business, that anyone that's ever done business with me would know that whatever they've said or whatever they've questioned isn't even a possibility.
It's the way I try to do businesses, so that people understand that I have your best interests at heart. I'm going to protect myself, as well, because I am in business and I know that not everyone has my best interest at heart, but at the same point in time, you want to have that reputation as the person who is doing it the right way. Otherwise, I feel your business is going to be short-lived. So if that's the way you want to do business, that may work for you, but it doesn't work for me. I want to lie my head on the pillow at night and go to sleep with no problem.
Editor: Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely. Amen to that. I think that the work that JVZoo has done with you at the CEO position has been incredible for the industry, because it's also made, I think, a lot of the other marketplaces sit up and take notice and also make the changes themselves so that the industry as a whole improves, because without that, it damages everybody, doesn't it? If that bad reputation from one company can easily spread to another. So it's great to see that you've been taking the steps to address that. And I guess part of that comes down to the fact that JVZoo very quickly jumped on the whole GDPR thing, as well, to make sure that you were GDPR-compliant. That must've been a bit of a nightmare to go through. And now you've come through the other side, how does it feel?
Laura Casselman: At the time with GDPR and which wasn't our first time, of course, having a deadline for a law changing or going into place. This is old hat to us. We get announcements that this country is implementing this law at this time, and we react because our users are international. So even though being a US-based company, we have to help our users do business in their countries and abide by their laws. So we don't say, "No, that doesn't apply to us," or "Good luck with that," or whatever. We're in it with our users.
But when GDPR was happening, the Taylor Swift song that was like, "Look what you made me do" came out, and we were in the office constantly that during that time, when we were just slaving away at trying to get everything changed in our system to help our users and to do so by the deadline, that we would be singing that song but about GDPR, "Look what you made me do." But it was also a way for us to make it fun because that's what JVZoo does. Right? We make it fun when we can make it fun. And so that's what we did.
Editor: And I think any day is made better by a Taylor Swift song. I think that's what we should take from this.
Laura Casselman: I personally think so, but whatever's your jam. I think that's the thing is when the tough gets going, you've got to get going with it. So you just play your music, jam it out, have your team, get involved in it and get the work done. Don't complain about it, just get it done.
Editor: Absolutely. And for anybody who's been putting off, getting their feet wet, jumping in and getting their first products listed on JVZoo, I think that advice still stands, as well. Just get it done. Go in there. It's not going to cost you anything to set up the account, to get your first product listed, and who knows, one of the affiliates that's already on the platform may spot your product, see some potential and promote it, and you'll start to make some sales. So again, it's taking those first steps, I guess, Laura, and that's what you did with the GDPR thing. A lot of people saw it as a big problem that was coming at them like a steam train, but it sounds to me that you took it and you went, "Okay. Listen. We need to do this. So instead of it being a problem, let's just get on and do it and fix that within our company." And I think that's a great testament to JVZoo as a whole. Obviously, your company empowers entrepreneurs to achieve their goals, but what about your goals, Laura? What are you hoping to do in the next 12 months?
Laura Casselman: Well, we've got a lot in store for JVZoo. We are working on some amazing stuff behind the scenes. So we will constantly be updating and releasing new things. We just released... I haven't even made the announcement yet, but we just released a new leaderboard to show where the affiliates are placing on the launch, because a lot of our vendors give prize money to their top affiliates or gifts out to those top affiliates. So we are showing this new leaderboard and tracking of all the sales, and it just puts more excitement behind it.
Editor: Yeah. That's huge.
Laura Casselman: Thank you. And JVZoo will be releasing a lot of exciting things and we've been quiet about it for a while now because we've been working on a lot of things behing the scene. So I guess you'll just have to stay tuned as each of those come out. And I did want to say one quick thing though, about the last thing you were saying with giving new product sellers, giving them the opt to go ahead and list your product and whatnot. I would like to also say there's so much information out there on how to do this, whether that's on our Facebook page or within JVZoo or other groups.
Ask questions, of course, but you have so much information right at your fingertips to go on the Facebook pages and search those questions already before you ask them. The answer's probably there, and you don't have to hesitate at all or wait for someone to respond to you because chances are what may be your question that you feel like, "Oh, this is the first time someone's asked it," it's probably been asked about a hundred times before. So the answers already out there and just get going.
Editor: Yeah, absolutely. And as you say, the Facebook page is amazing. There's also YouTube where people will show you step-by-step what to do. So it's not a scary thing to do. It's almost that once you've done it once, it'll be like, "Oh, okay. That's easy. That's much easier than, perhaps, I expected." Laura, I'm really grateful for you spending the time with us today. How can we find out more about you and also about JVZoo?
Laura Casselman: Well, you can go to both the websites. First, jvzoo.com, please go check us out. As we've said, it does not cost you a penny to sign up and get started on our platform. So go, sign up, explore, get started, and then if you'd like to know more about me, lauracasselman.com.
Editor: Fantastic. Laura, thank you so much, really enjoyed chatting with you today and good luck to you and also the rest of the team at JVZoo for what's coming over the next few weeks and months.
Laura Casselman: Awesome. Thank you.