SEOmoz’s Fishkin: The Most Transparent Fundraising Saga Ever?

Rand Fishkin is not what you’d call a shy person. As the co-founder and CEO of Seattle search-marketing firm SEOmoz, Fishkin is a near-constant presence on almost any content channel you can think of. It’s good for his company, but unlike some other Internet oversharers, Fishkin also puts a premium on high-quality content.

So, when it was time for Fishkin to consider whether he should entertain investment offers, there was really only one choice—he’d basically live-blog the process.

Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement. It’s not like Fishkin set up a running tally of his pitch meetings or term sheets. But in a series of posts around the Web, Fishkin has laid out a detailed statement of his personal thoughts, analyses, doubts, dreams, and fears, along with SEOmoz’s revenues and profitability, and even his own household finances.

You can trace the entire saga below in an interactive timeline of Fishkin’s public discussions, which I put together with Storify, a new tool for curating and aggregating content from around the Web. And you’ll see he doesn’t leave much out. (Here’s a link to the Storify in case the embed gives you problems.)

“It’s very similar to the way that I learned how to do SEO: by writing about it publicly, by writing about my experiences, the projects that we were taking on, the successes or failures that we had,” Fishkin says. “We got feedback from hundreds of different sources.”

Fishkin’s openness has generated some really interesting, in-depth responses, something you might expect in the technology industry, where showing your work and sharing knowledge is a core part of the culture. Transparency also happens to be a key element of SEOmoz’s values as a company.

Entrepreneur Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot and a friend of Fishkin’s, was one of those who replied publicly on his own blog. Shah says he’s never seen anyone lay all of their business out in the open like Fishkin has: “Never. Not even close,” he wrote in an email. (Disclosure: Shah is an investor in Xconomy, but that played no part in me interviewing him. I actually didn’t find out he was an investor until I began Googling around to see if we’d interviewed him before.)

Shah said he sees three big advantages for a business or entrepreneur in aggressively embracing transparency:

—Trust: “When you are hiding very little, people tend to trust you more. In addition to the community at large, my guess is that Rand’s employees, partners, and investors have great trust in him. They should.”

—Smarts: “Being out in the open forces smarter-decision making. Stupid things happen behind closed doors, in secret. If your actions and approach are out there in the open, you’re less likely to do stupid things.”

—Feedback: “Transparency allows you to get great feedback from the world at large. They have more context.”

“And, of course, there’s also the ‘greater good’ benefit,” Shah wrote. “Rand’s articles help thousands of entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs know what it’s really like. This kind of “insider information” is priceless. I wish more people were this transparent.”

Even though people are now discussing the size of his checking account in blog comments, Fishkin seems content with the way things have played out so far. The major downside, he says, could be the tougher task of discussing why it didn’t work out, should that happen.

“Transparency becomes an issue when it’s not all roses,” Fishkin says. “And in a startup, it’s never all roses.”

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5 responses to “SEOmoz’s Fishkin: The Most Transparent Fundraising Saga Ever?”

  1. John says:


    You still have a story. Mike Hofman at Inc. Magazine did a cover story in 2001(“An American Startup”) based on my experiences with bootstrapping a company and chronicling that experience via an email newsletter. That story was then parlayed into a best-selling book (The MouseDriver Chronicles) that’s now published in 6 different countries and required reading in over 200 universities worldwide.

    Transparency and authenticity are exactly what aspiring entrepreneurs and existing small business owners need. The level of motivation and inspiration that Rand’s openness provides are absolutely paramount. And journalists/bloggers/writers like yourself helping to share these insights only fuel this motivation.

    A love reading this stuff. It’s energizing.

    Inc. Cover Story:

    John Lusk