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How a 24 Year Old CEO Uses Hotjar to Grow His Agency & Get More Clients

Garrett Mehrguth is the CEO of Directive Consulting, an agency he started in Southern California when he wasn’t even old enough to legally have a beer yet. Fast forward a few years and his agency is now an Unbounce Partner and MozLocal Recommended Local Company that serves small-enterprise level firms all over the globe. Garrett recently sat down with us to tell us how Hotjar has been essential in helping his agency grow and get clients. Keep reading to see what he had to say.

Brian: Garrett, thrilled to talk to you. Can you tell us a bit more about who you are and what do you do?

Garrett: Yeah, it’s good to talk to you. I’m currently the CEO for an agency I founded in Irvine, CA when I was 21. We currently run about 15 people and we’re growing like crazy, both internally and externally. We do pretty much everything anyone would ever need online: SEO, PPC, social, content marketing, copywriting.

Brian: Wait. I still can't get past the age thing. You were 21 when you started?! That’s awesome! How’d you do it?

Garrett: I get that a lot, haha. Thanks. To make a long story short, my partner Tanner Shaffer and I just hustled. I graduated high school and college early (with a Masters degree even) and have always been a doer. I take action. And so does Tanner. So, while a lot of younger people are still living with their folks trying to figure their lives out, we were starting my own business. In college, I was the captain of my soccer team and wanted to pursue professionally. But due to an injury, I got could no longer do that so after I graduated I started applying to agencies because I needed a job. But it was in the midst of applying to all of these places that I decided to just...start my own company. So, along with Tanner, I did. And a fun fact for you - everyone who works with and for us is still under 24 years old!

Brian: Wow, you don’t hear this kind of stuff every day. What’d you start doing initially? How’d you guys scale in the beginning?



Garrett: At first we were a two man show. We started small. SEO was our niche originally so we began by ranking sites for friends and family. We also did (and still do) a lot of guest posting to get our name out there. Along the way, we picked up PPC, social, copywriting, all of it. We’re both crazy about reading and learning too so after awhile we knew we wanted to start a full-blown agency. Now just a few years later we’re one of the highest rated agencies in Orange County, CA.

Brian: Again Garrett, great stuff. You have an amazing story. So looking at the present, what kind of clients do you guys have? How are you helping them?

Garrett: Typically we’re a one-stop shop for businesses. Instead of having an “SEO guy”, and “ad guy”, a copywriter, and a “social media guy,” we handle it all at the same time. But I’d say that the main source of income and what we spend most of our time on is landing pages, PPC, SEO, content, and social, in that order. We do a lot of case studies too, which helps us with client acquisition.

Brian: So, what’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had scaling so far?

Garrett: The most difficult aspect of scaling the agency has been handling the unexpected. Helping clients find product market fit is time-consuming and can be tough if the product or service isn't resonating with the buyers. Some people only want one thing (e.g. SEO) when they really need a whole lot of things (e.g. SEO, PPC, content marketing, updated copy, landing pages, etc.).

Communicating with clients who aren't on the same page takes work, practice, and patience. When we don't see eye to eye on things, that can be tough.It also takes a lot of money to hire for talent and culture simultaneously. We value both equally so if one doesn’t exist, we don’t make the offer. Which means, it takes a lot of time to find the right people. And lastly, finding clients at higher price points has been happening, but it’s taken a lot longer than we originally thought it would. There’s a lot of competition out there, so courting clients who have deeper pockets requires persistence (although we still love and cherish our smaller budget clients just the same).

Brian: We can identify with a lot of that too. I’m right there with you on the talent/culture piece. Well, it seems like you guys are moving forward with tenacity and intentionality which is exactly how you should be scaling if you want to get noticed and grab a big slice of the market share. So before Hotjar came into the picture, what tools were you using for CRO and growth optimization? What’d you like? What’d you dislike?

Garrett: Honestly, I’ve used them all: Unbounce, Moz, SEMrush, Long Tail Pro, Buzzsumo, DivvyHQ (an enterprise level content platform for managing content/calendar), Trello (we outgrew it fast) and Slack (internally).



Brian: Sounds about right. We’re big fans of some of those tools and use them ourselves. Now the question we’ve all been waiting for (at least, I have): how’d Hotjar come into the picture for you?

Garrett: I saw it on Product Hunt actually. I was using Crazy Egg and Optimizely, but when I started using Hotjar as a BETA tester, I was blown away. The price point was and still is unbeatable, and it’s just straight up a better product all the way around. It was a no-brainer. I was hooked immediately.

I was using Crazy Egg and Optimizely, but when I started using Hotjar as a BETA tester, I was blown away. The price point was and still is unbeatable, and it’s just straight up a better product all the way around. It was a no-brainer. I was hooked immediately.

Garrett Mehrguth
CEO & Co-Founder


Research is a new area to many marketing and product teams. Do you have any advice or tips for anyone just starting off?

Absolutely. I think the most important thing you can do is to take that first step and start making decisions based on data, not on opinions.

This might sound like a lot of work. In fact, it’s really liberating. Imagine being able to end long debates with “let’s test it and see what the customers decide.” Imagine being able to make business decisions based on insight that your competitors don’t have. And imagine never taking a step wrong, because every decision you make is tested, so you almost immediately know whether it was the right thing to do or not.

You need to create a culture of making things happen. Be prepared to fail, but fail fast and learn from those failures. If a company can change quickly, it can win. If it can’t, it dies. 


CRE’s Advice for Teams looking to break into a Research-Driven Strategy:

Step 1: Focus on making just a single decision based on insights from your visitors, and build from there. If you haven’t already, get Google Analytics set up well, so you really know which pages, products and acquisition sources are working for you. Knowledge really is power (and profit). 

Step 2: Be sure to focus on a decision that your team needs to make—it could be a brand new signup form, or a new PPC ad—and gather some data to inform that decision. Ideally, you should gather data directly from your visitors, but often traffic is an issue for teams starting out—so don’t be afraid to start with simple user-tests with friends and family.

Step 3: Finally, measure the impact of your decision. Use A/B-testing tools if you can, but again if you’re starting out, use user-tests to measure the performance of your decisions. We recommend you use user-tests alongside A/B-testing—an A/B-test will only reveal which version is better—but a user-test will reveal why it’s better.


What are some of the biggest mistakes you see clients make in the way they build and improve their sites?

I think that question is best answered by turning it around and looking at what the world’s most sophisticated online companies have in common when it comes to improving their websites. 

  •  The top companies design for function, not aesthetics. Most web agencies design for beauty, paying little more than lip service toward the goals of the business and its customers. In our opinion, good web design means understanding your visitors—and your business—deeply, then designing to meet both of their needs. Which approach is most effective? Take a look at the homepages of Google, eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, LinkedIn, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube and other sites in Alexa’s Top 500 list and decide for yourself. Are they designed for beauty, or does their form follow their function? (We call this “Scientific Web Design.”)
  • The top companies carry out experiments on their websites. When top companies change their websites, they measure the effects of the changes, using split-testing software or some other type of experimental technique. They want to know if their changes worked.

  • The top companies make frequent, small changes, and rarely (if ever) have huge site redesigns. The top companies update their sites frequently—often weekly and sometimes daily. The changes are usually improvements to parts of pages rather than complete page redesigns or website redesigns. If you update your site in small iterations like this, you'll see what’s working (and what’s not working) on a granular level, your site-improvement process stays nimble because it’s always in use, and is not mothballed until the next mega-redesign, and your work-in-progress decreases.

Can you share with us any stories or results of how research has impacted your clients?

Sure, we published an interesting case study recently about how we helped grow goHenry—a FinTech company—by 470%.

Like lots of businesses these days, mobile is critical for goHenry, and research should reflect this. When optimizing for mobile, listen to what the mobile visitors are telling you. Sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked—even by companies with sophisticated mobile websites.

Don’t assume that your mobile visitors are just desktop visitors on a different device. If you do, you’ll focus on the user interface as the only difference between the two.

In fact, mobile users can have very different intentions, likes and objections to their desktop counterparts. You’ll need to address these specifically on your mobile journey.

And when you do, the results should follow—when we tested a new mobile landing page, sign-ups increased by 78%.


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