In today’s episode, we sit down with Jordan Selleck– the founder of 51 Labs. 51 Labs provides digital marketing services to the lower-middle market and were founded based on a string of failures that blossomed into success. Our guest, and 51 Labs, focuses on generating quality and engaging video content for their clients through using original ideas and avoiding “templated” content.
We’ll chat about why LinkedIn doesn’t work for 51 Labs’ target market, the biggest mistakes people make when marketing on LinkedIn, and how to be front of mind to the advisor community…
As well as:
- Being the go-to marketing firm for the lower-middle market
- LinkedIn engagement strategies
- Using Vlogs in your marketing strategy, and
- Sourcing deals from LinkedIn
Mentioned in this episode:
Patrick Stroth: Hello there, I’m Patrick Stroth. Welcome to M&A Masters where I speak with the leading experts in mergers and acquisitions. We’re all about one thing here, that’s a clean exit for owners, founders, and their investors. I’m really looking forward to today’s conversation because it covers a topic that is near and dear to my heart, which is marketing slash business development. I’m joined by Jordan Selleck, founder of 51 Labs. 51 Labs provides digital marketing to the lower-middle market. And I’ll let Jordan tell you more about that. But first of all, Jordan, welcome to the show and thanks for joining me today.
Jordan Selleck: Thanks a lot.
Patrick: To give our listeners some context why don’t you tell us how you got into 51 Labs? What led you to this point in your career?
How Jordan Got to Where He is Today
Jordan: A string of failures. So it’s been this crazy, crazy journey. I got to college into 2007 and went to Merrill Lynch, Private Wealth Management. Nobody in their right mind was going to give someone 50k who was fresh out of puberty, like in 2007 2008. And so I actually met a person at a Christmas party in 2007. She taught English in Italy, and I thought that was much better than doing Merrill Lynch, Private Wealth Management at 22 years old. So I actually headed to Shanghai. And I taught English in Shanghai for 18 months.
Met a guy at a bar who did investment banking, and then made that kind of seamless transition from teaching English in Shanghai to banking in New York. I did six years, two months, eight days of investment banking. And it was, yeah, it was, I forgot the hours. It was actually an awesome experience and it really taught me how to market myself and how to do development. You know, we were in the New York office, we will get hired by a, you know, a Japanese private equity firm to sell a business for them. Part of what we would be doing is contacting global buyers.
And in the New York office, you know, we would be helping to contact the US sponsors, the US Corp dev teams, in addition to being hired on US all sides. So did that for over six years. And then my former boss gave me the swift kick in the tail, which I actually needed. He basically said, like, I know you are interested in doing your own businesses. I know you’ve probably been doing it for a couple years, like, here’s three months severance.
Best of luck, and I’ll support your first business. And it was actually the swift kick that I needed. He paid for two of my early events. He’s one of my customers now, one of my clients now at 51 Labs. And so this kind of brings us to February 2016. And I’m kind of wandering in the desert trying to figure out what the heck am I going to do with my life and my career. And then in late 2016, I started a business called DebtMaven. So basically think about a platform that connects private equity firms with lenders.
Have 400 lenders in the network. And the whole idea is that, I mean how do you basically be the eHarmony of lower-middle market debt financing? So raised $100,000, built a team, we sourced 750 million dollars of deal flow. And actually half of that came from LinkedIn for free. So with DebtMaven, ran it for a couple years then just decided that I don’t think I was as passionate as I needed to be about the technology platform.
Didn’t raise enough money, failed with vision and just a whole bunch of, you know, first-time founder mistakes. But, you know, this was at the end of 2018 when I decided to really shut down the technology platform, but kept the brand open. And I’ll come back in a couple seconds why that’s important for keeping the brand open. But at the beginning of 2019, my wife and I were talking, and actually wasn’t really talking. It was her telling me you have one week to find $15,000.
So I first asked her do I need to do it a legal way. She confirmed that I did. And then at the beginning of 2019, I just had to really think like, what am I best at? And what I was best at is sourcing deals through LinkedIn. And that goes back to how 50% of the 750 million dollars and around 55 deals that we source, half of that came from LinkedIn for free. And so at the beginning of 2019, I was really just freelancing because the people from my network, you know, I’ve been in the financial for now, 10 years, they just saw what I did on LinkedIn.
They were kind of curious. And they basically said, you know, here’s five or 10,000. Can you just do whatever you did for us? You know, one thing led to the next and, you know, actually some of our earlier clients, our earliest clients who really got us off the ground were firms like, SPS, Compufit, Middle Ground Capital, Nipson, my former investment bank at DDA Partners and Live Oak Bank. And so one of the things that I was really curious about is like, is this going to work for, you know, outside of me?
And at the, on the second half of last year in 2019, that’s when our clients started to say the first post you did for me, got me four new deals. Another client said the first post you did got me five new deals. In fact, you know, I’m down here in LA right now and we’ve been on a week of pitching new business. And in every single meeting, the managing partners are mentioning how they see our videos, they see our posts on LinkedIn, even though they don’t like or comment on the post, they definitely view that.
And so, you know, I’ll kind of get into some of the tactics here in a couple minutes, but to kind of round out the story with 51 Labs, I really started because I, out of necessity, you know, I don’t have a marketing background. I come from investment banking and doing a FinTech platform. And I just kind of felt my way, stumbled my way into this. And so now we have a team here in the US, we have a team overseas, a couple videographers. And what 51 Labs is best at are kind of two swimlanes.
Number one, LinkedIn and number two, video. So for example, on LinkedIn, how do we get you 10,000 views a week for free and then on video, how do we make sure you have a quality brand video that doesn’t just suck and it’s this corporate with getting suits and ties and pretend like we’re something that we’re not. You know, our vibe, our tone is kind of the anti-corporate. And I think that kind of leads to an interesting topic that we can explore in terms of the state of the market with today’s m&a community versus the last vintage and kind of the earlier decades.
But yeah, we’re focused on LinkedIn and video. And that’s kind of the life story. I think one other thing to note is a couple years ago, I started a nonprofit called Elite Meet. Co-founded it with a former navy seal. And, you know, that’s a passion of mine is helping transitioning veterans. This nonprofit Elite Meet helps transitioning special operations, veterans as well as fighter pilots and intelligence agencies. Veterans for communities to get jobs. We found 200 people jobs, have a million dollars of sponsorship and have 800 members, done 55 events. And people can check out the organization at a Elite Meet, just kind of googling that.
Patrick: How about that. And I would encourage our audience, I mean, I’m a visual person, we’re talking about digital marketing, we’re talking about visuals, I would strongly recommend anybody to go into LinkedIn and look up the company 51 Labs, and you’re going to see probably about a half dozen of the videos that, the digital marketing videos that you’ve done for a variety of private equity funds, the lower middle market ones, and I got to tell you, they are absolutely professional.
They are not templated where each video looks like the other one. So it’s not, you know, insert name here and have the same couple shots. Sweeping cinematography, great audio, which you can kill a video by having lousy audio. And it’s absolutely professional. And you know, people need to kind of put a face to the names they see on XYZ Capital. And let’s talk about real quick the market out there for the lower-middle market. I mean, the need is for lower-middle market private equity funds to stand out from the crowd. How many are out there and tell us the value that they get from doing this kind of thing?
Jordan: Yeah, actually, if we could rewind just a little bit on the company page. So this is actually a very interesting takeaway for everyone to remember. I don’t have a website right now. We’re launching it next month. Our company LinkedIn page is actually not that good. And this is really, really important.
There is a misconception in the market that when you’re active on LinkedIn, it needs to be company down, but that is the opposite of what works in our market and the opposite of what works on LinkedIn. So what does work is if you go to my LinkedIn page, my personal LinkedIn page, just type in Jordan Selleck on LinkedIn, and you go to my post, the post in a given week for me are getting, you know, five to 15,000 views for free.
If you do those same posts on your company page, you might get a 10th of that if you’re lucky. And that’s because the algorithm wants you to pay for that. So we can come back to kind of some of the top mistakes on LinkedIn. In fact, here are three very, very easy ones. So, you know, I was actually looking through your posts, and like one of the quick fixes for your posts, Patrick, are not doing external links. So that’s kind of mistake number one.
And Mistake number two that people make is sharing. On LinkedIn, sharing is not caring. So for example, if you close a $50 million deal, do not post to your company page and then share it to your network. It won’t work. I’ve seen it for three years, personally and with our clients. Number three, and I think the biggest mistake, is people produce boring content. If you just get your PR Newswire link from the hundred $200 million deal that you did, you copy and paste it and you press post, it sucks.
Like, just be honest with yourself. It’s bad content. And so we’re in this new era of private equity, private credit, the m&a community where people don’t do business with brands. They do business with other people. And this is particular to the lower-middle market. An example of that, let’s say a well-known lawyer from one firm jumps to another and they have a great tech practice. A lot of clients aren’t going to stay with that same law firm. They’re going to follow, you know, Jane Smith, who’s going over to the new firm, because they like Jane.
They’ve been working with her for 10 years, they feared all the ECGs, she posts online and it’s her brand. And that’s a really interesting takeaway for our market is don’t focus on the company, focus on your personal brands, because it is what the market longs for. They want to know who are you, not the brand in the lower-middle market. And secondly, it just doesn’t work on LinkedIn to do company posts unless you’re going to throw 10s of thousands of dollars behind it. That’s more like core middle-market and Large Cap.
Patrick: Well, let’s talk about your ideal client in terms of the need is to set yourself apart from the rest of the competitors, the other players in the market. And let’s give the audience an idea how large is the lower-middle market for private equity, number one. And then number two, how does this help them separate themselves?
Size of the Lower-Middle Market for Private Equity and Standing Apart From the Competition
Jordan: Yeah, so, you know, you’re in private equity and private credit. You’re talking to thousands of firms, right? You can have anywhere between, depend on how you slice and dice it, funded or independent sponsor, which is now a very large community. You’re talking two to 5000 firms, depending on how you slice it.
The fundamental argument to the firms that we’re speaking with, is that, you know, I’ll come in there to do a vlog, you know, 20-minute video interview. And they’ll usually start off saying, the reason why we are different is that we have an operating bitch. I’m like, cool. I have never heard that before. Okay, no, no, the reason why we’re different is that we focus on entrepreneurs and founder on businesses. Like cool. I’ve never heard that before. And so they say no no always focus on the lower-middle market, like, you know, sometimes we’ll go a little below that because we’re really really focused on that side of the market.
And I say, cool. I’ve never heard that before. And so one of the things that, you know, the state of the market today is that equity capital and credit is commoditized. It’s just a reality. I think people know that, but they don’t really know what to do about that. For example, if you just zoom into industrial, lower-middle market private equity, we could probably rattle off 50 firms that are either solely focused on it, that’s one of their three target areas, or they’re generalists and they do a lot of industrial deals.
So if you’re in an auction process, if you’re in a, you know, a small process, like what’s really separating you? How are you different to the sellers? How are you front of mind with the advisor community? How are you doing something different to LPs? Because you’re one of 50 plus industrial-focused private equity firms. And one of the things that we’ve discovered is that the market wants to follow the journey. And they’re kind of two things. Number one, awareness. And number two, reputation. Do people know about you? And do people like you and trust you?
For example, with reputation, one of our clients sent us out to their portfolio company to shoot some video, and we’re talking to the seller who had the business for over 40 years. And I asked him on camera, why did you sell to this firm? And without flinching, he said, Well, you know what, you weren’t the highest price, but I really, I did a lot of research. I saw your videos and I saw kind of what you have online and it just made me feel that you really understood manufacturing. So that to us, number one I verified who that was. We were recording now that great testimonial let’s get this one.
Patrick: Oh, that’s a one in a million Yes.
Jordan: But when if you have 10 private equity firms that are all in industrials, and let’s say all their information is the same, like, who to do business with? You’re going to do business with the person you consistently see in a positive way. And price is not the only variable. So the, it’s been really interesting actually because, you know, honestly, I did not know the aspects such as LPs wanted to see this. I didn’t know that our clients would show this at their AGM. I didn’t know that, here’s actually another really cool case study.
One of our clients did a post about a manager at one of their portfolio companies. It got something like 25,000 plus views over a couple of posts. That manager saw the post. And then she did a before and after post in the manufacturing facility about an area that they cleaned up and they improve and that they’re applying Kaizen principles that post got like 275 likes on LinkedIn and 50,000 views.
So what is this really saying? A manager at a private equity-owned portfolio company feels more deeply connected to the private equity owners. Now, the private equity owners get to show a completely different image to their LPs, to the sellers who say like, do they actually care about their businesses, the shop manager and the others at the portfolio company now think like, our owners really care about us. So it’s a win all around.
Patrick: I can imagine that as people watch these videos, they’re picturing themselves being interviewed or being highlighted in this way. I can only imagine. There is a private equity firm out of Chicago called Parker Gale and they have a podcast and one of most popular podcasts actually. And they would interview people throughout m&a and technology and so forth. Well, their most popular podcasts, were conversations with interns that were working for them, then going off to business school and then being recruited back.
And you can get the feel and now they’re doing the same thing where they’re doing interviews of their portfolio companies, the principles of the portfolio companies and talking about it. So I think it has a great cumulative effect along the way. You had brought this up earlier, but why don’t we just briefly go over how have things changed in digital marketing, particularly for private equity in the lower-middle market in the last 10 years?
Four Factors of a Comprehensive Digital Marketing Strategy
Jordan: So I have a thesis called BD Version 3.0 and BD Version 1.0 was, you know, multiple vintages ago when your partners and principles are responsible for doing their own deal sourcing through their fast beat networks. Version 2.0 happened, you know, five or 10 years ago, really in the past five years, where BD became a distinct function and it became a whole career track.
And then version 3.0, which really happened I think in the past year, is when the BD and investment professionals generally are starting to realize that they can’t just do what everyone else does in terms of relying on the Rolodex of people that they’ve known with a few people go to the same conferences that everyone else is going to and do things in a very one to one way.
They have to do things in a one to many ways that complements the one to one. And that’s really where the digital marketing skillset comes in. And it could be a little bit nerve-wracking like, Okay, what the hell do I post? What do I even say in an email blast? Do people even care about what I’m doing?
Or is this spammy? I thought this was private equity. I thought this was private credit. But we’re not in that air. Like, those days are gone. You need to make a decision as a firm. Are you going to be private and you truly don’t need a website? Or are you going to be where we’re at today, in this new reality of BD version 3.0, which is using the digital marketing skillset with what you have been doing and building on top of that. So what does that kind of specifically mean? One are you doing, do you have a LinkedIn strategy?
And are you consistently executing as a small team or firm-wide, including the administrative assistants? So with LinkedIn marketing, do you have a video strategy? For example, we just did a study of private equity firms and 95% of sponsors do not have a single video. If you look back on LinkedIn, 77% of the 330 individuals that we study 77% have never done a single post on LinkedIn. 88% have either never done or they rarely post.
And that’s not even talking about the quality of the post. Because when people do post, it’s usually boring content. They just copy and paste an external link. So number one, sponsors, lenders, bankers, everyone else in this m&a community, you need to have a LinkedIn strategy that you’re consistently doing. Number two, you need to have some type of videos, whether it’s one brand video and 10 quick creatives that are easy to do, you need to have something because people will see it and they will see others who have it.
Number three, you need to have an email strategy. So this is more than just your one to one communication. You need to have quarterly, at least quarterly email blasts that go out to a targeted group that is pulled from your CRM. A lot of firms, I think they have, the vast majority of our market has come up to speed and not leveraging CRMs effectively. But it’s not integrated into the other stuff that they should be doing. So, you know, breaking it down and kind of rehashing this one LinkedIn strategy, two, video marketing, three having email marketing and four I just completely forgot.
Patrick: I think those three or three more than what most companies are doing right now, so I think you get it.
Jordan: You could actually, here’s why this is important though. It’s important because if you’re a small fund, and if you’re an emerging manager, or if you’re just generally a smaller fund especially, you need to use these tools to leverage yourself because you can only go to so many conferences. You can only do so many calls and meetings in a day.
And here’s from this trip, there is one quote, that stuck out to me this entire trip to LA. and that’s what I went to ACG Orange County, and a managing shareholder of a law firm here said, I think I’ve talked to you, maybe two times, but I feel that I know you better than anybody else in this room because I follow your posts on LinkedIn. And that’s when it sunk in that this is what our market feels. They’ve been watching the story, even though they never like, comment, but they definitely view the content.
Patrick: I can second that. I can absolutely second that with our audience and both on our podcast for M&A Masters and our content pieces they go out where I will come across people and they, and you can’t tell whether or not they downloaded or they open things but they’ve seen it. and they’re Oh, you’re the firm.
Yeah, you do these every month or you do these every couple of weeks, okay. And so and you never really know until out of the blue, they come up and they show you a whole bunch of your content or they reply to your email blast to say I have a deal, I have a quick question for you. And they’re replying to your email blast, which is a lot of fun and very heartwarming and so forth.
Jordan: Well, yeah, I have another thought here which is if you are a BD professional, what percentage of your job is telling people about what you do? Like literally half of your job. Your job as a BD professional is sales and marketing. And, yes, there is the part of it where you are true like assessing deals, you’re working with your IC, you’re working with the rest of your team and thinking through deals, but half of your job is just getting your name out there and staying in front of people. So why would you not use tools that make your life easier and give you leverage and that are one too many to complement what you have been doing for five to 10 years?
Patrick: Absolutely. Well, why don’t you briefly tell us, because I’m sure there are now many, many of our listeners here who would, are interested or you caught their attention. Talk about the engagement process. How do you onboard the client? What’s that look like? And, you know, give us the profile of your ideal client.
51 Labs’ Ideal Client Profile
Jordan: Yeah, our clients are exclusively within the private equity, private credit, general lending, m&a community. It’s really like how can I be the marketing firm of this, of the lower-middle market plus, I think like the Oprah Winfrey of lower-middle market, like that’s what I’m trying to be. So a typical engagement will be, for example, like we’re going to like next week, we’re flying out to Chicago to do a shoot with one of our private equity clients.
On Wednesday, we’re going to be at their office, and we’re going to be doing interviews with their team, getting the brand video done. And then day two, we’re actually doing a portfolio company shoot at their newly acquired company in Chicago. Within five business days, we turn the brand video to them, which usually takes 10 to 15 days with others. And then with that brand video, it just gives us so much content that we can use to fill out their LinkedIn calendar for three months ahead.
And so depending on the client’s needs, what we’ll usually do is we will do the content strategy that you could use across email, LinkedIn, however you want. And then we will do the content planning on LinkedIn. We will do the content drafting, we will do the content execution, and then the actual tracking. And then all of that includes the video services, which is, you know, really complimentary to LinkedIn, because it’s getting really high engagement right now. So, you know, a typical project will be anywhere between one to three months, and then we kind of decide, you know, is this working? Do we need to readjust?
So for example, one of our industrial, private equity clients that are, you know, thank you for making us number one on LinkedIn. Now, we just acquired a couple more companies and we’d like for you to just focus on doing video for that. You gave us the tools that we need and we can execute on LinkedIn. Perfect. Another client Live Oak Bank, they have a 25 person marketing team. All they wanted was our LinkedIn playbook and for us to do a workshop for them.
And actually on their first deal, they got five, on their first post, they got five new inbound. So it’s, you know, a typical engagement is one to three months, it really depends on where they’re at. It can be anywhere between, you know, five and $25,000 a month. It all depends on the scope of the services. But, you know, there are a couple of basic packages. And it’s really tailored to what they need. I wish I could give, you know, here are the three standard options but it’s just there’s so many different variables that go in and what they’re where they’re at.
Patrick: I think it’s, as something as specialized this is tailored specifically to whatever the particular needs are for each respective client. And that highlights their strengths or needs ideally. And nobody wants a one size fits all off the shelf canned product so that’s great niche.
Jordan: Yeah, it has been simultaneously good but also a pain because you’re figuring out how do I approach this?
Patrick: Understood. Well, and if you’re making a 10x to 25x return, price becomes no object.
Jordan: That’s, I didn’t actually understand that until some of our clients said, Yeah, why would we not? This costs us, you know, 10k to do a brand video and it brings in one deal, guess how much we’re going to make off that?
Patrick: How can our audience, because I’m sure they’re chomping at the bit right now, how can they get ahold of you?
Jordan: Easiest way is go to LinkedIn and type in Jordan Selleck, SELLECK, or you can hit me up on email at jordan@5149.Labs.com. That’s 5149. Labs. com. Don’t go to our website. We don’t have one. We don’t really have a need of one. No, we really haven’t. So hit us up on LinkedIn, or an email and we respond quickly.
Patrick: Great. Jordan. Thank you very much. And on top of all this, I have a feeling you and I are going to be working together in the very near future. So thank you again for being a guest today.
Jordan: Looking forward to it. Thank you