Mike King’s truly drunk the digital marketing kool-aid since we last spoken to him in 2012. Back then, he was a rapper and MC who was dipping his toe in SEO in a key agency role.
Today he’s shaking up the entire industry with iPullRank, the highly innovative, data-driven agency he founded and leads, Underground Hip Hop – the hip hop community he just saved by buying it breathing new life into it – writing the book (literally) on technical marketing and pushing the boundaries with artificial intelligence.
I caught up with Mike to ask him about all this, his journey since 2012 and more.
Woj: last time we spoke you had just started at iAcquire, getting used to being closer to the big bosses and business founders. Now, you’re the big boss.
What inspired you to take the job and what were some of the biggest surprises you came across starting up iPullRank?
Mike: I took the job because I’d worked in a variety of different agencies and after all of that experience I was just like, I could probably do a better job myself. A lot of the situations I was put in I was making decisions that were dramatically impacting the business and the business was making decisions that dramatically impacted me. But it wasn’t a two-way street. It was like, this business is going to do this thing and now you have to go out there and represent it.
That’s difficult because – especially in the case of iAcquire – there were a lot of people who thought that it was my company. So they were like, “Why are you doing this? This isn’t what you’re about.”
Woj: It sounded like you did a lot of clean-up work there.
Mike: Yeah, it was a lot of clean-up. A lot of it was just that the companies I worked for weren’t congruent with what I was trying to do and what I was trying to represent. So I realised that the best course of action for me was to just start my own thing and hope that it works out. And here we are almost three years later and it is kind of working out.
To be fair, I didn’t know too much about running a business and there’s a lot of things I learned. Like really basic things that you would probably learn in like MBA courses like monitor cash flow and things like that. There’s not much that I could tell you from what I learned that wasn’t just the basics.
A lot about making a business successful is nailing down the basics.
Woj: Did you have new clients to kick you off?
Mike: When I left iAcquire I knew I was going to start an agency. I had tried to get clients and it was happening in the timeframe that I wanted. I had a lot of people saying like, “Yeah, we’re gonna do it.” But then months were just going by and I was running out of money. So I decided to get another job because, obviously, New York is not cheap.
I went to another agency and didn’t like it at all. They had this system that I thought made zero sense and I got into a series of arguments as early as my interview with the CEO about why I thought it was not something to hang your hat on. They wanted me to represent this in the marketplace and at all these conferences. I was just like, “I can’t, this is dumb.”
So upon my exit from that place, I was like, “Okay, well I’ve got X amount of dollars in the bank. If I don’t sell a single thing for six months, I’ll be able to survive. So why not give it a try? Like a real try?” So I did that, and almost immediately I had two accounts come in that had around $15,000 in monthly recurring revenue.
Woj: So you were making it work.
Mike: I got those first two accounts and it was enough work that I could handle it by myself. Then more accounts started to come in and I got some friends from my network to essentially be contractors for a time. That kept us going until I realised that building something on contractors means that you’re only gonna get exactly what you contract these people for. There’s so many nuances in the work that you need people on board every day and filling in those blanks.
The first person I hired was an account manager because that’s what I hate doing the most. It’s just better to have a proxy between me and the clients who can handle that stuff day-to-day. Then I hired an analyst and then a market research and analytics person. I was completely terrified by the idea of missing payroll at any point, but you know I did the math.
As a business owner, of course, you make an offer that’s like, “Here’s what your salary is for the year”. But the way you live is like, “Okay, this is what I need to make every two weeks to make sure this person gets paid.” Once I realised that’s how it worked, I felt more comfortable with hiring people.
And as more business came in, the more compelled I was to build my team.
I did want to take a step back though in starting an agency because I’ve worked in so many of them. I didn’t want to start an agency because I love agencies.
I wanted to start an agency because I wanted to build a crew of people that can effectively do anything. Anytime we have good ideas we can just execute on them.
One of my problems as a person is I have a ton of ideas but I also have the skill set that allows me to do everything. If I have this idea it rarely gets finished because I have lots of other ideas along the way. So as I grow this team that has all the skills I have but even better, when I suggest ideas, they jump on it, we make it work, and then potentially it can become its own business at some point. An example of that is undergroundhiphop.com. We bought that business and we’re kind of revitalising it. It’s that same set of people that work on our client stuff that works on this.
Woj: Are you working in the business, on the business are you delegating most things out?
Mike: So it goes back and forth. There’s instances where I get the opportunity to work on the business and then in instances where I have to very much be in it. When it comes to the SEO it’s very difficult to find good technical SEO people. Because I have such a standard for myself it’s been difficult to find somebody to take that over, so I have to come back to that pretty regularly. But there’s definitely been instances where we had some great people in place and I’ve been able to let that go for a while.
My team is just getting stronger and the more they feel comfortable taking over things that I do, the more I’ll be able to work on the business. I’ve got an operations director now and that’s been a great help because he lets me go back to working on the business whilst he keeps things in line so that when there’s something that only I can do I can jump in and get it done efficiently.
It’s very difficult finding that balance between vision and operations. Because if you’re not that type of person that thrives off people always being up in your face and asking you for things it can wear you out very quickly. I’m very much somebody who gets worn out by that much people interaction.
Woj: A lot of people in both hip hop and SEO were excited to hear you bought Underground Hip Hop recently.
What’s your ultimate goal for the website?
Mike: My goal is to revitalise it. It’s a record store first and foremost but it’s also a community. That community is 100,000 die-hard hip-hop fans. The thing is, there’s so many different outlets for the younger generation when it comes to hip-hop. But for people that are ageing and still love hip-hop, 35 and up like myself, there’s no outlet that lets them know which artists are coming up. There’s no outlet that says, “Oh, here’s the new Ghost Face record next to the new Drake record.”
So I want to build an outlet that caters to people who are getting older and still have that love for hip-hop. Granted, those people won’t be going to many shows, but they will sit on their couch with a beer and their VR headset watching the show from home. I want to create a platform for that.
I also want it to be more of a media outlet, because the way that record deals work has never worked well for rappers. Even if rappers make a few million dollars, well that’s because the label made $100 million. We’re trying to create media deals built off the back of a subscription model where rappers make a lot more money off of record deals or off the records they put out. We will create a monthly or yearly recurring revenue model on the back of that. For example, let’s say you bring a subscriber to the platform because you put this album out. Well, if that subscriber renews every year, I want you to get paid for that every year.
I wanted to give back to the community at large. For instance, there isn’t a really good resource for music entrepreneurship. Like, there’s no good courses on it. There’s nothing where actual hip-hop acts are coming in and helping teach a course. Like the same way we have in the marketing world where there’s plenty of courses on how you can learn SEO or Conversion Rate Optimisation. I want that level of content to be there to to give back to that community.
I mean frankly the only reason I got into marketing is because I couldn’t support myself, you know. The more I can use this platform as a way to give back, the more I’m happy with what we’re doing.
Woj: How do you deal with the added pressure of managing a business that is also extremely important to you on a personal level?
Hip-hop as a culture has so many nuances, perspectives and unspoken rules at work and they’re still evolving day-to-day. What goes through your mind when you have to make decisions that can risk the cultural integrity of your product and potentially alienate or divide the community you’re trying to build a digital platform for?
Mike: That question cuts to the core of a lot of things I’ve been dealing with as of late because you’re right, there’s definitely a dichotomy between music and business. My perspectives on a lot of things at this point are very much business-driven. When you first met me, I was a rapper that did marketing. Now, I’m a marketer who used to rap a lot.
When you’re looking to buy a product or service, you go to somebody who gives you a price and then you negotiate from there. We’ve been trying to book rappers for a 20-year anniversary concert for Underground Hip Hop and they won’t give me a price. I always have to say the first number.
It’s just a lot of small things that show that artists’ way of doing business is very backwards. And when I see something that doesn’t make sense, I’m not gonna start doing the things that don’t make sense. That definitely creates a lot of conflict between me and potential people that we might work with. It’s definitely at odds with some of the things that the audience believes they want. But I believe ultimately what we put out there is going to work better than the way that the music industry already works.
Another good example is when I was on the phone with a rapper, very well-known rapper, trying to explain to him the media deal that we’re doing with Underground Hip Hop. And he was like, “But what about my iTunes?” I told him: iTunes is not involved here, you can only get the record through us. There is no iTunes at all. He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that I was taking away iTunes. But if you sell a record on iTunes you get $6.93. If you get someone to subscribe through us to get your record you get $15. What’s the question? Like right there you’ve already made twice what you would have made from iTunes.
So you can get 0.0001% off iTunes or you can get 20% of 100,000 from my audience. You’re gonna get more coming through our platform than you would through iTunes.
There’s a lot of disconnects, which could just be the way I’m communicating things. Because there’s a lot of things that I take for granted because of what I know. But some things are just black and white. Although if you don’t understand business you don’t understand why it’s better for you.
Woj: So specifically what unique opportunities does Underground Hip-hop provide artists?
Mike:. There’s a lot of things we’re doing here. One is there’s more ad units directly benefiting artists throughout the site. We’re trying to build it in such a way where if you take ownership of your artist page, you’ll get paid part of any ad revenue from that page.
Another thing that we’re looking to do is film rappers’ concerts in 360 video and make them available through our platform. Let’s say you do a show and you let us film it, we’ll give you a cut from anyone who buys it or anyone who subscribes to our premier platform through your video.
We’re trying to create more opportunity for artists to monetise their content essentially. We’re trying to create assets for you that are valuable, that you can monetise over time.
Woj: So that’s like a subscription model for artists and audiences?
Mike: Well, the artists don’t have to subscribe to the platform. They just provide content to the platform and then we work on a media deal with them where they get a cut based on how things perform. Think of it more like how YouTube works. You bring your video to YouTube and then they’ll give you a very, very small percentage of the ad revenue. Except in our case we’re giving you a large percentage of not just potentially ad revenue but also sign-ups to our subscription where the user can get access to that content. The subscription is on the customer side.
Say you sign up for $99 a year or $9.49 a month, and you get access to albums that will be put out to the platform, videos, free concerts, priority customer service, you get 15% off of everything. We don’t do free shipping yet, but we plan to.
Another thing that we’re doing is the Underground Hip Hop-powered show. It’s essentially a way that we can sponsor shows but also give a better experience to the show-goer. Firstly there’s quality standards in place, like the sound has to be good, the show has to be dope, it has to be a vetted performer. We try to add more visual elements to the show so it’s more like a proper concert and we film it in 360 video. If we can afford it we’re doing it.
Also, we’ll have an Underground Hip Hop kiosk and like open bars for the first hour, just trying to make it a better experience for everybody. It works in two ways where it’s like okay, we’re making some opportunities to create more revenue and then also making the experience better for show-goers.
Woj: So last time we spoke in 2012, Ghost Face and Drake were in the top of your listening list. What is Mike King listening to these days?
Mike: Honestly, it hasn’t changed much. I still listen to those guys a lot. I still listen to Jay-Z a lot. I still listen to Pharoahe Monch a lot. In fact, one of the Underground Hip Hop-powered shows that we’re doing in August is a Pharoahe Monch show.
I like Run the Jewels. We were actually considering them for their show as well because of their connection to the underground. El-P was in a group called Company Flow which was a landmark group for indie rap when I was growing up. So I always loved El, always loved those guys. Run the Jewels is incredible but they’re super famous now, I didn’t realise. I’m like wow, “Wow these dudes are millionaires.”
Woj: Where did you stand on Kendrick’s control verse and who is the king of New York?
Mike: I kind of mirror how Drake felt about it. It was a moment, you know what I mean? It was really interesting. It was, “Wow! He’s going at everybody, he’s saying things that you’re not supposed to say.” It was good in that it’s kind of updated with Cappadonna’s verse on “Winter Warz” and Nicki Minaj’s verse on “Monster.” It’s a long verse where someone is saying some crazy things and at the time it felt like it’s gonna have a seismic reaction across the world. It’s a good verse.
Woj: Do you think people had to step up their game afterwards?
Mike: It definitely feels like a lot of people took offence to it and there are response records. But in a lot of ways it was kind of counter-intuitive to see that happen. It’s like why don’t you just be a better rapper rather than taking offence to somebody who wasn’t directly talking about you and just be dope? I appreciate him for lighting the fire on to some of these guys but again I feel like it’s kind of a forgotten moment. No one has talked to me about this in years.
Woj: I read that Underground Hip Hop magazine will have a focus on deep, quality content from quality journalists tired of writing click-bait pieces. What artists are on your wish list to feature in your magazine?
Mike: Oh, man. I don’t know. I want to know the stories about so many things because I’m a fan. I was involved pretty heavily in the industry and I am again. There’s just so many stories about songs that you want to know about. You want to hear why certain guys just wrote what they wrote. I really just want to have the opportunity to sit down with folks and be like, “What made you think of this? What is the inner story behind this song?”
— UndergroundHipHop (@ughhdotcom) October 3, 2017
We’ve been reaching out to a lot of artists and we’re just trying to get those deep stories. Even if a rapper’s just like, “Oh, you know, I got locked up and now I got my new mix-tape.” I want to know more about that. I want to know what you got locked up for. I want to Google the police record. I want to talk to eye witnesses. I want the story story. I don’t want the vague, “You know, this album is just about my life man.” I don’t want that. What happened in your life? And what can the people that were there tell me about that?
I don’t want the media trained story, I want the meat of it. I want to know what makes rappers tick. I want to understand the components of it that are different about people.
A lot of journalism makes it so homogeneous, right? Trying to cut and paste stories, trying to get the click-bait, trying to drive eyeballs but not give me something worth reading.
Woj: Nice. You know Eric Thomas?
Mike: The name sounds familiar.
Woj: He has a podcast and, as you’re saying, a lot of people ask him the ‘end of the journey’ questions. Like, “What time do you wake up in the morning to get you a successful life?” But what’s more important is if they ask him how he got there, the steps, the process. And that’s something that you can kind of learn from
Mike: Yeah. I think that’s a great example. I feel a lot of journalists they’re like, “Okay, well, what do you write your rhymes with?” Who cares, right?
I want to know why you write your rhymes, you know what I’m saying. And I don’t want the canned like, “Oh, you know what I’m saying like I’m just trying to tell my story.” What is your story? I want to know.
Woj: Rumour has it that you’re looking to write a book after participating in The Digital Book World Conference?
Did you leave with a deal? And what would you be writing about?
Mike: No, I did not leave with a deal. There were publishers in the room but they were more about, “Alright, what can we learn from you”, rather than “What book can you write for us?”
I don’t know, I’ve had some ideas around. I even have an outline for a book about technical marketing. The book teaches you enough code to build something and then teaches you enough marketing to actually make it perform. I would like to do that but, you know clearly, I have so much time already.
Woj: Have you thought about working with a ghostwriter?
Mike: No, it’s terrible. I mean that’s one of my things, and I think this is largely because I’m an artist first. It’s very difficult for me to not be the creator of something when it has my name on it. I’ve tried to go Neil Patel with it and try to hire ghost-writers. We’ve never published anything because everything I get back I’m like, “No. This doesn’t sound like me at all.” And it’s not because I’m scared that people would figure out that I didn’t write that.
I just don’t think the quality of it matches what I do. So yeah, it’s very difficult for me to put my name on something that I didn’t create.
Woj: What have been some other major changes you have seen in digital marketing since we met five years ago?
Mike: It seems like there’s a lot more people that suck at it.
Obviously the technology is changing. All the channels are different since we last spoke. There’s more tools. But that being the case, why aren’t people more effective? There’s definitely a bunch of newer people in it.
It just seems like for whatever reason, brands are struggling more than ever.
You would think after all this time they would have figured more of this out. That’s great for me, of course, because I run an agency.
Woj: I interviewed Rand Fishkin and we talked about the fact that the “Inbound Marketer” never really took off. Inbound Marketing, which really needs an all-rounder, as a whole is really hard to get covered by one individual. You need different teams and I think teams are specialising more and more.
Mike: No, it didn’t take off but I do believe that there are far more T-shaped marketers than there ever was before. But in being a mainstream thing where everyone tries to get an inbound marketing team, that didn’t happen. Because it wasn’t a term that was required. What is the difference between inbound marketing and content marketing? It’s vague at best. And then you had inbound marketing being like, “Yeah, so it’s all about the free traffic. Oh, the PPC too.” No. It was really just an opportunity to brand something that HubSpot used and it created the shockwave across the marketing industry because that’s what just happens when someone repackages something that we already have.
So to that end, yes, it did not work, but as far as there being more people that have multiple skill sets, I think that’s absolutely true. There are far more people that can code and do marketing. There’s far more people that can do PPC and SEO. There’s far more people that can do social and also content marketing than I’ve ever encountered before. So I think I disagree with Rand on that one.
Are organisations still siloed? Absolutely.
Every big client that we work with, the SEO team never talks to the PPC team or the Dev team never talks to the SEO Team until something is broken. I think that’s just the unfortunate function of how bigger organisations work. But, I definitely believe that there are more people that have that T-shape marketing mindset than ever before.
Woj: How do you think bigger organisations can overcome that old-school mentality?
Mike: It’s difficult because those organisations are largely predicated on this idea that siloing is how you scale. Which creates this mindset: I do my thing, you do your thing, we talk every two months and we see what happens.
What’s best is if there’s more collaboration. What I would like to see is different groups having some of those overlapping people.
So if you have an SEO team, you want them to also have a Dev on that team that can go between teams and act as a bridge. And we’ve seen a lot of success with organisations that do that.
Let’s say we’re brought in by the SEO team. Then I spend a lot of time with the Dev team, they see I can speak their language too and then I can communicate between them. This can then stoke the communication between the teams when I’m not there. In a lot of ways it’s more management consulting than marketing consulting.
Woj: And I think siloing is so apparent in the last click mentality many managers have. They attribute the success to just one place. Even going with another Rand example, he was saying that conversions often happen on the 8th or 9th interaction with a brand. And those, eight, nine interactions aren’t always going to come from organic. There might be some direct or PPC in there. All those teams kind of need to understand the breadth of the user journey.
Mike: I definitely agree with that. You know the thing like you said most people are thinking last clicks. I mean the last click typically is very valuable, especially the paid channels because they need to justify their spend. And if they’re using the last click model and a lot of your traffic is being driven through paid you can be like, “Oh, well, we spent $10 and we got $1 million,” or whatever it is.
That makes them look great, but if you ignore the fact that user came through organic seven or eight times beforehand you’re saying that there’s no value in that. We have a client where they represent 30% of the revenue, which is over $1 billion, as their organic search. But I suspect that once they have the multi-touch attribution in place, that 30% is gonna go up to close to like 40-50, right?
So the more you have that understanding, the more you realise how valuable those other channels are, and the more you have to realise that everyone needs to work together.
— CLEARLINK (@clearlink) August 22, 2017
Woj: How would you define a comprehensive approach to marketing in 2017?
Mike: A comprehensive marketing plan is basically all channels. You can’t just do organic, you can’t just do paid. With some of the things you don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. I made this mistake because I’m so organic-driven, but if you’re in a situation where the goal is to drive more money right away, paid is the way to go, right? And then as things are performing start layering organic onto it so you can play that long game and have traffic that’s gonna be exponential with what you’re gonna get paid. But the bottom line is you need to figure out where the audience is as far as your channels, which channels are gonna be the most effective for you and then start your strategy from there.
It’s different for every business type but let’s say we’re talking about Underground Hip Hop because like I said, I made a pretty big mistake focusing largely on organic first. If I could do it over I would take our money and throw it into paid first because Google Shopping is our best converting channel period. And Google Shopping hadn’t been used by the previous owners at all. Once revenue was way up then we can be like, “Okay, let’s take a chunk of that, invest into organic, invest it into social, invest into more email marketing.”
Then you can figure out what’s gonna work best and optimize accordingly. But it really just comes down to: Where’s your audience at? Where they’re at is gonna drive the most impact to whatever your bottom line is.
It’s never about doing just one channel. Because the reality of it is if any given channel changes, you’re screwed.
Woj: With marketing automation in particular, is it important to be platform-agnostic and solution-focused, or be the bitch of a particular platform?
Mike: I think just the way that you phrased that question makes the answer obvious. Definitely platform-agnostic, and that’s where we are. You know a lot of organisations will become Marketo-certified or HubSpot-certified and things like that.
Woj: Join the cult.
Mike: Which is fine and great for those brands and also creates opportunities for you to get leads from those companies. But marketing automation solutions are not one size fits all at all. There’s a lot of opportunity within a certain channel or certain verticals for one type of marketing automation solution. Also, we’ve got to take a step back, because when you say marketing automation most people think essentially Spam email that’s done programmatically.
Marketing automation is much bigger than that. There’s a lot of opportunity around personalisation. There’s a lot of opportunity to leverage machine-learning to do bidding effectively. Marketing automation to me is very much about, “Okay, how can we set-up a series of pulleys and levers across your entire marketing program and make it react to the features and behaviours of your users?”
It’s best to be platform-agnostic so you can make it as specific to your use case as possible.
Woj: You’ve mentioned that you’d like to develop a guide for marketers to address the opportunities available. The advancements in machine-learning, specifically keyword research, predictive analytics and marketing automation. Can we get a preview?
Mike: Yeah, that guide is actually almost done. It really just goes through explaining the concepts of machine learning. It also shows you how to do it with tools that don’t require any coding.
I gave a presentation on this recently called ‘Machine Doing’. It’s very much about what I just described. Some of the tools that we use are MonkeyLearn and Orange. Orange is a drag and drop visual machine learning tool. It’s really a data mining tool but it also has a lot of the different models for machine learning. I can literally drag an icon that says ‘file’, drag a series of different models and then do what’s called test and learn, which it will. You would add a data set to that file and it’ll run it through. Let’s say you put in four different models. It’ll you which of the models perform best. And then you can drag and drop some other stuff, like a new file, and it’ll do predictions based on that. You don’t have to know any code or any math. You just do a lot of guess and checks with it.
That’s one of the key things that I want influence marketers to do with machine learning because it sounds so daunting. It’s like, “Oh, math. Code. I can’t do it.” But it’s really just like everything else we do in digital marketing, it’s guess and check. And you just have to have a tool that extracts it for you where you don’t need to know as much about the math components of it.
Woj: How does machine learning allow a company to build an outreach machine?
Mike: Yes. I gave a talk on that recently as well. Machine learning powers a lot of different things. There’s two different things that I showed in that talk. One, that it can help you scale your prospecting. So if you collect all the available data that you have from a URL and a domain perspective, and you have a list of pages that you’ve approved and a list of pages you didn’t approve, you can use different models to determine the pattern between everything that you approve and disapprove. That way, whatever new list of prospects you have, you run it through this model and then boom you have a list of prospects instantly. Whereas, now, you have to go through page by page.
Mike: Exactly. So you can speed that up pretty dramatically. Another thing is that a lot of the outreach that you do you get a response where people are objecting, for whatever reason, as to why they don’t want to give you a link or give you coverage. So you can essentially train a chatbot to respond to those emails for you. There’s a tool called API.AI which allows you to build a chatbot without any code. What I showed is how you can basically use Zapier and tie it to API.AI. It’ll check your email and then whatever emails meet these conditions, it’ll know how to respond to it based on what you already taught it. And in that way, you can automatically respond to those emails so you don’t have to worry about overcoming the objections.
Woj: Talking about AI, do you worry that the machines are trying to replace you? Have you seen any of the AI’s on rap lyrics like DeepBeats?
Mike: First of all, good luck to any machine trying to replace me but…
Woj: You’ve seen the battle rap.
Mike: Yeah, I’ve seen all this stuff. You know there’s nuances that computers can’t do yet. They’ve had AI’s build or create movies and they’ve been the most horrible movies you can possibly see. So we’ll get to a point where computers are sophisticated enough to replace a lot of the things that we do.
But there’s just so much nuance to the human experience that I don’t believe it’ll ever replace everything that we do, especially creative things.
There’s this thing that our last good president said on his way out. Basically, in human history when new technology comes out, it levels up the quality of life and gives us other things to do. Is machine learning and then ultimately artificial intelligence gonna make it so there’s no more truck drivers? Yes, it will, but truck driving sucks anyway. So why won’t we want to get rid of that? Will it displace workers? Yes, absolutely, but those people will be able to do other things.
There’s a lot of talk about how machines are taking coal-miners’ jobs. There’s an organisation that has been teaching coal-miners how to code. So at some point coding is gonna be like a blue collar job. It’s not gonna be this sought after career that only a few people can do. And it’s really giving people more opportunity to do, at least from my perspective, more interesting things than driving trucks.
Woj: Do you think the machines can learn to be creative or understand empathy?
Mike: Creative maybe. Empathy is a lot more difficult because empathy is very subjective, just like morality. That’s another question I hear a lot about AI: can we make them moral? Well, whose morals?
One of the bigger issues or concerns that I have about our artificial intelligence is that it reflects our biases. So because there’s a very small group or type of person that’s creating this stuff, it is inherently going to reflect the common biases of white males or potentially Asian males. I think the bigger concern is how do we get more types of people reflected in this coding? And then also what are the safeguards? And I don’t mean the safeguards for how do we keep it from “The Terminator” or “The Matrix” or whatever. But if we’re talking about morality, again whose morality and then what does morality mean? Because there’s gonna be instances where even if we do come up with some way to define morality, there’s gonna be a situation where it’s moral for one group but not moral for the other. So then how does a computer make those decisions?
And then there is also the other end of it, the stuff that Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are talking about. We have this concept of artificial super-intelligence where the computer may make conclusions that we wouldn’t because it’s looking at things in such a hyper-dimensional way where we may not draw those conclusions because we don’t put those things together.
The simple example that I give, and I think I may have gotten this from waitbutwhy.com. Let’s say you give artificial super-intelligence the task of creating the best paper airplane. And then over time of it trying and failing to make the best paper airplane it thinks, “Okay, well, how can I do this? I need more trees.” But global warming is killing trees and people are creating global warming. So if I kill all the people I have more trees and I can make the best paper airplane.
My rideshare driver just said that I’m “Obama charming” because I’m a black American and I’ve talked my way out of things.
— MyCool King (@iPullRank) July 14, 2017
A computer can draw that conclusion because it makes sense, it’s logical. It’s not moral, but it could be moral if the morals programmed into that computer are make the best paper airplane. That’s a big concern, especially if we’re not thinking through all the potential instances of what could happen. But the bigger concern from my perspective is the fact that our biases are being programmed within.
Woj: That’s right. When I was talking to Marty Weintraub he mentioned how there’s not actually enough search data out there to train the machines, so the machines are going to have to invent artificial searches to create the search data to have enough volume.
Mike: That’s what we do now anyway. When you think about search volume, think about how many rankings tools we have and think about how many individual people are doing rankings every day on all these keywords. The search find is inherently inflated and the data is inherently skewed by us.
Woj: If that’s the case, that the observing changes the observed, what methodologies allow you to perform market segmentation to build accurate personas?
Mike: Well, personas are inherently not accurate too. Personas are just a hypothesis. The same way you do an analytics report where you’re like, “Okay, here’s what the data says, here’s what happened.” You don’t necessarily know that. You’re making assumptions based on what the data tells you. You don’t know if 500 of these people came to the site, didn’t like it, and bounced. The computer might have turned off, we don’t know what happened.
In the same way with personas, you’re taking all the available data and trying to tell a story from it. The accuracy of that is probably not very high but you’re using this as a hypothesis to determine what motivates this user, what is gonna get them to buy. And then you take action based on that and then you judge again from your analytics as whether or not you were right.
It’s something that people say a lot to me, how do we know these personas are real?
They’re never real. They’re just a good approximation of what we believe the user is based on facts that we do have.
You’re telling a story based on facts and you’re using that story to make some decisions and then you determine whether or not it works.
So to your question, the best thing to do is to start from the data because otherwise, everything is assumptions. When you do the affinity mapping session and the highest paid person says, “This is who our audience is. I know because of X, Y and Z.” And you’re like, “Yeah, you don’t know.” If instead, you’re doing this session based on CRM data, analytics data, data from studies, data from surveys and things like that, you’re gonna be way closer to who this person is. And that story you tell is gonna be way more rooted in fact.
But the bottom line is that it’s never “accurate”. It’s just a good hypothesis to start from. The hypothesis itself is just very much rooted in things that are accurate.
Woj: But what about the persona that shows you the opportunity that you’re missing out now, how valid is that one?
Mike: We call those aspirational personas and yeah, those are actually very valuable as well because again, you’re creating a hypothesis of who is this person: Why don’t they buy from us? Why don’t they consume our services? You have a series of things you want to test to see if you can grab those people. Are they in a channel that you’re not targeting? Is it that your messaging doesn’t appeal to them? Is it that the layout of your page doesn’t work for them?
When we’re tying personas to keyword research, it’s very easy to make a business case. You can say, “Here’s all these keywords that this aspirational segment is searching for and here’s what the search find is worth to you based on like conversation data and average order value.” I have a case that I’ve put in front of you like, “Hey, I know you’re getting these people but these people are worth $40 million. You want to make some money or no?” It’s pretty simple.
Woj: Pretty easy. Name three speakers or sources of inspiration for Mike King in 2017?
Mike: One: Jay-Z.
Woj: Cool. You like his new album?
Mike: I do. It’s really cool how vulnerable he is on it. It makes it cool to be an old guy who’s having issues.
Two: I always love Rand in a lot of ways. He’s been a good friend and inspiration for a long time. I think that the theme here is vulnerability. He’s never backed down and he’s just an all-around good guy. And three…can I say myself? I’m just kidding.
I’m always very inspired when I see Marty Weintraub because he’s been very successful both in music and building his agency and creating a community around him that allows him to be exactly who he is.
He’s a very eccentric guy but that hasn’t stopped him from achieving anything. If anything, it’s powered him to achieving what he’s achieving.
So he’s very inspiring to me. The business he’s built is very inspiring to me and like a lot of things he comes up with I’m just like, “Yo, this dude is the shit.”
Woj: Congratulations on your daughter Zora.
Mike: Thank you.
Woj: What’s your favourite thing about being a dad?
Mike: Yo, just watching her figure out the world is so interesting to me. Everything is new to her, everything is old to me. The simplest things she’s so intrigued by, and she wants to know how it ticks. That curiosity is something that I hope to never lose. It’s kind of reinvigorating to see it in front of me every day.
Woj: What’s the biggest lessons Zora has taught you and how has she changed you as a human being?
Mike: She’s made me more responsible, and I probably have a long way to go but everything I do matters a lot more. Like every dollar I make is to her future. Every decision I make potentially impacts her, when it’s as simple as, “Am I gonna stay out all night or am I gonna go home and play with her and give her a bath?” Because all that stuff affects who she is or who she’s gonna become as a person. I’m a person that has an extra helping of self-confidence where a lot of people don’t, and I hope that she gets that from me. I feel responsible for who she becomes. I feel responsible for her experience in the world. And I just feel like a more responsible person in general, which I’d already gotten a portion of from running a business and having all these people whose livelihoods depend on my decisions. But having a child just makes it like a whole another level.
Woj: And do you feel more vulnerable?
Mike: I do in a way. If something could potentially happen to her it means way more to me than if something could happen to me. It’s like, “Shit, what’s gonna happen to Zora if something happens to me?” So in that way, yes, I do feel more vulnerable, not for me but for her.
Woj: That’s important. So you kind of have three babies now. You have Zora, iPullRank, and Underground Hip Hop.
How does such a massive overachiever like yourself find time to do everything and have you had to sacrifice anything?
Mike: Man, listen, I don’t know how Elon Musk does this because he’s doing several businesses that are world-changing. I’m doing two pretty standard things and it’s really difficult. I guess the bigger difference is that he has a lot of money to deal with. But nevertheless, it’s definitely difficult and I feel like I’m playing racquetball all the time.
The most difficult part of it is the feeling of loneliness that comes with it. When you run businesses, it’s not something that other people can understand.
Even if they work in the business, they don’t understand the level of pressure that comes with running a business.
So yeah, that part is very difficult, but aside from that it’s really about prioritisation. You’re like, “Okay, what’s the biggest problem I can solve right now?” And then you do it. And at the same time, you’re trying to plan ahead as much as you can but it’s still like, “What’s the biggest thing I can solve right now?”
It’s difficult because it comes back down to like the same idea of working on the business or working in the business. And it’s very difficult to do both at the same time.
Woj: Yeah. Well, you’re doing a good job man, keep up the good work. Finally, what’s a question that no one ever asks that you wish you were asked?
Mike: See, I usually would know this one but I don’t right now. I’ve got nothing right now.
Woj: When I asked Jason Acidre this one, it turns out he’s a break dancer.
Mike: I’m not surprised by that. Not to stereotype anybody but he looks like a guy that could break dance. I used to break too actually. I wasn’t that great. I used to do all the hip-hop things. Like I used to do rap, I used to DJ. Then I realized, or at least I believed at the time, that you can only be really, really good at one of those things. I don’t believe that now because I’m really good at a lot of things. But yeah, that’s why I focused on emceeing.
Woj: The trouble with that is it’s hard to scale.
Mike: Yeah, so it’s a little different than being good at marketing and coding because both of those things scale whereas, rapping, DJ-ing, break dancing, you have to physically be there doing every single one of those things in whatever you do. Like you can’t scale pieces. You could scale throw ups I guess but they’re not quality things really.
I don’t know. So this is part of the impetus for why I want better journalism on Underground Hip Hop on what’s out there. I used to always hate when I would be interviewed as a rapper and people would be like, “Oh, how’d you start rapping? Who’s your favourite rapper? What’s up with the new album?” I wanted people that would really ask me a question about lyrics or ask me about the hardships of booking all your own shows and getting your records out. Just the nuances of what made me, me rather than giving that homogenous interview.
I used to be very mindful of those questions. But someone like you, you do the research, you’re like, “I read this thing that she said.” Because some of the things you reference I’m like, “Oh, yeah I did say that oh, my God.” But the way you interview, and I’ve read some of your other interviews as well, it’s so nuanced, it’s so well-done that I don’t have any other questions.
Woj: Actually, that was a good answer. Thanks, man.
You can catch more of Mike King on Twitter, iPullRank or Underground Hip Hop (he’s a busy man!)