This article originally appeared on MiLLENNiAL.
As the world continues to digitize itself, having an influential online presence has become a standard business practice. Yet as new entrepreneurs enter the market, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to navigate and harness the power of social media. Luckily, UK based growth hacker and digital punk, Vincent Dignan, is making it easier for individuals to better understand how to amass the one commodity everyone wants: traffic.
Scrappy and resourceful, Vincent knows too well the struggles of being broke while trying to launch a business. That is why he spent countless hours researching and investigating the most effective techniques at breaking through those social barriers to entry.
Now as a successful author and public speaker, Vincent has come out of the digital shadow and is touring the globe sharing his “Secret Sauce” – a phrase that represents the method behind his madness, and which also happens to be the title of his latest book.
MiLLENNiAL met up with the British social hacker in Hollywood to learn more about how this Southwest London native went from living on welfare to making over six figures within three years. This is the story of how one resilient millennial merged self-reinvention with the power of virality.
Entering the World of Words
“In primary school I realized that if I was weird or different people like it and laughed. And that really affected me,” he tells us. Vincent always had a knack for writing. Kids in his class even suggested he be a journalist. Years later that opportunity would find him in an unlikely place.
It is often said that there are no mistakes in life. And in Vincent’s case, opening the wrong door at a club would be the best mistake he ever made. “I was in a nightclub and I was looking for the bathroom, and I pushed this door and it was not the door for the bathroom, it was the green room for the band.” As fate would have it, Vincent’s stumble would land him a job as a music journalist with a national newspaper.
He reflects on this fun chapter of his life. “99 percent of the time they would give me free review tickets, which meant I could see any band I wanted…it was incredible.” As Vincent points out, this was happening during a pivotal time in music’s history (2004-2009), where a lot of new niches were popping up. “You had a rock rival with bands like The Strokes and the Von Blondies, you had emo with My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy…in the UK we had Grime, Garage, and New Rave,” he says.
Not only did music affect the way people dressed, but the scene was on steroids due to the invasion of MySpace. “MySpace meant that we all suddenly had an online identity.” This was Vincent’s introduction to social media—an industry that would soon change his life in ways he could never imagine.
The transition from music journalist to digital punk
Vincent transitioned from writing about the bands to managing the bands, and in 2009 he was working with everyone from Phoenix to Eagles of Death Metal. “I was managing their radio and getting them to the station,” he says. But as most 20-somethings do, he fell victim to the party and was fired for incompetence.
Admittedly, he filed for welfare and began telemarketing. But after five weeks in his new job, he was fired again. This gave Vincent a lust for independence and he immediately began reading books about entrepreneurship. “I was on welfare and my ex said you need to have a job. What would you like to do? And I said writer.”
That night he had a dream about running an online magazine “where the writers would be the stars, not the musicians.” When he woke up, Vincent immediately called his friend Lewis Flude to help him build the site that matched his vision, and Planet Ivy was born.
The next step was attracting writers. “From my bedroom, I called up every college in the country and said we are running the coolest magazine in the UK, we can’t pay you but you will have editorial feedback and you’ll have a platform that is bigger than writing on your own blog.” The response was enormous and the content started flowing.
Planet Ivy launched in May 2012 and formulated as a company a month later. By strictly focusing on creating viral content, the site had reached over 25,000 views within their second week of being live. “You know in six months whether or not your band is going to make it, and I think that is a great distinction for any pursuit in life. There have to be major things that happen in the first six months,” Vincent says.
Within six months Planet Ivy had amassed over 200 contributors and had reached over 300,000 visitors per month. Three months later, they tripled their writer count and were receiving over one million visitors. But with all that work, came no time for sales, and Vincent and Lewis knew it was time to raise capital or they would have to shut down.
“The next week I saw an ad that said “come pitch your company” in a shark tank style forum,” he explains. When it came time for the pitch, he admits, “We weren’t very good but I closed it with “we’ve had a million page views in the last 3 months.” This caught the attention of an ex-Facebook executive who was intrigued by their rapid growth. She immediately approached Vincent and said she could help him raise $250,000.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
After successfully closing their seed round, Vincent and his team of writers dominated the online content space. Focusing their attention on viral content got the best of them yet again, and they soon found themselves running out of money.
Millennial Magazine – quote-2Their last hope? TechStars. Out of 1,500 applicants, Planet Ivy was selected to join the TechStars London class of 2014. Just when they thought they were finally in the clear and on to bigger things, Planet Ivy died within the program.
“We went from 2 million visitors to 300,000 while we were in TechStars,” Vincent explains. “So we had to pivot while we were still in the program. Everyone wanted us to raise $2 million and we were thinking why don’t we start a creative agency.”
He had no public speaking experience up until the last day of TechStars. “I had to pitch in front of 600 investors, knowing that my business didn’t exist and that we were going to become a content writing agency on stage.” Even though his stomach was in knots, Vincent’s largest obstacle became his biggest reward.
Vincent Dignan’s Pivotal Power Play
The next day, Planet Ivy turned into Magnific, a content marketing and production agency, and a few weeks later, Vincent was giving talks on the topic of growth hacking at various events around London.
That’s when he realized “public speaking gets leads.” After the first month of speaking about growth hacking, he picked up 19 clients, and began giving talks everywhere.
Then almost subconsciously he applied to give a talk at SXSW V2V on growth hacking and was offered the opportunity. To his surprise, he won Best Speech, and as a result, ended up receiving a ton of new business. “That speech made me tens of thousands of dollars,” he adds.
Capitalizing on his strategy, he reached out to all the Meetup.com groups in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles and whoever got back to him first he would fly to give a speech. “I ended up giving nine talks in less than a month’s notice.”
For more on social media, watch this Fortune video:
The Secret Sauce to Social Media
So what was so special about this speech? In a room full of hungry entrepreneurs, the best information to offer is how to leverage the saturated world of online services and platforms.
Vincent has an uncanny ability to feed his audience with all the sites he uses to amass a large following within an hour, while offering strategy on how to do it! His first piece of advice: partnerships.
Millennial Magazine – quote-1“It’s a very British mentality to not give your secrets away and keep everything for yourself. Whereas, here in America, it’s all about partnerships. The more partnerships you have the more successful you are.” He encourages others to not get consumed in their own isolation and to work with other people more because together you can divide and conquer.
While partnerships are key to growth, so is committing a solid eight hours of work everyday. “You have to say “no” to a lot of thing to get those hours.” He even suggests some of the best breakthroughs happen while staying in on a Saturday night.
Another piece of advice he gives when thinking about content strategy is to focus on the distribution. “Content is 10% content and 90% distribution.” He says experts in the space are advising people to adjust their content with better titles and shorter paragraphs, among other things, but they rarely define which distribution methods work best.
And of course, posting memes will help with engagement. “Memes are everything. Everyone from children to old people can enjoy a meme.” According to Vincent, memes receive the most engagement out of any type of post.
The Next Chapter: London to Los Angeles
With the growth of his content agency, burgeoning speaking career and launch of his coauthored book “Secret Sauce,” Vincent is continually reinventing himself and is currently working on a new business, which he plans to announce in the new year.
In the meantime, he is ready to make the transcontinental move from London to Los Angeles and is looking for allies he can partner with to take his vision to the next level. As someone who has reached all levels of success in multiple industries, Vincent reminds us when one door closes another opens. He is the living embodiment of the power of adaptation.