The Shareist Story

This was originally published to the Shareist email list earlier this year.  Some things have changed with Shareist since then, but this story of our background doesn’t change…


Do you remember a company called Be Free?

That’s where I started in affiliate marketing in 1999 on their product team. (So if you do remember that name, you’re dating yourself!) The affiliate marketing platform called BFAST was our baby. I helped build one of the first affiliate marketing tracking platforms, which was a pretty awesome experience.

How about the Affiliate Message Boards before they became kinder and gentler?

During those early years, I was sort of the self-appointed affiliate advocate in the company. It happened after we were taking some serious heat on from the affiliate community. Our PR person and our VP of Services both had their heads handed to them when they appeared on the message boards to try and appease. So I jumped into the fray and became the “face” of Be Free where I did my best to help affiliates sort out their issues and more importantly voice their concerns. I did a lot of listening for feedback and I think we made some really positive changes for the company and for the industry in general.

My counterparts at CJ and ShareASale in those roles were Todd Crawford and Brian Littleton, respectively – both of whom I consider very good friends to this day. (Both of whom are fellow Affiliate Summit, Affiliate Marketing Legend Award winners. Our time in the line of fire on the message boards surely had a lot to do with that.)

The death of Be Free

In 2001, Be Free got bought by ValueClick. And then at the end of 2003 they bought Commission Junction. They now had two affiliate solutions. Long story short, they smashed us together like atoms, and out came Commission Junction as the platform going forward.

I worked for a year remotely with the CJ product team where my primary job was to plan the death of the very product that I’d spent the previous 4 years building. Yuck. I kept a stiff upper lip and I saw that through, and finally decided that it was time to move on.

They actually wanted to move me to Santa Barbara to lead the product team, but I’m too firmly rooted here in Massachusetts to up and leave. Every September when I go to the CJU conference in Santa Barbara, I think about how my life might have been different had I chosen that path.

In the end, I have no regrets. ValueClick killing Be Free was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Becoming an affiliate…

From that day forward, I pursued my dreams as an entrepreneur and web publisher, which I’d actually wanted to do since the mid ‘90’s. My very supportive wife and family were on board, and I became an affiliate marketer.

I started from scratch. I had some interests and decided to focus on the genealogy niche which has always been a hobby of mine. (I mentioned before that I have firm roots here in Massachusetts – no joke, all the way back to the Mayflower.)

I built up a few websites in that area and did pretty well by building some sites that did well with SEO and developed communities. My first genealogy site now has 80,000 members.

That was my first lesson in building something that adds value, and just in buildingsomething. That site and 80,000 members is now an asset that still makes us a lot of money.

I also turned my blog, into sort of a platform for talking about Affiliate Marketing issues. An accidental SEO success from a random post turned me into a Samsung television repair expert overnight, which netted me thousands in commissions over the years. (Case study coming on that.)

This is how I learned how painful it is to try to make a go at affiliate success armed with a blog. Between spammers, WordPress updates, deactivated affiliate links and programs, how can anyone find time to create awesome content?

By the time I was starting out on my own, the glory days of easy SEO were well behind us. Printing money by putting up affiliate websites filled up with product datafeeds and getting tons of high converting traffic was long gone.

And having lived through the many Google updates that put the hurt on affiliate websites over and over again, and watching PPC margins get cut to razor-thin levels, the writing was on the wall…

We needed to get way ahead of things and start to build real websites with real users adding real value.

Note: at this part in my story, I change from saying “I” to “We”. That’s because I partnered up with another affiliate marketer and SEM expert, Damien. That’s a long story for another time, but that should at least explain the transition to “we”.

…and from that point in 2007, that was our focus – building websites that added value first, traffic and money came second. They also came more slowly, but on the other end, they go away much more slowly as well.

Over a sleepless weekend, we built a simple website that was based on helping people find a costume idea for Halloween. We knew that for it to be truly useful, it needed to have community and unique content. That’s what we built, and that website grew into one of the biggest costume websites on the web. Each Halloween since then we’ve seen millions of visitors, and millions of dollars in sales.

Then over the next few years, we took that platform and spun it into a fashion community which grew from nothing to 10,000 members through PPC, SEO, and Social Media efforts.

During that time, we’ve seen some pretty big success (and some major failures), been labeled as “super affiliates” (a term I don’t love), and I’ve won several industry awards like the Affiliate Legend Award from Affiliate Summit, Affiliate of the Year from ShareASale, as well as a number of awards and nominations for my continued advocacy work on behalf of Affiliates (Best Blogger from Affiliate Summit, ShareASale’s Pay it Forward Award, and two nominations for Affiliate Marketing’s Most Vocal Advocate from Linkshare).

I’ve always kept that a part of my mission, to try and help other affiliates.

Which is probably why that when we realized that our publishing platform could work for any niche, I thought,

“Hey, maybe other affiliates would like to use this too.”

After all, how many niches could we build sites for an maintain? There are infinite niches.

So at that point, in addition to building our own sites, we decided to build a product. We grew a team of developers to take our platform and turn it into a full-blown publishing platform.

Shareist is born…

Well, not so much born as evolved. Shareist is a publishing platform built by affiliates, for affiliates. It’s got SEO in mind, PPC tracking built in, and automatic affiliate linking implemented — all wrapped up in a content marketing platform.

We’re entering a new chapter here at Shareist.  There will be more on that soon.  In the meantime, to stay in the loop on Shareist, be sure to sign up for our email newsletter in the sidebar.

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