How I Build Million-Dollar Startups

How Trevor Longino Builds Million Dollar Startups

Trevor Longino has a wealth of experience in marketing and growing startups. See how he transitioned from freelancer to thriving agency owner while overcoming some major bumps along the way.

👇 Key Takeaways

  • Trevor lost ALL his clients after transitioning from freelancer to agency owner
  • He shares why “the path to success is not straightforward”
  • Learn how to build a million-dollar business by simply knowing your audience, the problem, and your offer.
  • See how Trevor used a single blog post to generate $500K in revenue

Overview

Business Name: CrowdTamers
Website URL: https://crowdtamers.com/
Founder: Trevor Longino
Business Location: United States
Year Started: 2007
Number of Employees/Contractors/Freelancers: 6

Tell us about yourself and your business.

My name is Trevor Longino, and I’m an entrepreneur with a knack for turning ideas into thriving businesses. My journey began in the fast-paced world of startups, where I cut my teeth, launching over 15 startups to significant growth. 

My current venture, CrowdTamers, culminates years of learning, failing, and succeeding in the digital space. We specialize in taking startups from $0 ARR to $1M ARR by crafting million-dollar marketing engines that help our clients achieve whatever marketing goal they have at their current stage.

I leverage my extensive background in marketing, growth hacking, and startup mentorship to deliver unparalleled results. The CrowdTamers team comprises an interesting mix of marketing specialists who operate globally.

CrowdTamers Website

How does your business make money?

At CrowdTamers, we generate revenue by building million–dollar marketing engines with guaranteed results.  

Here’s the thing: most marketers think of marketing as a funnel, like this one:

There are a few problems with this. 

  1. Funnels literally are designed to take 100% of what you put in the top and put it out the bottom. Which is not how a sales funnel works.
  2. Funnels don’t require any actual work to move stuff from the top to the bottom. Which is also not how a sales funnel works.

So they apply cookie cutter (funnel cutter?) service to clients.

That’s not going to work super well for most companies. 

CrowdTamers does it differently: we use data to have the market tell us what your audience wants from you and how to offer it repeatably. 

Better funnel example

If you know who your audience is and how to offer to fix their problem, you’ll make a million dollars.

I literally guarantee it. 

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

CrowdTamers was inspired by my own rollercoaster experience with startups and marketing. After witnessing the common pitfalls that many startups encounter, especially in their growth phases, I saw a glaring need for a service that was not just advisory and also not just execution.

Look, a good CMO (and I would like to think my track record suggests I am a good one) costs over $200,000 for a startup to hire. And then you have to hire the rest of the team!

Trevor's track record

And most agencies, when you hire them, you get handed off to a 22-year-old marketer who manages 80 clients and is trying to keep you around long enough to meet their MSP goals and then get a bonus. 

This is a bad relationship for both the founder and the marketer.

The idea was to build an agency that went beyond giving marketing advice and executed the strategies we recommended. This way, we could figure out what the crowd that might pay for a startup’s services actually wants and then execute it.

We tame your crowd, if you think about it. Which, hey, that’s a name for an agency! 🙂 

How and when did you launch the business?

I’ve had a freelance consultancy since 2007. Which is kind of forever ago?

But it was a side gig. It’s just what I did in between jobs and on the side while launching companies as their CMO. 

CrowdTamers, the agency, was launched from a blend of necessity and opportunity. After a stint in the crypto world ended abruptly, I decided that it was time to use my experience as a fractional CMO and my passion for helping startups grow. 

As I mentioned earlier, I had witnessed the pitfalls that startups face in their growth stage and realized I could use my expertise to help them grow. So, in early 2021, I transitioned from a one-man show to a full-fledged agency.

This shift was not without its challenges, but it allowed us to refine our offering and approach, setting the stage for the successes we’ve seen since.

How is the business funded?

Bootstrapped!

There’s a time and a place for external funding, but I don’t think agencies are especially it.

I started by adding a ridiculous number of clients as a freelancer and then transitioned them to my agency when I hired my growth marketer and internal designer.

Well, I tried to.

It, uh, it didn’t work.

I had about $18k in MRR in agency clients signed, and I was working 80 hours per week to deliver the services in February of ‘21 when I transitioned from a one-man show to a three-person team.

And by April of 2021 I had literally 0 of those clients still working with me.

Crap.

Trevor Longino speaking
Photo courtesy of Trevor Longino

How did you find your first few clients or customers?

We got our first clients from my professional network and the reputation I had built in the startup ecosystem. I constantly engaged in communities, sharing insights freely and helping startups without looking for a payout immediately. That allowed me to establish trust and credibility. 

From there?

Well, I know two kinds of marketing: content and performance. I used content marketing to write 50 blog posts in about a year and then answered people’s questions on Facebook and on Reddit and those answers were what found me my first 14 or so clients who didn’t already know me.

I can attribute about $500K to one single blog post. When people saw it, they’d tend to want to book a call with me. 

Which blog post?

Why I thought you’d never ask! It’s a post about how to launch your startup idea in 9 weeks.

I wrote a book and ran ads to it as well. No advanced marketing funnel. No upsell. No squeeze page.

It cost me about $80 to sell an $8 book.

But one in about 30 sales would become a client worth more than $15,000, so it worked out in the long run. 

This organic approach, targeted outreach, and a demonstration of our unique value proposition helped us with our initial client base, which has continued to grow through referrals and our proven track record.

What was your first year in business like?

It was both too hard and too easy.

We grew from just me in January of ‘21 to a team of five by December. Revenue for the year was about $300K and I was convinced that launching and scaling agencies was simple enough that any child could do it.

What strategies did you use to grow the business?

That first year, 80% of our new clients came from one channel: me answering questions on Facebook and linking back to that blog post I shared above.

Seriously. More than $200K in revenue in one year from one channel. I answered questions on Facebook Groups on the walk to and from taking my son to school–exactly 14 minutes every day.

You see why I thought this was too easy? 

In 2022 we did about $700K, largely through content marketing and through retaining and upselling clients as they scaled.

But there was a problem I hadn’t seen there.

I wasn’t actually great at finding and closing new clients. And when the economy started to contract as we all exited COVID, things went poorly.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

From October 2022 to June 2023, I didn’t actually land a single new client. 

I had a team of eight people. And legacy clients were slowly churning as they do.

And nothing new.

For months.

I was losing my mind.

The same offers and sales calls that used to work really well? They stopped working.

I was screwed.

I started to iterate on my offer and my outreach heavily starting in about March of ‘23. 

By July, I’d found something that worked.

And by going absolutely nuts trying to chase down new customers and find new ways to discover leads, we finished the year in ‘23 with $180K in revenue.

We survived, but I had to shrink the team down to four people to make it work and somehow keep the team and the mission alive at the same time.

That was such a brutal drop from the year before. We made it, but it wasn’t easy.

One of the biggest challenges of being a business owner/operator is that you don’t have the luxury of letting a problem be something that someone else needs to solve.

If it has to be fixed? You have to do it.

And if you don’t know how?

You better figure it out or get a job. Because the buck stops at you.

Trevor Longino talking with someone
Photo courtesy of Trevor Longino

What have been the most significant keys to your business’ success?

Three things:

  • Resilience.
  • A relentless focus on learning and adapting.
  • The ability to translate failures into actionable insights.

Additionally, our unique approach to combining strategy with execution sets us apart, enabling us to deliver accurate, measurable results for our clients.

Tell us about your team.

We’re fully remote. 

This is great because it lets me hire people all over the world and find great folks no matter where they live. 

We are actually a pretty old team for agency work. All of us but one have kids. We’re all older than 30. We don’t wanna work 60-hour weeks. 

Because of that, we’re also super focused and dependable, and everyone has a wellspring of experience to draw from to produce great outcomes for clients. 

There are a few key principles that guide us:

  1. Believe the data
  2. If you do it twice, write it down
  3. Assume good intent
  4. A mediocre decision today is better than a perfect decision next week

How did you make the transition from side hustle to full-time?

The transition was driven by a combination of strategic planning and seizing the right opportunities. When I noticed that my freelance work began generating enough income to match and surpass my day job, I focused on building a solid client base and establishing reliable revenue streams. 

This, coupled with the realization that I could have a more significant impact and achieve more personal satisfaction through my venture, made the decision to go full-time an inevitable step in my career progression.

What was the turning point when you knew your business was successful?

I don’t know if that ever happens. 

I’m joking a bit, but I came from a relatively poor family, and my definition of success in terms of financial success has always been, “Put the credit cards on auto pay.”  If your dreams of wealth are modest enough, you’re not gonna hit hedonic satiation and find that life is less fulfilling than you’d hoped. 😛 

The turning point for me was when we started seeing repeat business and referrals from satisfied clients. This validated our approach and the value we were providing and marked a shift from constantly hunting for new clients to having a steady stream of work based on our reputation and results. It was a clear indicator that we had moved from survival mode to a position of growth and influence in our niche.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned growing the business?

Resilience and the power of adaptability. 

The path to success is not straightforward – the ability to pivot in response to challenges, market changes, and client needs has been crucial. Our ability to embrace failure as a learning opportunity and not be afraid to question and change our strategies has enabled us to thrive where others might have stumbled.

What separates your business from your competitors?

We build million-dollar marketing engines. No one else does that, and no one else guarantees it. This provides a certain level of assurance and commitment to success that is rare for most agencies in the industry.

We’ve also built more than 70 of them.

Quantity brings a quality of its own.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Solve real problems for your customers.

To call back to the start of this article: you only need to know 3 things: audience, problem, and offer.

Audience, Problem, Offer

Learn them. Master them. Never forget them.

Be relentless in your pursuit of learning and improvement. Pivot when necessary. 

Maintaining your resilience and adaptability will be vital to overcoming the challenges you’ll face along the way.

What is your favorite quote?

You know, I don’t know that I have one that I fall back on.

I quote myself probably most often, which I imagine says bad things about my own case of ego, but I do like a Bezos quote, “Brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

What are your future plans for the business?

Our big goal is to help 1,000 founders generate $1MM in annual revenue by the end of 2028.

I have a lot of work to do to get there. 

But a big part of this is adding redundancy to how my business finds and helps new clients. No more $200K years, thank you very much.

If you had to start from scratch, where would you begin?

More or less where I did: learn the basics. Develop an opinion on what you can do that is different. Find people who want that.

Build an engine to bring them to you.

Scale.

What are some of your favorite books, blogs, podcasts, or YouTube channels?

The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries is one of my go-to resources for inspiration and knowledge. 

Obviously Awesome by April Dunford.

The “Masters of Scale” podcast by Reid Hoffman.

Also; the podcast Launch Today by, uh, me. And the book Validate First by, um, also me.

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