How Profitwell bootstrapped their way to a $200m exit using Inbound Media

Note: This article was a collaboration between Gianni Cara and myself. Gianni is a clear and masterful thinker when it comes to creativity and content. Check Gianni out here.

Ten contestants have two days to turn a dingy office into a cool coworking space. One will be eliminated, along with their dreams of becoming a professional interior designers.

What seemed like great ideas on paper become nightmares in practice as they approach the deadline. For some, everything is going wrong.

I hadn't planned to watch it at all. I was going to catch up on emails in the early evening whilst my wife watched TV, but when I saw what was happening, I couldn't pull myself away.

Interior Design Masters got me hooked.

And at that moment I realised the difference between marketers and media shows.

Marketers are great at capturing attention.

But media shows are masters at holding it.
Netflix Binge Scale
Media is designed to keep us coming back for more. To stick around and build a deeper connection.

And for businesses selling a service that requires trust and consideration, holding attention is key.

Because here’s the truth:

Not everybody who downloads your free ebook is ready to buy. Timing plays a big role in conversions, and trying to force them to move down the funnel at the wrong time can ruin relationships.
“When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive.” ― James Gleick shared that they write 70+ highly-researched articles every 30 days.

Hubspot produces hundreds of pieces of content per month.

What chance do your 4 pieces of monthly content have in such a saturated marketplace?

How do you challenge these Goliaths in the inbound marketing realm?

Looking at the data, Patrick Campbell of Profitwell (now Paddle) realised that the inbound game had become more expensive and less efficient:
  • The cost to create a high-quality eBook rose from $1.2K to $10.4K
  • The effective life of an ebook was now only 1.8 months
  • To stay top of mind, you have to produce 300% more per month than 5 years ago
  • To outrank competitors on Google, articles have to be twice as big as 5 years ago
  • And 19 out of 20 blog posts get little to no engagement
But when he looked at the data for media companies, he was baffled:
They send, on average, 4 to 7 emails per week, and instead of ignoring them, people actually look forward to them.
Emails we actually look forward to
And that was when he had the epiphany that got Profitwell to $200M.

If he took the media approach, he’d be able to hold people’s attention for much longer and convert the big chunk of leads that weren’t ready to buy yet.

Legendary marketer Dean Jackson taught us that people rarely want to make a purchase when they first sign up to receive your content.

In fact, taken from his vast experience, when calculated over time, 15% of sales come in the first 90 days after the person signs-up, 85% in the following 18 months.

What Patrick Campbell did was create an inbound media system that would turn these leads into raving fans and, with time, customers.

He wouldn't try to rush the sale as many marketers do, and in doing so kill any relationship with a reader before it had chance to grow.

He'd entertain prospects with valuable content until they were ready to learn more about his product.

But what would media look like for a B2B service or product?
Well, media isn't what you think it is
“Media” has become a buzzword.

When you ask most marketers what media is, they’ll answer the same thing:

“Video content, visuals, podcast.”

They focus on the format. When in reality, at its core, media is about one thing:

They're reaching for popcorn, not their notebook
The reason millions of people watch Planet Earth on BBC and Netflix is not because of its educational content.

It’s because they want to know if the lioness will catch the zebra.

You’ve been watching the lioness for weeks, struggling to feed her cubs, and if this hunt fails, they may all starve. The stakes are high and you’re invested in the outcome of the hunt.

Education is a bonus. It’s the entertainment that draws viewers in and keeps them coming back.

That’s why you can’t just record a Zoom interview and expect your audience to find it entertaining.

They might watch a few episodes, but would that keep them around for the long run? No Chance.
Attenborough on set
Good media means good stories, which keeps viewers hooked and looking forward to the next episode.

Patrick and his team understood this from the very beginning.

And since ProfitWell is a subscription software…

They created a network of 7+ media shows dedicated to the world of subscriptions.

In this article, I've broken down their inbound media strategy to show you how any firm selling their thinking can use it to build an audience, strengthen their brand, and position their business at the heart of their industry.

Even your CFO will get excited when you explain what media shows could do for your business.

Let's dive in.
Profitwell's Inbound Media Strategy
How do you earn a prospect's attention and sustain it until they're ready to buy?

Campbell knew media shows would turn more leads into customers.

But he and his team still had loads of questions to answer:

“How can we make it cost-efficient? How can we make a show about subscriptions entertaining? And how can these shows impact the bottom line?”

Their first show would nail all three questions.
Profitwell’s First Show: Pricing Page Teardown
The middle of the funnel is composed of two key stages:

One close to the top that we call “upper middle”, and one towards the bottom - “lower middle”.
Different stages of the funnel require different types of content
Focusing on a more general topic like SaaS industry trends would be a good fit for upper middle.  It would get more people in, but take more time to convert them into customers.

Since this was the first show and there was no guarantee of results, they went after a topic closer to the bottom: Pricing.

That's what Profitwell was selling: A SaaS to help subscription businesses optimise pricing.

When you create content for the lower middle, you create a show with the potential to move hot leads closer to the sale (even if they’ve been dormant for some time).

Leads that care about pricing are more likely to invest than those just chasing the latest trends.

But they didn’t want it to be just another content piece where pricing people talk about pricing to pricing people. That would just be more of the same.
They needed to make it entertaining
To make it so easy to consume that people would watch every episode of the season. Something they don’t have to think about. They can just relax and enjoy.

And after analysing the highest-performing media shows, they realised one truth: injecting storytelling into the structure was critical to success.

Think of “Kitchen Nightmares”. Restaurant owners invite Gordon Ramsay to spend a week in their failing kitchen in an attempt to revive the business.

The stakes are high.

What kind of problems will he discover? How will Gordon deal with it? Will he manage to save the restaurant?
Pricing Page Teardown had to do the same.
They’d take well-known companies in the space and not just analyse their pricing strategy but ask high-stakes questions to make their episodes more fun to watch:
  • “Is Zoom becoming too general?”
  • “Can Netflix stay relevant?”
  • “Is commoditisation in Klaviyo’s pricing future?”
When I'm procrastinating in the middle of the day, I'll watch a few 3-min football highlights on YouTube from the weekend matches.

It's easy to consume, entertaining, and short enough to take up a little pocket of time I'm trying to kill.

That's the pocket Profitwell was targeting.

Something you'd want to watch in between working, but unlike watching football, the viewer wouldn't feel the guilt of 'wasting time' because they were learning something important in the process.

Each show was only around 10 minutes long. It was snackable.

Pricing Page Teardown was a winning idea.

But there was still another challenge…

Producing a high-quality eBook costs, on average, $10.2K to create. Can they use this same budget to produce a whole season for their show?

The solution was to start small: Just Patrick and a videographer. Plus, the studio wouldn’t be fancy - just a table, a couple of chairs, and a TV in the background.
It was a really simple set-up to start
This basic setup allowed them to record 19 episodes for season 1 within budget.

Now, with these videos ready, most people would simply post them on the biggest distribution channel in the world:


But Patrick and his team didn’t use Youtube as their primary channel. They had something different in mind…
Framing and Controlling the Experience
If you’re creating content with broad appeal, you’ll get high engagement, which means the YouTube algorithm will spread those videos across the network.

Perfect for accounts selling high volume, low-ticket impulse products. Not ideal if you're selling a product that costs, at the low end, $1,000 per month.

Profitwell was creating unique and valuable content for a B2B niche. They didn’t need a high-volume audience. They needed to deliver a binge-watching experience to the few that cared.

So they decided to host the show on their website using Wistia.

They’d use Wistia’s out-the-box platform to present the videos in a Netflix-style layout.
Here's what their video page looked like
They’d still post videos on YouTube to capture any potential SaaS audience. But the magic would happen on their owned platforms.

And there was also another key aspect that favoured this approach:
They could connect Wistia to their CMS
Now whenever viewers click on the play button, they’re encouraged to subscribe and not miss the next episodes.

It’s also possible to integrate Wistia Analytics into Hubspot.

That way, when a contact watches a video, it informs the CMS.

Every single video they watch (and how much of it) goes into the contact information. That data can then inform your workflows. If they watched video A, send them video B. If they watched video C, send them Ebook 1.
They'd be able to integrate with hubspot to create workflows when users watched a video
It becomes a sophisticated tool for lead scoring and paints a vivid picture of your prospect’s interests for the sales team.

With that powerful data in their hands, they could now approach prospects at the right time with the right message.

In fact, Pricing Page Teardown was such a huge success that they did another 6 seasons of the show.

But Pricing Page Teardown was just the beginning…
Creating a Network of Shows
Patrick had so much success with Pricing Page Teardown that he started creating more shows to address other topics that were relevant to his audience.

This allowed them to take breaks between shows to create hype and anticipation for the next season.

Plus, when you have new shows, you have more reasons to engage with your audience and keep things fresh for them.

Through audience research, they identified the three persona types they wanted to reach and the topics of interest.

Then they narrowed down the topics to match Profitwell’s products.
The Profitwell Network Matrix
But they did more than just come up with different topics.

They also experimented with new formats, cadences, and quality levels.

Recur now would act as a SaaS daily news. They’d curate the best insights in the SaaS market and deliver the news in a 7-minute show.

Tradeoffs would have another host, Hiten Shah (Co-founder of Nira and ex-co-founder of Kissmetrics), and together they’d address the biggest tradeoffs SaaS companies make. This would be a longer show. Sometimes even lasting for 30 minutes.

With BoxedOut, another big hit, they’d subscribe to some of the hottest DTC brands to discover what happens when they cancel their subscription.

Some shows were big hits and had several seasons. Others stopped at season 1.

And in the process, they’ve built a network of 7+ shows.
Profitwell's Network of Shows
Some of these shows target an audience that’s just entering the middle of the funnel. While others help move the warmer audience to the bottom.

Thanks to these shows, Profitwell has positioned itself at the centre of the subscription ecosystem.

Incredible, right?! But there’s still one question unanswered…

How did they get eyeballs on their shows?
The Distribution Game
You know those leads on your email list that you acquired through inbound marketing and are now dormant?

It’s time to re-activate them.

Profitwell capitalised on this low-hanging fruit where most companies fall short.

Especially because now they realised they had a good reason to email their list several times a week.

If a dormant subscriber showed interest in Pricing Page Teardown, a few days later they get an email about their other show, Boxed Out.
Profitwell's email sharing further shows
Just think of Netflix. They send you emails about new shows all the time and we don’t mind it. In fact, we’re grateful for it.

Another obvious low-hanging fruit: SEO articles.

12 researched, scripted, and polished video episodes = 12 high-quality long form SEO posts.
The Profitwell SEO Post
That would pull in traffic from organic search and convert them into email subscribers.

What about Social Media?

Just repurpose the media show into short clips, right?

Profitwell tried it, but that wasn’t the approach that got them the most traction.

What worked really well for them was to take the content from the episode and create a new video tailored to the platform.
YouTube style videos worked best on Social
One thing I noticed too is that personal brands outperform company profiles.

When Patrick posted on his profile, engagement was sometimes 100x higher - reinforcing the now common knowledge that people no longer want to connect with companies. They want to connect with people.

Lastly, Profitwell also posted their episodes on Youtube.

As we’ve seen before, Youtube is not their primary channel for hosting these videos, but they took advantage of its distribution power to get in front of more eyeballs.
They'd then shift everything over to YouTube
What could they have done differently?
Profitwell paved the way and showed what’s possible with inbound media.

They had to step into unknown territory and learn along the way.

With the benefit of hindsight, I'd do a few things differently.

First, I'd hire a studio for the first show instead of hiring a videographer right off the bat.

Taking on employees is a big leap - better to test the strategy first with an external team before making it.

Instead, what you do is prepare the scripts, hire a studio for two days, then you can get 7 to 10 episodes recorded for season 1 of your first show.

And once you have some success with it, you’ll have proof in the bank that this tactic works, so you hire a videographer for season 2.

The second change I'd make would be to rely more on personal brands when promoting the shows on Social Media.

Profitwell clearly had more traction when Patrick was the one posting (rather than the company). I'd try to get as much exposure as possible from everyone involved (on your team) using their own social media profiles.

And the last change I'd make would be to create a stronger story spine running through the episodes of a show.

In Pricing Page Teardown they always end the episodes by giving a score to the company they’re analysing.

That’s nice, but it would be even cooler if, at the end of each episode, we could see a leaderboard of all companies from previous episodes.

That would make me wonder: “Which company is going to win this season?”And feel more compelled to keep watching the next episodes.

The kind of thing you get on Top Gear.
Top Gear Leaderboard
Patrick and Profitwell did the unimaginable.

They made a boring B2B topic, SaaS subscription, entertaining. And with that, they not only attracted attention, but held it too.

I don't believe content will sell your services.

Relationships will.

But content can help you expand your network. First by pulling in ideal-fit buyers, then by building trust and appreciate for what you have to say and think.

But that only happens if you hold their attention for a sustained period of time.

That's exactly what the Inbound Media model delivers.

Note: This article was a collaboration between Gianni Cara and myself. Gianni is a clear and masterful thinker when it comes to creativity and content. Check Gianni out here.