Feb 28, 2020
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Interview: Fernando Angulo, Head of International Partnerships, SEMrush

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Today we are going to interview Fernando Angulo, Head of International Partnerships, SEMrush. He has been with SEMrush since the beginning of company’s marketing efforts and has built its all-star marketing team. Being one of the most recognised faces of the brand, Fernando is speaking at 50+ top conferences worldwide each year.

Tell us about yourself where you are from and what you do?

“I originate from Latin America, but I consider myself a citizen of the world. I’m the Head of Communications at SEMrush, which means that I implement engagement strategies with our users through various social media channels. I am also a key spokesperson for SEMrush across the globe, which usually requires me to travel to up to three countries each week to represent our brand.”

At SEMrush what were the main challenges you faced early on in your venture? And do you still encounter them to this day?

“When you start in the world of digital marketing, the main challenge is to always be aware of the latest trends and changes. One of the challenges facing our industry till this day is to be able to meet the constant needs of our users and be among the first to do so.”

How did SEMrush start? What was the Idea behind its launch?

“SEMrush began with the product, no specific idea regarding what we were planning to have at the end. Firstly, I worked with our very first product called SEOquake – an SEO toolbar that includes information about any website, including a fast audit, a product that remains free today. The main criteria was that we reached our own satisfaction with the product. Huge volumes of code and lots of inconsistent early efforts eventually turned SEMrush into the beauty that it is now, with more than 40 tools.”

Fernando Angulo, Head of International Partnerships, SEMrush
Fernando Angulo, Head of International Partnerships, SEMrush

How big is SEMrush?

“Last week we reached five million registered users on the platform across 150 countries globally. We have around 1,000 employees situated across six offices in three continents.”

What is your most effective marketing strategy which made SEMrush a big success?

“The most effective marketing strategy I believe we used was speaking to our own community by distributing SEMrush among our friends. We knew quite a lot of people from the IT industry who were willing to try out a new product. The freemium business model, which had been around for quite a while by then, wasn’t very popular, but we decided to stick to it. We distributed promo codes and allowed our users to try the product for free and pay for additional features. It worked.”

When you started SEMrush how did your Minimum Viable Product and first traction looked like?

“As a startup we didn’t shy away from distributing our product to some of our potential customers for free as we considered this a great way to raise awareness about the new high-quality product. We had two products to offer which were research into keywords and domains. These remain crucial for any online business and we have built more than 30 features alongside them which are not 100 per cent SEO related, such as features for PPC, SMM and content marketing.”

What marketing strategy works best for SEMrush?

“As I mentioned, our community marketing drove the initial results, as well as influencer marketing which is a great strategy, not only for getting new audiences but also to understand the way users perceive our brand better. Opinion leaders are also a great tool to make more understandable complex processes to broad and beginner audiences.”

What are the most effective ways UAE-based businesses can use to market online?

“The fastest and most effective way to market online in the UAE is based on any PPC strategy, through social media or programmatic ads. However, you do need a budget to run ads and unfortunately your visibility will disappear the same moment you deplete your budget. By using SEO, it’s also very efficient, but not as fast to realise, involving several days of work and planning around the topics of your business and creating content that will rank for specific keywords.”

What is your favourite restaurant there? 

“I have visited Dubai many times and I really enjoy visiting Desi Max restaurant when I’m with my family, it’s a really good place to try different types of food.”

What activities/hobbies do you enjoy doing to “wind down” or relax? 

“I’m a family-oriented person so during my free time I enjoy going out with my family to theme parks, different cities and trying new restaurants. I have two daughters and they keep me busy all the time with gymnastics, swimming, piano lessons amongst their other hobbies.”

If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently? 

“I have a big family with two older sisters and two older brothers – I’m the last child. Both of my brothers are doctors. If I could change one thing I think I might have also liked to be a doctor too!”

What advice would you give to yourself if you could only relay one piece of advice to your former self?

“Embrace failure as it is just one more step towards success.”

What motivates you? 

“I would say curiosity. I have the need to know a little bit about everything.”

Do you think that entrepreneurialism is something that is in your blood? Or is it something that can be learned?

“I think both paths are valid. Being an entrepreneur is in my blood and I have always had personal projects that have come forward and others that have failed. In any case, for me it is better to say sorry than to ask for permission.”

How do you generate new ideas? Could you tell us a bit about your creative process? 

“In the marketing teams we work a lot with the agile methodology, which opens many doors for creativity using different workflows. The way you can improve any process is through feedback and during our retrospective sessions we learn a lot collecting the positive and negative past experiences and forming next steps from there.”

How far are you willing to go to succeed? Are there any specific ethics you stick by no matter what?

“Ethics are important. In marketing we work extremely hard to get people’s attention, we fight for it and believe that success means getting people’s attention. There are two ways to do it properly: the first one is being an active member of the community and the second is being the leader of the community. We are trying to do both.”

What is your greatest fear (business or personal) and how do you manage it/or fear in general?

“I would say my greatest fear is to be unaware or out-of-date on the latest knowledge about our fast-paced industry.”

What is the best way to achieve long-term success as opposed to a few thousand short term? 

“The best way to succeed is through people. Hiring the right people, with the right attitude and expertise to achieve specific goals and keep them motivated. This is the formula for success in any business.”

What were your biggest mistakes?

“Like most people I have made a few, however I believe my top three are related to business meetings: Not taking notes during meetings; not sending a follow up note after meetings; and having too many meetings in one day.”

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