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21 Apr

Ep. 39 – Robert Lee & Clayton Dean – Co-Founders of Circa Interactive – Adapting to Changes Within Your Industry

Robert Lee & Clayton Dean – Co-Founders of Circa Interactive; Adapting to Changes in Industry; Importance of SEO & Social Media; Helms Brewing Co. venture.

Segment 1: (Length :05:00) – General Updates; Introduction to Robert Lee & Clayton Dean and their journey as entrepreneurs thus far, as well as their background and co-creating Circa Interactive; adapting to changes within the industry.

Robert & Clayton’s finer points:

“We met in 10th grade in high school in Florida. We’ve been buddies a long time. We always say don’t go into work with your friends but we’ve made it work somehow.

“Robert happened to be working for a digital agency. We were both working full time, but Robert got an opportunity through some connections to manage some paid search campaigns for a university and the light bulb went off for us.”

“We recognized an opportunity and leveraged our relationships and slowly started to grow the next 6 months while working full time.”

“As you know on the SEO side, there’s been some changes over the past few years and a lot of people think that because we deal with a lot of .edu’s, all those changes didn’t affect us, but at the end of the day, they did. So, evolving as a digital marketing agency that specializes in SEO the last few years has been exciting.”

“From a business stand point, it’s been great. It was just Clayton and I but now we have 13 full time employees.”

“It went from SEO to be Robert and I managing a number of clients, to now we need a team of 6 or 7 people producing high quality content to get those high quality links that we need to generate in order to produce rankings. Before it was a quantity type thing, now it’s quality.”

“We’ve had to shift our mindset as an agency and become more of a content marketing agency. We’re much more of a digital PR agency, now landing those really high quality links.”

“It can be challenging in certain ways to approvals but it’s a little bit easier for us than a traditional organization to create that high quality content.”

Segment 2: (Length :07:00) – Talking with Robert Lee & Clayton Dean; focusing clients on the right digital activities; content changes.

Robert & Clayton’s finer points:

“I think it’s easier for us to sell search at paid advertising because you can truly measure ROI based off of it.”

“When we work with clients, if they give us a budget, we can give them how many leads and how many students they can get from that specific budget. It’s much easier for us to take their focus and shift it in directions we know are really producing results for them.”

“It’s all a holistic approach. There are many different avenues we need to explore in order to be where prospective students are, consumers are or your target audience is going to be.”

“It’s important to be where they’re living online.”

Segment 3: (Length :07:00) – Leveraging social media; Going into another entrepreneurial endeavor with craft beer; diversifying your ventures using your same skill set to contribute.

Robert & Clayton’s finer points:

“Having a social presence is so key nowadays. A lot of consumers not only go to search engines but check you out on social as well. They check for that social validation.”

“In education, there’s a lot of statistics on students leveraging social media to research universities. For us, it’s something that’s very important and part of our strategy.”

“From an SEO perspective, you really leverage social to connect with influencers to distribute content as well. Not only are we building the social platforms over time to have a presence and a personality and an identity, but we’re also leveraging that to reach out to influencers in our prospective industries and make connections and relationships.”

Shifting Conversation to Helms Brewing Co.

“I started home brewing a few years ago just as a casual hobby. I met two other guys and we home brewed a couple days a week. We started selling beer to our friends and it started growing.”

“Those guys ended up moving out to Tampa, Florida to start their own brewery, and I was introduced through one of them to a brewery out here in San Diego called Helms Brewing Company.”

” Helms Brewing Co. was looking to expand and open up a satellite tasting room. The way it works is most places will have a core brewery in a commercial area, then if they’re looking to acquire more foot traffic, they’ll open a satellite tasting room in a place that has a lot of restaurants and bars around it just to capture that foot traffic.”

“We were presented with an opportunity to take Helms to the next level and they have a great reputation in San Diego. They have a great team and we decided to go ahead and join them.”
“With our marketing skills, it was a benefit to the existing owners. They’re ship builders; engineers. They’re not marketing savvy per se so it was a big value for them for us to come in for a lot of the concepts we’ve learned in a very competitive market in the higher education, then we can adopt to in the beer industry.”

“We were the 60th brewery in San Diego and now there’s 140. Explosive growth and a big challenge for us is differentiating and standing out.”

“Working with education partners is great, but it gets kind of mundane after awhile so getting into something new and sexy like craft beer is exciting to our team.”

Segment 4: (Length :03:00) – Hustler Thought of the Day:

“What an entrepreneur does is to build for the long run. If the market is great, you get all of the resources you can. You build to it. But a good entrepreneur is always prepared to throttle back, put on the brakes, and if the world changes, adapt to the world.”

– Vinod Khosla

Robert & Clayton’s finer points:

“When we set out to create Circa we wanted to create a sustainable business. A lot of entrepreneurs now are looking for the quick out. We wanted to build a highly successful business that would scale and last for a long time. As we build a team of talented individuals, we want to take care of them as well.”

“We didn’t want to expand too quickly. We’ve taken our time over the last 4 or 5 years of hiring very strategically. In doing so, financially we’re in a good place; secure for the future but lean and adaptable. We could hire 20 more people but right now it really doesn’t make sense.”


Robert Lee & Clayton Dean – Co-Founders of Circa Interactive

  • Robert Lee and Clayton Dean are a serial entrepreneurs and currently the co-founders of Circa Interactive, a digital agency that helps colleges and universities grow through highly targeted organic, paid, social media, content marketing and digital PR strategies.
  • Since opening in 2011, Circa Interactive has helped more than 60 university programs increase lead flow, build brand awareness, and generate more students.
  • Robert and Clayton are also part owners of Helm’s Brewing Co, a small-batch craft brewery featuring award winning craft beers. Helm’s can be found in over 100 bars around Southern California, tasting rooms in Kearny Mesa and Ocean Beach and in seven states around the U.S.
  • Prior to Circa Interactive, Clayton lead the program launch team at Deltak (Now John Wiley and Sons Education Services) and worked in both the NBA and MLB in sales and marketing roles.
  • Clayton graduated from Duquesne University with his Bachelors in Business Administration and also holds a Masters in Leadership and Management from Lewis University and a graduate certificate from the University of Denver in New Media and Internet Marketing. Clayton was also a Division I scholarship swimmer and record holder at Duquesne.
  • Prior to Circa Interactive, Robert led the search marketing team at Compass Knowledge Group (now Pearson) and was the head of digital marketing at the Denver-based Marketing Agency, Blue Onion.
  • Robert graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelors in Management Information Systems and holds an array of digital marketing and analytics certifications. Robert was also a member of the Florida State swimming and club water polo teams, and is a volunteer swim coach at a local San Diego YMCA.




Matt Gottesman

Matt Gottesman is a global digital strategist and technology advisor, creator and editor-in-chief of Hustle & Deal Flow™ - an online magazine dedicated to the world's entrepreneurs, creators and makers, a Social Media Influencer and a consultant on New Media and go-to-market strategies for investments in digital marketing, technology, websites, mobile applications, eCommerce, social media and content.

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