Christian Nkurunziza of TenScores: “Willingness to keep learning”

Willingness to keep learning. There are times I felt very arrogantly that I knew everything there was to know in a particular field, only to be humbled by a customer who knew more than I did, and did better work than I could. Now I know how little I know and how much there still […]

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Willingness to keep learning. There are times I felt very arrogantly that I knew everything there was to know in a particular field, only to be humbled by a customer who knew more than I did, and did better work than I could. Now I know how little I know and how much there still is to learn. When I got started I was more interested in tactics and hacks, a magic bullet that would propel me to the moon. I know better now, I’m more interested in understanding the deeper reasons why humans take action, what drives us, what gives purpose. I’m trying to learn how to build stronger connections with my fellow human beings.

Marketing a product or service today is easier than ever before in history. Using platforms like Facebook ads or Google ads, a company can market their product directly to people who perfectly fit the ideal client demographic, at a very low cost. Digital Marketing tools, Pay per Click ads, and email marketing can help a company dramatically increase sales. At the same time, many companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools often see disappointing results.

In this interview series called “How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales”, we are talking to marketers, advertisers, brand consultants, & digital marketing gurus who can share practical ideas from their experience about how to effectively leverage the power of digital marketing, PPC, & email.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christian Nkurunziza.

Christian Nkurunziza is cofounder and CEO of TenScores, a SaaS platform that helps small business owners optimize their Google Ads. He wrote his first ad in 2009, was amazed at how a single word could change how people reacted to a message, fell in love with the game and hasn’t stopped since. As co-funder of a PPC marketing platform, he has the privilege to interact daily with business owners of all kinds who rely on digital advertising to run their businesses, where he can see what works and what doesn’t.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Once upon a time, a young man wanted to become a mechanical engineer. After reading one book, he decided that wasn’t good enough. He set his eyes on total freedom. To be wherever he wanted to be, work whenever he wanted to work, on whatever he wanted to work on. That’s how he discovered the world of digital marketing and PPC. Alice in wonderland, a rabbit hole that seems to have no end. That book was “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.

I started out as an affiliate marketer in 2009 and discovered that I could make a decent income with close to no work and spend my days in leisure. Today, it’s become a game I enjoy playing, it brings its successes and challenges, new levels to overcome, new things to learn continuously. It reminds me of the days I spent mastering Street Fighter on my Nintendo when I was just a boy.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

In affiliate marketing, there was one product I was getting a small commission from. I decided I wanted the full revenue instead of a commission, so I hired someone to build a replica of the product and sell it myself and collect get the full revenue. That product targeted a female audience, so I took on a female alias and started marketing a copy of the product. I had no interest in this, really. I was only interested in making a few more extra bucks.

As you can guess, that wasn’t a good idea. I wasn’t engaged in the community, I would get questions that I couldn’t answer, on a topic that made me yawn. It quickly became a nightmare and I left it behind. The lesson to me, was to be involved in marketing products that I’m deeply interested in and that I’m happy to work on when I wake up in the morning. That’s when it’s no longer work, but a fun game to play.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My cofounder, Chrétien. He and I are two sides of the same coin, with very similar backgrounds, but different interests. I like marketing, he likes programming, so we built a SaaS company.

We first met in Belgium, both aspiring to become engineers. Belgium didn’t work out for me so I left everything behind and moved to Montreal, Canada. Belgium didn’t work out for him either, and we found ourselves living together in a small apartment in Montreal, trying to make ends meet. I didn’t know he was into programming then, but one day he saw me playing with spreadsheets and asked me what it was all about. I told him I was tracking my AdWords Quality Score on a daily basis and that it was necessary to keep optimizing my acquisition costs. I didn’t believe him when he said he could automate that process for me, but the next morning I had a web tool that did the work I was doing manually.

That was the start of TenScores, and we’ve been on this journey together ever since. I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for him.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our team is nimble, with complete freedom and fully remote. I’ve been traveling the world while building the company, lived in 6 different countries (and counting) for more than 6 months at a time: Canada, Guadeloupe, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Rwanda. Places I’m looking forward to: Zanzibar, South Africa, northern Africa, the entire South American continent… actually the whole world. We have no restrictions on how we work, so long as we get the job done.

On the product side, we’ve built a tool that’s quite unique in our niche. It specializes in helping Google Ads advertisers optimize a metric that regulates click costs on their campaigns.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I wouldn’t call myself a “successful business leader”, but the small mountain I’ve climbed included the following…

  1. Unshakeable determination. I told myself I would never quit until I found the freedom I wanted. It doesn’t matter what obstacles come in the way, there’s always a way around, up or under to get through. When things were still shaky at the beginning, family members and some of my friends would recommend I simply found a stable job, and that my dream of freedom was unrealistic. I’m happy I didn’t follow their advice.
  2. Risk tolerance. When you realize most things in life don’t really matter then what might look like high risk to others looks like a fun adventure to you. When I quit engineering university to pursue digital marketing, everyone said it was a bad idea, one family member even hung up on me when I told the news over the phone. And in some regards, they were right, the journey isn’t easy, but I would be miserable today if I hadn’t taken the risk.
  3. Understanding. Empathy towards customers, team members and oneself. Mistakes are part of the deal, I’ve learned to accept them. It easy to make bad situations worse by reacting negatively. At the beginning, we would have endless arguments with my cofounder when something didn’t work out or simply when we had a different idea on the path forward. Now we just choose what we experiment, which game we’re going to play, ready to move on if it fails. When mistakes are made, we just find solutions and move past.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

TenScores is the exciting project I’ve been working on for quite a while. We want to get to the point where PPC ads completely manage themselves, giving business owners more time for what they enjoy. There’s alot of technical knowledge that goes in the way of managing ppc ads, and most of that technical knowledge is absolutely unnecessary to the average business owner. What we’re trying to accomplish is build an intelligent platform that anyone can use to assess the viability of adding PPC to their marketing mix if they’re starting out, or a plan to optimize current results if they’re already doing it. We’re still very far from it, but slowly, we’re getting there.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. As we mentioned in the beginning, sometimes companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools like PPC campaigns often see disappointing results. In your opinion, what are a few of the biggest mistakes companies make when they first start out with digital marketing? If you can, please share an example for each.

The equation is quite simple: put in a dollar, get more than a dollar out. All problems come from either not being able to extract enough value from that dollar, or simply not knowing what was extracted from each part of the campaigns.

A lot of mistakes can be forgiven when you’ve built a business that is highly valuable to users, meaning they’re willing to pay a good sum for your services, or they need your services urgently. Both are even better. Many of our customers who are most successful with PPC aren’t experts in PPC. When I look at their accounts, I’m amazed with how many mistakes they’re able to get away with. Many don’t quite know exactly how it works, they just know that if they turn it off, their companies revenues will sink. And the only reason why it works for them is because for every dollar they put it, they get 10 dollars or more out.

So the first step is in how the business itself is built. If you’re selling widgets for 5 dollars and the cost of a click is 5 dollars, then PPC will never make business sense. On the other hand, if you’re selling a 5000 dollars service that a group of people are hungrily searching for, then you’re happy to pay 5 dollars for a click, or even more. It’s a simplified way of looking at things, but this is the starting point.

The next step is in knowing which parts of a campaign are profitable and which parts are not. Because, some parts will attract hungry buyers and some parts won’t. If you’re able to get some revenue out of a campaign but that campaign is overall unprofitable, you will be tempted to declare it a loss and move on. While in fact, digging deeper can show you where the revenue came from so you can invest more in the profitable parts of a campaign then cut the unprofitable parts. This is a mistake that is hard to get away with. When starting a campaign, the better you’re tracking results, the better you can make informed decisions. The better decisions you make, the better your campaigns perform. Almost all campaigns from a new business will start out unprofitable, but as data comes in and you’re able to see exactly what is working and what is not working, you can optimize. This is something that I see way too often, a business owner asks me how to optimize their campaigns but their setup doesn’t allow them to make any judgement calls, they’re running things blind so optimization is impossible.

The next step after that is just like the first, knowing how to get more out of what you put in. When a campaign is profitable, and you’re tracking it properly, then giving more value to each customer, and getting more value from them in return, allows a business to compete better in ad auctions. Put more money in, get more out. One might wonder why some companies are very happy to pay 50 dollars to get a single click. Well, when that click is worth 500 dollars, they’re happy to pay the sum.

The lifetime value of a click is what ultimately drives successful ppc campaigns.

If you could break down a very successful digital marketing campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

Picture a bridge crossing the Grand Canyon, with a starting point on the left and an end goal on the right. People are trying to go from one side to the other, your marketing campaign is the bridge. We start by understanding for who that bridge is going to be built for: is it going to be for pedestrians or cars or trucks? How many people will be able to cross? How fast will they be able to cross it? What will you do to ensure people trust that your bridge is stable and can lead to the other side successfully. And so on and so on. Most importantly, does the bridge really take people to the other side, or does it lead to nowhere. Often times, we build bridges where no one is trying to cross.

My blueprint would start with empathy. A sincere attempt at understanding what the need is, what the solution is and the steps in between to bridge the gap. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

Often times we build build bridges that lead to nowhere, so nobody wants them. There was a time we build a free tool that would serve to attract users to our company. The tool was well built, but no one really needed it. So we had spent 3 months building something nobody wanted to use. The only reason we had built it was because I thought it was a good idea, I didn’t check to see if it would bring real value to people in the trenches. It’s the difference between being selfish, and being empathetic to what people really want.

Let’s talk about Pay Per Click Marketing (PPC) for a bit. In your opinion which PPC platform produces the best results to increase sales?

That’s a question that needs an answer specific to each business. Where the audience is, easily reachable at a profitable cost is where one can get the best results. Some businesses have products and solutions that no one is searching for on Google. Those will do better at finding their audiences on Facebook, Linkedin or other networks where their audiences hang out.

Some businesses find hungry buyers on Google, searching for an immediate solution to a pressing problem. Those businesses, and I’ve seen many, can rely 100% of their efforts on Google Ads. Most businesses lie in between, where they can find buyers a little everywhere and will have to experiment with what works best for them.

This is important. The platform doesn’t matter. And it’s a mistake to swear by any single acquisition channel, missing opportunities where they are.

Can you please share 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful PPC campaign?

  1. You’re dealing with people, not clicks. Learning how to influence those people, with good offers that solve their problems matters more than the tactics or technicalities.
  2. There’s an education cost associated with every new campaign. Be ready to spend a bit of money to learn what makes a market tick before turning it into a profit, but be ready to cut your losses quickly.
  3. It’s part science, part art. You’ll need to experimenting constantly, and make sure you learn something from every failed or successful experiment. You’ll need to learn when not to follow best practices, and instead be creative … give users an experience they can’t find anywhere else.

Let’s now talk about email marketing for a bit. In your opinion, what are the 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful email marketing campaign that increases sales?

  1. To give. It’s about giving, not taking. Being of service, not seeking service. Email marketing is a way to give value before someone becomes a customer. It’s a way to build trust and show that you care about the problems your potential customers face, that you have the solutions to those problems. It’s a way to show your bridge across the Grand Canyon.
  2. Not to sell. When you’re not trying to sell anything and just give, the selling works itself out. People seek more of what you have to offer when they feel you’ve given them something that they needed, or solved a problem that they had.
  3. To write for a friend. It’s not about having the best subject lines, or best copywriting, or best sales technique. It’s about the relationship you’ve been able to build. Your best friend can write you an email with anything in it and you’ll open it with full engagement. They have your full attention, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish with email marketing. To get permission to give, to give as promised and to build the trust people need to cross the bridges we’ve built for them.

What are the other digital marketing tools that you are passionate about? If you can, can you share with our readers what they are and how to best leverage them?

I’m not passionate about any tool in particular. What I am passionate about are the ways we can connect with strangers and give them something that makes their day a little better, one at time.

One tool, if I can call it one, on the way to helping people is the idea of experimentation. We are just as blind to users’ needs as they are blind to our solutions. When we know that, then we can experiment, and learn that one offer may get more engagement than the other, that one word in a headline may get the point across more effectively. There are many tools for this, one that I currently use is Google Optimize, and it’s free.

Here is the main question of our series. Can you please tell us the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career as a digital marketer? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Practice. Taking a course or getting a certificate is not equivalent to experience. Practicing what’s learned, spending your own time and money on your own projects, bringing them to fruition or failing at them is the greatest way to kickstart a career in digital marketing. I often get applications from people who want me to hire them, and they mention being certified in Google Ads or having taken some sort of course, that’s far from enough, I need experience.
  2. Focus. It’s a good thing to specialize in one field of digital marketing and excel at it. Focus on practicing over and over again until there aren’t many people who have equal skill. When I was a consultant, I had gotten good at lowering my client’s acquisition costs through some systems I had created myself, that made me very valuable to them. Some still ask me to come back and work with them for that reason, even though that’s not something I do anymore.
  3. Results. With practice and focus come results. When you do something enough times, eventually it will start to bear fruits and those fruits build confidence, they are anchors in the knowledge that what you’ve learned actually works. When I got started in affiliate marketing, it took me close to a hundred different campaigns before I saw an actual profit.
  4. Flexibility. Something that works in one area will not work in the other. A tactic that worked for one business might not work for another, and that’s something to be aware of. Countless times I’ve made the mistake of applying a strategy that worked for one company to another, and have it fail completely.
  5. Willingness to keep learning. There are times I felt very arrogantly that I knew everything there was to know in a particular field, only to be humbled by a customer who knew more than I did, and did better work than I could. Now I know how little I know and how much there still is to learn. When I got started I was more interested in tactics and hacks, a magic bullet that would propel me to the moon. I know better now, I’m more interested in understanding the deeper reasons why humans take action, what drives us, what gives purpose. I’m trying to learn how to build stronger connections with my fellow human beings.

What books, podcasts, videos or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

I like Seth Godin’s work, I read his newsletter and listen to his Akimbo podcast. I like to listen to Gary Vaynerchuck at times. My kindle gets a download from time to time when there’s a specific area that peeks my interest.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would start the “giving movement”. But I don’t have to because it already exists. Millions of people are here today and everyday online sharing their experiences, their successes and failures. All for free without ever asking for anything in return. I hope more people join this movement and contribute to the Universe by generously sharing what they know, want to know or wish to be true. Giving is healing. I’ve heard these words in various forms and I hope more people find them to be true, because they are true: Giving is receiving.

How can our readers further follow your work?

They can visit and subscribe to our newsletter. I share a quiz every week where they’ll have to guess the winning ad variation from an A/B test conducted by one of our customers. It’s a fun way to learn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

All thanks to you.

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