Career paths aren’t always a straight line – Jace Thomas is proof of that.
After a decade of job hopping, Jace built a search engine optimization (SEO) marketing business called Hiperion Marketing. Today, he makes $25,000 in MRR, and he runs a global marketing team at age 30.
Jace didn’t take a fancy entrepreneurship course or even attend college. When he finished high school, he became a drummer for a band in Los Angeles, and when the band failed, he worked a nightmare sales job from age 19 to 24.
But the following year, Jace turned his life around. He left the job, quit drinking, fell in love, and had a child – all in the same year. Charged with the responsibilities of parenthood, Jace set up a new life (and home) for his family in Kansas City, ready to start a lifestyle business.
In 2018, he started a marketing agency. In 2020, he connected with his cofounder, Seth Kitchen, on Facebook, to create a web development business. That same year, they launched an SEO agency called Hiperion Marketing, outsourcing most of the work to contractors abroad.
Hiperion Marketing combines the classic SEO agency model with sprints – the Agile product development framework where you do tasks in short, snappy bursts. But Jace struggled to scale the business because he targeted everyone who came in the door – from barbecue wholesalers to gyms.
Today, Jace is closer to finding his niche as he works on a SaaS competitor to Google Analytics and becoming a philanthropist. Here’s his unlikely story from rancher’s son to one of Missouri’s top marketing minds.
It’s a Hard Knock Life
Jace is a people person. He thinks he inherited it from his father while growing up on a cattle farm: “When doing deals, he didn’t pay attention to specific numbers or details. He simply made sure he got them done.”
Jace has also cultivated an entrepreneurial streak. As a teenager, he opened a recording studio in his parents’ basement and operated it on nights and weekends to make extra cash.
Jace’s love of music drove him to graduate early to join a band signed to a major label in Los Angeles. Even today, as a thirty-year-old marketing professional, he maintains some of the counterculture look, sporting large ear gauges and a nose ring.
Jace’s music career fell to the roadside when the band broke up, forcing him back into the workforce without a degree. This led him to a five-year sales career selling phones and internet connections in what he describes as one of the most toxic work environments he’s seen.
“There were knife fights in the parking lot and drug dealing on the sales floor. I was drinking and partying to cope with the stress.”
“Let’s put it this way,” says Jace. “There were knife fights in the parking lot and drug dealing on the sales floor. I was drinking and partying to cope with the stress.”
At 22, Jace became a manager in charge of a team of sixty adults. This taught him leadership at a young age but under less-than-ideal conditions.
“There was a death cycle at the company. If you got tired of being an agent, they promoted you to manager in exchange for lower pay.”
Burned out and ready to do something else with his life, Jace left the call center and moved to Kansas City in 2016. The next year, his life changed completely.
“I became sober on August 1st, 2017. I met my girlfriend, Tiffany, a month later, and we had our first child shortly afterward. The trajectory into adulthood came pretty quick.”
After arriving in Kansas City, Jace built two failed businesses: a Shopify website for sending gifts called Gift Your Girl and a web development service that charged clients a dollar for a website and $99 per month for maintenance. Although neither side project succeeded, Jace leveraged the experience to land an SEO job with a local agency.
“In the interview, they said, ‘We teach you how to do everything. What’s stopping you from starting your own business?’ I’m pretty honest so I told them, ‘Nothing, absolutely nothing.’ Fortunately, they still hired me.”
Eleven months later, domestic stability made Jace act on his instincts. “I was always kind of a wantrepreneur. Then I realized there were people making thousands online and spending tons of time with their families. That’s what I wanted to do,” he says.
Jace quit the marketing agency and started his own SEO business. A year later, he met his future cofounder, Seth Kitchen, a recent Missouri University of Science and Technology graduate in a Facebook group.
Since Seth was a developer, he and Jace started Hiperion to build custom software for companies. They also worked on Jace’s project, Hiperion Marketing, for three years until Jace decided to split off the marketing division in 2020.
Applying Agile to SEO
Marketing appealed to Jace because it allowed him more control and shorter sales cycles (marketing objectives were faster to achieve than development ones). Jace adopted the idea of productized SEO from popular consultant, Ryan Stewart, owner of Webris and The Blueprint Training, and an acolyte of the SEO sprint to revitalize agencies.
“We use these sprints in place of a retainer and usually recommend a four-month contract period. Many choose to extend past that.”
“SEO sprints have a predefined scope, time, and outcome,” says Jace. “There are audit sprints, content sprints, and backlink sprints. We use these sprints in place of a retainer and usually recommend a four-month contract period. Many choose to extend past that.”
Jace won clientele for Hiperion Marketing the old-fashioned way: word of mouth. “One of our clients was a CTO I worked with at the accelerator downtown, others were through people we’d worked with before spreading the word. I’ve later added LinkedIn automation as well.”
Today Jace does few of the day-to-day tasks at his agency, instead ideating content topics and managing the SEO sprints through teams in the US, Turkey, and Pakistan. “I’m good at design and SEO. I have absolutely no dev skills so I have to use my ability to connect dots and make stuff happen,” he says.
Jace learned quality control the hard way. Hiperion lost clients early on by contracting subpar writers for content.
“Clients wanted writing at a level their investors expected. We went back to the drawing board, and now we do a bunch of things to understand the client more deeply. We make sure to fill out a content workbook, do buyer personas, and more. We also use talented local content writers instead of outsourcing overseas.”
With Hiperion Marketing running almost autonomously, Jace and Seth are working on their next bet for riches: a SaaS business competing with Google Analytics.
Switching to SaaS
In 2021, Jace decided to push Hiperion into the SaaS space after he saw how quickly it could scale first-hand.
While a member of the Facebook group Welcome to Springfield Missouri (he’d recently left Kansas City), Jace saw someone ask about building a website that could pick a local restaurant at random. Jace hopped over to his web builder and crafted an app called Pick My Restaurant in 30 minutes. Within days, 500 people used the platform.
“It’s generating no revenue currently, but we’ve got great user data,” he says. “We’ve surveyed a bunch of them and they said they would be willing to pay. That’s on the back burner for now, but it’s something that we want to validate and roll out to other area codes.”
Encouraged by Pick My Restaurant, Jace asked his clients what software might improve their marketing efforts. He settled on improving Google Analytics. “The people I spoke to hated Google analytics. I felt pretty confident we could solve that problem with some pretty graphs, big numbers, and action items.”
Jace enlisted help from an online internship program for developers and UI students called The Assembly.
“This group assigned me five UX students that researched and refined my preliminary design,” he says. “They did customer interviews and gained all this great data about what users care about and what they don’t.”
With so much data, Jace had little trouble getting Seth to buy into the idea and architect the project. Jace then hired developers to back him.
The new SaaS – called Hiperion Beta – is now a data visualization tool built on the back of Google Analytics. It lets agencies comment on client metrics and recommend actions they should take. Jace says three large agencies with a combined 15,000 clients are interested in signing up.
“That app is probably the future of our company,” he says.
The Hiperion Project
Even after creating a profitable marketing agency and what could be a successful SaaS, Jace still isn’t done. He wants to use his money to help others.
“My big push is for my future nonprofit, the Hiperion Project,” he says. “As a father, I’ve become a huge fan of child advocacy nonprofits. I want to do that or a project for the betterment of teens and adults. I’m trying to put my stamp on the world. I’m thirty now and my goal by age thirty-five is to have everything at Hiperion become self-sustaining and have the Hiperion Project as my daily venture.”
Jace advises other founders to find something they are passionate about and spend time early on figuring out who they want their business to help.
“I started at step three in my journey,” he says. “I defined the solution – SEO – and skipped identifying who I wanted to help. If I’d defined that I wanted to help SaaS businesses because of their scalability and explosive growth, Hiperion would probably be much bigger by now.”
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