"It's kind of content marketing in its purest form." — What Cameron Uganec meant when he said he’s starting a new media company
Thinkific’s new general manager of media dishes on the shifting content marketing landscape.
“Yeah, I’ve done the rounds.”
Cameron Uganec is on the other end of a Zoom call and he’s just acknowledged my comment that he’s worked at many of Vancouver’s major tech companies — Hootsuite, Later and Bench. Now, as of a week ago, he’s joined another homegrown giant, Thinkific, as the edtech platform’s general manager of media, a brand new position.
When asked why he made the move, he references his career mission, which boils down to two things: making good things that help lots of people and growing the BC tech ecosystem.
When he looked at Thinkific, he saw a company dedicated to helping people learn and earn online — and one that’s been successful in that endeavour. Not only that, but he also saw a group of people that he knew he could trust. “I know Greg [Smith, CEO of Thinkific], and I've known him for a long time,” Uganec tells me. “I was actually one of Thinkific’s first enterprise customers when I was at Hootsuite. So, I've kind of followed their journey and kept in touch with Greg and I just thought it was the right time.”
At Hootsuite, Uganec worked with Greg and the early Thinkific team to build Hootsuite Academy, its online school, to 200,000 students; Uganec then worked with Thinkific chief strategy officer Matt Smith when they were both at Later and scaled the Instagram marketing firm’s revenue by 400%.
So part of the pull to Thinkific for Uganec was personal; but there was more to the move, he shared. “I've been involved in content marketing and SaaS marketing for 10 years, and I saw some of the trends that were happening,” Uganec shares. He’s talking about a recent wave of businesses acquiring media organizations, the most notable example being Hubspot buying The Hustle. “It's kind of content marketing in its purest form,” he notes. He had been watching the landscape shift, and “at the same time, Greg and Matt over at Thinkific, both co-founders, were having the same sort of thesis. And so it just was like a perfect, perfect match.”
When asked to outline the trends he’s seeing, Uganec starts with why: “I think that really what you're seeing is a changing landscape where organic search and organic social just doesn't work the same as it did before,” he starts to explain. “Because Google and Facebook have ratcheted the algorithms to a point where you have to pay to play.” That’s driven SaaS company paid-advertising budgets to rise, in order for them to acquire customers. Customer acquisition costs (CAC) have therefore spiked accordingly.
For a company like Thinkific that eventually wants a million course creators on its platform, it needs to start with a big audience, he explains. That gives them two choices. “You can just play the game, and continue to spend money with Google and Facebook — or diversify and think of other ways in which you could spend that money and invest in. So it really is this argument of own versus rent, which has always been the story of content marketing for a long time — why you should invest in social, why you should invest in your own blog. But that misses the point of the fact that you do have an intermediary in that ‘owning,’ right.”
Building a media organization is taking things to another level of ownership, he said. It’s “the next degree of really being audience-centric.” Hubspot isn’t the only company that’s recognized this. Stripe bought IndieHackers. Penn National Gaming acquired Barstool Sports. Robinhood acquired MarketSnacks. “It's a trend that's happening, I think, because of those macro trends we just talked about,” he says
“When you're thinking about building businesses at scale, there are certain levers you have, right,” he says. Capital is the first one, and Thinkific has harnessed the public markets for that lever. “Code is another way in which you can really scale, and then the other one is media,” he believes.
“It's time for Thinkific to invest in media. You’re seeing this with VC firms… investing in media arms, hiring a bunch of journalists. There's a lot of people that are understanding the power of really thinking like a media company, and taking that to the Nth degree is to say, ‘Let's be one, let's have one, let's own one.’”
As to how this vision will manifest itself at Thinkific, Uganec still has a lot of planning to do. However, he does share that he’s looking at a buy, partner and build strategy. Part of his role will be to consider how to best combine two types of businesses: software and media. “As you know, the media business is a tough business,” he says. “And for a long time, it's been trying to figure out how do we make revenue when the old ad model is now broken? And so oftentimes, that turns into lower-priced goods, right? But we have high-priced goods. We have a long-term value that we create in a SaaS company. I'm looking for media companies that know how to drive the right audience that matches that. But they may not have a great way to monetize. And so it can be a really powerful combination.”
While Uganec’s team will have a direct link to Thinkific’s marketing operations, the teams will function separately, he says. “This is separate from the brand and separate from the marketing division, and there's a lot of advantages to doing this separately,” he shares. “That's not to say that the marketing team won't create its own content and all the rest of it. It's just to say there's real power in having the focus of me just trying to build a really big audience and that my only goal is to have an engaged audience; then Thinkific can come — they’re our one advertiser — and we can work on partnerships and ways in which we can tell the Thinkific story on that platform.”
Uganec will be hiring writers, video producers and other storytellers, he says. While the focus will be on local talent, he notes that Thinkific is a distributed team now and will consider talent from across the country.
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