So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

Editor’s Note: The following is a post by Corey Northcutt, the founder of Northcutt, an award-winning SEO agency that was acquired by Single Grain in 2021.

TL;DR: January 19 will be my last day working at Northcutt. I am not retiring.

Now let’s get to it.

Why Sell?

Above all, the time and offer felt right.

Our company vision always included a max headcount. During COVID, we were blindsided by demand for digital talent that caused us to surge beyond that size.

It’s not that I couldn’t grow Northcutt larger. I know I could. And I know that I’d be miserable doing it. Different leaders thrive at different scales because organizations are fundamentally different during in each phase. I get most excited about conjuring a startup from 0 to 30 excited team members. When everybody has a greater connectedness to everything.

The industry changed, too. SEO isn’t becoming less technical per se, but agency work is. Just like in the eulogy that I wrote for web hosting, the work will either grow simpler (with more saas) or more technical to the point that SEO consultants just can’t (or rather, shouldn’t) help.

That’s a post for another time, but it’s different now. SEO will be fine, but it draws ever closer to marketing. As a hacker and systems theorist, there’s less that I’m drawn to each year.

And the offer was ideal. Single Grain presents a strategic, vertical acquisition by somebody that values and understands SEO. That’s rare. It comes during an industry-wide personnel shortage, providing extra assurance that this amazing team will be valued above all else.

Finally, Eric Siu’s long-term vision for Single Grain (and especially Leveling Up) is exciting. I know that Eric’s passion for gamification is going to resonate with fellow systems geeks over here.

Thank you!

As I furiously wrote and rewrote my pro’s and con’s of selling, the one “con” that never left was walking away from the amazing people that made my vision of owning an agency a reality.

Nobody’s self-made.

Staff, families, partners, advocates, clients, mentors, friends, influencers, coopetition, readers… It’s absolutely incredible how many relationships exist behind a niche digital marketing agency. I literally couldn’t have done this without so many people.

It would have been so much harder and so much less enjoyable without so many others. Chris Wells of Nexcess for talking me into it in the first place. Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media for introducing me to half the city of Chicago. Our CMO Dan Silber for making the whole operation run smoothly year after year.

While the agency doesn’t excite me much now, I wouldn’t trade this time for anything. In 10 years my network exploded. I got to experience how the C-suite operates at the greatest companies in the world while we taught their teams SEO. I learned new things every day without effort.

It’s been such an amazing privilege that it feels like a waste not to do more with that now.

What’s Next?

First, I think I’ll have a nap.

I plan to slow down, spend more time with my wife and daughters, and learn new skills. I should probably pick up a few grownup hobbies, right? Is golf fun? Should I be fighting with strangers on the internet more often? What do you people do when you’re not switched on 24/7?

When I can’t stand resting anymore (I’m thinking 1-2 weeks), I’ve got 100s of dumb weekend project ideas from the past 10 years that I wrote down and promptly forgot about. Everything from microsaas to indie games. That feels like the best place to start.

I’m eager to build things. Write things. Create things. Some of that is about SEO. Most of it isn’t. This 37-year-old developer turned entrepreneur has never built anything for a mass audience and it’s created quite an itch. I probably won’t stop messing with the internet until it becomes sentient enough to make me.

Who knows, really? Right now I’m thoroughly loving this feeling of not knowing.

In the meantime, I’ll be hovering around the agency until January 19th, 2022. For anybody that needs to reach me thereafter, I’ll be around:

Twitter: @corey_northcutt



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